Yes, each year hardly turns out being the same. But the past ones haven't really been all that different from each other either. The milestones were different. The routine... not so much. But even that changes this year.
The last few years were a buildup for this one. And they were rough. It has been mentally and emotionally draining. I was making decisions and moves that affected people's lives, as well as the university itself. And while I think I got things right most of the time, I had become progressively more worried about my being fit to keep making these decisions. The job had taken its toll on me, and it was pricey. And to top it all off, the pressure to continue my studies perpetually loomed over me, casting major uncertainties over my future.
I needed a break. A long one. And there were only two ways to have it. The first was to start my PhD (believe it or not). The second was to resign, and at some point look for another job -- admittedly a scary proposition. But oh so many times did I come close to doing it..
I had struggled to find a doctoral program that suited me. It was even more difficult to find one that would admit me. One problem was my inability to come up with a solid topic to help me get admitted in PhD by research programs. Professors willing to support me to turn my ideas into a topic were far in between. What few I met were in universities which I either could not afford to be in or did not have openings for me. I got rejected quite a few times. . I could have returned to UP to study. But there was no way I was doing that. I would rather quit my job. Don't get me wrong. There is no other place I would rather study in the country. But I have spent nearly my entire life living in or around a UP campus. It isn't just school or my place of work. It has been my life. Whatever I got from UP before, I have given back. I need to get out, even if just temporarily, and then return with something new to offer back to the community. I don't expect everyone to understand, but that's how things go around here. I had to study, and do so abroad. Unfortunately, I felt that my window to do so was closing.
Fortunately, opportunity came, and in an unlikely manner.
After years of worry and suspicion, my son's condition was more definitively diagnosed, or rather, there is now a more definite working impression. Aidan falls within the autism spectrum. It's finality was... incredibly difficult to process or understand, let alone come to terms with, especially when there are no clear reasons how it happened. Why him? Why my family? Those first days of being hit with the news... There had been times before when I seriously considered that I may had already been gradually sinking into depression. If I were, this would have really brought me to the brink. I didn't want to move, let alone get out of the house. To go online and do my job required great mental effort. I was barely functional. I'm still not sure what spurred me to get up one day, talk to the people I needed to talk to, and deal with important matters that required the most immediate decisions. But I am extremely thankful for it. Things could have definitely been worse.
This changed everything.
One of the few things which experts consistently say when caring for such a child is to build routines and a solid support system around him. I strongly believed that at the time, we already pretty much had those, or at least they would be relatively easy to attain here, near friends and family. Going abroad for three years was no longer an option. I was staying. We were keeping the house and will commit to the upkeep. My wife gets to remain in close contact with her immediate community and perhaps resurrect her professional life in some form or fashion. My dad would have more time to be a grandfather. We would finally get ourselves a newer and bigger car. I could stop worrying about who would adopt our Golden Retriever, Roxie. Settling these matters was a cathartic experience. It was such a relief.
Yes, the matter of my studies was still in limbo. However, I should know full well that being unable to move abroad is no longer an issue in this day and age. If anything, it actually provided a clearer path. My boss earlier broached the idea of me looking into studying in distance mode at Lancaster University. It was something which I was never against, but wasn't overly excited about, either, even as I was in constant communication with a professor from there. However, thanks to all the life changes happening, it suddenly made the most sense. Even though I lodged in my application too late in order to be included in their 2018 uptake, I continued to pursue it for 2019. The process didn't exactly go smoothly, but yes, I was lucky enough to be accepted. Reading that offer letter led to my biggest sigh of relief in years.
It also became an inspiration to renew my focus on research, leading to even more unlikely career milestones. My first book chapter was finally published. I was able to make it to Tallinn, Estonia and reconnect with friends at ICEM, which in turn has led to collaboration, and perhaps, partnership opportunities at an organizational level (we'll see). These are things which seem to be seen as next level achievements in a faculty's career. My only regret is that I have to undercut this momentum myself as I have to take my leave of absence, a week from the time of this writing.
I had also attempted to engage students and alumni again on a higher level and establish something that would be mutually beneficial to them and the university, and somehow tie the whole thing in with my PhD studies. Everybody would have won. I tried before and it didn't work out. I tried again in the hopes of having a different outcome. I was even planning on spending more time with these students this year to help them with their projects. Unfortunately, things did not pan out as I had hoped. It was disappointing, since there were early signs of promise. Maybe later on my vision will really catch on. But it won't be with these students and alumni. Their time is passed. Once again, my hope will rest on the future batches.
While I happily look forward to this year, I do wish my colleagues at FICS and ICTDO great fortitude in the while I'm out. There's so much that needs to be done at UPOU and I am well aware of how much additional weight my hiatus applies to their already heavy workload. That is why I will maintain some presence when I'm needed. I can't facilitate classes or do administrative work. But I could help out in other things. I owe them that, at the very least.
As for Aidan, I truly believe that he will be fine. Yes, he has development issues. But there are flashes of intelligence and awareness in him that gives me hope -- a story for another blog entry, perhaps. The next few years will be challenging, but he will achieve normalcy once we find the best way to support his development. And the good news is that I will be physically around to help him.
It's interesting to me how everything unfolded and is turning out ok, heading to 2019. I'm not saying it's smooth sailing from here on. After all, I'm about to take on things that will undoubtedly pose its own set of challenges. But it would be nice to deal with as little turbulence as possible in these next years. Here's to hoping.