It’s #DayOfArch and my social media feeds have exploded with blog entries, twitter updates and lots of archaeology-porn (my term for photos of sexy artefacts posted without context – a topic for another day). So today seems like a nice opportunity to update this blog with an entry of what my typical ‘archaeology day’ looks like on the road towards achieving a PhD in archaeology.
My typical archaeology day begins with my alarm going off around 7:30am and as much as I’d like to ignore it I can’t – this alarm serve’s not only to wake me up but to remind me to take insulin. Before I can eat I have to test my blood to check my sugar level, count the carbohydrates in my meal, calculate the insulin dosage based on this, and then inject myself into my tummy with insulin.
To get to the archaeology department at university I have to do the same: test my blood, and depending on the results and eat a biscuit or sip an OJ before/during/after cycling, then test my blood again when I arrive. Then up to my desk to get the days work underway – usually starting with a twitter foray and email clearance (there’s lots of GP and administrative appointments to sort out given my recently time absence due to illness and as a Tier 4 student my options for sick leave are limited).
2 hours after my first insulin injection, about 10 – 10:30, I test my blood again, and then finally comes coffee (which I’ve read can impair insulin so I wait until the insulin has peaked to have it). This is my productive time: for writing and data analysis. I’m also blessed to have an awesome group of PhD archaeology students at Southampton – we have coffee mornings for banter, and Cake Fridays during term time. There’s always someone in the office to chat with or drag off for a caffeine refill.
Lunch is the same protocol: alarm goes off, test, count, calculate and inject. I’ve taken to requesting lunch meetings in order to save time – but this means injecting in public, which means having to expose my tummy – which means no more dresses. Or shopping for cut out dresses – I think they call that turning a problem into an opportunity?
Blood testing again 2 hours later. My sugar seems to drop in the afternoon, and knowing I have only 2-3 hours until I have to leave for work is annoying, so this is ‘mundane tasks’ time: logging film footage, admin, emails, etc.
Blood testing again before cycling to my usual evening shift at the university library, then testing again when I arrive. And snack time! – so long as it’s under 20g of carbs.
I eat dinner (alarm, test, count, calculate, inject) at my desk during work. The library team has been extremely supportive and sourced sharps buckets for me, and luckily food and drink is allowed in the library. On quiet nights I also work on my PhD research here: readings, writing, admin.
Back home by 10pm, test, snack, housework or maybe some more study depending on deadlines.
And then a final alarm and a final injection of a insulin for the night.
And that’s it really. Rinse and repeat every day. My typical #dayofarch. No sexy artefacts (not every day anyway). No exotic travel (although that does happen too). No amazing and sudden break through in theory. Instead: routine, persistence and endurance. But is that enough?
You’ve probably gathered that I have insulin-dependent diabetes – AKA Type 1. As I write this blog I’m actually recovering from a hypoglycemic attack (aka ‘hypo’), which is when your blood sugar levels drop suddenly causing symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, blurred vision, dizziness, shakiness, and changes in behavior. At its worst it can lead to loss of consciousness and even coma. That’s the textbook description anyway. In reality it’s not as dramatic as it sounds: I’m currently just sitting at my desk in the post-graduate study room, surrounded by my fellow archaeologists who are typing away. I’ve just snacked on an OJ and some digestives, checked my blood glucose levels are rising again, and I’m looking forward to a coffee and cracking on with some data analysis. I’m nursing a head cold as well, which has given me a sexy, gritty voice to rival ScarJo. But I can’t be bothered waiting for the trembling hands and slightly-off vision to fade – I have things I want to do: film footage to log, ethnographic journal entries to write, software to learn, data to analyse, a conference session to plan, papers to write – a PhD thesis to draft. And my deadlines get closer every day.
