Stumbling about in 2017

I severely underestimated the degree of befuddled I would experience following the end of my PhD. After spending over half a decade in the academic world, with half of that fully intending to leave it for a career in industry, I found myself saddled with a new crisis of identity I did not anticipate. Despite all my preparation over the years, mentally and otherwise, I felt adrift.

It’s been a year since then, and only now do I feel like I’m starting to find a footing, something resembling solid earth. The post-defense hangover is morphing into clarity of purpose, but I had to stumble around the living room through an afternoon that lasted months for it to happen. I can’t help but wonder if this is a common experience for others? I would love to hear your thoughts if you (yes, you!) have gone through a similar period.

I’ve read in many places that people in academia exhibit a disproportionate incidence of mental health disorders over the general population. Whether this is due to the nature of the work, or due to the self-selection of (often eccentric by nature) personalities it attracts, or both, is still an open question. But coming out of it, I learned there were many aspects of my personality that were ill-suited to the world outside. I also learned how dependent I was on the environment for holding together whatever it was that was there, and without that glue, I felt like my sense of self was falling into pieces around me.

2017 was a weird year. This is an understatement for many reasons, and I’m certain for many people besides myself. I sought to find identity in new relationships, new activities, new things. In all these areas, in different ways, I failed. And now, at the end of 2017, I stand at the precipice of a new year with much of the old already cleared away. I would have expected to be in a deep depression from this, but instead I feel an internal peace and joy that I can’t quite put words to.

I’ve started the process of becoming my own friend. I believe for a long time I’ve avoided a friendship with myself, a real respect and care for the person I’m stuck with for life. I did my damnedest to distract myself from his inadequacies, his failures, his stupidity, often attempting to do so with more stupidity. This of course didn’t work. But out of this mess I believe I’ve found a new love, and his name is David.

Perhaps this was not the usual retrospective one might post on a personal blog. It’s also not something I’d normally share, but frankly, I think it worth sharing. We all try to project an image of being “put-together” at all times, to keep up appearances, to show maturity. But we’re not always put-together, and many of us may regularly be high-functioning dysfunctionals in life.

I’m feeling well for 2018. I look forward to spending it with all of you, another year around the star on this lovely rock we call home. Cheers to new adventures.

— david

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