Coming back around

I’ve been thinking a lot about research methods lately, not just because I’m working on my dissertation proposal which, much to the chagrin of my committee chair, remains a rather rough draft (sorry, Dr. Leahy!). In particular, I’ve been rereading my blog entries going back to the beginning and using them as a way to assess my recovery from this major depressive episode and the medication regime that accompanied it. This kind of research would best be called autoethnography, an erudite way of saying that I’m studying the culture of myself. In the past almost-three months (how has it been that long?), I’ve written 68 posts (including this one) for a total of over 30,000 words. If the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is to be believed, then that’s an additional 68,000 words. Put differently, I have a lot of research material to draw from. Although I’m only just starting my analysis, here are a few things that I have observed so far.

I’m less afraid. Looking at my earliest posts, I see a lot of what I consider to be “caveats and limitations” language, the kind of things people write when they are hedging their bets and trying desperately not to offend anyone. The transformation I see in myself between then and now surprises me in its speed. I’m less concerned about how I say what I’m saying than I am why I’m saying what I’m saying. Reading my carefully curated initial posts, I see someone who was still putting on a show, worried about crafting an image rather than expressing authentic thoughts or emotions. How I said what I did mattered far more to me at that point, because I was convinced that I was constantly being judged. Now I know that I’m being judged, but I realize that the judge is actually me. The person who has always been the most concerned with my external appearance is me; everyone else is far too worried about themselves.

I care more about why than how. I concern myself with why I am putting my thoughts and ideas on paper, because I’ve realized that my motivation matters. The combative and competitive professional environment in which I’ve grown up has conditioned me to maximize my own results while applying a veneer of cooperation and collaboration with others. Leaders can harp on teamwork all they want, but when the metrics and targets that determine your advancement and compensation are based on individual results, it’s everyone for themselves. There are lots of things that I can say and follow up with a disclaimer, like the ever-popular “I’m just telling it like it is.” However, if my intention is unkind, then it doesn’t matter. Saying things that I perceive to be correct doesn’t make the act of saying them right. My focus now is kindness and helpfulness. Whatever content I put out into the world, it needs to be kind and helpful. That doesn’t mean that I cannot say things that are difficult to hear or challenge others with whom I disagree. It means that my motivation matters.

I am far less certain of my purpose and my future. Three months ago, I seemed so sure about my path forward. I would get off of the antidepressants, find the right combination of lifestyle choices that supported my mental well-being, and return to my life, as if nothing had changed. Reading my entries as longitudinal data points, I see a shift away from a linear perspective on my life and career. Previously, I ignored the complexity in my life. I did this by focusing on things, like my job or my home life, as discrete entities rather than the interdependent relationships I now understand them to be. My life is comprised of interconnected systems. I cannot compartmentalize and hope to remain well.

When I started this blog, I hoped that it would provide some insight into what the experience of depression and recovery can look like for one individual. I know my personal experience is not generalizable across the population. I didn’t realize that the person who would need, and benefit from, that insight the most was me.

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