You’re right, I haven’t responded to your email yet.

And, yeah, okay, some of the reason might have to do with poor time management or me purposefully avoiding you or not caring or something.

But.

Last week I spent eight straight days throwing up, and I haven’t the faintest idea why. (Welcome to chronic illness: unless it’s going to kill you, you stop caring why something happens.)

This week I am dealing with nerve pain so bad that I am crying. The pain medication that I have to take in order for “crying” not to be “screaming” makes me incredibly nauseated and very foggy.

Students get my first priority. If I’ve made a commitment to a student, I’m going to do my damndest to follow through or to find someone else to step in. The fact that some don’t understand this says more about them, and about the state of academia, than me.

The job that pays my bills gets my second priority. Even if it didn’t, my supervisor is an amazing person and therefore she is top on my “try not to disappoint” list.

Doctors appointments, a phrase which for me includes therapy, are non-negotiable. I’ve totally edited thesis chapters from hospital beds, and if it’s for something routine I’ll try to do Science via my phone from whatever medical establishment I’ve landed myself in this time, but for the most part if I’m currently dealing with doctors, I’m not dealing with you.

My medication is also non-negotiable. Once I take my evening meds, I won’t be able to Do Science for the next 11 hours. I am alive solely because of these meds.

I’ve been told that I’m not sufficiently motivated, that I’m “not ambitious,” that I should just work harder. That’s like trying to tell gravity that it shouldn’t apply. No matter how awesome I once was, everyone has limits. Everyone has a breaking point. The fact that chronic illness broke me — but, by the by, my shitty childhood didn’t — is not a statement about me but instead a statement about my illness.

I’m still a fantastic academic. I’m a world-class researcher, a great writer, an award-winning speaker, a caring and effective teacher. If I can’t fit the life of an academic into my physical limitations, then so be it.

But yelling at me for not being at your beck and call, for not dropping everything and immediately solving your problem just because you say I should? Yelling at me is not going to get you anywhere. Yeah, I don’t always instantly answer email. By all means, follow up; I’m an incredibly organized person, but, hey, maybe I did miss your email, it could happen. (More likely, you forgot to send it, but let’s not get into that…)

But you’re never going to be scarier than my illness. You’re never going to motivate me more than a 10/10 on the pain scale. And if you have some compassion? Then maybe when I’m feeling a bit better I’ll be more willing to work on your project rather than on the dozens of other things I could/should be doing right now.

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