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
- 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.]
- 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.