Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You want misery?!? You got it!

This (long) post quite possibly will out me to anyone from my department who reads/blogs here, considering it's rumored that our department's head has looser lips than Mrs. Duggar and Kate Gosselin combined. But I don't care. I can't care anymore. I'm beyond caring. And I'm sick to death of being afraid of a stigma.

We all whine and moan about "misery" - our misery from doing our jobs, our misery from having our youthful ideals trashed, our misery from working too much or too little, our misery from seeing the great institutions of academia turn to the fast food business model one by one. But just once, I want to talk about true misery - you know, the kind that makes you weep so hard that your gut aches from the pain of it - the kind that makes your face hurt from the strain of sobbing - the kind that makes you feel utterly alone - the kind most people rarely feel outside of grief from the loss of a loved one.

You see, as I've said before, the "Bipolar" in Bipolar Beth isn't just hyperbole. It's a diagnosis. So imagine, if you will, dealing with all of this college bullshit as both a graduate student and as a teacher while struggling with a psychiatric disorder. And just so we get this out of the way *real* fucking quick: I dare just one of you to say I don't deserve to be in grad school or teaching college kids because I'm "crazy." I'm not crazy - I'm ill. And there's no damn difference between an illness in my pancreas and an illness in the neurons of my brain. My brain works differently (hell, on a good day, my hyper-firing neurons give me a creative advantage over anyone with a "normal" brain). But there's a stigma about having a mental disorder, and I fear it. I fear that I'll be found out and outted and that students will avoid my classes and that professors will try to encourage me to take different graduate courses and do research in someone else's lab. I rarely "come out," but when I have, I have been blessed with kindness and understanding and even the occasional "boomerang outing" (you know - "OMG! Me, too!"). But I'm still terrified of that one day when someone recoils from my admission of being diseased in a physiological way that I can't control - I was just born this way (although a few nicely placed traumas at ages 10, 14, and then 20-24 certainly helped move things along). So I want to talk about my TRUE miseries - not the day-to-day stuff I/we usually whine about on here - but what really feels like is destroying my soul piecemeal term by term.

Imagine trying to hide it from your program director and advisor when your doctor's just changed your meds around *again* and you now feel about as in control of your emotions as Chris Crocker on a booze bender (and goddess forbid a student or professor catch you crying! My cat's cancer comes in handy when this happens...).

Imagine trying to write a paper on a complex, obscure, and obtuse neurological topic when your mind is racing with random thoughts like, "HA! It's hyterical that I...*I* am studying neuroscience! Maybe I have an unfair advantage, cuz I wanna know for my own sake as well as for my thesis. Hmm, what's the weight of a cat's brain? Cuz my cat, Star, can't seem to learn to stay OFF the fucking counters! I wonder if I'll live to see a supernova. Shit, am I meeting Grandma for lunch Monday or Tuesday? God I need a pedicure before I see her. Oh, look, a hummingbird! I ought to read about the fluid dynamics of their wing-beating process. Remember that time a hummingbird attacked me on Mt. Lemon......" (Seriously - that is how fast my train of thought runs and how often it spectacularly derails.)

Imagine grading papers while so depressed you can barely get out of bed, so you *feel* for your students and want to give them half-credit on 1-point T/F questions, because the world is evil and horrible and why should it matter if they know whether or not prophase is the stage where chromatin condenses? My life feels like a wreck, a bad joke, and the result of some kinda karmic debt unheard of since the time of Vlad the Impaler. But, I stick to the fucking rubric, all the while feeling like I'm crushing the souls of yet another group of students who were fucked by the public high school system and who couldn't find a clue if I slapped them across the face with it - and it ain't (totally) their fault.

