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The pandemic is making my brain not.

Dissertating during a pandemic is not easy. Maintaining concentration is a real challenge. Before the pandemic, my chronic illness allowed me about 2 good hours a day to do creative work, and any other work time I allotted to more rote/administrative tasks.

Now I have the capacity for 1 task, regardless of whether it’s creative or administrative, and 1 meeting. That’s it. If I do those things, my brain insists it is time for sleep, Star Trek, or fiction reading. And often it can’t even handle fiction reading, so I then do this Star Trek/sleep combo.

I don’t sleep well at night. Even on nights when I don’t do a 3 am doomscroll and instead get a good chunk of sleep, I still wake up feeling like I could sleep for the rest of time if only my body would actually, you know, sleep. (I took Benadryl and slept until 10 am one weekend in recent memory and that was amazing but the rested feeling was 100% gone by the next day.)

I rarely have the energy to be “on” for my kid. We read, I remind him of all the possibilities he has (Clay! Legos! Blocks! Sandpaper letters! Pretend cooking! Real cooking! Coloring! Painting! Magnatiles! Action figures! A bunch of tiny animals!), he chooses one of those and plays independently while I crochet or try to read about either unschooling or Reader’s Advisory. We watch Sesame Street and Wild Kratts. Sometimes we play Animal Moves, in which I call out the names of random animals and he moves like them. (I use a random animal generator because I can’t even think of the names of more than probably 7 animals.)

I’m a person who likes to appear cheerful. I’m a person whose nature it is to care about things.

Right now, I want my dissertation to be done, I want to sleep, and I want to read fiction and then talk to people about what I’m reading and what they’re reading. I want to crochet but not to knit because knitting requires brain power since I keep having to re-learn it and my fingers are always slipping.

Sometimes I put on Bob Ross, if I have a migraine.

And I often have a migraine, waxing and waning in intensity.

I am living this pandemic on the absolute easiest setting, with a flexible schedule, two incomes even though mine is right at the cost of living for 1 person, the ability to pick food up curbside and do none of my own shopping, deeply discounted childcare from my mother-in-law, and the ability to communicate with friends and sometimes even visit outdoors with local family.

And I am exhausted.

I can’t imagine how hard this must be for people in worse circumstances than mine.

Kimberly Hirsh, PhD @kimberlyhirsh