Don’t Talk to Me: Student Union Election Season

The cover of the University of Bristol Students' Union 2014 Elections information booklet - a possible site  to signpost readers to where to pick up "Don't  talk to me" badges. (OK, probably not on the front page.) Source: http://issuu.com/u.b.u/docs/ubu_elections?e=1099577/7126110#search.

The cover of the University of Bristol Students’ Union 2014 Elections information booklet – a possible site to signpost readers to where to pick up “Don’t talk to me” badges. (OK, probably not on the front page.) Source: http://issuu.com/u.b.u/docs/ubu_elections?e=1099577/7126110#search.

The coming week sees Students’ Union officer elections take place at my current university, the University of Bristol. I’m therefore taking the opportunity to blog about one aspect of the student election week experience – interactions with candidates and campaign teams on campus. Specifically, I will be commenting on why, in the main, I expect that I will not be stopping to talk to them.

It’s not that I want to be rude – in fact, I distinctly do not want to be rude.* Nor is it that I don’t care. I hope that my writing about this makes that clear to any candidate, at Bristol or elsewhere, who reads this.

It’s simply that I can’t expect to converse with campaigners and still have the energy to complete the work or other tasks I need to on that day. As a rule, I’ve found I can be active for 5 or 6 hours a day. These hours need to include my work, but also day-to-day activities, down to those as minor as brushing my teeth. They’re all energy drains. I also timetable in regular breaks.

So stopping to talk to campaigners, while it may not seem like a long conversation to them, can take up a significant proportion of my energy, especially on a bad day. And if I’m caught between activities, especially ones I can’t adjust times for, such as research seminars or meetings, then it eats into my break time. As such, unless you happen to be a candidate who I’m hoping to collar and suggest working together at some point, I will probably be walking on past; possibly waving/saying hi if I know you.

I cannot be alone in this. Some others, like me, may walk on by because they need to conserve their energy and ensure they also give themselves time to break and relax. Being approached by someone in the street can also be a source of anxiety. So there are just two for instances.

At some point – maybe next year if I’m managing well – I’d like to mount a campaign about this, distributing “Don’t talk to me” badges. These would be available to pick up – without the need to talk to anyone – from around the university. My hope is that this would make campaigning weeks more accessible for people want to avoid being approached. I think it would also help those campaigning, as it would reduce the frequency of instances when they felt rudely ignored.**

As a concluding thought: campaigners, do not assume that everyone who does not engage with you is simply being rude.We should not have to feel guilty simply for acts of self-care.

*Well, maybe I’d want to be rude to candidates who I thought had disgusting politics, but that’s not the point right now!

** A friend raised concerns that people would take advantage of these badges, in order to avoid being approached by campaigners for no reason other than apathy. My response was twofold. Firstly, I think making the university campus or precinct more accessible is more important that the potential for the badges to be misused. I would not suggest asking people for reasons why they wanted the badge, as I think this would deter more of the people the campaign hopes to help than those who wished to abuse it – it simply replaces one stressful situation with another. Secondly, thought can be given of where to advertise that these badges are available. For instance, I think a key place to advertise would be on websites and literature about the elections, which those who didn’t care and simply wanted to avoid contact with campaigners are less likely to see. I don’t think the advertisement could be limited only to there, but I think with discussion with anyone else who thinks they might use one of these badges – I would – we could establish as a group what locations would be most useful and work from there.

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Beginnings

I feel like I’m dead.

When people die, especially people my own age, I’ll be going about my day-to-day business, then think something like “x would like that. I’ll text them to say hi.” Then I remember that they’re dead, so I can’t just text them and tell them what made me think of them.

It’s that sense of disjuncture, my thought processes not having caught up with reality, which I am experiencing now. I used to be a very active person: a full time postgraduate student, who got to all the extra research seminars and conferences you’re expected to fit in, and to social events after, who played in an orchestra, who was involved in political groups in uni and the wider community, and who still made time to go out for walks and take photographs, or to head over to a friend’s at on the spur of the moment when one of us had a tough day. It was this level of activity which enabled me to maintain a life through years of depression, and ultimately to find some sort of self-worth despite my continuing fragile state of mental health.

Entering research relatively stable, I soon found this rug of self-worth pulled violently away from under my feet. After a cornucopia of blood tests, I was referred to the local CFS/ME service. I’m still waiting to hear back from them, but have already been working with a staff member at the University’s Disability Services to start to manage my condition better.

I need to make major changes to my life. I simply cannot sustain the level of activity of which I was previously able (though with therapy I should be able to be more active than at present). In the short term, then, I need to majorly cut back on my commitments. In the long term, I may well need to rethink my plan of remaining in academic research once I complete my PhD. But these commitments and dreams are who I am: in so much as they are what I find my self-worth in, they are in many ways what I find my self in. That self can be no more.

That is why I say I feel like I’m dead. It captures the sense of loss – including the anger that entails – and of having to make sense of the world anew that we encounter after losing someone.

It also acknowledges that life goes on.

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