A Hidden War: Self-Sabotage and How Not to Let You Get the Best of You

This week’s post by Amy Dickersona Master’s of Education student who balances her academics with both teaching and motherhood. We’d like to thank Amy for her outstanding contribution this week.   

“Having a low opinion of yourself is not ‘modesty.’ It’s self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not ‘egotism.’ It’s a necessary precondition to happiness and success.”  – Bobbe Summer

Often, we have naysayers in our lives sending us negative messages and challenging whether we can achieve what we have embarked upon. I know that I have personally had criticisms tossed at me such as, “You can’t have it all; You’re going to be 80 when you’re done; Get done so you can join the real world.” Most of the time, these messages are easy to dismiss and let slide away; at other times, it is more difficult to shrug them off. When the latter is the case, negativity may join our own thoughts and feed any lingering doubts we might have, and it is much more difficult for us to dismiss negative thinking when it comes from inside. But why on Earth would we deliver critical messages to ourselves when we have enough negativity from outside?


For me, I have felt a fear of success, which is really a fear of failure and when I take steps toward my personal and professional goals. I sometimes feel like I am not good enough, smart enough, or somehow don’t fit in, similar to the Imposter Syndrome. If I am someday ‘successful’ (whatever that means), is that going to be it, will there be anywhere to go when I get there? As a budding researcher, I realize that there is never going to be a shortage of topics to research and write about, so success cannot be a ladder-type scenario; it is more like a spiral in nature, opening more and more doors as I work through my career. I think I get caught up in that it’s ‘warm, safe and comfortable’ feeling of the status quo and forget that life (to me) is about challenge, taking risks and growing. I sometimes need to remind myself that I am worthy and capable; that I just need to keep moving, keep growing despite what others, or even my own mind, say.

I honestly did not even realize I had been actively participating in my own destruction, and was left wondering why I didn’t finish that project or why that relationship ended. Then one day a very sage and deeply grounded friend looked at me and simply said, “It’s called self-sabotage.” I started to reflect upon where it came from and why I was doing it, what was it serving me – or was it at all?

In my newfound awareness, it was up to me to change that acquired thinking and move forward in a more positive way. This is not an easy endeavor, and when you encounter external negativity and others’ desires to maintain a status quo, it becomes much more difficult. I have learned, and am practicing, as I move through my 30s, that assertiveness is not equivalent to aggression, and that meeting my own needs is not the same as being selfish. I make plans and take risks and have chosen to be led by my own desire and abilities on a path of personal and professional growth.

When I started this journey, I attended the 3rd Annual International Summer Colloquium at Nipissing in July 2013. I spoke with one of the organizing professors (and my Theories of Learning professor in the fall) and he said something that has really resonated with me, and helps me out when people wonder to me why I am doing all of this. Dr. Ron Wideman looked at me and said, “Your MEd will open up doors that you don’t even know exist yet; the doors may not even exist yet.” So how can we define what it means to be successful if the outcome of our journey may not even exist? I think it is more important to focus on the process and not on the outcome. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”


More about self-sabotaging:

Self-Sabotaging: Why We Get in Our Own Way


8 Self-Sabotaging Lies to Stop Telling Yourself


Self-Sabotaging in Work or Relationships? Why?




Chronic Illness: An Exceptional Graduate Student Experience

This post was written by Catherine Giroux, a second year full-time M.Ed student based out of the North Bay campus. We’d like to thank Catherine for her heartfelt and honest contribution to our community. 

Special Needs

Original poem by Ruth Reardon (the word student is substituted for child in this revision)

Post-secondary education is a unique experience. For some students, the years spent at university can be affectionately called the best years of their lives. Major perks of university are making new friends, learning new things, and taking in all the new experiences associated with emerging adulthood.

In a way, graduate school is an extension of the university experience. You become incredibly engaged in your courses and immersed in your research. If you choose to pursue a thesis route, it essentially becomes your baby throughout the duration of your degree. Graduate school is not easy at the best of times; it presents new and difficult challenges, but even moreso when you have the challenge of a chronic illness.

