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Trigger warning for non-graphic descriptions of depression.

When I was a kid, a clear road lay ahead of me: finish school, receive a higher education and work. Finish school, because it is necessary to enter college; get a higher education, because you need it for "proper" jobs, and work, because that was the way my mother, father and grandparents all lived.

When I was a kid, people had higher objectives in their lives, something to live for. The air was saturated with the knowledge of it back then, during the last decade of the Soviet Union. My mother also had a larger goal in her life. It was because of this goal that she helped recover idle lands* when she was a student, it was because of this goal that she was a komsomolka then a member of the Communist party. It was also in part because of this goal that she was on both my brother's and mine parents' committees when we were at school.

When I was an adolescent, I did what I was supposed to do: graduated from high school, entered college in a field that appealed to me, graduated with a grade just below the one that would have made my diploma "with honours", and started working at the same science institution where I had prepared the final project for my college program.

When I was an adolescent, I realized that I, myself, did not have a higher goal in my life, but the lack did not bother me, for surely, the goal was going to reveal itself once I started working and did not need to study all the time anymore.

When I was a young adult, a fresh college graduate, and a new worker, I approached my older colleagues and asked what their goal was, what they were doing at work "in a larger sense", toward what they were employing their efforts.

I failed to express myself in a way that would have made myself understood. An my colleagues, most of whom were my parents' age and older, and for whom having a higher purpose was as natural as breathing, failed to understand my problem.

I floundered. I did not see the higher goal behind the smaller tasks and problems my co-workers where occupying themselves with in these times of the cholera when the State was and is not interested in supporting fundamental science.

I floundered; I tried working on the still smaller tasks set to me, but without the backbone of the higher goal that I'd deluded myself I would miraculously acquire "later", these tasks did not engage me.

Outside interests and hobbies flourished: I became fluent in French and continued nourishing my English and started going abroad for events of interest. Yet at work, I felt like a misfit. Forever dragging my feet, disrespecting the deadlines, I behaved like a spoiled child, using my quick mind to only do enough work for my discontent not to be obvious. I started missing a day here and there, and nobody reacted, because not clocking in and out every day is not sanctioned here so long as you are pulling your weight.

I fell deeper into depression, and eventually missed 6 weeks straight at work and was nearly fired. A colleague from another work group prevented that from happening: he vouched for me and said he would make sure I work properly.

My memory of work-related events in the two years that followed is fragmented. I was out of sorts; I had to force myself to get into work every single day because there was still no rigid control over me (for which I was also grateful). I felt that the dark cloud inside of which I had lived for months before and during the not-going-to-work-at-all episode was still close, still within my mental eyesight and arm's reach, still just a few steps away.

I do not know how and when this situation changed. It probably happened when on a whim, I accepted two tasks unrelated to my everyday duties. One was translating articles into English both for my immediate colleagues and for other physicists, and the other, helping organize a big event our department is responsible for, the annual Zvenigorod Conference on Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion.

Both tasks are finite, tangible, and give me the satisfaction of knowing I do something immediately useful. They also help my self-esteem by making me visible, at work. I am the person who does these concrete and obvious things, and not the grasshopper among ants anymore.

As and adult, I am a jack of several trades. I can do well enough in them, but I do not consider my patchwork skill set particularly marketable at the moment. I work, I get by, and I am slowly rebuilding myself.

As an adult, I do not have a higher goal. I have small, visible ones that I set, and reach, and move past without fanfare.

*Recovery of idle and fallow lands in Kazakhstan, Siberia, and Volga and Ural regions in 1955–1965 was a massive endeavour devoted to increasing grain production in Soviet Union. For the first few years, these lands did produce much higher than average crops of grain, but then they fell largely to disuse, because the work on infrastructure and protecting the new agricultural lands from extreme weather phenomena in those regions not characteristic of other, traditional, agricultural lands was not done properly.


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 20th, 2016 09:20 pm (UTC)
ConCrit is welcome.

I did not try to do anything in particular this time, so please just tell me what worked and what did not work for you in this entry :)
Nov. 20th, 2016 11:49 pm (UTC)
I struggle with things like this in my jobs too... I tend to get fired very easily because after a while, I just stop caring about a lot, and then sometimes I'm just bad at things. I've never kept a job for more than about a year. Always gotta be trying something different!

I'm glad that you've discovered how to enjoy your job more. Maybe the issue was that you felt very static and didn't like what you were doing and didn't know how to get out of it. It might just be a good idea to change jobs every now and then... especially when you're young and not bound by familial constrictions.
Nov. 20th, 2016 11:54 pm (UTC)
Branching out certainly helped, especially doing something different but still main-job related.

I have a problem with remaining in the same job, yes. On the one hand, the idea of job searching is kinda terrifying, because I've never had to in my life. On another, I have been a hair's breadth away of just up and leaving three or for years ago despite that. On yet another, I now shouldn't leave for the next two or three years because of my PhD, and I shouldn't leave after out of gratitude. I don't know, I don't know, I don't know, hehe.
Nov. 21st, 2016 04:00 am (UTC)
This is a well written illustration of how evolution of thought doesn't come in epic epiphanies, but instead in subtle revelations... very well done.
Nov. 22nd, 2016 02:31 pm (UTC)
The process also very often reveals itself only when you reflect on it after the change has already happened. That having this goal used to be so much a norm was a new realization that I had while writing this entry.

Thank you!
Nov. 21st, 2016 04:10 am (UTC)
Setting goals and reaching them
Before you do anything rash about giving up on your current employment and going elsewhere, try to find the time to embellish your publications record, since this could help with changing jobs. Good thing at least your English is excellent, and that would help with conference paper presentations abroad.
Nov. 22nd, 2016 02:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Setting goals and reaching them
Well, I have been in this job for 12 years, ever since I graduated from college, so I certainly won't do anything rash :).

