All posts by Guest Writer

Deferred Maintenance

By Enjoli Hall

How and why I made healthcare my top priority in my first semester

Twenty-nine. The number of visits I made to a doctor’s office during my first semester as a PhD student. In any given week, my Google calendar was a fall-themed collage of classes, advising meetings, on-campus events, and doctor’s visits. Scheduling my doctor’s appointments was akin to a research assistantship—I mapped the locations of Black female primary care physicians. I analyzed what combination of dental procedures I could afford with my insurance benefits. I reviewed literature on the antidepressants recommended by a counselor. I wrote reports detailing my medical history on intake forms. I presented my life story to the six therapists I was forced to meet with in order to evaluate my request for an emotional support animal in university housing. While I couldn’t add these lines to my CV, perhaps I could add a few years to my life.

Some of the appointments I scheduled might be considered “routine” check-ups: annual eye exam, seasonal flu shot, pap smear. But many of the appointments were for managing chronic pain and depression. Sometimes, these appointments were not planned, such as impromptu visits to the urgent care clinic on campus for frequent headaches or toothaches. What nearly all of these appointments have in common is that they were the result of deferred maintenance. In my field of urban planning, the term deferred maintenance is often used to describe the practice of postponing maintenance and repairs on essential infrastructure to save money, balance budgets, or reallocate resources to address more immediate needs. For example, a landlord might postpone fixing leaky pipes in an apartment to save money in the short term. Or a local government might delay replacement of lead pipes in its city’s water system due to budget shortfalls. The cumulative effects of deferred maintenance can be catastrophic—an apartment building that could have been rehabbed now needs to be demolished; a city’s population is poisoned by its water supply with lasting public health problems.

Prior to starting grad school, I deferred diagnostic tests, annual exams, small procedures, and mental health therapy for years. I was a first-generation, low-income college graduate barely making ends meet in an industry and city that people don’t choose to make money. While I am adept at understanding the functions of macro social systems such as racism and the economy, I often struggle to navigate individual institutions and bureaucracies to get my needs met. I could not afford the co-pays, the time off from work, or the transportation to get to doctor’s visits of all sorts. Sometimes I tried to schedule appointments, but would get discouraged when the closest doctor was located over an hour away, open during limited hours, not accepting new patients, or did not take my insurance. These challenges are common when you live in a poor, low-density region serviced by an inadequate public transit network. Or when you grow up in a community that discounts mental illness as laziness or a bad attitude: “You don’t need a doctor, you need discipline. Your problems will go away when you get a better job or a boyfriend.

I internalized my mental anguish as of my own making and normalized my physical discomfort as a fact of daily life. In effect, I deferred maintenance on the mental and physical systems that sustain my well-being. As a result, what were cavities became root canals. The situational depression I developed in college spiralled into clinical depression—a mighty vortex that seemed to grow more intense with each post-grad job, relationship, and life event. And what might have been managed with months of counseling sessions, probably requires several years of regular therapy. At times, it is very difficult to reconcile the access I’ve had to some of the most elite universities in the world with the barriers I’ve faced to accessing basic medical services. I don’t know how to describe the feeling of sitting in a class and knowing your lived experience is the outlying data point of educational success, the case example of why we need multifaceted definitions of “access” that consider affordability, availability, and awareness in addition to physical distance. When your GRE score is in the 99th percentile, and so is your cholesterol level.

I am sharing my story not because I think it is unique, but because I suspect it is quite common in some ways. Despite increasing awareness of the academic, financial, and sociocultural challenges experienced by minority, low-income and first-generation students, I have observed a persistent stigma and silence around health issues. I understand the disincentives and potential penalties that students—especially marginalized students—may encounter in sharing these stories. Or even just saying to someone “I have depression.” Our position in these programs is often marked by precarity and presumed incompetence. We’re constantly expected to prove our basic capabilities to handle the rigors of advanced research to our peers and professors. Our admission was not enough; at best it was a professional courtesy, at worst it was a statistical accounting. We should be so grateful. Talking about mental or physical illness—how it alters the way we process information, the way we move through space, the way we structure our schedule—carries tremendous risk in a profession that rewards intellectual acuity and constant productivity.

Grad school is hard. But for someone like me, it means improved access to care such as on-campus, free and subsidized providers, health screenings, and wellness services that I could not obtain for the last several years. The services are not comprehensive and my stipend is not enough, but it is more healthcare and more income than I’ve had for years. So, I am making my health my top priority. I cannot afford to defer maintenance of my mental and physical health any longer. Because the grim reality is, if I do not attend to these issues now, I might not survive to the end of my PhD program. I know this is only the very beginning of months and years of chronic pain, frequent appointments, and unforeseen consequences, but I am grateful for the opportunity to repair. My pain might not be my fault, but I am responsible for my healing.


Enjoli Hall is a PhD student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Enjoli’s research is focused on racism, social inequality, and urban policy, and the impact of these forces on local government planning, policy, and finance. Her work focuses on cities and counties facing chronic poverty related to deindustrialization. Enjoli’s research draws on over five years of experience working with non-profits, foundations, and research centers in her hometown of Buffalo, New York. She has worked in a variety of roles in community development, ranging from adult literacy tutor to youth advocate to program officer to regional planner.

