Monday, 12 November 2018

It finally happened (oh yes)


This is another guest post by Dorothy Donald
I actually got to sit down with a consultant psychiatrist. He asked me all the questions I was expecting (How are you today, can you rate your mood on a scale of 1 to 10, what seems to be the trouble, what was your childhood like, are you shagging anyone, yes I am paraphrasing, and so on). He scribbled on a piece of paper, then turned the paper over and scribbled on the other side, smaller and smaller and smaller… then quit and got another piece.  He thought our meeting would take about 40 minutes. It took twice that long. I was pleased to be listened to, but also felt a bit bad for his next patient whose appointment got delayed.
He doesn’t know what to diagnose me with, which seems eminently sensible to me. Up for consideration are: autism spectrum disorder (which is in my family, but I don’t think I have quite enough of the markers to be diagnosed); PTSD (which I think is Consultant Psychiatrist for “Your parents fucked you up, Dorothy”);  personality disorder (which I think is Consultant Psychiatrist for “You persist in behaving oddly, Dorothy”); and treatment-resistant depression (which I think is Consultant Psychiatrist for “You’re shit out of luck, Dorothy”)
Or, as a dear friend of mine put it: “He’s going to throw the DSM at you and see what sticks?”
I go back in six weeks.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The benefits of telling people you’re a miserable git, Guest Post by Hannah Dee

The benefits of telling people you’re a miserable git

Note: This is a guest post by a new contributor, Hannah Dee from Aberystwyth University.  The new site she mentions in her article is at https://scientistsarehumans.com/

About 7 weeks ago I was at an event, at the Alan Turing institute in London, for inclusion and diversity activists. We were there to try and change the game about diversity in STEM using a kind of hackathon format - we’d pitch ideas that could make STEM better for minorities and old people and the disabled and women and LGBT+ and then maybe we’d get funding and change the world. 

At this event, for the first time in my life, I stood up in front of a group of strangers and talked about mental health. But let me backtrack a bit and give you some history.

I’m a depressed academic. I’ve been a depressed academic before (about 17 years ago during my PhD, about 10 years ago as a post-doc working abroad, 5-6 years ago as a new lecturer). I was, if I’m honest, a grumpy teenager although never diagnosed as depressed. 

My current episode is pretty bad - major depressive disorder, lasted more than a year now - and is currently being addressed with part-time working, an excellent counsellor and elephantine quantities of Sertraline. Not for the first time, I’ve told my line manager, close colleagues and a few friends. They’ve all been great. They’ve always been great.

I’ve done something different this time though and I think - on balance - it’s helped. My family found out. Yes, I probably should have told them earlier, but I didn’t want to burden them with my problems (a line of reasoning every depressed person will recognise). Gradually a broader set of colleagues found out, partly because I have been more open about telling people, and partly because of my habit of crying a lot. I think now, most of them know. A handful of students know too (see aforementioned crying habit). I’m less sure what I think about this but a few have been to see me and told me they appreciate knowing they’re not alone.

It turns out that pretty much everyone has been very supportive. It’s been strangely both uplifting and upsetting to find out how many other people have also been in this situation. Sometimes I feel like the “one in five”  mental health statistic seems on the low side, to be honest. Through telling people that I’m not well, in a sense it’s given less confident people permission to talk to me about how they feel.  I wouldn’t say we have a miserable gits club in our department but it’s getting close.

There have been a few “why are you depressed, you’ve got nothing to be upset about” and “cheer up love” reactions, but not many. 

So at the Turing Institute I thought one thing we could do for inclusion was to look at mental health, and in particular ways in which we could make STEM more kind. This was something we (PoC scientists, LGBT+ scientists, women scientists, miserable gits…) might have in common. More kindness and more understanding could make a lot of the challenging aspects of STEM less horrible. 

This is why I spoke about my mental health to a group of strangers - for the first time. As the “hackathon” progressed a group of us formed a team around kindness in STEM, and pitched our idea to the judges. We didn’t get funding but we went and did it anyway. 

Part of this has to involve telling our stories - if people don’t know what it’s like to be a depressed academic, or the only black person in your year, or mistaken for serving staff at a conference, then other people can’t help. https://scientistsarehumans.com/ is our project. If you want to write for us, get in touch.

I’m not well, still, and some days I’m not 100% convinced I’m getting better. Most days I think I am - to be honest, I’d have never got this much done, 6 months ago. I’m aware now of how lucky I am to have a good marriage, good friends and family, supportive colleagues, and the financial stability to be able to go part time. Occasional bad days still come along and blind side me and it all seems much worse. I am however doing something about it, working hard on looking after myself and trying to help others to look after themselves and others too. A big part of this comes from talking about it - from telling people what’s going on in my head, and then listening to what they think.

Thanks to Hannah for this post. We always welcome guest posts and can post anonymously, pseudonymously, or with your name. 