But you are correct about the publication record. Mine exists, certainly, it cannot not, but it is all over the place and mostly I am just one of the many names on an articles. But PhD should help with that somewhat.
Nov. 22nd, 2016 11:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Setting goals and reaching them
Having a PhD will open doors as a minimum requirement in different places, and team efforts on publications are typical where the contents are complex and costly. What you really need to do is become the first author of subsequent works.
Nov. 23rd, 2016 05:23 am (UTC)
Re: Setting goals and reaching them
I do, don't I? This will show that I am active and interested.
Nov. 23rd, 2016 09:39 am (UTC)
Re: Setting goals and reaching them
It's all about raising your profile as a scholar. Unfortunately, being the third or more author may become increasingly meaningless.
Nov. 21st, 2016 05:22 pm (UTC)
This is quite a philosophical post.

...the philosopher Socrates said that to achieve happiness you need to know the truth, and do the right thing...

...my favourite though, when it comes to this kind of subject, is from Solomon (the king in the Bible who had untold wealth, popularity and everything else...). He said that none of it brings contentment and our true aim in life is to get to know the creator...

Just a few philosophical thoughts for you.

Good luck!

And if you believe in a creator (in fact, even if you don't) God bless you.
Nov. 22nd, 2016 02:46 pm (UTC)
I do believe in a creator. Thank you (I don't even know what to answer back :) ).

I keep finding that the right thing is not the same for everyone, while the older generation believes that there is the universal right thing. Ironically, this right thing happens to be the one they believe in. Oh well.
Nov. 22nd, 2016 07:48 am (UTC)
This is very relate-able. I too think about the higher purpose in life and what am I doing with my life, now and then. And mostly people do not get it, even if I try and explain. They think I have a cosy life and shouldn't worry about the struggle. But then you feel things are amiss. Maybe that's why I started writing :)
Glad you too found a channel to branch out, and maybe at different times we have different purpose to fulfil.

This was a good read. Thank you!
Nov. 23rd, 2016 09:35 pm (UTC)
And thank you for the thoughtful comment. :)
Nov. 22nd, 2016 07:58 am (UTC)
I liked the frank, self-aware nature of this post. I feel you, on depression being a thing that can sneak up on you until suddenly it has been bad for a long time. I'm glad you had that coworker to vouch for you and glad it has gotten better! Hope it continues to do so.
Nov. 23rd, 2016 09:48 pm (UTC)
I hope so too.

That was my first experience with depression, and I did not know what it was until after I was lucky to get through it, looking back on that time.

Thank you!

Nov. 22nd, 2016 08:20 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this! I think there is a lot of universality in feelings of depression trying to find a place in the world. You wrote about details here that are at once hauntingly familiar and starkly different from my life, which makes for a beautifully introspective mix.
Nov. 23rd, 2016 09:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, I know exactly what you mean. Many Idol piece have a similar ring to me, and help me see my situation differently.

I am glad I was able to do the same for you :)
Nov. 25th, 2016 04:43 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed this so much! Depression is awful under the best circumstances, and I can't imagine the end of the Soviet Union (while historically fascinating) and the creation of a new state to be anything close to that. I enjoyed the details, such as the footnote (that's just the kind of person I am), plus the search for an search for a higher goal, and the effect of age/experience on it. Great entry!
Nov. 27th, 2016 11:35 pm (UTC)
I was at school then, and I remember the deep feeling of disgust when I saw history (books and other things) being re-written before my very eyes. My feelings toward the new state I live in did not get any better after that :).

Thank you!
Nov. 25th, 2016 08:08 pm (UTC)
Sometimes, it helps to have those discrete accomplishments when much of what you do feels vague and open-ended. A prolonged sense of "never getting anywhere" can be really unsettling. I'm glad you've found some enriching activities that have helped. :)
Nov. 27th, 2016 11:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

You are write about it the little accomplishments :)
Nov. 28th, 2016 07:32 pm (UTC)
Sometimes the smaller more concrete goals are the ones that keep us going!
Nov. 29th, 2016 11:18 pm (UTC)
Very true. I used to dismiss them as something of no importance before I realized that I might never find that Goal, and that I was fed up with waiting for it to appear.
Nov. 28th, 2016 09:54 pm (UTC)
This is a great and thought provoking piece of writing. It is well written and show the stages you went through to arrive where you are now.

I'm glad you have found a way of handling life at work.

I'm quite the same. When I was working I never knew what I 'really' wanted to do. Actually I was always happy in whatever job I was doing for the first few months! Thankfully I was a good worker and was never sacked from any of the many jobs I had! I just worked for as long as I could possibly stand a job (usually a couple of years)and then move on to another - which in the 80's and 90s in the UK when unemployment was at it's highest meant that I didn't do bad as I was never out of work.

Staying in any job too long would get me down but there was actually one job that I stayed in for far too long and it did cause me to have depression!

Edited at 2016-11-28 09:56 pm (UTC)
Nov. 29th, 2016 11:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the compliment :)

You know, looking back on my work situation, I see too many parallels between it and my family life, both in how I used to behave and how I viewed it. So in the past, it was as if that was it for good and bad, just like family. I will need to think more on that, thank you for turning my thoughts in this direction.
Nov. 29th, 2016 09:25 pm (UTC)
It's a standard theme that many of us return to both in our work and in our lives: it's easier to live life when you know what you have to do. Or at least figuring out what you liked and then knowing how to proceed when you did!

That's what I love about writing, though. It's all about everything you've learned!
Nov. 29th, 2016 11:39 pm (UTC)
It also helps organize thoughts, even though often when you write about your life you bring a somewhat artificial order to the chaos of it, and that in hindsight :)
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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