Archives and Mental Health

This blog post was originally published on October 28, 2016, for UW-Madison’s SAA-SC Archives Month blog. It can be found here and below.

I called in sick to work today.

Well, I didn’t call, I emailed. It wasn’t work, it was my practicum (where I am paying to volunteer there). And I’m not sick, I’m sad. I’m sad and scared and anxious and mad and I’ve been sitting on my couch for three hours ready for work, but I can’t move. I’ve struggled with my mental health all my life, but my time in grad school has been particularly difficult.

I was so unbelievably excited when I got into SLIS that I signed up for absolutely everything I could in my first semester, to the point where I had five jobs, three classes (four in my second semester), and was in a countless number of organizations. I was desperately trying to not want to get a PhD and to not want to go into archives or special collections, but for the most part, I thought I was doing okay. Then something personal and traumatic happened to me in my second semester and I’ve been recovering ever since. It’s nice to have this tangible thing I can point to and say, “I’m not okay, because of X,” but it’s really hard to admit I wasn’t okay before, either.

Humble brag, I know I’ve accomplished a lot at SLIS. I’ve done really good work and I have a lot of cool things to show for it. But how did I do these cool things? I said yes to absolutely everything and nearly killed myself. I cannot emphasize enough how stupid that was, because I know we are constantly bombarded with opportunities and it seems like if we are not busy, we don’t care. I’m sure this is the case in other fields as well, but I really feel it in the LIS profession and I really, really feel it within the archives field.

None of us are going to get jobs out of grad school unless we are highly competitive, with lots of tech skills, we can turn two years of school into five years of experience, and are you sure you don’t want a second masters? This is my dream career and I’m sure it’s yours, too, but we can’t keep destroying ourselves and pretending it’s okay.

I think about dropping out all of the time, but I’m trying to make this program work for me. I’m utilizing UW-Madison’s University Health Services (UHS), I’ve talked to all of my professors about academic accommodations, I’ve quit multiple jobs, and I’m trying to admit I need help and can’t do everything.

Of course, I still want to do everything. I like being busy and I like not thinking about myself, but it’s just not sustainable. I’m learning to put myself before my career, or at least somewhere on my radar, and it sucks. It absolutely sucks, but it’s also the most valuable thing I’ve ever done.

While I know this isn’t the case for everyone, both UW-Madison and SLIS have been extremely helpful and accommodating when I have reached out to them and I want everybody in this program to know that it’s okay to not be okay. We’ve picked a pretty understanding program at a pretty understanding school and I’m grateful for that. This has been the best community I’ve ever been a part of and I want to make sure it stays that way. Ask for help. Talk to people. You’re not alone.

Resources:

Cecily Walker and Kelly McElroy created LIS Mental Health Week in January of 2016 and it’s worth your time to look at both of their sites and go through the #lismentalhealth hashtag.

Hack Library School has a nice roundup of student-specific mental health posts.

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

UW-Madison specific:

University Health Services (UHS)

UHS Mental Health Services

Violence Prevention & Survivor Services

McBurney Disability Resource Center

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