Recovery and loss

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been attempting to do some “soul-searching” as to how I got to where I am now, and where I want to go from here, as regards my career, history, and life.

This is particularly in light of neurological changes I’ve undergone as a result of long-term health issues, which have caused my brain to function differently than it did when I was a teen and young adult. That sounds like things have broken down, but the issue is more complex than that: what I’m dealing with now are long-term medication side effects, and what feels like neural rewiring. It’s much easier to live now, but along with benefits, there are also drawbacks.

This affects me majorly because of one variable: creativity. I used to base my life and my identity and my supposed future around my creativity, and in my adult years, I’m realizing that at least part of what happened in my youth, when I was extremely creative, was part of my illness (and also a coping strategy, though I don’t get into that too much, here).

I did make a post on a different blog, comparing the career paths I have set before me now. These are Cataloging/Metadata Librarianship, Reference/User Services Librarianship, and Web Development. Yesterday, after having written a bit during my lunch hour on how I even got to this point (writing has always helped me think), I made a decision. Historically, making a decision has been a very difficult thing for me, so we’ll see if it plays out.

I’m hoping to stick with Librarianship, as versus intending to put my energies into Web Development. Regardless of whether I become a Cataloging Librarian or not, I will need to understand Cataloging, so I’m heading in the right direction, there. I should also get back to reading on how to do Reference Interviews, and two books: one on serving homeless populations; the other on de-escalation. These three will be extremely helpful if I do take an entry-level job as a Reference Librarian.

This decision was based on a number of factors, but the largest looming one is that I don’t know enough Web Programming yet (aside from CSS and HTML, which aren’t really the same as, say, JavaScript) to be considered highly skillful. I also don’t know if, on my own, I ever could know enough to keep up, or even if I would need to, as Content Management Systems, as services, seem prolific (even if often a bit flawed in execution). To publish on the Web, one doesn’t need to know more than a little markup code, at this point — though it helps.

Web work is just constantly and quickly evolving. It’s a moving target, so to speak, with a lot of interlocking parts. It’s one thing to work as part of a team with a lot of members with varying and complementary skill sets; it’s another to be on one’s own, trying to do everything on one’s own, and I’m thinking that is a huge undertaking.

Yesterday, I also began searching into myself and my reasons for even wanting to become a Web Developer, and realized that my motivations were based on human connection and community, from a time when almost all of my social interactions were online (largely due to social anxiety, which the Web reinforced). They were also based on my experiences with my own identity exploration, when I felt too intimidated to openly be myself. Also, my desire to be independent, when I felt I couldn’t count on others to pull through.

At this point, I realize these are actions based on a view of an immature, out-of-control, institutional social world. (And I was in a “good” school district!) When I began at my current job a little shy of a decade ago, I expected negativity from the public, because that was what I had grown up with. What I’ve found from working Circulation (that is, in a service setting) is that most people intend to be decent, and the rest have unmet needs and ways of expressing those needs that are, “problematic,” as someone I used to know, would say.

I actually prefer that mode of phrasing to the term, “emotional labor,” which more often exemplifies what occurs when interactions are allowed to spiral out of control. (I have examples; I’m not using them.) But…I’m learning about this right now.

Before I was really socializing on the Web, I was reading, as a way to connect with other human minds. I’m not sure how common this is among librarians, but I would spend a lot of time in my school library, essentially because I didn’t have a lot of friends, it was safe, and I had entertainment. I have since learned that I’m easily overloaded with stimuli, so it’s likely that I sought out quiet places.

It’s very probable that my early experiences in libraries contributed to my desire to become a Librarian.

As an undergraduate, the only things in my life that were constant were my family, my school routine, and my drive to write. I didn’t realize at the time, and I don’t think anyone told me, that what I was experiencing might be known as hypergraphia. Hypergraphia is the compulsive desire to write or draw. It’s linked with at least three comorbid conditions, including epilepsy, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. (“Comorbidity” just means that two or more conditions are present in the same person at the same time.)

I started this post, talking about creativity. I mention above that one of the only constants I had in the years when I needed to choose an undergraduate major, was my drive to write. This was also the period of my life in which I was most severely impacted by an illness which now qualifies me as experiencing (or having experienced) a disability.

I ended up majoring in Creative Writing. I also ended up beginning a medication with the goal of helping me to think more clearly, as I was considering major life changes. That was about 15 years ago.

I wasn’t told, however, that if my drive to write was a symptom of my illness, when my symptoms went into remission, the drive to write might not be as large a factor in my life. I might even find myself not wanting to write, even though I was majoring in it, and planning to become an author.

I also wasn’t told that medications which block the action of dopamine are linked to a reduction in creativity. The medication I began 15 years ago is a dopamine-receptor antagonist, meaning that even if it doesn’t reduce the levels of dopamine in my brain, it reduces its action. And, my symptoms are apparently in remission.

In the years following my Bachelor’s, I ended up gaining two Associate’s degrees (one of which is in Art) and a Master’s in Library & Information Science — the “Library” part of which, is sometimes required to become a Librarian in my country.

What I’m dealing with now is an identity shift. I used to think of myself as a writer and artist. I have a good deal of art supplies to this effect, though I’ve found that it’s easier to buy more tools, than it is to use them. At this point I’ve realized that I may now be more of an, “artisan,” or handcrafter, than an “artist.”

Having taken a few classes in Business, I also question the utility of spending time making something that’s only really aesthetically valuable. Going by the concept of, “opportunity cost,” it’s an expensive thing to do, when I could be doing something like learning another language, instead.

I think the loosening of my past identity comes from at least two separate points. One of them is that because my communication and interpersonal skills are better than they used to be, I don’t have as much intense unexpressed energy bottled up inside (which, at times, I could only express visually). The other is that I do feel like my creative dial has been turned down a bit.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m afraid to be creative, or if it’s because I have to, now, intend to, “be creative,” or put in effort to be creative, in order to do so. In the past, I wouldn’t have had a choice. It was something I blamed on the spirits — as my calling; as my job. And to be honest, I don’t really want to go back to the way it was before.

At the same time, my reason to remain in existence back then, was to create. I based my identity around that. So that leaves me with the question of who I am, now. There are other facets to my identity; I’m not entirely without a compass.

It would just make sense to stop trying, through purchasing art supplies, to reach back to that part of the person I was, who I’m not, anymore. It’s fine to try by using those art supplies, but identity can’t be bought. It would also make sense for me to stop thinking of myself as a highly creative person, and beating myself up about it and wondering why I’m not, when I’m not.

I must have the innate capacity to go back to being the person I was before (I would have to go off of medication), but doing so comes at a cost that is higher than what I’m willing to pay.

The most obvious choice going forward is to identify with my career, which is — at this point — a Librarian. I think my professional association would encourage that, though I’ve heard arguments against making one’s vocation one’s identity, as then when one loses one’s job, they also lose part of a sense of themselves.

But I’m kind of familiar with that.

My other option is to lean more heavily on my other identities, or develop a new one. Really, that last one is looking more enticing, as there is the potential for synthesis and growth. I think the key is not to depend too heavily on any one identity in particular.

But I can get back to reading, and my language practice, and studying to prepare myself for employment as a Librarian. I also have been doing some work on owning what I ignored in myself, as a teen and young adult. (I spoke about this yesterday; the difference between sex and gender, and culture and race, though I didn’t express it in those terms. I feel the hint of a need to get deeper into that.)

Aside from that, I need to be looking at jobs (including Support Staff positions, for the experience and higher pay), and learning to cook and drive. All of that looks good.

And maybe I could make some new friends, too. Having a social life outside of family and work is something I have been missing. I should keep going out when I can…