At the age of 19, I was diagnosed with depression. It was 2004, and I was achieving my childhood dream of studying journalism in Santiago, Chile 800 km south of my hometown.
To face the challenges of living by my own, deal with precarious economic situations, work and study at the same time, I created a strict version of myself, the most severe one, who punished me every time I did not reach a goal. At that time, I was bagging groceries, a job that is paid by tips in Chile. My mind created the loop – more time working meant more money – and became obsessed with the idea of efficiency. Maximizing my time and resources became my goal; at the extent that missing a green traffic light became a reason for punishing myself.
I got to the point that a doctor told me I was developing epilepsy and was given medication for depression and anxiety. I remember the day when I had to make the decision to take the first dose of anti-depression pills telling myself, “I chose to find joy in life,” and I put the pills away. I had the memory of my grandmother, who had recently passed away, who chose to see love and joy every morning. That image gave me courage. Also, I went to an undergraduate university that had elective courses and workshops to help liberate students from stress. One of those courses – biodanza- gave me the opportunity to see life challenges as a path from where I can also wake up. Dance became my medicine (until today).
Although I no longer consider myself under the depression effects, I admit that depressive and anxiety symptoms come and go. They get more visible under the academic pressure. For instance, while I write a dissertation, I kind of started another internal war. I was supposed to have learned from the past, but it seems that my reptilian brain returns to that cycle of self-punishment as a way to cope with difficult times.
One thought, I’m not sure where it came from, inspired me to share this story today. Many fears and internal voices warn me that I will not look cool anymore. Still, my search for my inner truth gave me strength. Even more so because I see and hear from colleagues and friends who work in academia that they too struggle with depression, anxiety, and the feeling of not being good enough.
They are doing a tremendous job, but they are not happy. Of course, nobody wants to share the unhappy parts because we will be seen as less serious, more fragile, and unprofessional. We want to be remembered for the quality of our work and not for our emotions in academia. Although I respect those opinions, I do not think that we can separate the cognitive intellectual creations from their authors’ emotions and stories. From my experience, I know that when one recognizes what and where it hurts, better outcomes are produced.
The healing, I believe, comes from acknowledging the inner pain between us. Yes, between us. We who have embarked on the intellectual and political journey in academia and are passionate about researching the structural injustices that prevent people from developing their full potential. I believe we can do a better job if, while we do research and teach students, we also acknowledge our fragility and pain in the process; and set the intention for healing those personal and collective wounds inherited from our roots or acquired during our life path.
April 12th 2018.