Imagine that the next week, you are so hyper and manic that you want to flunk those same students for spelling it "deoxyriboSEnucleic acid" on the pre-lab, with a "Not on my watch, motherfucker!" attitude. So, just for spite and to release excess energy, you want to teach at the speed of sound and announce you're adding a topic to the syllabus for today because it's really relevant, recent research and it's ultra-cool! So, we're not just doing the DNA, replication, transcription, and translation today - we're adding in how telomeric breakdown can lead to spontaneous neoplasms (and I'm gonna use those exact words, bitches!). You want to, but instead you go surreptitiously pop a xanax, do some yoga breathing, walk youself through a "talk-down," and then tell your students you're a little hyper today - "Too much caffiene! Hahahaha! If I get going too fast, just slow me down!" and *smile*

Imagine trying to schedule weekly therapy appointments into the average grad student's schedule, while not wanting to ask for time off to go to the doctor - cause after that happens *every* week for a month, people start to think you're lying about seeing a doctor. That's usually when I'm forced to out myself - although I usually just mention the depression, because at least *that* mental illness is somewhat accepted in society.

Imagine having to go to every professor at the beginning of each term and hand them DSS papers that essentially say, "She can't cut it without help." So now, that 3.9 you earned as an undergrad and the 4.0 you're sitting on in grad school feel like they have huge, Time's-Square-display-sized asterisks next to them. I've never even used most of the "accomodations." Except the "less distracting testing environment" - I use the shit out of that. God forbid I start thinking about hummingbirds and supernovas during an Advanced Molecular Genetics final!

Imagine trying to survive college while taking classes and teaching classes, and while trying to maintain a relationship, also while taking medications with these side effects: marked drowsiness, somnolence, insomnia, nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, sexual dysfunction or lack of libido, glaucoma, hepatitis, random swelling of the skin, hives, low blood pressure, and fainting. And that's just ONE med - I have to take 4. The others add the following crowd pleasers: severe chest pain, temporary slurred speech, spontaneous hyperglycemia and Type II Diabetes, weight gain, weight loss, constipation, loss of motor control, urinary incontinence, anterograde and retrograde amnesia, short-term memory loss, inability to concentrate, lack of inhibitions, and jaundice. Yes, I can turn yellow while not remembering a damn thing as I dance on the hood of the College President's car in my skivvies, at least until I faint, fall asleep, pee myself, or vomit. And that's JUST THE MEDS. That has NOTHING to do with being bipolar. Actually, I kinda see now why people think we're nuts...

Imagine spending every day with that on-the-edge-of-your-seat feeling: whatever shall happen today?? Will I cry myself to sleep? Will I scream at my boyfriend for no reason? Will I be so happy I take all the lab girls out to lunch, my treat, even though I'm broke as shit? Or will the darker things happen.... Will the thoughts of ending it all come again... Will the hallucinations of bugs crawling under my skin and all over the walls start up again... Will the hallucinations of dead parents visit me again... Will the utter numbness that comes with total desolation start again... Today? Tomorrow? Next week? During finals? During my defense? When I'm interviewing for a job? When I'm working? When I, by the grace of the gods, maybe someday have a family (adopted preferably)? When my grandkids sit on my knee and want to hear a story?

That's my misery: when will IT (any of it) happen again? And will I be able to salvage my life afterwards?

I post here because it's fun for me - I can rant and rave about what really are "the little things" - copiers and admin and students and Blackboard and jackass colleagues. It's fun to pretend I'm just a normal teacher experiencing normal angst. But I'm not.

I'm being hospitalized tomorrow in the hopes of finding a better combination of medications and to undergo some really intensive therapy to address all my fears and phobias so I can hopefully have as normal a life as someone with too much dopamine and too little seratonin can have. I've never had to do this before. I'm terrified. I...am...utterly...miserable. The only thing that helps is a hug - from my boyfriend or my cat - I just need warmth. I have just one request of my fellow bloggers. Next time you feel your life is "miserable," hug someone you care about. It's amazing what a little perspective can do...


  1. Dear Beth,

    I'm sorry to hear you are ill, but I hope you get well and back into fine form again soon!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I know it took courage. I can relate to quite a bit of it. Good luck to you!