Friday, 6 July 2018

Inclusion Matters: Guest post by Lyra Swann


Trigger Warning: discussion of suicide.
We are happy to welcome a guest post by a new writer, Lyra Swann from the UK (not her real name).  We always welcome guest posts and we have a standing invitation - just get in touch.  We can do it under real name, pseudonym, completely anonymous, whatever works for you. 
Inclusion Matters
You’ve probably just read the above words and nodded. After all, this is 2018. Equality and Diversity are buzzwords floating around organisations, and companies can’t get enough of the chance to look like they care and market themselves at the same time. Pride flags painted on trains; Primark T-shirts; blah blah blah.
But before we let ourselves get wrapped up in rainbow-coloured merchandise, let me tell you a story about inclusion, about acceptance, and what it *actually* means.
I’m a queer-identified feminist with strong liberal views from a non-nuclear family background. I’m self-assured and can be quite outspoken when I want to be. “Don’t fuck the patriarchy because the patriarchy can go fuck itself.” That sort of thing.
I’m also married. My partner is from a very traditional family. So traditional that the fifties are far too modern for them. They’re anti-feminist, Conservative, imperialist, global warming sceptics. Y’know, the type who think that the best thing a woman can do is to raise a family.
Now, my partner doesn’t share those beliefs. But whenever I spend time with my in-laws, I have to bite my tongue so often that I almost gag. I don’t want to be controversial, and I don’t want to start an argument. So I try and keep my head down and play the good daughter-in-law. But I cannot be myself in any way around them. I have to suppress all of my views, my sexuality and literally everything else that makes me *me*. That, my friends, is an oppressive environment.
My in-laws live a good distance away and I only see them a handful of times a year. They mean well, and they care about my partner and me. They don’t have any jurisdiction in how we live our lives. So by and large, I don’t actively think about them much. And until recently, I thought their influence on our lives was fairly limited.
But the truth is that influence spreads far further than it seems to. Although I only spent a few days a year hearing the views of my in-laws, these permeated my thinking to its core. They affected every part of our relationship. I cared about what my in-laws think of me. I wanted to please them so much that I sacrificed my own identity to do so.
I wanted to be a good wife.
“A good wife?!” What kind of fucked-over queer feminist thinking is that??!
But I wanted to be accepted by my in-laws. And to be accepted, I had to play their happy-nuclear-families game. Like a good wife, I put my partner’s needs first without even thinking about it. I organised my life around them, and felt grateful for the privilege of doing so. I was there whenever they needed me, for whatever they needed me for. And I ignored my own feelings – ignored them so well that I couldn’t even tell that they were there.
I did this right up until I almost killed myself.
Something in me snapped. I had ignored my own emotions so thoroughly and so adeptly that I ran straight into a full-on nervous breakdown. It was like walking off the edge of a cliff. I was broken, in pieces, unable to see or think anything. It hurt so much that I was in constant agonising physical pain, that slicing my wrists was a relief from the constant mental anguish.
You see, in wanting to be the image of the ‘good wife’, I was oppressing myself. In order to fit with ideals that I didn’t share, for people I rarely see. The oppressive environment that I felt inside their house actually extended right into my head. I couldn’t accept myself for who I was because that didn’t fit with who I thought I ought to be.
My partner and I tried to fit our relationship into the heteronormative mould, and it broke. We tried to play the good couple, and it broke both of us. We lost ourselves inside that ideal of man plus woman. We’re each starting out on separate journeys to discover our own identities. I’m still working on self-acceptance.
The effects of non-acceptance extend *way* beyond the arena you see it in.
Someone’s views can be oppressive even if they mean well.
Oppressive views still affect us even if we don’t agree with them.
Not all exclusion is overt. In fact, most is not.
We all need to be accepted for who we are.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The Oil Slick, by Dorothy Donald


This is another guest post by Dorothy Donald.

The good news: the sertraline seems to have quieted The Voice In My Head That Hates Me. The bad news: instead of A Voice In My Head That Likes Me, what’s replaced The Voice In My Head That Hates Me is nothingness.

This means I haven’t been writing. I haven’t really been doing anything much. Mostly I’m in an endless Netflix/Twitter loop. I go to the shop sometimes because I’m told it’s important to leave the house. My kitchen cupboards are embarrassingly well stocked.

I miss writing. I miss the feeling I used to get when an idea rattled around inside my head – no – grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and marched me to my computer and wouldn’t let me leave until it had received some sort of words-in-the-right-order justice.

I miss feeling like I had something to write that people might want to read. I’ve got nothing.

If the inside of my mind had a colour, it would be grey. A texture, cheap scratchy cotton wool. A sound, somewhere between radio static and tinnitus. Smell and taste, a stale fucking rice cake.

I used to laugh and make other people laugh. I used to be capable of excitement, anger, desire – maybe all at once if it was a really interesting day. I used to make plans. I used to look forward to things.

I also used to worry a lot, so I guess it’s not all bad that I’m basically cardboard now.

“But do you think this is the medication, or the condition?” asks my GP.

How the fuck would I know? We have a sample size of one and a lot of uncontrolled –

I sigh and say “I suppose it could be the condition.” That’s what he wants, and it seems easiest to go that way.

But in my previous, unmedicated episodes, I still wrote. I don’t think I wrote especially well – please, nobody ever give me that ‘oh but doesn’t mental illness produce such great art?’ line – but the fact that I sat down and typed something gave me hope that there had been something inside me. Even if it was a twisted and miserable, self-loathing hot mess. There was something.

I’m not saying I regret choosing to take the meds. I just –

I miss writing, that’s all.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Mental health and making things better in the university

I've been posting a lot on twitter recently, and this thread of tweets is bang on the topic of Depressed Academics, so am posting it here unedited.