First off, what do I mean when I discuss chronic illness? Is it like a recurring cold or flu that just won’t quit? Not exactly. Chronic illness has several definitions but here’s the one that I prefer:

Chronic illness is a medical condition, disease, or injury that has lasted more than three to six months and has caused an individual to significantly alter his or her day-to-day activities (Repetto, Horkey, Miney, Reiss, Saidi, Wolcott, Saldana, & Jaress, 2012).

Why is it difficult to be a student (especially a graduate student) with a chronic illness? Imagine every grad student has been hired to be a juggler. Your task is to keep all the balls in the air without dropping any (these represent your classes, readings, research, writing, and social expectations). Now imagine that you must keep juggling while more balls are being thrown at you. One is labelled chronic illness (you may have more than one depending on what you’ve been diagnosed with). You catch it and carry on. Out of nowhere, five more balls are added to your juggling attempts. These represent every specialist you see and how often you need to travel to see them (because of course they aren’t local). Throw in a couple balls to represent the medications you’re on, the potential daily procedures, and how much the potential side effects impact your ability to function normally. Now you’re looking at roughly 14 balls that you’ve got to keep juggling, without letting any of them drop. You’ve figured out a system and you’re making it work but you don’t know how much longer you can keep it up. Remember Zack in She’s All That? It’s a little bit like that!

Suddenly, you experience a flare up in your illness and you have to drop all the balls that you’re juggling. There’s no way that you can keep up with school and the social expectations that go along with school. The words leave of absence get thrown around but you don’t like them one bit; you’re too stubborn for that (which can be both a good and bad thing).

But you are resilient and determined to make it work. Slowly you recover and can pick up a few of the balls that you’re supposed to be juggling. You resolve to juggle fewer things this time around but you know that it won’t last. Eventually the cycle will repeat and you’ll be back to where you started. Nevertheless, you love what you’re doing in school and in life and the juggling is a small sacrifice that lets you have a normal experience, at least some of the time.

Living and studying with a chronic illness is about making choices. It might be fun to go to the pub with your friends after class but by choosing not to go home and go to bed at a reasonable time you might be sacrificing your ability to function tomorrow. There is an unbelievable amount of unpredictability with chronic illness. One day you might be feeling totally fine while the next, you can’t get out of bed or might even be in the hospital. We are fortunate that at Nipissing there is a great degree of flexibility because of the online courses. That flexibility allows for the frequent trips home for medical appointments and for schoolwork to even be completed from bed (or wherever else you might be). A word of advice though… make those deadlines and never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, especially if you’re feeling well.

Those of us with chronic illness look just like anybody else. We can often fake wellness so convincingly that others may not be able to tell just how much we are juggling at any given time. In some cases, this works to our advantage but in others it can be quite isolating because it feels like no one (peers, professors, etc.) truly understands how hard we work to be here.

So what helps?

Here are some strategies that I have found to help mitigate the stresses of chronic illness throughout my post-secondary experience:

  1. Introduce yourself to your professors early so that they are aware that chronic illness might influence your academic timeline. Only share as much with them as you are comfortable- it’s your health and wellness that is important.
  2. Register with Accessibility Services. They can help advocate for you and your needs (both learning and health).
  3. Find a network of friends (with or without similar chronic illnesses) who can support you when you need to vent and who will respect your limits and needs.
  4. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Do the best that you can and allow for the necessary time to take care of yourself. That is what is really important, after all.
  5. Do things when you can. You never know what’s around the corner so prioritize and get as much done in advance as you can while you’re able.
  6. Have your good days! If you are feeling well and physically able, go enjoy some of your favourite activities (e.g., snowshoeing, skiing, swimming, knitting, etc.). This goes a long way to helping your emotional state of being and stress levels too.
  7. Keep track of your spoons (this isn’t as random as it sounds. Please refer to Christine Miserandino’s The Spoon Theory. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety to understand life with a chronic illness). Remember to keep one spoon in your back pocket for emergencies.
  8. It is absolutely possible to complete graduate school with a chronic illness. It is a matter of tuning in to your health, your capabilities, and your goals. It isn’t always easy but it is often fulfilling and worthwhile.

