Kimberly Hirsh

Hi there! I spend most of my time with my three-year-old son. I study digital youth, connected learning, and information literacy at UNC SILS. I live with chronic illness, cook sometimes, play video games, cross-stitch and crochet, write fanfiction, and read widely. I hang out, mess around, and geek out here on my website and the IndieWeb. My pronouns are she/her/hers.

It’s remarkable how chill I am about my comps oral exam tomorrow. I guess I’m just… ready.
This little comb-bound packet represents a year’s worth of work.
Today I finished my dissertation proposal and sent it to my committee. I sent them the literature review for my comprehensive qualifying exam at the end of October. On Tuesday, I’ll take the oral examination part of the comprehensive qualifying exam. My advisor and I are trying to find a way to expedite my proposal defense, because I’m ready. The proposal defense is the last milestone before I submit and defend my dissertation (expect to submit & defend spring 2021). If you have supported me in any way in the four and a half years it’s taken to get here, thank you so much.
NOW I’ve finished my dissertation proposal, and even sent it to my committee ahead of my comps.

Candidacy, here I come!

Many spoons laid out on a table.
I’m writing this in an attempt to help people without chronic illness understand the constant calculation people with chronic illness (whether physical, mental, or both) have to undertake to budget our energy, as well as the limits on our resilience.

First, go read about the Spoon Theory (which is technically a metaphor, yes I know). Then come back. I’ll wait.

….

You’re back! Great. Let’s continue.

To review:

The basic idea of the Spoon Theory (Metaphor) is that, while most people have a consistent level of energy that’s pretty high and don’t have to calculate how they expend their energy, people with chronic illness – whether physical, mental, or both – are engaged in a constant calculation of what they can afford to do before they run out of energy and have to rest or risk illness and collapse. For example, some days I have to decide – if I take the full recycling bin out first thing in the morning, will I have enough energy to get M. to our co-working space/Montessori school and then do any good work once I’m there? If not, I better wait on the recycling, or I risk having to spend my workday in a fog being unproductive.

An important part of this metaphor that the original explanation doesn’t address is that the number of “spoons” – the amount of energy a chronically ill person has – varies depending on a number of factors. So a person might be able to accomplish a lot one day and very little the next, or might have a run of bad days with very few spoons and need many restful days to recover. This happened to me when we rearranged the house rather quickly right before M’s birthday. I’m only now beginning to find energy for things other than school or caring for M.

There’s another element to this that the spoon theory doesn’t address, and that’s the case of having variable emotional resilience. Anyone can have their resilience depleted, but some people have more resilience to begin with. In my case, depression and anxiety mean when those conditions aren’t well-managed, I have much lower resilience than a normal person. A tantrum from M. that I could normally handle gracefully and with gentleness might prompt me to snap at him or have to separate myself from him when I’m feeling this way. The metaphor I find helpful for this is to think of myself as a rubber band. When I’m stretched close to my limit, a very small additional stretching could cause me to snap. My rubber band might be more brittle or smaller than someone else’s, someone who could tolerate more demands on their resilience before snapping.

I hope this has been helpful for people, especially if you care about someone with chronic illness but don’t have it yourself,

How did I not know that it’s not just me, but rather the entire Internet, that refers to Carrie Fisher as “space mom”? Miss you space mom. Love you space mom.

Picture of General Leia Organa with text overlaid that says "Took your meds today? Good, Space Mom is proud of you. Now, go flip off the world."

Grad school and parenthood are both immensely isolating experiences. So when you combine them, you tend to be… immensely isolated. I feel very lonely most of the time, but also too exhausted usually to do the things I think you have to do to keep a friendship going. So I start to feel like I have no friends, when really I have a lot of friends, but I’m just not communicating with them much.

This is, I think, actually pretty normal. This article I read for class a few years ago had the image below in it.

Figure from “Question-Negotiation and Information Seeking in Libraries,” Robert S. Taylor, College and Research Libraries 29(3), 178-194

The way I interpret this schematic, when people first become friends, there’s a lot of communicative acts that are of the getting-to-know-you type, not focused on any particular topic. But as the friendship endures and you know each other better, you communicate less frequently but more topically.

My friendships fall in line with this pretty well, but there’s not much communication that’s just on the topic of, you know, how we’re all doing, and how we value our friendship. So here’s me, lonely, missing my friends, too tired to do much about it, and also a little overwhelmed at the prospect, because what do you say to someone you care greatly about but haven’t talked to in months?

On Thanksgiving, W., M., and I drove over to W.’s brother’s place for dinner with that side of the family. M. hadn’t napped and fell asleep on the way over. I told W. to go ahead inside, and I would stay in the care and bring M. up if/when he woke up.

I’d brought books with me, but I found that my brain couldn’t process the words in them. So I played some games on my phone and watched “Pangs,” as is my tradition. After that I started to watch The Empire Strikes Back, but I got a text from Verizon saying I was about to use up all my data, so I decided to stop.

So there I was, in the dark, in a rare silent moment, all by myself, and I had a revelation:

All I had to do to connect with my friends was to say hi. It was as simple as a text. It didn’t need to be a dramatic letter full of reasons why I haven’t been in touch, apologies for ghosting them, lengthy updates on how things are going with me.

So I opened up the Contacts app on my phone and just started going through it, texting people I miss a lot and haven’t checked in with in a long time. (I did miss some people and only realized later that I should have included them, so the next time I find myself in a truly quiet moment like this, I’ll get to them.)

To each of them, I sent a customized version of a message that went basically like this:

“Hi [friend’s name]! I’m in the car with a sleeping M. outside W’s brother’s house and taking the rare quiet time as an opportunity to text friends and wish them well. I hope you’re having a great day!”

Some people just got “Hi! I love you!” and others just got a variation of “I hope you’re having a great day!” without the explanation about M. sleeping.

And in a few minutes, answers started coming in.

I am thankful for your friendship.

❤️️❤️️❤️️

We just pulled off our first Thanksgiving in our house!

I love you right back and I hope you had a wonderful day too! 💜

Thank you! We did have a good day! I hope you and your family did as well.

Thanks for the Thanks-greetings! I hope you’re doing well and junk!

I love you too! And I miss you!

Hey lovely! I hope you’re well! I adore you!

Friends. They’re great, right?

Now I’ve opened up all of these conversations, I hope I’ll feel more comfortable just sending a note to say “Hey! Thinking of you! How are you?” I can’t believe it took this long for it to occur to me that it’s as simple as that.

And let’s conclude with this:

If you’re someone who thinks sometimes of reaching out to me and then doesn’t, because it’s too daunting or whatever, know that I always welcome a “Hi! How are you?”

This morning, when W. and M. were sleeping in, I could have chosen to do one of many different things, whether I wanted to spend that time productively or on leisure. I chose to play the visual novel Choices, which is one of Tumblr’s top gaming-related tags right now. When I wasn’t able to do any more chapters there, I switched to The Arcana: A Mystic Romance. I’ve also got a vampire one installed, but I haven’t tried it yet.

It should surprise no one who knows me well that I like these games. I got obsessed with the Ace Attorney series for a while and pretty much treat all Bioware games like they’re otome with combat. Don’t get me started on Dream Daddy and how I can’t bring myself to choose between Goth Dad and Barista Pun Dad. (In real life, I married gothish barista pun dad.)

I read a piece a while back about how young women are making businesses out of writing stories and developing them for some of these games. I’m definitely keeping my eye on this as a potential area for research.