But I do have to slow down. I can’t afford to push my body like I used to as a typical PhD student. The reason I’m experiencing a hypo is because I’ve only recently been diagnosed with type-1 diabetes (T1D) and am yet to get my blood sugar levels stable and safe – a process that might take months I’m told. T1D is uncommon at my age. Only 10% of diabetes sufferers have T1D, and of those, less that 15% are diagnosed after adulthood. At 30 years old my GP tells me I’m quite the anomaly – but while it’s always nice to be told your ‘special’ this is one type of special I would have been happy to bypass. It’s possible that the disease has been bubbling away below the surface for a year or two, with no diagnostic clues it was happening – scientifically we still don’t know what causes T1D after all. Nor how to cure it.
My T1D annoyingly hit me while I was filming on an archaeology excavation as one of my PhD case studies in late June/early July, a couple of weeks ago now. I became unusually weak and fatigued, had extreme thirst and an annoying ‘dry mouth’, and over the 2 weeks of excavation I lost 7kgs weight (I usually weigh roughly 55kgs so this took me unhealthily underweight). At the time I mostly managed to work through it, filming everyday and making my research notes about the filming process – which is also one of my PhD case studies. I put my feeling unwell down to the usual wear and tear of being on an archaeology excavation and assumed I had some minor illness. A couple of days after returning home and finding that rest did not lead me to recovery, I visited the GP, which quickly led to an overnight stay in hospital, IV bags and blood tests galore, and immediate training to start using an insulin pen and test my blood glucose levels ever couple of hours – now routine. In a matter of weeks I’ve bounced from being a healthy ordinary young woman, to a borderline comatose zombie with acid for blood, to now: a fairly healthy T1D woman, considering I’m less than a month into what is ironically called my ‘diabetic career’.
AN OVER SHARE?
But why make the personal a public matter by blogging about it? Is that appropriate? Or Professional? Especially in the rough and tumble of academic archaeology – a discipline where professional reputations are so fiercely protected and criticism often cutting? I have always felt that the personal aspects of research are not only worthy of, but actually demand thoughtful reflection and close critique. Perhaps this is because of my documentary training (you can’t tell a story without fully formed human beings in it). Or maybe it’s because of my background working in Aboriginal archaeology in Australia, where personal connections to country, such as the recording of oral histories, are just as crucial to fulfilling the needs of the job as the scientific aspects of archaeology and administration of heritage management. Perhaps I’m being vain. Or lazy. Procrastinating from the actual PhD.
But I have my reasons for wanting to share my daily experience as a diabetic archaeologist and PhD student:
- Because since my diagnosis other T1D staff and students have quietly emerged from the woodwork to share their support – turns out there’s quite a few of us. And that’s just T1D! What about all the other illnesses and different abilities experienced by students and academics? Is there really a culture of silence about illness and disability in Higher Ed? If so, what is the impact? Of course it’s up to individuals if they want to make their illness public, but it seems a pity to me that illness and disabilities not be up for discussion or familiarization until after the fact (admittedly my knowledge of T1D previously only came from watching Steel Magnolias, so I include myself in this criticism). I have recently told some staff members and my fellow archaeology students about my condition – if something does go wrong on a late night in the office or on a dig I need them to know what to do. I simply can’t afford to be silent about this.
- Because my campus has no sharps disposal bins, not only for my use, but for fellow staff, students, and visitors who may need them. We’re changing that though – the administrative staff and my own academic supervisory team have been very supportive and quick to act now that I’ve requested this. I might even score a min desk-fridge for spare insulin. (And for snacks. And Pimms).
- Because I have every intention of writing about this as part of my filming-diary in my thesis – so this is a bit of a rehearsal. Looks like the question of whether to take the risk of using auto-ethnography to describe my case-study has been answered. Stay tuned for this one fellow researchers.
- Because this is another tick in my Quest For Adequate and Private Sanitation on archaeology excavation sites. That also deserves its own blog post. More soon.
So I am pleased to announce that from now on this blog will have a duel purpose: I will not only be exploring the relationship of archaeology and documentary film on here – I’ll be occasionally extending my blog to consider to the human being behind the camera and behind the pen. I’ll be considering how health and illness affect ones progress in filmmaking, in the pursuit of the PhD and in academia more broadly. My current working idea is that filming archaeology is documentary praxis as much as any other documentary sub-genre. It’s about people. Past and present. On screen and off.