The Value of Going Down

These are stressful times for many of us. An election, a pandemic, an economic recession, and now the winter blues are beginning to set in, at least for me here in Michigan. On top of this, I struggle with a chronic illness called POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), that I generally manage well, but can certainly take me down at times.

And that is just what happened early in November. I went DOWN.

Since around August, I’ve almost completely dedicated myself to transitioning out of academia. At the advice of a friend, however, I did pull together an application for an academic fellowship that was significantly less competitive than others (around 30% of applications received funding).

As anyone who works on these applications knows, they can be incredibly time-consuming: my conservative estimate is that this took at least 3 full weeks of work.

When I was nearly ready to submit, my sponsor pointed out a glaring problem: I was applying to the fellowship in order to turn my application into a book, which was prohibited by the foundation.

The wind went right out of my sails. Sunk costs, don’t look back, I know, I know, but still. My last chance at the career I had devoted 10 years to and one of my last chances to receive the support I needed to complete my book went, “Poof!” Gone.

On top of this, I began to have some pretty severe functional difficulties owing to POTS.

Dietary sensitivities often occur with POTS. I have found that I can tolerate certain amounts of foods, but that, if I eat them too often, the cumulative effect can insidiously grow and ultimately become incapacitating.  

This happened right around the time that the fellowship fell through. Which was also the time of the election.

Would the election function in a pandemic? To what lengths might Donald Trump go to stay in power? Would the Pennsylvania legislature overturn the will of the majority of voters in their state? Just how much domestic terrorism and violent voter suppression might take place?

Fortunately, my worst fears turned out to be unfounded. We had a safe and secure election with the highest voter turnout in history. But, boy, was I distracted for a week or so.

Still, I would get up each day, caffeinate, sit down to work, and… nothing. Or rather, next to nothing.

In retrospect, that is *exactly* what I should have done: nothing.

A few days after I hit the wall, I talked to a wise friend who encouraged me to take it easy for a few days to recover. A flight attendant, she had a more worldly view of the work ethic that predominates in American culture. She too had some chronic health issues and noted just how much she would bounce back after a couple days’ rest.

Although taking a few warranted days off to physically and psychologically recover while distracted by the election would have been an indulgence, I’m convinced I would have been ultimately *more* productive that week. Yet the very fact that it would have been an indulgence kept me from doing it.

So I say this as much to you as to myself: don’t be afraid to take the easy way out sometimes. Sometimes the path of least resistance is also the most expedient. Sometimes the quickest way to get up is to let yourself go down.

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