Embracing disconnect, and other acts of self-preservation

Yep, that about sums it up.

There’s an ugly truth about being human that I realized after I wrote this blog and realized it’s akin to my most recent entry. Everyone is fighting a battle, and while people offer support, really, no one wants to hear you complain. Which is often what dealing with depression looks like. 

Friends will help you mourn a bad decision or a breakup for a week or two before they tire of the negativity. Significant others will hang in there for a couple of months. Your spiritual support system will fling scriptures like holy water when you dare mutter that everything is not OK.

Real talk, when a prominent person commits suicide, we have brief blips of awareness about the importance of mental health maintenance and community support, but doing the work — living through the experiences without a rush to get better or profess positivity is difficult, relationship-testing, time-consuming sh*t.

Especially when you’re the person who’s broken.

But depression creates a myopic lens through which even small troubles seem insurmountable. And foolishly, sometimes we try to scale them anyway, thinking if we can just get a handle on xyz, we’ll feel better.
I know this because I’m living through an extended moment where it’s difficult to confess that I’m struggling. I feel terrible even writing about it now. I’m not supposed to mention it until I can put this in past tense. Ever notice how writing about one’s dark days is always past tense?

I’m tired of maxims. I’m tired of self-help books. Right now, today, I don’t have the energy to pursue rebuilding after four years of struggle + coping with depression + losing my dad without being able to say goodbye + departing so capriciously from my previous plan of action. I’m tired of being afraid of being judged for my inability to bounce back quickly this time.

I need a break.

There was a moment in early August when, having quit one job yet procrastinating on packing, that I briefly entertained the idea of calling my new job and asking for a delay before arriving to teach this fall. Rather than hurling myself 1,201 miles across the country to start my next chapter in a place I’d visited for a sum total of 96 hours, I’d do something unthinkable at age 34: move home.

I’ve been working since I was about 12, so when I took this flight of fancy, I wasn’t particularly worried about getting a job. And though my parents had always assured me I could always come home, once I left Lexington in 1998, I vowed I would never come back (unless it was to care for an ailing parent).

I never took that break. I quit my job on Aug. 8. Moved my stuff out to Texas on Aug. 13. Flew back to NC and defended my dissertation on Aug. 20. Started work on Aug. 25. I embraced the looks and comments about my ability to handle it all.

And then, something broke somewhere around October, shortly after I made my first trip home since my dad died. It thought I was tired after three weekends of air travel to California, North Carolina and Kentucky. My body’s coping mechanisms for dealing with stress is to lose coordination. Furniture jumps out at me. I catch my fingers in doors. I drop things, repeatedly. So I didn’t think much of it when I slammed my thigh into an armrest and earned a bruise that has yet to completely fade.

But then the clumsiness extended to my professional life, too — work piled up and I began to miss deadlines.

As a journalist, the latter is unfathomable, and the sign that something was really wrong.

After a month of being offbeat, I began to accept that 2014 has been a tumultuous year, and that I need a break from it all. The six-week break my therapist suggested back in July is out. Short of cashing out what’s left of the 401(k) from my first journalism job, there’s no money for an island vacation.

So I’m left thinking about the break that the Third Metric mavens Arianna Huffington, Mika Brzezinski and Cindi Leive touted around this time last year: a week off from technology. Seven days without social media, email, endless fuzzy animal slideshows and enviable interiors via ApartmentTherapy. Just quiet time with my family, books, nail polish, coffee, exercise and a couple of furry cats. I’ll do some course prep, polish my grammar, write the thank you notes I couldn’t deal with in the weeks after the funeral. Maybe even throw in a little yoga.

Disconnecting is difficult when you’re a newbie scholar situated in the intersections of digital news and social media with a an interest in race and ethnography. Especially now. I should be collecting tweets, scheduling interviews and throwing myself into all the WORK that is to be done in documenting how social media and #BlackTwitter, in particular, have played a critical role in the incredible social justice work that’s unfolded this year. But I have nothing left to give right now.

I’ll file my IRB application for my book research before this break. Clear out my inbox. There’ll be no social-media sign-off decrees. I’ll just delete the apps on my phone and go away for a few days.

While I appreciate what the Third Metric mavens tried to do with their social media break, my motivations are a bit different. I sacrificed four years of income, job growth in my field and opportunities to earn this degree. The process broke me. I’m in the process of putting myself back together. After all, I did this because I want to a lifeline for others in my field. So I’m taking this break while keeping Audre Lorde’s words in mind: “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”


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