Tuesday, 26 March 2013

My highlight reel

The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”  - Steve Furtick 
My highlight reel for the last three days is extraordinary.

The top of the page, you can see me running through the snow the day before yesterday.  This is in Logie, a tiny hamlet, with snow in early spring.   Fantastically beautiful, and my friend persuaded me to go for a half marathon distance in it.  We ran from home to St Andrews, via the scenic - very very scenic - route.  It was wonderful, though the last few miles through hail and biting wind off the North Sea took some working together to get through.

Oceans, continents, ice cap, crust,
mantle, outer core, inner core.
Yesterday, I thought I was polishing off the very last changes to a paper which I've been working hard on after it was originally rejected.   It has got much much better.   Then I was driving home and suddenly realised how I could dramatically improve it with an elegant, simple, and I think important result.  Admittedly this was frustrating: so close to submission and now some extra work.  But I knew it was good news.   I did another run in the snow, only 10k this time, and had another brilliant idea.  Rang up my colleague who instantly persuaded me it was nonsense, but at least that idea won't mean extra work, so that's good too!
We are here: near St Andrews, UK

And finally, over all those three days, my daughter and wife have been making and baking and icing this wonderful model of the earth in the form of cake.   My daughter had to make a model of the earth for geography.  But she and my wife have really done the topic proud, with a detailed cake containing all the key features, all in delicious eatable form.   It looks fabulous, it tastes fabulous.   Luckily the class is going to get to share it - I durst not estimate the number of calories in it!

All these three things, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, are worthy of a place in my highlight reel and I may well remember each of them clearly for the rest of my life.

This evening I have been so miserable.  Not able to cope, making my wife do everything.  Not sharing in the joy of the cake.  Not being able to get on with my paper consistently because my concentration wasn't there.

Writing this post has helped.  At this precise minute I'm not miserable.

Vignette: Doing So Well

I was doing so well.   Not super super well, but coping fine with everyday life.  In fact I have a pretty good way of telling if I am doing fine or not.  Do I feel guilty about posting to Depressed Academics, because of feeling I'm not depressed enough to be here?

Today I did ok at work, even had time for a nap, and somehow the afternoon and early evening passed, and I hadn't got a lot done, I found myself getting irritable, I was not happy, and I hadn't done the minimal family responsibilities I felt I should have done.

This is not a crash even in my terms - and my bad days are not that bad compared to many I have been reading about since starting the blog.  But that doesn't mean I'm delirious with joy about letting my family down.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Link: Depression at University (updated)

A student who suffered from depression at University wrote this:
"After not doing too well in my exams that year and being told I couldn’t do honours because of it, I went to see my advisor and told him about my situation. I then went to see my course advisor and took a letter from both my doctor and counsellor to back up my story. I later received an email stating that there was no room on honours for me and that I would have to take an alternative route. At the time I didn’t want to speak out about it as I was ashamed of my own condition but as I get older and wiser I realise that discrimination of those with mental illness is much deeper than I thought in individuals and within companies or institutions."
Interesting to me that as a faculty member naturally think of all the reasons that might have led to her being refused entry to honours.  (Of course I know nothing about the situation.)  She should have raised this earlier, she should retake the year or she will not be prepared for honours, we can only act with the information we have at the time we have it and our handbook clearly states ...

And yet....


Yes I'm updating this 40 minutes after writing it.

I struggled with so many thoughts and just couldn't get them down - or maybe just bottled out.  So I just ended "And yet..."

The thoughts I was struggling with cover some of the following ground.   Again, of course, without knowing the details of the situation.

This young woman has had her academic career ended early by depression, and most likely she could have completed her degree with honours because she was able to start it.   So was she the victim of discrimination?  And if she was, is it likely I could have been guilty of that kind of discrimination if I had been in the place of the academics who denied her entry into honours?

I think what worries me most is that I think the answer to the last question is probably "Yes".   I did post the thoughts that naturally ran through my head, making it easy to go along with a decision to stop her moving into honours.

If it is discrimination what happened to Victoria, the arguments for doing the wrong thing are so seductive.   They sound right.

End of Update.

P.s. This post comes from Time For Change, a UK organisation with slogan "let's end mental health discrimination".  Its "about us" page says:
"Mental health problems are common - but nearly nine out of ten people who experience them say they face stigma and discrimination as a result. This can be even worse than the symptoms themselves. Time to Change is England's biggest programme to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination."
They also host many other blog posts about School, College and University.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Link: It’s not you, it’s a disease

Just came across another excellent article, because it was quoted by John Belcher's.

