a page out of the diary of an Albanian archaeologist

I’m back, sort of.

I have not been that great with keeping my blog up. But this time – it has been intentional.

I needed to unplug, so I did. I spent time off my social media apps, cleaned out my accounts and spent time in the present, with those around me. And it was – is – amazing.

Another school year has started (grade 23 and counting bb), and as usual I find myself reflecting on where I am, where I was and where I want to be. So I thought it would be good to write those thoughts out and share them, just in case they may be useful to someone else.

For the first time in my graduate school degree, I feel at peace, super content, and dare I say, happy?

So, what brought me here?

Well, I hit rock bottom first. When I started grad school, back in my masters’ days at Mississippi State, I was naïve and misinformed. This led me to push myself too hard, to confuse my values and pursue foolish goals. I was convinced that the only thing that mattered was academic excellence – yes I drank the Kool-Aid. That I could only “make my mark” if I worked super hard. That I didn’t have time for family, friends, or hobbies. That these things were superfluous. I want to laugh and cry at the same time when I think back to how wrong I was. Five years of this mentality later, and I was stressed, depressed, anxious and burnt out. I came close to quitting, the program, academia, life.  

And then I had a wake-up call. I’m not going to go into the specifics – it doesn’t matter for the purpose of this blog. The point is life shook me to my core and made me question what the fuck I was doing. I  realized that what I had considered to be important and integral to who I was were actually not. That they didn’t make me happy and that my core values, those that made me, me (and happy) were drastically different.  I found that I am actually quite a simple person, that I don’t need the lights and glamor of academia, and in fact, academia as it was presented to me is really smoke and mirrors. An elitist institution built by centuries old systems of oppression, on the backs and labor of the unnamed and underpaid.

So I started therapy and got tested for anxiety, depression and learning disabilities. It turned out that I had depression, anxiety and ADHD, killer combo amirght? I started meds and unplugged. I started to spend more time in the present doing things that mattered to me. And to my surprise, I started enjoying things again, even my research. Life started to feel fulfilling again.

I’m not trying to sell Prozac and therapy to ya’ll. Taking care of yourself looks differently for everyone. But what I do want you to consider is to stop and think about what is causing your unhappiness, stress and anxiety. And then consider what your values are and what you’re doing with your time. Are you spending your time doing things that make you unhappy? In doing this, are you working towards living your values?

If not, then something has to give.

I remember in the thick of my depression I viewed everything that wasn’t “work” as a waste of time, including sleep and cooking food for myself. Making myself food —subsistence—  was a waste of time. I would forget to eat, push off eating and then get so hungry that I would be lightheaded. And then I would wonder why I couldn’t think and why my brain was foggy all the time.

I would set unrealistic deadlines and goals for myself and become defeated when I didn’t meet them. To make up for failures, I limited my free time. I would allow myself only so much social time, for example, an hour to have coffee with a friend or to work out. And if I went over that allotted time that I thought was appropriate I would get uncomfortable and anxious.

I am also not here to just rain on academia. Fucked up as I think it is, clearly I haven’t left and I intend to finish my PhD. And who knows, maybe I will even apply for an academic job one day (if any university will ever take me that is— hi future potential employer googling me for a job search, I’ll be great at the job, promise). I do believe that our chances of making things better around us begins by  working on being better on the inside. And maybe I am being overly optimistic now, I am medicated after all. But seeing the rising leading figures in our field, I am hopeful things will change in time. People who lead by example, who care about real community collaboration, ethical practices, and doing archaeology  (and anthropology) with a purpose.

But coming back to the present, what the past two years have taught me is that I am more than my job. Archaeology, as much as I love it, does not define me. And my capacity to do good for my field is limited by my ability to take care of myself. I am no good to anyone if I don’t get out of bed.

So dear friends, I will leave you with this. You are not your job. You are so much more. Love what you do, but love yourself more. Spend time doing things that make you happy. Work, of course, but make time for rest and joy as well. Take care of yourself, you only have one body. Take care of those around you, they need you and you need them. There will always be more work to do, work will be there. Time won’t.

Love, peace and prosperity.

Yes, yes, there are typos.

EDIT

After a quick re-read there is a small clarification I want to add. This post is obviously an oversimplification. I don’t mean to make it seem that my life now perfect, that I never have anxiety, stress or bad days. Quite the opposite actually, I do. And often. But I am just a lot better at dealing with things now. I make more conscious choices based on my priorities.

So, in conclusion, no one has it figured it out, definitely not me. But sometimes all it takes is a little shift in perspective, a re-evaluation of what is important to you, a paradigm shift if you will, to see a new way of doing things that makes you happier.

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