If you are a graduate student with a chronic illness (or are interested in the topic), please check out these blogs/forums!




Lessons from Parenthood: Graduate Studies in 2015

This post comes to us compliments of Melissa Corrente. Melissa is a part-time instructor of Health and Physical Education studies at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University, North Bay. Melissa will be contributing an additional piece in the new year about preparing for the comprehensive exam at PhD level. We’d like to thank Melissa for her outstanding contribution to our community.

A new calendar year is upon us, and this prompts us to set goals and make New Year’s resolutions. Some people strive to eat healthier, exercise more often, or spend more time with loved ones. I have made personal resolutions in the past, however, this year I want to switch my attention to a few academic resolutions. My PhD coursework is now complete; my next goal is to prepare for the dreaded comprehensive exam. I want to finish the comprehensive exam in the spring of 2015 so my summer is open for submitting ethics. I will compose another post specifically focusing on the comprehensive exam later; for now, I will share with you what motherhood has taught me about graduate studies so far.  New Year

My baby boy is now 9 months old, and he is growing and changing so much each week. I wanted to share a few lessons he has taught me about graduate studies in no particular order:

  1. Sleep is important – this one seems like common sense, however I didn’t realize until after having a baby that I don’t function well on little to no sleep! Going to bed earlier has helped me become more productive in the morning as my little one doesn’t sleep in.
  2. Let passion guide you – children aren’t afraid to spend time doing what they enjoy. When choosing a topic to research it’s wise to choose something you are passionate about. When I wrote my MEd thesis, the topic was close to my heart and therefore my motivation to keep writing never wavered. For my dissertation, I have decided to write about motherhood and academia because I want to alter the negative discourse about combining both spheres.
  3. Don’t be afraid to play – my baby boy has taught me that it’s important to play and explore. I love watching him discover different rooms in our house, as everything is new and exciting. I hope to bring this same curiosity to my research and writing by asking questions and searching for multiple perspectives.
  4. Enjoy each moment – children live in the moment and are focused on the task at hand. I relish the time I spend with my baby boy and focus solely on him without any feelings of guilt. The same is true when he is napping and I switch gears to read and research for school. Each sphere is part of who I am, and the quality of time spent in each is more important than the quantity.
  5. Read often – I love reading for pleasure with my baby, he enjoys turning each page and laughs when I make different voices or silly sounds. Although reading peer reviewed literature is an important part of the research process, it’s nice to read a variety of material for a variety of reasons.
  6. Make yourself a priority – this one can be tricky especially when you become a parent. You automatically put your children before yourself. I am a better mother when I take time for myself and go for a walk, do yoga, or have a hot bath because when I return I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the next adventure.
  7. Laugh and smile everyday – I am grateful to have such a smiley and happy baby because his laughter is contagious. I laugh and smile a lot more now. When I start to feel stressed or anxious about my lack of progress, having a positive attitude definitely helps.
  8. Changing a diaper is like changing your research topic – it happens frequently, it can be messy and it feels better afterwards! Enough said.
  9. When you fall, pick yourself up and keep trying – over the last month I have watched my baby fall many times as he learns about balance and gravity. I am amazed at how proficient he has become while standing on his own. When I have writers block or feel disappointed with the way something turned out, I look at how resilient and persistent my baby is. Academia by nature involves a lot of rejection, whether it is a conference proposal, a chapter in a book, or submitting an article for a journal. The important lesson is to learn from the experience, not take it personally, and keep trying.
  10. Children are our greatest teachers – if we kept the curiosity, creativity, imagination, innocence, and honesty from our childhood, the world would be a better place. Never forget that children have a lot to teach us, if we take the time to stop and listen.


Whether you have developed New Year’s resolutions or not, I wish you all the best in your studies this year. Enjoy everything 2015 has to offer!

Melissa Corrente