This one is in the MIT Newspaper "The Tech" by Grace Taylor.
"I want to tell you the story of how I became such a big fan of mental health treatment." 
"So if feeling bad is your baseline, if you haven’t had an awesome day since high school, or if you don’t think you can talk to your friends about how you’re feeling, please consider talking to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. I didn’t believe in therapy or medication when I started, but that didn’t stop them from changing my life."
It reminds me of the story of the scientist who had a lucky horseshoe on his wall.  When challenged why when he didn't believe in superstitions, he said "Ahh, but I heard it works even if you don't believe in it."

So even if you don't believe in it, read Grace's words and consider investigating therapy or medication.   Unlike horseshoes, it does work for some of the people some of the time.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

High Functioning Depressive (4)

One of the dispiritingly low number of hits you get on depression in academia when you search is this thread at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

And it is dispiriting to read it... here's a sample from one of the comments:
"In my professional experiences before returning to school, I found that people - friends, employers - don't understand  depression and sometimes don't care to. At my last job, I had a major episode that could have got me fired, so I had to disclose something of my condition to my employers in order to hang onto my job at that moment. The way I was treated after that was unbelievable, bordering on offensive. Before any of this happened to me, I'm not sure I would have even quite understood depression as an illness."
This makes me think how lucky I am.  I've never had a major depressive episode which has disabled me so I need time off work, or seriously impeded my ability to do the fundamental parts of my job. And so I haven't had to reveal my problems in an environment I'm not comfortable with doing so. And (maybe as a result) I haven't had any offensive treatment.

Brings me back to the topic of High Functioning Depressive, a theme of many recent posts.

Roughly speaking, everyone in academia is high functioning.  Many are depressive.  But when I've been talking about high functioning depressive, I've been mainly thinking about people who can do their job at a high level (or at least high enough) when experiencing depression.

It's obvious that this doesn't apply to everyone by any means.   Many people might be high functioning, whether depressive or not, and then be literally disabled by a major episode.  As for the commenter above, they have no choice but to inform employers and colleagues, even if their supervisor or line manager is not supportive.   They have the very real worry of facing both discrimination as a result, and of working day to day in a culture which is still not fully supportive.

I already knew I was incredibly lucky to be a straight white male: "the lowest difficulty setting there is" in the game of life.   I hadn't realised until very recently that even in my depression I'm lucky that my form of it is much less likely to lead to discrimination and offensive treatment.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Vignette: Toleration gone

Last night a friend texted asking to go for a run together at 6.15am.  My first reaction was "In your dreams, or to be more precise in my dreams."   But then I thought I have often wanted to run early, so let's see if it works.

Sadly I hated it.  I've run in the snow before (it was snowing) but somehow the early start took all the fun out of running a 10K in the snow :-)

After that all day I've felt very tired, so I won't be doing it again.

But I've noticed this evening my tolerance has gone.  I just react much more quickly to mild annoyances than I normally would or wish myself too.    E.g. I've been reacting to things on facebook with long comments and as a result just burnt the family's supper - which my wife is at this minute taking care of because I can't cope with it.   Fortunately I seem to be coping ok with not being ridiculously miserable about this failure.

It's not a big shock that being tired all day makes one irritable.   But it is interesting to get an insight into how fragile everything is, even when you think your mind is working generally well.

Update, 21 March

Barry sent me a link to a paper this post reminded him of, writing: "From my experience, it is important to take tiredness and irritability seriously."

Psychosocial determinants of recovery in depression, Fava & Visani, Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2008 December; 10(4): 461–472.

Example quote:
"The majority of residual symptoms were present also in the prodromal phase of illness. The most frequently reported symptoms involved anxiety and irritability."  
I had to google "prodromal".  To save you the trouble, Wikipedia says "In medicine, a prodrome is an early symptom (or set of symptoms) that might indicate the start of a disease before specific symptoms occur."

Links: Two for the price of one.

Found two excellent links today:

First, excellent article by John Belcher on his depression. He is Professor of Physics at MIT: IN GOOD COMPANY: With tenure but not without troubles.  For example:
"I am no doctor, but I do recognize the symptoms of depression. If a student comes to me with troubles of any kind, I always tell them to go to S3 or Mental Health. In case depression is the cause of the trouble, I also share with them that I have been clinically depressed and am on Prozac, and that there is no shame in that."
Second, a blog post not mainly about depression, but about encouraging a community in the PL world - which is not explicitly stated but I think means the Programming Language research community.

