If you’ve read some of my pieces on here before, you’ve read bits and pieces of this. But, I ask you to stay with me and read this in full if you’re so inclined; it’s what all those pieces (and quite a bit of therapy) have been working toward; a cohesive look at how chronic illness put further pressure on my fraught relationship with body image and academia. And, a hopeful look ahead as I try to learn what it means to let go.

Fat bodies, thin bodies, and unruly women

Various fad diets peppered my childhood, a low-carb one…

(*CW: This story discusses dieting and attitudes and shame towards food.)

Various fad diets peppered my childhood, a low-carb one making the most frequent appearance when I’d go through phases of feeling especially low about my body, especially invisible to boys, especially out of step with the other girls around me who could effortlessly slip into their low-rise jeans and bikinis. These diets never really stuck. …

They always said we’d get a second wave during the fall flu season. But, we all held out hope that it just maybe, might not be the case. And yet, here it is. And it’s not just a second wave. This recent nationwide spike makes March’s numbers look like a child’s game.

There’s a lot of reasons why it’s happening.

The anti-maskers.

The COVID fatigue.

The continual fudging of boundaries.

The incredibly large social circles.

What would it really hurt, we ask, if I just fudged the rules this one time? And then again? And again.

Or, how much can…

(*Disclaimer: This story is about my own relationship to my body and my weight, and not a commentary on any one else’s body, weight, or relationship to food/body image.)

One day back in 2016, when I was in the height of my first lupus flare, I was out for a walk and started to cry. It seemed to come out of nowhere, which was pretty standard those days thanks to the large amount of steroids wreaking havoc on my emotions. But, I’ll have to admit that these tears weren’t totally random.

I was listening to an old episode of This…

A friend recently told me: “I wish there was an article I could share that was called ‘Staci’s guide to assessing risk during the pandemic.’” Or rather, she texted this to me, as this is the primary way we’re all communicating these days. “You’ve written something like this before, I feel like,” she said. And that’s true; I’ve been writing quite a bit about having an autoimmune condition and negotiating an international pandemic but a lot of these things were early on, when we were just adjusting to this new reality. But, as it increasingly looks like we’re in it…

It was January 2016. The sun had long since went down, though it wouldn’t really matter at this point considering I couldn’t see through the wall of snow. Here I was, at a standstill on I-90 headed east, just outside of Erie, Pennsylvania. I had been on this highway many, many times before. Always heading back to Syracuse, New York, a place that had kept me captive for almost five years of graduate studies.

The first time I made the trip was five years back. I was 22, fresh out of college, feeling invigorated about the possibilities that stretched before…

When I was diagnosed with lupus in 2015, it felt pretty life-changing. I could no longer count on my body in the same way. I could no longer make plans. I could do longer predict if I’d have the energy to commit to a dinner party held that week, much less if I’d be up for traveling to upcoming events like conferences and weddings. If I’d have the stamina to teach my classes each week. If I’d have enough mental clarity to produce good work. …

It was in the winter of 2017 when I said my goodbyes to academia. One day, I just stopped submitting applications for tenure-track jobs and I leaned into the non-academic job opportunities that were starting to crop up. I’d recently started working in the world of academic tutoring and had quickly realized that there were other ways to be paid for my teaching.

When I decided to close the door on a more traditionally academic path, I gleefully ditched anything I deemed not pleasurable or profitable. If I was going to spend my time on anything, it was going to…

I’m lucky.

That’s pretty much all there is to it.

I’m lucky about a lot of things, really.

I’m lucky I finished my degree three years ago, not this year. I’m lucky I had already opted out of the academic job market. I’m lucky that I was already working from home, that I already cooked for myself on a regular basis, that I already had a home office. I’m lucky I had good health insurance back when I got sick. That a diagnosis found me relatively easily. That, after a couple of bumpy months, I was on the mend. That…

I still get a small pang of regret when I walk by a college campus. It’s so easy to remember what it feels like to be a part of it. The excitement of the lush quad lawn. The possibilities available just through the ivied entrance. The gravitas of buildings that have been standing for over a century.

Oh, the gravitas!

I used to think that pang I felt was regret over a life lost. Over giving up the dream of being a college professor. Of truly belonging to those spaces, and knowing that I deserved to be there.

As I’ve made my peace…

Staci Stutsman

PhD in English with a focus on film/television. Thoughts on lupus/chronic illness, body image, & academic/post-academic life.

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