  3. BB: Hope all goes well for you!

  4. BB: good luck!

    my cyclothymia (baby bipolar, mostly depressive) is why I'm only a perpetual adjunct, sticking with only a Masters, and why I can never get caught up on my grading. (Even with a rubric, I'm normally feeling too damn incompetent to have anything worth saying about comma splices or organization or whatever. And I have to always grade a whole class's worth at once, instead of in moderate chunks, since i need to make sure my brain is at about the same level for everything in the stack.

  5. Beth, we're all hoping that you pull through your hospitalization and that you come out happier.

    You are doing your job, which is hard enough as it is, while overcoming huge personal challenges. Hang in there, you'll make it.

  6. Bipolar II and anxiety disorder, here.

    I know exactly, exactly what you mean. I'm lucky enough to do marginally okay most of the time without meds (can't afford them anyway) and accommodations (too scared to get them) but I'm in the same crappy situation.

    I hope you find some peace and stability in the hospital. Either way, you'll get through it.

  7. Hi Beth - A big virtual hug, and good luck. I have had severe depression for twenty-five years.

    I can't even recall the number of times when, on the job market, in casual conversation, or even with the few people to whom I'm 'out', someone has remarked that it "sure seemed to take me an extra-long time to finish my dissertation. What was I DOING all that time?" Um, yeah. . .

    I hope things go well. *hug*

  8. Thank you for having the courage to share that, and I hope your hospitalization helps. Best of luck!

  9. Beth,

    God bless you. Remember that you are NOT a snowflake. I have a few students each term who need some accommodation; I can tell the ones who work at it from those who skate. You don't skate.

    A snowflake is someone who doesn't have any particular problems and fucks up anyhow because they don't give a shit.

    You're not using your disease as an excuse. You're just using reasonable accommodations. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

    Much love sent your way,

  10. Depression and anxiety disorder, here. Virtual hugs and sympathy. As a faculty member, I can assure you that if there is an 'imaginary asterix' next to a student's grades it's there to remind me that DESPITE all the issues being dealt with, good grades have been EARNT.

  11. Thanks for sharing, Beth. I -- and everybody here -- wish you the absolute best. Hang in there.

  12. I got me one mother of an anxiety disorder, Beth. We got your back, yo.

  13. Dr. Cranky said it: "We got your back, yo."

    And it's good to get some perspective about what some of our colleagues--and our students--go through. Compassion and hugs are good things.

  14. Best of luck, Beth. Thanks for saying the so often unspoken -- it's an illness, and a lot of us have it.

    I'd love to see some data on this...how many of us in higher ed are ill, how many are hospitalized, etc. My favorite part of my experience with this so far was when I went to my department chair (of my graduate department) and asked if I could file some disability paperwork. She said I didn't need it because we were "all family."

    Yeah, a f-ed up dysfunctional one.

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  16. Good luck, Beth.

    When I started grad school, one my best friends in the program was bipolar, so I totally get what's going on with you. Every time her meds got changed, she got thrown for a loop for a few weeks. We lost touch after I left with my MA, but I still wonder how she's doing.

    Like others, I too have a bundle of issues. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 1997 after suffering with it for years. The meds caused a cascade of other problems, including making me suicidal and exaggerating my already high anxiety. I also have hypertension and some docs seem too stupid to realize that some anti-hypertensives CAUSE depression, so I was also a mess until I started demanding changes in my meds (and got labeled "non-compliant" in the medical records...caring healers my ass).

    Of course, not being able to afford health care has done lovely things to my health now. Here's hoping you've got some good coverage! As of the 23rd at least they can't drop us anymore...

    I look forward to an update when you're feeling up for one! *hug*

  17. Nice, Jim. Way to kick someone when they're down. I hope that if you are ever in trouble, people find their calendars full and their opportunity files empty when it comes to helping you out.

    Beth, I wish you the very very best. I lost a decade of my life, easily, to depression. All good on paper, I suppose, and I bet Beth looks good on the outside too. But the useless misery was just a waste. I hope for much, much better for you.

  18. Jim, my grad school friend faced the same issue.

    That thinking suddenly changed when she reminded her professors of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A potential lawsuit should get some of those so-called "liberal" professors to stop being so prejudiced.

