Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Inside Higher Ed and The Professor Is In on academic life with mental illness

The Facebook page for The Professor Is In links to an article in Inside Higher Ed on mental illness, starting from the recent suicide of an autistic Arizona State political scientist. Reading the article I realize I saw friends from the hacker community tweet about this when it happens — I recognize the start of his suicide note.

We are starting to talk about these issues in academia.
We are starting to lift visibility and getting a conversation going about how to do better by our friends and colleagues.

Even so, I find the comments in the Facebook thread disheartening. There is a cut-throat tone in a lot of academia: people in the thread talk about being told that their openness about their mental health is harming their employment searches; are advised not to treat colleagues as friends and to stay quiet in their departments.

I don't want this for us.
We should be able to do better.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Adriana Salerno at the AMS blog on depression

This was a good read -- A different kind of problem, Adriana Salerno blogs about her experiences as a professional mathematician dealing with depression.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Just The Same But Brand New

This is another guest post by Dorothy Donald.
In 2016 ... 
Despite several goes at it, I never quite made the transition from ‘shortlisted’ to ‘given the damn job’. I’ve sobbed long and loud over this. I’m still trying.
I noticed that people are asking me for help and advice more and more. And half the time I don’t even panic before I respond. They even seem to find it helpful quite a lot of the time.
I spent a whole weekend with my mother for the first time in I don’t even know how many years. We actually both enjoyed it.
I published N papers (where N is a number I’d describe as ‘impressive’ if I were talking about anyone other than me), and I can tell you in a heartbeat how each and every one of those ‘doesn’t really count’. They’re still there on my CV, though.
My friends - the new ones, the old ones, and the re-discovered ones – just kept making my heart swell with love.
I noticed that, when someone treats me like I’m an idiot, I now tend to feel angry instead of assuming I must actually be stupid or wrong. I’ve even started arguing my case from time to time. (See also: when people assume I’m not busy.)
I had a couple of flings. They were fun. They ended with no hard feelings.
My doctor handed me a prescription for Sertraline on a Friday. He then asked if I’d be at home alone all weekend, looked worried until I assured him I’d see at least one friend, and instructed me to make an appointment for the following Monday before leaving the surgery.
My anxiety dreams remained really fucking weird.
I had a holiday. A real one. Not a few days tagged onto a conference. I didn’t check my email once. I know, right?
I had kind colleagues who supported me.
Something happened to me at a conference. When I described it to someone else later, they said “But isn’t that assault? Was anyone else there? Did anyone do anything about it?” Yes, yes, and no.
My physiotherapist did very painful things to my upper back and told me I work too much.
I took up a new hobby. It tires me out physically and makes it impossible to think about work for a while. Also, I’m getting better at it already.
I told a few people something that’s quite important to me about my sexuality. Only one of them was an arsehole about it.
I felt joyful and content and furious and terrified and proud and despairing and tired and sad and anxious and excited and this was, for the most part, OK.
I am in a much better state than I would usually be this close to Christmas.
I am making tremendous progress.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Well that was an effective hour.

I had a free hour and I want to chip away on a paper I have been working on for two years. I've just started writing an introduction. If I keep chipping away at it I might finish it.

I spent an hour and all I did was edit two sentences and add five references after the second.

For the first sentence I couldn't find a paper I wanted to check something about. This was particularly frustrating because I was looking at it on this exact same computer two days ago. It's like not being able to find your keys even though you know they are on your bed.

Anyway the point of this is that maybe this was an effective hour working on a paper. Or maybe it wasn't. I really don't know.

Since I had my nervous breakdown two years ago I really have felt that I am very ineffective at work, not being as productive as I feel I should be. But I really have no idea if that is imposter syndrome or if I really have been less effective than I used to be.


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

It's always the small things…

I always meltdown over the small things. Really small things. I can crash out emotionally over misunderstanding how waitlists work at a really busy Alphabet City bar. Or over a facial expression, a tone of voice, of forgetting an appointment, packing or planning to move…

And when I crash out, I crash hard. Curl up into a ball. Cannot stand physical contact -- and simultaneously crave it, and crave comfort, like I do air itself. Cry inconsolably.

But it is always the small things.



