Mental Health: I’m a Historian…

…although I have not been an academic historian since I graduated college. As a park guide/ranger, I have been more involved with public history. The former is more focused on using historical research to support a formal argument of a given subject that is typically published for peer review or general publication. The latter is using that same research in the role of an educator, whether in a museum or park setting for example, and presented to the public in a more intellectually accessible fashion. Not everyone is at home to an academic construct, but can be more amenable to history provided in a manner for non-academics. There are times that I miss academic research and presentation, but it is a mixed bag given that I was doing this during some of my most turbulent periods psychologically.

I spent years of my life emotionally and psychologically crippled with depression and anxiety, which was not conducive to a university setting. Add to that the fact that I have always had a problem staying awake throughout the day regardless of the amount of sleep I would get. Classroom settings and lectures were, and still are, absolute hell for me. I would lose focus, fall asleep, miss out on key points, etc. I was generally blessed with instructors and professors who were patient with my flaws so long as I turned in reliable work. Dr. Ernst at Morehead State University was a godsend in this regard. He could see that I had troubles and did not nitpick things like my inability to draw out a functional outline (I still have trouble with organizing my thoughts sufficiently for this. No clue as to why. ADHD?). I was cracking under pressure in his office over that very assignment when he said that it did not trouble him as he knew I would submit a good finished project. I never told him how I managed this, though. I sat at a computer and just started typing until an appropriate page length was finally reached, which was around 25 pages for my senior paper. There was no cohesion or logical flow, so I sat down and cut out each paragraph and reassembled them like a jigsaw puzzle. The end result? Jon confided in me that I was among a handful of top grades. He was more than satisfied and that was not the final draft. He had faith in me to complete my topic without his assistance and that was why I was allowed to select a topic outside of his parameters. The subject? The Northern Ireland Troubles.

Being a person living with crippling depression, I should never have selected this as a topic to spend years researching. The horrific events of the Irish Rising and the modern Troubles often sent me into a downward spiral that I hid from everyone. Many days and nights spent alone were marked with racking terror and internal pain. Suicidal thoughts were a common event. It is uncertain how many people associated my often twitchy and erratic behavior as being an indication that something was wrong, but there is no escaping how my obsession with that avenue of study did considerable harm.

I still have almost all of the books purchased for research. I am loathe to check books out, preferring to own them. A number of these have not even been read, having been acquired after graduation. Fortunately the obsession began to wane and less destructive pursuits have been the norm. Likewise, I still have both digital and hard copies of that final paper as well as some research documents. Most have been discarded simply due to the volume of material. Plus, there is the added catharsis of symbolically relieving myself of those years of mental strain. In the event anyone is curious about my final topic, the title was “No More Running: The Transition from Nonviolent Civil Rights Movement to Sectarian Violence, Northern Ireland, 1968-1972”. It’s a mouthful.

I am thinking of doing posts more focused on different topics that I have researched over the years, mostly just to revisit more pleasant historical pursuits. Thanks for stopping by. I enjoy seeing the stats for people visiting my site. Until next time, take care my friends.


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