Notes from a January '24 full of verglas

It's been a year, but I'm finally feeling a little better.

Notes from a January '24 full of verglas

It's been almost exactly a year since I went on medical leave.[1] Cancelling all my contracts and no longer working made me feel like a definitive failure, and it sometimes felt like my shame would swallow me whole. On top of the worsening of a few physiological symptoms (my tachycardia especially) I was also experiencing pervasive cognitive burnout[2] that affected every moment of my day. At one point, I was having several panic attacks a day for weeks and weeks on end over the most banal stuff imaginable, like what kind of food I was hungry for or whether I could put a particular pan in the dishwasher. It was a completely exhausting self-perpetuating loop. Crawling my way out of that vicious cycle took — what seemed to me like — an excessive amount of time.[3]

→ Lire le billet en français

So it does feel pretty good to report, twelve months later, that I'm actually starting to feel a lot better. I still have some pretty tough days, but even on those days I have a lot more motivation and confidence than I did at any point in the last year.

Last night was the full moon — lovely unplanned synchronicity — and I finally got back to the ballet studio[4] after a rather long unplanned break. My studio closes for a couple weeks during the winter holidays, but I fell (a total of three times!!!) and badly bruised by right hip in early January. The freezing rain and ice this January has been really horrible, all three times I fell I had even been wearing heavy-duty cleats to walk on the ice, and still fell. Because ballet is pretty hard on the joints, I decided to wait until the bruises and pain were all gone before I got back to the barre. (I'm learning! Look at me, not going to class (very) injured!)

In 2023, I managed to complete a rather impressive 200+ hours in the ballet studio taking technique classes (I'm not counting stretch classes and pilates-type workouts), despite megaburnout and a broken arm. I'm feeling very optimistic I can hit at least 100 hours in 2024 despite my studies and Pippin adding his particular brand of chaos to the household.

Speaking of studies: I've begun taking a biology course at UQÀM this winter. The original idea was to join several biology courses so that I would be ready to start applying to university physiotherapy programmes in the fall. But because I'm still technically rebooting my brain after a super fun year, Leif (who studied physiology in university) strongly recommended I start with one general biology course. Now that the first month has gone by, his counsel was honestly correct. The class is covering a rather wild amount of ground and there is a great deal of memorization (😭) to be done before the midterm and final exam. To be completely frank, had I not studied chemistry and physics at the university level before, I would not be comfortable in this class. The prof is like the majority of STEM profs I've had: unconcerned by what is pedagogically sound, indifferent, and exacting.

When I studied engineering at McGill, back in the Precambrian era, that kind of disaffection from my university lecturers infuriated me. Today, I understand better that there is a great deal of systemic sabotage affecting undergraduate STEM education quality at both the provincial and university level. Also, I can now accept that my student fees aren't really buying a pedagogically robust learning environment: I'm mostly ensuring there will be a human grading my final exam at the end of the session. Gotta love the lowered expectations brought on by experience! If I have to learn this stuff from the textbook and YouTube tutorials, that's fine. In any case, I've got lots of motivation to fuel me. This new heading on the compass has already done me good mentally, and we're just at the beginning of this journey.

I've got so much stuff on my February TO-DO. On top of the millions of things I have to teach Pippin, there's also a chance we'll be able to start a Rally-O[5] class this March, which is very exciting! I've got an ever-growing list of books I've started and need to finish (I'm still working my way through Archaeology of Mind and it's genuinely fascinating). I've gotta get back to writing, I keep having ideas about what to do with my NaNoWriMo 2023 project (among other things!) I have to get some more skiing in before the snow vanishes much too early. Slowly, my desire to do lots of things is returning, even if I tire out very quickly compared to before 2023. But after the last twelve months, I now know that even having the energy to want to do anything is a big win, and I'll take it!

  1. My professional practice is on pause Feb 6 2023 ↩︎

  2. This article from 2016 by Alexandra Michel is worth a read: « the chronic psychosocial stress that characterizes burnout not only impairs people’s personal and social functioning, it also can overwhelm their cognitive skills and neuroendocrine systems — eventually leading to distinctive changes in the anatomy and functioning of the brain. » In other words, burnout is not caprice and can irrevocably alter the functioning of the brain. ↩︎

  3. I finally wrote more than a single expletive-laden sentence about how I'm doing. Here we go! 28 Jun 2023 ↩︎

  4. My post on the fediverse ↩︎

  5. I'd never heard of Rally-O before but it seems neat! ↩︎

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