The big things don't do this to me. A relative dies, and I'll barely react. At funerals I am more puzzled over my own lack of reaction than I am feeling anything similar to how people describe sorrow. News of relatives being ill are concerning, but seldom bring me out of balance.

The Trump election horrifies me, and I have many many friends whose freedoms, lives, existences are in immediate and concrete danger.
And my emotions are (I think, I have some medication titration going on that confounds ,my results) … non-responsive.



It is always the small things.
The big things seldom faze me, but the small things can annihilate me completely.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Hi Ian, I'm Anxiety, Remember Me?

A few weeks ago I had an appointment with my cognitive behavioural therapist.  I had been feeling very good although even then he made me look inside myself in an uncomfortable way - asking me not if my world view that I am a bad person was wrong (which I am used to) but asking me if it was "helpful". Which of course it is not even if I am, and so that was not a conversation I wanted.

Anyway the point of this is that for the first time after maybe a year of visiting him, I have not made a followup appointment because we agreed I was doing well.

And indeed for the first time in many years I had found that whole days will go by without me thinking "I am the worst person in the world" or "I want to kill myself", two internal mantras that have been my constant friends.  I mean the kind of friends where they are people I hang around with all the time even if they are constantly hassling me and making me unhappy.

Things were going well.

Yayy.

Then a few weeks ago my related but different old friend came back. The one called Anxiety, who caused me to have months off work a couple of years ago.

I don't like to ascribe causes but I think this was related to a work project which I was working very hard on and which was not going as well as I had hoped. And I have been worrying a lot about recent political events (which you will not need to to be told about if you are reading this here and now, and if you are reading from the future I don't want to remind you except to say, goodness, well done for reading this, I am glad that the world hasn't ended which is my main worry to be completely honest with you.)

This whole long rambly post is to bring one ray of light into the situation. Despite having much more anxiety than I have had for months, I have been able to do a couple of things. And this has come about despite them being the kind of things that my anxiety doesn't like. And it has partly from the conscious experience of recognising that just because I am anxious about something doesn't mean it will come out badly.

The two things I mean are that I have made some arrangements for the family involving lots of small decisions about what to do, where to stay etc. This is exactly the kind of thing that I find difficult so it is good I was able to do it.  And the second - which sounds almost laughably trivial - is to arrange a car service. That was tricky because I had got fed up with my main dealer so wanted to find somewhere else, then used somebody's web form to book it which didn't work so (wait for it) I had to ring them up and talk to a person.  Yeeeucch.  But again, from experience (and I assume to most people this sounds ridiculously obvious) people who are wanting your money are usually pretty good on the phone so obviously it was indeed no problem and I booked it. But actually making that phone call despite the fact it was anxiety inducing is something I am fairly proud of doing.

You might note that neither of these two things relate to the two things I have been worrying about, but at least I think it's a healthy sign that I could do things which in the past I would not have done when I was feeling anxious.

So it's not all gloom and doom.


Friday, 9 September 2016

Maybe it was ok to be not so very good at everything as I wanted to be

Today has been a hard day. And it's not even a hard day really.

It just reminded me of what many many days were like until recently.

It's not that I can't do anything. I drove my kids around to various appointments. I went shopping. I wrote a couple of things I needed to write for work.

But when I wasn't doing anything particular I was down all day today (still am but pleased to be writing this as a distraction from that and because I wanted to capture the mood I am in.)

Suddenly distractions are too tempting to avoid.

It's been very hard to make decisions (which soft drink to buy?)

I've felt anxious for no reason several times (have I bought the wrong kind of cheese?)

I've been reminded of tiny things from my life which make me feel bad.

I've got round most of these things and coped, but it's not fun. In fact I've done ok in realising that it's just a bad day and been able to cope at the meta-level ok, realising that ok it's just a bad day and things are not as bad as they seem.

But I've been doing very well for a couple of months I think, really significantly less anxious and not perpetually in a low mood. And starting to feel like I know how to get things done again. Those are all things I didn't feel for more than 2 years before that.

This is a reminder of where I was and why life was hard and maybe it was ok to be not so very good at everything as I wanted to be. Which is not what I was telling myself at the time.