Losing My Focus and Finding Myself: My Journey with IBD in Academia

I started graduate school with a vision of what this chapter of my life would be like. I envisioned interesting research, compelling professional relationships, and, most importantly, success. During my second year of the PhD program, however, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. My future began looking different now. I was 23 years old and diagnosed with a chronic illness. Plans for the future started to change in slight ways, and I gained a new identity that opened up my perspective on health. In recent months, this vision of my life has again been upended. Now, I find myself losing motivation for life in academia, rethinking my priorities, and envisioning a drastically different future, one that's built on life and living, rather than work.

Living with ulcerative colitis isn't easy.

Nothing about this drastic upheaval of my day-to-day life has been easy, and living with IBD adds an additional layer of complexity. I question whether I'm capable of a career in academia, and then question whether I even want one. This pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to explore myself in new ways and imagine new visions of my future. I've cultivated solo hobbies, like yoga and reading. I've lost touch with some friends and deepened my connections with some others.

In losing my focus and motivation for academia, I've gained the ability to find myself and find my passions, even when those lie outside of the acceptable academic world. I've also worked to stop comparing myself to others in my program who put in 70-80 hour weeks and are thriving with remote work. This has been the hardest part, and I still fall short many times each week, but I'm beginning to see that the vision for my life can be only my own creation. This means living my unique life in my unique way and letting others do the same.

Despite my UC, my future looks bright and full of life.

When I think about the future now, I see an open and empty canvas. I see options and possibilities and dreams that have nothing to do with my career. I see travel and love and learning. What I don't see is that 70 to 80-hour academic work week. My IBD is a part of me, but my vision for my future is so much more. This life is mine to figure out and to live in my own way. When I think about the future now, I see a new life for myself that prioritizes living and experiencing rather than working and surviving.

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