Grieving an Identity

Image of a stenciled girl in black letting go of a red heart balloonPhoto by Karim Manjra on Unsplash

After three years at the University of California Merced, I returned to Merced College in August, though to the main campus in Merced instead of Los Baños. It has not been an easy transition. My work / life balance is much better (I get winter, spring, and summer break again), but the problem is that I don’t what to do with myself. When folks ask me what I’m up to, I, frankly, don’t have much to say because, for so long, work has been my identity. In trying to make peace between the life I thought I wanted and this new trajectory, I haven’t been the easiest person to be around. Managing my anxiety and depression has been difficult. I am grieving.

I had imagined a life where I would be working on research and writing articles and book chapters, maybe even co-editing a book or two.  Even though research wasn’t necessarily required at UC, I knew I would be part of a network of librarians engaged in this kind of work. When I was a solo community college librarian, I got involved in ACRL committee work, and it exposed me to folks doing great things in the profession. I felt less isolated. Slow but sure, my confidence grew. I continued this work at UC Merced. I finally got the courage to submit lightning talk proposals, and I actually presented at a few conferences, even though I didn’t feel like what I was sharing was groundbreaking. I even wrote a couple of short trade pieces.

In early 2018, as I was preparing for a two year review (for 18-months of work), I felt, strangely, unaccomplished. I was doing things but not THE THINGS. I was constantly busying myself and worrying about my review. Honestly, coming across Abby Flanigan’s blog post, “Vocational Awe and Professional Identity,” which was about Fobazi Ettarh’s article, “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” made me realize that I had turned my job into a lifestyle. I had pushed myself, and I got the standard merit increase, which is the norm at UC, but when I learned that a colleague who wrote a book also got a standard review, I knew I couldn’t continue this pace. Ultimately, I had to ask myself whether this professional activity was actually that important.

But I am sad. I was able to grow as a teacher at UC Merced, and I learned a lot from my colleagues and from various professional development opportunities. I enjoyed our instructional brown bag sessions and various projects. I’m a better librarian because of my time there.

I know this change doesn’t mean that I can’t do some of those things I had previously imagined, but I also know that I want a life that isn’t consumed by the next best thing in academic librarianship. Though I will probably always be a bit of a workaholic, I want to lead a healthier life.

I’m currently on winter break, so I’ll be taking time to figure some things out.

#instalibrariancloset

Over the last few years, I have been getting to know a great group of women in the Central Valley who are interesting, vivacious, funny, and passionate. One of these ladies posted this video this past summer.

It struck me. I saved it. I watched it several times.

I have struggled with body image since middle school. I was always chubby. I had awful glasses, braces for years, and I never had nice clothes. When I was 19/20, I lost a lot of weight, about 70 pounds, with diet and exercise that got out of control. I was skinny. I only felt pretty because of compliments from other people. I really struggled with some of the attention I got because I was still the same person I had always been. As awful as it sounds, people do treat you better when you’re thin. I have been on both sides and everywhere in between.

I was in a good place with my weight between ages 22 and 25. I gained a little weight due to life changes and stresses, but it was nothing major. I felt great. It wasn’t until I went to Washington, D.C. for a graduate school fellowship that I started feeling uncomfortable. I gained 10 pounds. And then I sprained my ankle when I got back. I couldn’t walk for a month. I never gained all my weight back, but I was no longer comfortable. I didn’t really recognize myself in the mirror a couple of years ago. I felt terrible. I hid at home a lot.

But watching the video one of my new friends posted really helped me feel a lot better. I’ve always enjoyed clothes, and the video  made me realize that over the last couple of years, I’d gotten into a funk because of my body image. You can be stylin’ at any size or shape, and I should know because throughout the years, I have been a size 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16.

This past fall, in an effort to reclaim my body and clean out my closet of too small clothes, I started documenting my work wear outfits on Instagram with #instalibrariancloset. These are mirror selfies in regular bathroom lighting–nothing fancy. My Instagram is a private account, so I wasn’t looking for followers or anything like that, but it really helped force me to wear all of my clothes and to spend a little more time on myself. I was really not comfortable doing these pictures. It was hard. I did these because I felt myself falling into the “gaining weight is not beautiful” mindset. Facing yourself in the mirror everyday helps you accept yourself.

One of the more surprising things about doing this was a message I got from a longtime friend who I don’t see very often.

I’m so proud of you. I see that you take pictures and you share your style/outfits. A few years ago I wouldn’t have ever thought you’d be posting pictures, sharing them. You used to not want to take pictures or share them. I’m really glad to see you out of your comfort zone per se and sharing you!! It’s encouraging to see!! I see them every now and then and I’m like wow… I don’t even feel comfortable to take pictures of myself and post them often. So, I like that and proud of how strong you’ve become over the years!

My last #instalibrariancloset post was yesterday.

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There were only a very few things that I didn’t wear this academic year, but I am going to do one final clothes and shoes purge. Not only did I clean out my closet by doing this, but I discovered new combinations, wore more of my jewelry, and I was even able to be better about my exercise and eating. I am actually down a jean size.

I intended for all of my IG posts to be on Pinterest, but I only pinned a few. I am planning to pin the rest. I am also in the process of creating a “Bodyful” playlist to be a source of encouragement when getting ready in the morning, and I also started following body positivity accounts on social media.

What things do you do to help you make peace with your body?