But first, some backstory…
In 2009, I was enrolled in a PhD program. It was shortlived, well… I completed half of it. I worked hard setting up and running a clinical program, collecting data, and beginning my write up process. After 16 months of candidature, I submitted a preliminary thesis. In review, my co-supervisor said three things that have stuck with me like superglue on my psyche:
- This is disgusting.
- This is embarrassing.
- This is completely unacceptable.
After I left the meeting, I never went back to that PhD. I hibernated. I cried a lot. But worst of all, I believed the words.
Prior to the PhD, I was a very successful student. I completed my three year Behavioural Science degree in 4 years, and with a distinction average. And then a Psychology Honours degree. I also had two babies during the course of my undergraduate. One of them, (my now 12 y.o. son), I took into my final 2nd year Cognition & Memory exam. He was 4 days old, and he breastfed and slept the whole time. I got a distinction :) On my graduation day, my youngest son (now 9 y.o.), was only three days old. We had left hospital that morning, came home, robed up and went to my graduation. I remember sitting there, in my flowing black robes, breastfeeding my newborn, feeling on top of the world, capable of anything, so hopeful for the future, feeling like I had done the hard yards, and the rest would just fall into place.
Several years after my PhD experience, and several more years of fabulous research positions later, I found myself in a job in which I was utterly miserable. It wasn’t that the work or the people were bad, or that I was bad (or disgusting/embarassing/completely unacceptable), it’s just that it was a complete mismatch in every possible way. I realised that I needed to do something, something that my heart called for, so I shot for the stars and applied for another PhD program and scholarship – a perfect blend of my qualifications in psychology and my passions in interactive media. I reached, and I got it. It is my current program, and I am approaching that same requirement – the confirmation – that resulted in me walking away from the last one.
And so beginneth 2015…
I was loosely scheduled to complete my confirmation by mid-year. The year started out well. I was writing, I was progressing. I felt like I was deepening my involvement in the Australian Games Industry. Despite my continued imposter feelings, I was hopeful that I might be able to jump the Big Scary Hurdle successfully by mid-year. But then a funny thing happened. Amongst several other deeply negative events, and as the deadline loomed, I fell into the quicksand of the deepest pit of despair and depression that I have ever been in. I was crippled; emotionally, cognitively, and on the worst days, physically. Some days I did not make it out of bed. Some weeks I did not achieve anything beyond taking my children to and from school. For months, I did not progress on my phd. I did not progress in life. I was totally stuck. I felt utterly stupid, worthless…
I felt like human garbage. Some days I wished to not exist, believing with all sincerity that I had absolutely nothing of value to offer the world. Everything was grey…
In a tearful conversation with my PhD supervisor, we decided that I needed to take a leave of absence, so I did. And slowly, I attempted to piece myself back together.
Something magical happened around July; after weeks of working up the courage to apply, I participated in a panel at Adelaide’s Anime & Video Game Convention (AVCon) with two other magnificent humans that I admire & adore. Our panel – More Than A Game: Playing for Mental Health and Wellbeing – was extremely well attended, and by all accounts was received really well. This panel didn’t change the world, but it changed me, and I believe that it positively impacted on others too. It showed me that if I took part, I would live to tell the tale. It showed me that I wasn’t human garbage. It showed me that the work I had started in my PhD, and that I planned to continue in my career, was of value and if I worked hard, I could actually help people. It provided me with optimism and momentum. Suddenly, small hopeful thoughts of what I might be able to achieve in my break, in my PhD, and in my career beyond it all, started to creep in… what if I could go to PAX this year and maybe do a similar panel? What if I could do other positive things? What if Everything. Could. Be. Ok.? My little hopeful voice inside was back, and she had ideas…
I started gently planning all of the things that I would love to do, love to be a part of, love to achieve. And one by one, I worked towards those things. I knew that small wins were essential, but I didn’t realise I was about to experience a series of super bowl scale wins.
So in the last few months of this year, I got out of bed every day. I walked on the beach a lot. I meditated. I wrote poetry and other nonsense words just for fun. I worked hard to accept that I was a worthwhile human. And I also did a few things:
- I became a Research Communicator for Adelaide University. I developed a website for them, and a whole host of other media to get their study rolling. It was a new kind of work for me, and I loved it :)
- I chaired a panel at both GCAP & PAX – Anatomy of a Story – with some amazingly knowledgeable colleagues & industry peeps. And it was in the main auditorium – WUT. Felt so ridiculous being up there at first… but then I rather liked it :)
- I took part in the organisation of the AFK Room at PAX Australia. What an amazing experience, to be given the opportunity to work with the Take This team from the US, in bringing this initiative to provide a safe space for people at the convention. It was highly successful, and will no doubt inspire many other similar initiatives in the future. Very much look forward to seeing the team again at PAX in 2016 :)
- I took part in the Geek Parenting panel at PAX, alongside some of my most admired game industry peeps (seriously, what was I doing up there). It was fun. I was so nervous! But it was fun :)
- I chaired another iteration of the More Than A Game Panel at PAX, alongside some more of my most admired people. We all shared stories, and we all talked about the links between games, relationships, play & positive health. We shared stories. The room was chock full of people who cared. There were smatterings of tears and applause and the feels were so solid that we all came out hugging.
- I participated in another panel – Sick Heroes – talking about representations of health in games. Another packed room. Another panel alongside a wealth of knowledge and extraordinary people. I began to feel like (maybe? perhaps?) I had something to say? And maybe that something is ok? Not embarrassing, or disgusting…
- I launched a website – www.PlayWrite.com.au – so that I had an informal place to put my thoughts about games & play & flow & positive change. Originally, I planned for it to be for me, to exercise my writing in a public way. But then I realised that by opening up and giving others the opportunity to talk as well, that this would become a collective of thoughts and voices that we could all learn from and engage with. And that’s what it is now. I launched it in October with great success. In just over two months, there are over 30 contributors and over 60 articles and several thousands of visitors. And there’s lots more to come in 2016. I’m pretty proud of it :)
Slowly, surely, I involved myself in endeavours that I care about. I involved myself with people I care about. I began to care more about myself. I challenged my long held beliefs that I was garbage. I challenged the notion that I was disgusting, embarrassing and unacceptable. Because I’m not those things.
2015 was a very difficult uphill battle, but I’m beginning to have stride. My Big Scary Hurdle (PhD confirmation) is just around the corner, and I hope to jump it gracefully. If I do fall, it won’t be because I’m disgusting, embarrassing or unacceptable. It will be because there are other paths for me to take.
And I look forward to meeting you all along that path, wherever it may lead <3