On Monday 7th January 2019. I emailed my line managers to hand in my notice of resignation. From a permanent lecturing post. That I had held for a decade. That had been a ‘pinch me’ job.
For a long time. Until it wasn’t.
As readers of this blog will know, I took a prolonged period of sick leave in 2018. My body physically gave in to ever progressing endometriosis and the situationally provoked mental health issues this created. In part, from attempting to mask a debilitating chronic illness. I have stage 4, severe, endometriosis in my bladder, my bowel, attaching my womb to both. Adhesions and lesions. I have been profoundly affected.
I returned to work on a phased basis at the end of November 2018. This translates into taking 4 weeks to work up from 0 to full time – in case you were wondering. I still wanted to get back. I still wanted to teach in Semester 2. I didn’t want to go onto statutory sick pay; I received a letter telling me to sign on at the job centre the week I had returned.
I thought I could do it.
And yet. Nothing had changed. It was as if I had never been away. Had never disclosed I was ill. As if I was ‘better’ because I was back. As if a chronic, ongoing, progressive, illness, is not.
By the week before Christmas, I could hear the alarm bells ringing again. I just didn’t want to do it anymore.
It was simultaneously too much, and yet, no where near enough.
No where near enough kindness, solidarity, intellectual curiosity, creativity, freedom.
Ironic, huh. The ‘ivory tower’ – the place where you go to strive to be at the frontier of knowledge. Yes. If you fit with funding streams and REF panels and teaching requirements and new disciplinary priorities.
Sure, you can plough a lone furrow. Make networks outside of your everyday spaces. Sure, you can use social media – I do. I love it. I have met the best people. But, what about wanting more. More of the best. More of what was promised. More of what you were trained for.
That is why I stayed.
I thought it mattered that a first generation female academic was there. In a Russell group university. Being a different body with a different perspective.
I thought it mattered that I was the first in my family to go to university. The only person in my family to have a job like this. An income like this. A title like this. Probably the only one to ever do it. You can’t walk away from that, can you? You can’t help the people that matter if you don’t have this income, can you?
I thought not being financially dependent on anyone mattered. It does. I won’t be unemployed. More of that later.
I thought my teaching mattered. I was making an intervention. A feminist politics class restored. A new innovative teaching methodology and assessment – visiting a zine archive, collaging, group collaboration to write our feminist manifestos. A new course on the human rights violations of austerity in the UK. Important. urgent. Angry. Political.
I thought I was a role model. For my children. A working mum. A career woman. Doing it all. Not letting illness bring you down. Triumphing mind over matter. Making sure my children’s lives would be better. They would be good citizens. They would be in solidarity.
I thought this was the place I could be more. I could stretch out. I could access the knowledge that I craved. And for such a long time I did. I cannot emphasise the sheer joy that comes from meeting the brightest and the best. The women who stun you with their intellect, kindness, tenacity, strength. That is the privilege. And these are peers and students. Seeing students soar, realise their potential – humbling and exceptional.
And yet. For all those good reasons, there is a better one to leave. My own health, sanity, creativity, care and freedom.
I am leaving, not because I can’t do academia – I can. I just don’t want to anymore.
I don’t want to stay, because of all the reasons I listed above to stay, now seem to matter so very little. The direction of travel feels all wrong. The motivations warped.
This is not about specific place or people. Although individuals say and do things in particular places and spaces, this is not about that. This is about my response to the structural and cultural challenges of a sector. It has broken my heart.
I will always love higher education. I will always champion it. It has, in many ways, been the making of me. I would never be at the point of walking away from a secure, fantastically well-paid job, to do something else, without it.
It has given me confidence. It has let me know myself. I can intellectualise and analyse my experience.
I now know, I no longer simply want to research why women are politicised and our politics are diverse and divisive; I want to live that. I want to do that.
I am going to. I am going to be more for more.
With love, solidarity and thanks.
To be continued….