Lonely Conservationists

Priscillia (Finding my sparkle of joy again)

Written by Priscilla Miard

Hi everyone, my name is Priscillia and I guess like many of you I have multiple unpaid jobs if I can call it like that. I am a researcher, a primatologist, a project manager, a photographer and many more …..

I grew up not really knowing what I wanted to do really and made it into university knowing I like nature and biology but that was pretty much all. The school system put you in boxes and for someone like me who has a lot of imagination, it does not work really well. I guess I was lucky to grow up in the countryside of France surrounded by farms, forests and animals. My love for nature started with my grandma who was a gardener for castles. It sounds pretty fancy but in reality, it was just amazing to spend time with her in the woods surrounding those beautiful houses. We always went to watch the deer coming and many other wonderful animals. 

I am not really sure where to start but the journey I am on has been amazing. Not always full of joy but also a lot of crying, sadness and along the way dealing with personal life to choose my own path. It took a bit of time for most of my family and friends to understand what I was really doing.

I have now been working in the field of research and conservation on and off for the past 8 years. It all started with an amazing internship in Borneo that I will always remember. For me it was like being in one of those documentaries I always watched on TV since I was young. The jungle has a special feeling that I can’t forget, and I definitely cannot stay out of it for too long. It is when I came back home from this that I really realised something was missing. It hit me so hard I just had to give up all my life there to go back. This meant leaving behind everything I thought I knew, friends, boyfriend and family. And so far, I met amazing people along the way and made friends from all over the world. I travelled more than I ever thought I would when I grew up as my parents were not the explorer type at all. And going back was maybe the best decision I have ever made so far. I was feeling great, loving what I was doing and being at my best every day. 

But recently I came to the realisation that doing this kind of work, even if amazing is also mentally hard. It is a lonely path for many even if we are surrounded by people. Keeping mentally healthy and dealing with a lot is never easy and like everyone else I had my fair share of issues. Happiness and keeping positive is what helped me go through all those years but recently I realised that I lost that sparkle of joy in me. I have been most of my life the girl who is always happy and smiling, making myself and others feeling better every day in a world that is not that easy. This was keeping me happy and motivated until it did not work out anymore. Maybe it is the path for most PhD students and everything that goes with it, I guess.

I have never felt so alone than in the past year even if I did not really want to admit it. Of course, I love what I am doing, and I have some amazing friends and people who support me and help me when I am feeling down. But I have been working way too much, almost not taking a day off except when I was sick, and this for a non-negligible number of months. I think I was trying to keep focus or trying to run away from reality, who knows? I have been doing my PhD for the past 2 years and also running a project at the same time. So, this meant doing research but also managing and training volunteers and interns at the same time. I really enjoy it, don’t take me wrong, but I always have a hard time focusing and always want to do more. 

Then I went back home for a month to see my family and some people I had not seen for at least 2 years (some for more than 10 years). This is when everything hit me pretty hard, the return to reality if I can say like that. The realisation that I cannot keep on going like this and the anxiety that goes with it. For one month I completely disconnected from my work and pretended as if I was like everyone else.  Working a part time job during that time to save money and meeting with people I had not seen in a long time. Being in an industry where it is hard to get a real paying job and a decent social life made me become pretty bad with myself and stressing too much about it as I really don’t want to take a job I don’t like. And of course, that pretty bad impostor syndrome we all have even if we are all doing amazing things every day.  

When I came back to my home now in Malaysia, I decided to take more care of myself because I have been through really bad anxiety once and I told myself never again. I reconnected with many friends and trying to decide what was the next step for me. All this was not as easy as I thought it would be when I realised it. I battled for few months with a lot of anxiety regarding my personal life and the future that goes with it, not enough sleep, stress of thesis writing and also problems eating properly and losing more than 7 kilos (5 in less than a month). 

I have never been someone who need others approval to do what I think is right for myself. But I guess we all at some point have a hard time focusing on what is important. But all the hard work I am currently doing on myself during this hard time, reflecting on the way I was towards myself and others really paid off. Meditation, reading, listening to many great podcasts about mental health and a lot of outside activities were the key for me. I am still trying to get out of this negativity zone but once in a while it all comes back, but I will eventually get there. It might not be the same for everyone, but we just have to listen to our mind and body. What is it telling us and how we can move forward.

All I can say is that amazing sparkle I lost is finally getting back slowly and ready to bring joy and inspire others to do the same. Working in conservation is all about bringing joy and empathy to a world we love and want others to do the same. 

It is not easy for me to talk and write about all this but a step to feeling better is realising that something is wrong, admitting it and working on it. And I know that I am not alone in this, we all have doubt, personal issues, relationship problems and other things messing up with our mind once in a while. I always got those: when do you got a real job? When do you get paid for what you are doing? Are you going to get married one day? 

We live in a busy world and slowing down is never easy. Our brain is also wired to remember and work more on the negative experiences in our life than the positive ones, survival apparently. We also work in a field where we think we can always do more, we have to do more. But the most important thing is to remember why we are doing it: to bring change and happiness. And this cannot be done if we are not feeling alright ourselves. 

So now after 8 years in this field working mostly for free, even if I am lucky to have a scholarship and great sponsors at the moment, I think I am ready for a slightly different path. I think I need to get out of my comfort zone again and try on new challenges to keep that sparkle of joy that is keeping me going and continue to bring changes for a better world. I will try my best to succeed at those even if I know there will be failure and hard time along the way. But there will also be amazing moments and those are the most important. 

Failures and hard times are what makes us move forward. It helps us remember what is important and great when we forgot about it and also remind us to never give up.

check out @pmiard and @nightspottingproject on Instagram

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