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Coming back to work after a long illness

If you followed my Twitter feed in the past couple of weeks you’ll know that I fell really ill right after my two weeks of fieldwork in Madrid. My family doctor says it was a combined influenza plus overexhaustion plus almost-pneumonia kind of illness, and he got me on a two-week course of antibiotics (one week of injections and one week of pills). I am barely finished with the antibiotics and have started feeling like a human again. The first week was terrible. I had to sleep 24 hours in a row, for two days in a row.

I learned a few things these past two weeks. The first one is that some people will not understand that being ill is not a choice, and that my main focus is, and should be on getting better, not finishing a chapter/paper/article. I think it is not worth working with someone who doesn’t understand the human aspects of academia. I don’t work weekends. I don’t work holidays. I don’t work when I am sick.If that doesn’t work for you, then I don’t want to work with you.

The second thing I learned is that I should trust my doctor when he says that I need to recharge my batteries and to choose my activities wisely. He said “you will have energy to do ONE thing per day. ONE. So, be wise about which activity you do each day while you recover”. That’s exactly what I did. For example, on Wednesday, I chose to promote the Bachelor of Public Policy program in Leon, where my parents live. It was exhausting and I needed to just keel over and sleep for an hour afterwards. On Tuesday, I chose to attend an important meeting with my CIDE colleagues. On Thursday, I chose to attend a meeting with our students. I didn’t worry about doing anything else. I only had energy to do ONE thing and I did it well. And then I went back to sleep.

The third thing I learned is that I should avoid forcing myself to do anything, particularly work, while I’m convalescent. Contrary to what many people may think, I have a very fragile physique. I have severe allergies (alcohol and lactose, just to start), and my immune system has been compromised since I was a child. I’ve had to take care of myself since I was very little, and while the past few years I was able to avoid falling gravely ill, this 2016 seems to have taken a toll on me way too early, and thus I need to rest even more, as my Spring semester is actually quite busy.

The fourth thing I learned is that I should only gradually come back to do my activities, instead of trying to Get Everything Done As Soon As I Feel Remotely Healthy. I have been doing one, two small things in addition to one big thing every day, and I feel much better.

And the fifth thing, which probably should be the first, is a reminder of something I already knew: no academic accolades are worth your health and your life. No matter how many papers you are supposed to publish per year, how many conferences, your health is and should be first.

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