what i’m here for

I believe in blurring the boundary between the personal and the professional in the space of an academic blog, or showing how that boundary is a fiction. A sometimes useful fiction, perhaps, but still a fiction. However, I’m experienced enough to know that many readers will see that blurring as inappropriate and professionally risky. Furthermore, glib and cryptic blog entries about extremely serious things don’t do anyone any good, so I’ll try my best to be frank.

I’m going through a great deal of stress right now. It affects every single aspect of my life. The pain is physical as well as emotional. I’m doing the best that I can, but frankly the best that I can doesn’t often feel good enough. This level of stress and unhappiness is to be expected with the changes I’m going through, I know: the end of a marriage, a 1,000-mile move, a new job with a higher workload. It’s important for me to try to remember to cut myself some slack, but that’s easier said than done.

In the last few years, I have discovered a newfound empathy for students, and I tell them that I understand it’s hard to adjust to the new circumstances in which they find themselves. I try to respond appropriately when they do things that are not in their own best interest. It can be hard to do your best work when you are struggling just to make it through the day. This was not a connection I made before I was a professor in a tenure-track job. I am not a mental health professional, though, and I try not to let my empathy slide into some kind of intervention. There are services on campus for that kind of thing.

I’m walking around with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s hard for me to keep food down. I’m trying to determine who I can talk to about this and who needs to see the stiff upper lip, and so far I think I’ve chosen correctly. Everyone has been very supportive, and for that I feel fortunate. I believe I’m doing the things I should be doing to get through this, and I do actually have faith that I’ll get through this.

Writing blog entries that wallow unproductively in the pain that I’m feeling will, I believe, prolong that pain. As many bloggers and blog readers have observed, one’s blog is not just a record of one’s life. The blog actually contributes to the shape of that life, as does any autobiographical writing. Once you put thoughts into words, they achieve a kind of permanence they would not otherwise have. I cherish the reflection this writing engenders, and so I want to be responsible to myself and to my readers in the kind of writing I produce.

So those of you who are worried about me should know that I’m not doing especially well, but I’m getting by. And there are people who are helping me.

Edited to add

  1. Why even write an entry like this? In part because I believe in demystifying mental health. No one expects to get through life without physical illness, so why expect to escape mental illness? I am grateful to those bloggers who, like Liz Lawley, have been open about their own struggles. It makes me feel like less of a failure. I hope that my honesty is helpful to others, too. I’ll stand with those whose life experiences strengthen their empathy. If you think that people who suffer from anxiety attacks and depression are “pretentious asshole[s],” then that says a lot about you, none of it flattering. [I’m not referring to Krista’s blog entry, btw, but to the comment someone left on that entry.]
  2. As I was writing up this blog entry at Barnes & Noble, the redhead sitting across from me kept looking me over. Hey, I thought, maybe bookstores are good places to meet new people. Then reality set in: Oh, wait, she’s not checking me out. She’s just wondering why I’m crying. Look, I said I was depressed. I didn’t say I’d lost my sense of humor.
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10 thoughts on “what i’m here for

  1. Hey, I hope you feel better soon. As for what role the blogging plays – well, you’re right that writing about things gives them shape and makes them permanent; but it can also be really helpful to name what’s going on and decide for yourself what it means to you. And then there’s the whole catharsis thing.

    Not that these necessarily have to happen in this space, of course. But I just wanted to throw those ideas out there.

  2. If you wrote anonymously, would you still believe this?

    “However, I’m experienced enough to know that many readers will see that blurring as inappropriate and professionally risky.”

    And this?

    “Writing blog entries that wallow unproductively in the pain that I’m feeling will, I believe, prolong that pain.”

    Genuinely curious, George. I mean, I know I wouldn’t write about my depression/anxiety if my name were attached to it. And I still wonder about the productivity of writing about it pseudonymously. I do know that there have been times when reader feedback has helped me get through some terrible times. Even when I’ve written quite cryptically.

    Thanks for the thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

  3. My last move was really difficult, and it was only about 250 miles and to more or less improved working conditions. So I can only imagine how all the other circumstances must contribute to a general feeling (as Jenny just put it in her blog) of poo. Not that I have any wisdom to add. But what you’re saying resonates. Take care.

  4. I had my own struggle with mental illness over the summer. I feel much better now, but honestly I think some of my physical ailments are stress-induced. I’m contemplating a career change, teaching, working full time, raising a family, etc. And there’ve been losses in my life recently and add that all up and you get a good recipe for a breakdown.

    Given what you’ve been through, I’d say it’s not surprising that you’re suffering a bit. I wish I could offer more than just words, but they’re all I’ve got. I wish you you well. Know that you’re not alone out there.

  5. I don’t have anything to say other than to let you know that even those of us who are mostly lurkers feel for you, are thinking of you, and wish/hope for only the best.

  6. I’ve always appreciated your candor about these issues, G, and I think you’re right that it’s worthwhile to blur the boundary between personal and professional in academia.

    I’ve also been learning to cut my students some slack this year. That probably has less to do with changes in my own life and more to do with the recognition that so many of my students have complicated lives, family obligations, etc.

    Please feel free to call, btw, if you want to talk.

  7. Like Chuck, I have always appreciated your efforts to blur those lines too. Reading your personal, political, professional posts here and at earlier incarnations of your blogs helped me to do some of that blurring myself, which has been helpful for me.


  8. Thank you, everyone, for the support on and off the blog. It means a great deal to me and makes a big difference. I’m feeling much better today.

    This might sound crazy, but I blacked out my bedroom windows with construction paper so that the streetlights don’t keep my room semi-illuminated all night. (I live in a downtown apartment. Well, to the extent that Sparkle City has a “downtown.”) I also bought myself luxuriously soft and smooth sheets. I slept very well last night for the first time in a while.

    New Kid and Lucyrain, I’m not opposed to writing about these issues on my blog. It’s just that there are unsympathetic readers out there (paging “Ivan Tribble“), and they do not look favorably upon the act of merging the personal with the professional. For these kinds of readers, I think, pseudonymity just increases their suspicion: You must be writing about something you shouldn’t. Otherwise, why not use your real name? So, yes, I would feel the same way if I were pseudonymous. (Side note: if you didn’t already know who I was, would you be able to figure it out easily? Probably from sitemeter stats or if you follow links to where I host mp3s. Otherwise…? I’m not exactly completely open about my identity, but it’s not wrapped in a bulletproof cloak, either.)

    And New Kid, you’re right about the power of writing to name and to analyze. However, I was unsatisfied with what I had been writing about what I’m going through. I don’t believe in aestheticizing suffering so much that we seek it out or become complacent about it, and I was worried that I was starting to construct an identity for myself along those lines. I’m not an emo kid; I’m a fortyish (!) English professor. I want to be happy, and I want to be an agent for making the world a better place.

    This pain doesn’t make me cool. It doesn’t make me sexy. It doesn’t make me deep. It’s not funny. It just hurts. It gets in the way of who I want to be and what I want to do.

    I don’t want to make light of that.

    If there had been more–heck, any–adults around me who were open and honest about these issues, I would have had a much easier life from my mid-teens on. This is, in part, why I think it’s important for me to write and talk about this where appropriate.

  9. This pain doesn’t make me cool. It doesn’t make me sexy. It doesn’t make me deep. It’s not funny. It just hurts. It gets in the way of who I want to be and what I want to do.

    I totally hear you on this. Anyway, best wishes to you.

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