    Oh, and her supervisor was more than satisfied with her performance on the job. Go figure.

  19. Oh, hon. You have a hug whenever you need it.

    I struggle with depression, and I know those mornings--and afternoons--when getting out of bed is a physical impossibility and your thoughts run drearily round and round the squeaking gerbil wheel in your mind. And mine is *minor* chronic depression. I have a phenomenal colleague who is bipolar, and his story and yours are so similar. Thankfully our department is accepting and finds ways for him to teach while keeping some of the snowflakery off him. Dunno if that is because we are not a single disciplinary department, or if we are merely a bunch of likeminded "teachers first" group that would be sneered at by folks in a more "prestigious" school (hell, until we got a new president who recognized the stellar work we are doing in teaching, the traditional undergrad school sneered at us ... ).Doesn't matter--it means Bipolar Colleague can teach in his area. If only we had an opening for neuroscience ....


  20. Beth, all of us out here in the blogosphere wish you the best. You're not alone.

  21. I want to address what Jim said by pointing out something that Beth said:

    "my hyper-firing neurons give me a creative advantage over anyone with a "normal" brain"

    There is something valuable to listening people who experience life differently than the average bear. There is also something to the notion of making slight accommodations for people in order to gain that valuable insight. It's why we work with blind students at uni or give extra time for students who experience anxiety attacks to complete their exams.

    I'll out myself as epileptic. I wrote about epilepsy for RYS. Because it's fucking annoying as hell to have seizures and lose a lot of memories and information. But it also makes me value the months I go without having a seizure.

    (yes, we're talking grand mal, lose consciousness for hours, often hospitalized seizures)

    Side effects of my pills mean that I'm manic some days and depressed others. It takes me at least 3 hours to fall asleep at night, EVERY NIGHT, so I rarely get more than 6 hours of sleep. Try grading and researching on that. My pills make napping an impossibility (again: 3 hours).

    Yet because of these challenges, I have a stronger work ethic than any other person I've ever met *because* I never know when I might have to take a few days off to recover from a seizure. So I'm always working 3-5 days ahead of schedule. Just in case.

    My university gets more work out of me as a result of my paranoia of having a seizure at any time or my guilt when I fall down the depression hole.

    So, Jim: live a little, okay? Try to understand both the good and the bad that might come from someone like Beth who experiences life differently than you.

  22. Acad Monkey - I know that your comment wasn't directed at me, but I want to thank you for saying what you just said. And to express my amazement and, frankly, happiness that you (and Beth, and probably others, here) can DOUBLY kick ass because you are so dedicated to your life and to your work.
    You get a hug, too.

  23. OK - I'm outing myself too. I've suffered from a lifetime of fairly serious anxiety and panic attacks. Know that there are lots of folks here who support you and who are with you. Good luck - I hope that this treatment does the trick and that you're back in the classroom, terrorizing the flakes, in no time!

  24. I was diagnosed as Bipolar in grad school (I, I think, the "less bad" version). I also suffer from anxiety attacks, and I've been treated for depression.

    Most of my cohort in grad school was being treated for something.

    I don't know if crazy people are attracted to the academy or if the academy makes people crazy. But it seems to be sadly quite common.

    Do take care, Beth!.

  25. Good luck Beth. I went through a bad period of depression early in my career that cost me a lot both personally and in terms of professional productivity. But with the right help I made it back and while I still have personal struggles, I got my professional life largely back in order. Only if you looked closely at my cv would you see the non-sequential lost years tucked in there in the middle of my assistant professor days. But like you, when my brain is firing right I'm capable of moments of incredible periods of productivity, which allowed me to cover up those gaps when it came time for my work to be evaluated by others. I know it doesn't seem like it right now, but it is possible to find a balance, sometimes for extended periods of time.