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?: How I Came to My Final Decision to Leave My Full-time Job to Pursue Full-time School

by Ebony Davis

Happy spring semester to all of you GOATs out there on a journey to pursuing higher education! Whether it is a master’s or a Ph.D. program you are in, welcome to the chat. Over my winter break, I spent a lot of time pondering, questioning, reassuring myself, affirming myself, challenging my thoughts and habits all while in the midst of getting some serious well-needed rest (I literally drooled on my pillows every night) and catering to my inner adventurous self by having a little fun. The last two weeks of winter break consisted of me overthinking one plan of action: whether I should stay at my current full-time job or leave.

I currently work full-time at a social service agency in Chicago. The agency is a non-profit and is contracted through the Department of Children and Families (DCFS) here. My undergraduate degree is in Social Work and my graduate degree will be in Social Work as well. I have been working in the field for a little over a year now and my master’s degree program entails two full-time internships at two social service agencies all while spending time in class unpacking more layers of the field and what it means to be a social worker and working. All in all, my life is social work piled on top of social work piled on top of more social work and it has been that way for a while. Last semester, when my last class of the night was over, I was going home to prep and gear myself up to go to work.

Oh, did I mention I work during the day and overnights? My work schedule is pretty jam packed. I spend most of my time at work with the children I serve.

Well, over winter break, I started thinking to myself how different I wanted my spring semester to be.

First of all, I knew I wanted to switch over to being a full-time student, and I knew full-time work would not mesh with the demands of being enrolled full-time. This commitment resulted in me having to make a decision. A hard one. If I did not want to be exhausted, I knew I had to give up working in order to pursue and focus on school but my decision boiled down to a few things:

  1. I knew I was never happy with where I was. The pay this place started me off at was terrible. I literally had money to pay ONE bill a month, which was rent. Aside from that, it was just me consistently living check to check for the first five months I lived in Chicago. That feeling was miserable. Having to divide up my check to see which bills were going to get paid in a month and which were not was probably one of THE most humiliating things I have ever experienced. Do not be like me and settle for something like this.
  2. The work environment was extremely toxic, distracting and unhealthy. You all don’t know, but my friends heard how much I wanted to leave every single day. It was so hard trying to ‘do the right thing’ and serve a vulnerable population in the midst of unwarranted chaos. Drama between staff unfolded every day and some of the employees were borderline verbally abusive to the youth at this agency. It started to become concerning, and no one seemed to see that there was anything wrong.
  3. The final reason why I decided to leave and knew that it was time to go is because I never felt supported at my job. Yes, there were good days, but I took it hard when I was not receiving adequate supervision and support from my team. It’s like everyone was just stuck on ‘DUH’ and did not care about growth and the effectiveness of how the agency is run.

Even with these reasons in mind, it STILL was hard to leave the job. I felt so much resistance and through myself for a loop every time I got ready to submit my formal notice. A lot swayed my decision. I thought about that flow of income I would be cutting myself away from, I thought about my bills, I thought about what would happen to the children I served and worked with and how my decision to leave would affect them, and I thought about what people would say about me.

When my mind started to become heavy, I prayed and asked God to send me a sign or vision that would reveal the best decision for me. I prayed over my sanity and mental wellness and asked God to remove resistance and remind my mind and body that I am okay currently, and I am going to be okay in the future. I prayed about the contemplation and unrest the decision to stay or go was causing me.

Ultimately, God gave me a sign. He gave me a sign a long time ago and He is giving me another sign now. I am writing this because this is your sign. If you are not well because of a job, leave. If you are pursuing school and work full-time and cannot seem to find time for yourself, your children, your family or your partner, leave. If you have been putting off taking care of yourself for a job, leave. If the work environment is toxic and you do not see growth, leave. Because 1) the work you are putting in now, while in school, is going to create and expand opportunity for you. 2) Work will always be there, for all of us. Our peace, sanity and joy are things you and I cannot afford to sacrifice anymore.

You are still a Queen if you choose to leave. It’s going to be okay.


download (2)Ebony Davis is a 23-year-old from Kansas City, KS. She recently relocated to Chicago, IL to embark on her graduate school journey, and pursue some dreams she has had in mind for herself. She attends Loyola University Chicago, and is in school for her master’s degree in Social Work. She has been working in the social service field for a total of four years now, and she feels like she right where she needs to be.

Working in this field is her calling. Ebony enjoys being a source of support to other people, and she loves challenging and uprooting individuals into the very best version of themselves. Aside from all the social work she does, Ebony also writes and has been writing since she can remember. She enjoys journaling in her free time, and is working toward being a freelancer all 2020.

Writing While Bilingual: English and Graduate School Writing

I am bilingual.

