“Up” on a pedestal: mental illness and grad school, or mania and research

My mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly after I was born, and shortly after her grandfather, who she loved deeply, suddenly died.  As an adult, I can make sense of it:  I can reason that the combined effects of grief and pregnancy on her body did something to bring to light an illness that had been latent; but when she told me when I was a child, I thought maybe if I hadn’t come along, my mom wouldn’t be sick.

Bipolar disorder is highly heritable, and both of my parents have diagnoses.  I’ve known this for most of my life and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare me.

It has taken years for me to push back against all of the ableist rhetoric that society has shoved into me.  The thought that depression was something I could just push through if I tried harder.  The idea that if I went on medication I would lose myself, I would change.  The notion that if I went to therapy I was weak.  That I couldn’t seek services because then it would be official, I’d be crazy, and what’s worse than that?

And frankly it’s all utter bullshit—but it took years to deprogram.

So here’s where I am now:  Continue reading

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I get by with a little help from myself: making self-care a priority when times get tough

It’s the holidays, which means making the lighting-fast gear shift from last semester’s grading to next January’s grant deadlines, all while navigating the ups and downs of the holiday season. For me, it’s been more downs than ups (family drama, and distance always sucks). I’m feeling the weight of anxiety and depression pretty heavily this season, and a series of rejections hasn’t helped. I’ve had a really hefty travel schedule, too. I still haven’t replaced the social safety net I had in graduate school, and I’m feeling pretty isolated. For better or worse, I’m not feeling very resilient right now.

And yet that’s exactly what I need to feel, to bolster myself for a new semester (two new courses to prep!), and three NSF deadlines in January, and manuscripts to write, and students who need me to be a rock through their yough times, too. Plus, given the long turnaround times of papers and grants, I’m already thinking about next year’s review even though I just turned in this year’s (it was really positive, but I hear the Year 3 reviews are brutal in comparison).

Anyone who knows me well knows that I don’t like to wallow; I try to give myself space to feel what I’m feeling, and then I shift gears, make plans and work on moving on. So, how does an occasionally depressed-and-grumpy academic get by? Continue reading

Mental Health in Academia

The academic life is a never-ending stream of new challenges that can trigger or exacerbate anxiety and depression. We’ve talked about some of those stresses here at TSW, from dealing with toxic mentors, to the job hunt (which could trigger Job Market PTSD), to the timing of starting a family, to feeling like you are falling behind even once you have your dream job. Mental health issues seem to be rising in academia and can seriously affect academics’ productivity and success – an insidious negative feedback loop.

The only way to break a ‘hidden epidemic’ out into the open is to talk about our experiences and acknowledge the pervasiveness of the problem. We are starting to talk more openly about mental illness in academia – even if there is a culture of acceptance around those issues. I’m not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or any other kind of doctor trained in diagnosing or treating mental health issues, but I can talk about my experiences as a way to continue the conversation. Continue reading