    I read somewhere that two-thirds of academics are either currently on, or have been on, some kind of psycho-pharmaceutical. Way more than the population at large. Like Ophelia, I'm not sure whether we gravitate to the profession or the profession drives us crazy, but my guess would be that you have to be at the very least a little obsessive to really want the scholarly life, which would point to the first hypothesis. Anyway, if the responses you got here are any indication, then you should know that a) the article I read may have understated the situation, and b) you are in really good company.

  26. I have been thinking for a while of starting a blog or resource for fellow depressos or other mentally broken instructors. I am not 100% sure if I want to do it with this name (linked to my real name, and I'd hate for students to see so much vulnerability), but if I do a site, what would y'all like?

    (if I did go for a PhD, I would think it would be something about working with the mentally ill/different in the academy, not just students, but faculty/adjuncts/staff/admin)

    webpixi @ gmail if you want to be anon and not post here, but get an update when I set up something, or send me suggestions. Thanks!

  27. Good luck, Beth.

    You DO deserve to be in school.

    Another misery is being a recovered alcoholic in a world where half of the ideas spring up at the bar after the conference, or when your beloved supervisor is taking a few colleagues and a nemesis out for happy hour on pay day Friday. I may not be Chris Crocker, but ha ha ha, someone has a drug problem is just as closed minded and mean as "you don't deserve..."

    My brain works differently too. I have a drink and then I want to crawl the walls until I can get another. I have another and I STILL want to crawl the walls. I have another and then not only does the shit hit the fan, but I STILL want to crawl the walls. And yeah, I can get away from the worst of it by just riding out the withdrawal. But despite the evidence that a drink will bring me back to absolute ruin, personally, professionally and spiritually, there's still a little voice saying "It'll be different this time" every time I see the rest of the department going out for a few. Fortunately, to date, I just close the door, pretend to be busy, wait for them to be gone, then watch some You Tube videos, OD on coffee, try to get enough work done to be ahead despite missing out on all of the out-of-office decisions that get made at the bar, and go home.

    So anyway, I feel for you, good luck.

  28. I just wanted to say: my Mom suffered from severe depression, and did nothing at all. No job. Just sat around the house being miserable.

    So you know what? Bully for you. I think it's amazing you're able to do all that you do with all those pancreas problems. =) I have a hard time with all my job responsibilities some weeks, and I'm DON'T suffer from any debilitating reuptake deficiencies. If I could donate a few millileters of serotonin, I would. How about a cyber-squeeze?

    I think you're brave and wonderful and strong, and I wish you the best possible outcome!



  29. Hey, Beth, chin up and good luck. The fact that you're ill doesn't mean dick about whether you're good at what you do. Don't let 'em get you, okay?

    Other than that, I have no idea what to say, especially when I see that SO MANY of us here have some kind of anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. I... have no real experience with these things. I'm considered "crazy" by many of my peers, and I'm naturally manic, I think, but other than some understandable trouble dealing with it all after my dad died, I've never really had ANY kind of trouble of this sort. I've never been nervous in front of a crowd in my life, I don't worry too much about whether I'm going to get done with the things I need to finish, and I'm generally insufferably insouciant. Have been all my life.

    Thing is, I've always suspected that, in the academy, I'm the odd man out. Is that right? Beth has a serious illness, although she seems to be doing what she needs to do to cope with it, and a LOT of the other posters have more or less serious syndromes which are in the same general "neighborhood" - so to speak - as what Beth suffers from. Is there just something about what we do that attracts more people like... well, you guys... than people like me?

  30. Warmest wishes to you, Beth. I admire your courage. Come back to us soon!

  31. Best wishes from these quarters too, Beth.

    I suffer from recurrent depression, along with physical health problems which cause many of the same symptoms that your meds do. It sometimes takes me longer to get things done, but I'm still hanging in there. I know that I wouldn't be who I am today if not for what I've been though.

  32. Beth, my dear, I will be keeping you in my thoughts while you seek better answers in the hospital.

    I can join the chorus of others who have posted about personal experiences with mental and physical illnesses. Serious clinical depression here that knocked me out of dissertation contention altogether (bravo to you, Prof Snugglebunny, for finishing) and which led to a decade of incredible fallout that included the loss of many personal relationships, financial ruin, and physical illnesses that may have been co-presenting (but which I can't verify because I didn't have insurance...hence the financial ruin).