That sentence was one of the hardest to write. But harder still was coming to the realization that yes, I am indeed bilingual. See, I grew up in Uganda, a former British colony in East Africa. From the time I was three I spoke both English and Luganda. One way colonialism works is it destroys indigenous languages, by forcing the colonizer’s language onto the colonized. In the case of Uganda, the official language is English. And though I can fluently speak Luganda, I struggle with reading Luganda and writing it is even harder. But Luganda is such a huge and very important part of my life, and it affects the way I think and view the world.

But just as Luganda has been a part of me, so has English. My entire academic career has been in English; beginning in kindergarten and now in graduate school. Thus, I have written and spoken English, the Queen’s English, I’ll have you know, for the majority of my learning. But my introductory writing lessons in English were in Uganda. I was taught to write in English, specifically creative writing, but in a Luganda way. This meant much of my writing was telling, what I like to call wandering stories. When I think about the way I write and tell stories, Amos Tutuola’s novel, The Palm Wine Drinkard, comes to mind. Because the way I grew up involved hearing stories told with a lot of details, tangents, and with multiple characters, some of whom had a tendency to just disappear without having advanced the plot of the story much. So, I learned to write stories the way I heard them told, even though I was writing in a foreign language.

Graduate school writing, I believe, is a form of storytelling.

Graduate school writing, I believe, is a form of storytelling. And when I started my graduate school career, I had not written for over five years. I had been working and having a child. I quickly learned that writing is a muscle– one that if you do not exercise, will quickly atrophy. But never having been one that shies away from exercise, and because I am now a graduate student, I began to collect books on writing. And I learned some good tips such as write your introduction last, use simple English, write an outline, know your audience, and edit, edit, edit. The idea of simple English has always worried me. As a child who read Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, I am forever stuck on a particular scene in that book where Obi Okonkwo’s character returns home from studying English in the United Kingdom– a decision that had already disappointed the community that fundraised to send him to school. Upon his return he gives a speech which further disappoints his community because he uses “is” and “was” English instead of using big words. I have already disappointed my Ugandan family by not being a doctor, (though I am attempting that with a PhD, it is just two letters after all), a lawyer or an accountant. I am not going to disappoint them further by using “is” and “was” English too.

The writing advice was all good. But there was the messy case of the subject matter of my graduate work; sex and reproduction among women and girls from Africa living in America. Women and girls like me. I am well aware for whom the university was built for, and it was definitely not someone like me. I wanted to write for us; for women and girls that had taken that journey from Africa to settle on this “shining city on a hill.” I wanted this story, the story I was attempting to write during my qualifying exams, to be for us. And I found I couldn’t. Because to write it in the way I wanted to, English, I found, was inadequate. I knew the mechanics of putting together a sentence. I knew a first draft would always be terrible and that it would be the fifth maybe even sixth draft that I would finally send to my committee. But the content and the way I wanted to write that content; English wasn’t working out. In my head it was in Luganda, because Luganda allowed me to say what I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say it. But because I never learned to write it, but only to speak and think in it, English was all I had. And when I wrote in English attempting to fit Luganda into English, my paper was incoherent. I was frustrated and confused. How could I still be struggling with this god awful, clunky language, that I had been using for over twenty years?

While I in my own little world struggling with writing in English, Dr. Toni Morrison went home. And my literary world turned a little darker. A world that I had always found solace in when the real world got too much. I wanted to sit quietly in a corner for days and pore over her work. Read every novel and essay she had ever written word by word, sentence by sentence and turn it over and over again in my mind, and just glory in its beauty. I wanted to reach out to my black women friends and just talk to them about what she and her work meant to us as black women and as mothers. I wanted a month to collectively mourn her passing. But I couldn’t because deadlines.

So, I did the next best thing, I searched for audio and videos of her speaking. And I took a few minutes throughout my day to sit quietly and listen to her voice. And that is how I came across Dr. Morrison’s 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature lecture. That speech was exactly what I needed, and it made me furious. Because it spoke to everything I was struggling with and at the same time I felt there was no answer to my writing dilemma. I saw the whole of academia as those young people who set out to question what I was writing. But I was also the young men, holding language in my hand. A language that had been forced onto me before I was even born. But even though this language was forced onto me I still had all the responsibilities of that came with holding that bird, language in my hands. I wanted to ask Dr. Morrison what to do but she had gone home. But she had graciously left us a whole library of answers and so I went looking for an answer in her words. I picked up another of her books. I picked The Source of Self-Regard, though I prefer the visual painted by the European title, Mouth Full of Blood. And again, because every time I worry about writing, I return to Obi Okonkwo, I went straight to the essay on Chinua Achebe. And there, Dr. Morrison answered my question.

I am bilingual. I write in two languages but mostly I write for myself and those like me.


J. Nalubega Ross is a Ugandan American living in the dry dry desert of Arizona. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree at Arizona State University. Their graduate work is concerned with how people from Africa living in the United States look for information about sex and reproduction. And once they find that information how do they use it make decisions about having or not having sex and whether or not to reproduce. When not reading books for graduate work and avoiding writing, Nalubega spends time watching and commenting on cartoons with her toddler and ranting to her partner about sex and reproduction in the United States.