    I'm very fortunate that I am not bipolar. Fortunate and grateful. I'm also lucky that I got through that depression, that I am not currently medicated, that I found a full-time job. Finding the job was especially difficult, as I was working multiple jobs (including adjuncting) while very physically ill (ill enough to require hospitalization, without insurance) while on the job market.

    So, yes, Beth, I do know what it's like to have to teach, grade, and work in academia while feeling completely fucked up. You are not alone, and my heart goes out to you.

    In fact, given what I know of the mental illnesses about many of my current colleagues, I do wonder whether higher education is disproportionately represented in the mental illness camp.

  33. Anxiety sufferer here. It would appear based on the posts at this blog that you are in fact a normal academic. So many of us struggle with mental health issues. I think it happens in all the helping professions to some extent. I am so sorry you're feeling bad and hope this hospitalization will help you level out. It is hell to have to think about taking care of yourself and so many others at the same time. Now is the time to put your own health first. The academy will be there when you're up to taking it on again.

  34. I've got Axis II covered by myself.


  35. ::raises hand from corner:: Chronic depression and anxiety here, fortunately reasonably controlled with meds (though those have led to other physical problems, needless to say). I also score rather high on various & sundry Asperger's diagnostic tests FWIW.

    Even without me advertising my issues, I'm a magnet, and by extension a mentor, for the technologically-inclined oddballs at my campus of Large Metropolitan Multi-Campus Two-Year College -- the depressed, the Asperger's, the bipolar, and so on. Mind you, these students can be as snowflake-y as anyone, but it's usually not so much because they don't give a shit, and it shows. (It's the snowflakes without the Issues that I can't stand!)

    My first really big crash-and-burn, though I didn't recognize it at the time, was during my first attempt at graduate school. Since then, through industry & academia, it's been good periods & bad periods. I think we may be drawn to academia because, in my experience at least, it IS easier to survive and thrive as much as we can there rather than in the "real world".

    I could ramble on & on, but I won't. I'll just say that Beth, and everyone, I've got your back and a sympathetic ear if you need it. Plus hugs all around (what can I say, I'm a Southern Girl?).

  36. (((Hugs))), Beth. I'll be thinking of you, and hoping you and the docs can find the right combination of meds this time. When they work -- and I've seen it happen with friends, including those in academia -- they work wonders, even with all the side effects, and often make other approaches, such as therapy and lifestyle changes, work, too. Things do tend to spiral downward when something is out of kilter chemically; the good news is that, with the right combination of approaches, they can spiral upward, too.

    I'd guess that many of us in the academy fall at the ends of one or more spectra -- either the "diagnosable" far end, or the "unusual normal" end just a little closer to the center. I'm pretty far at the introvert end of the introvert/extrovert scale, which is nothing compared with what you and others are dealing with, but does make a 4/4 load especially draining. On the other hand, I'm a pretty good detached observer (if a little slow to come to, and express, conclusions). I'd guess that the coming-together of a bunch of people with various not-quite-normal perspectives is, indeed, one of the strengths of the academy.

  37. I haven't been able to stop thinking about this post since I read first it earlier this week. First of all, Beth, I join the group in wishing you all the best. I've dealt with BPD in my own family, and I know a little about what you're going through. I've thought of you often this week, and I hope you're doing well with your treatment.

    The other thing I want so much to say is thank you to everybody for being so honest about dealing with mental health issues. I sincerely thought I was alone in this, and it helps so much to know that so many other people, people I've come to respect and think of as colleagues even though I'm quite certain we've never actually met, are dealing with so many of the same things I'm dealing with, and apparently surviving this profession while doing so.

    I've just deleted the rest of my comment so it doesn't become all about me. I just wanted to thank each and every one of you for giving me a little bit of hope that I can do it too.


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