It's by Chris Martens and called How to create the PL culture I'd like to believe we deserve. It focusses on a lot of things, like use of inclusive language for example, but has this segment:
"4. Understand and discuss atypical brain function. One way to put this point is: stop valuing your colleagues on the basis of how "smart" you think they are, through e.g. how quickly they can solve a problem you put forth or how long it takes them to grasp a point from a paper or talk. Another thing I'm saying with this is that depression in academia is super common, yet we never talk about it; compounding situations like PTSD are less common yet can be totally crippling in combination with depression and the concomitant taboo/lack of sympathy for anyone who's not at least high-functioning with their atypicality. In fact perhaps we just expect that everyone in academia is "a little bit crazy", which means that a) we have some uniform idea of what that means and how it affects everyone (everyone responds to stress with workaholism, right?) and b) we don't talk about it at all, or what we could be doing to help each other, because we just think it's an inevitable part of the ride."
But this article overall  speaks to me: for non Computer Scientists it might be shocking, but it's probably true that the majority of people in the field are White, Male, Straight, Full Time, Not Mentally or Physically Disabled.   Put all that (and a few more probably majorities) together and it means we are not great at welcoming people who aren't like us.  I mean officially we are: but that doesn't mean we are in real life, since throwaway comments or working assumptions can make life unpleasant for others.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Link: Mental Illness Can Be An Advantage, in a sense, with caveats

I've just come across this article from about 3 and a half years ago:
It has the very encouraging subhead "Users of mental-health services are increasingly being recruited as academic researchers".

The context is that people who have experience of being the users of mental health services can be employed as researchers to research the user experience.  This seems to be a wholly positive thing. 

I do think there are some caveats though.  First, it applies only to this rather specialised field of academia, but to be fair that is right in the article title ("some academic researchers.")  Maybe more seriously, I noticed this paragraph:
"Huge cultural shifts need to happen within departments in order for academics employed because of their diagnosis to be made entirely welcome, observes Kati Turner, who has a long history of borderline personality disorder and depression, but is now well and working as a service-user researcher at St George's, University of London."
It seems dispiriting that this has to be said in what you would think would be the most welcoming environment for people with mental health issues in academia.

Related links:

Monday, 18 March 2013

Request For Links and Resources on Returning to Work for Barry

I've been approached by Barry (not his real name) to ask the community for any help.

Barry has been on medical leave from his academic job due to depression, and is starting to worry about going back to work, especially because the stress of the teaching and other academic activities seemed to contribute to him being too sick to carry on.

Barry wrote: "The reason I'm writing this is that I'm wondering whether you know of any standards or guidelines for return-to-work accommodation for mentally disabled academics."  (Note that "accommodation" here does not mean somewhere to live, but allowances such as reducing teaching load or similar.)  

Obviously if anybody has any pointers, please comment or if you prefer send to us to pass on anonymously or not as you wish.

A couple of closing thoughts.

Barry didn't explicitly ask but people might have their own personal stories and they might be of value.  In fact, that is what this blog is largely about: in fact I am very conscious that we are not well placed to give advice as non-medics. A personal story is just that, a story.

I do know who Barry is and from a quick Google I have to say I admire some of the things he's done. Another example of both sides of the academic/depressive story: you can do high impact and important work while depressed; and the fact that you can do it doesn't stop you being vulnerable to serious depression.

Good luck Barry!
p.s. I wanted to use a name and gender to make writing easier. To avoid confusion I just used the first name and gender from the list of hurricane names for 2013. I tossed a coin to decide man or woman, and the first male in 2013 was Barry.  From now on, the next few pseudonyms will be  Chantal, Dorian, Erin, and so on.

Update: 21 March

Here are some relevant links at least for some English speaking countries where it was easy for me to search.   Even if Barry lives in one of these I don't know if they will be relevant or helpful, but I wanted to put them up also for everyone.   I should mention though that these are all general, not in any way related to academia.  Of course Universities and similar are large enough organisation that they will always be required to obey these rules and should have staff whose job it is to implement them.

In general terms, the themes seem to be that employers must make "reasonable adjustments" or "reasonable accommodations" for mentally disabled staff, and it seems like that should include people returning to work.   

Sunday, 17 March 2013

High Functioning Depressive (3)

Functioning well as an academic is about having a brain that does stuff well.   It's certainly not just about being clever, but there's no question that intellectual activity is the day to day activity of academia.

I wonder if that's a major reason depression is almost taboo in academia.  Having depression is having a brain that doesn't work well in a significant way.  Having your brain not working is not something you want to advertise if it's also what earns your income and respect.

I don't know if this is true or relevant.  But I wonder.

Turning myself off and on again

I love naps.  

Naps became an especially big part of my life around - I think it was - 2005.  At that time my wife gave me an iRiver H120 mp3 player.  Because it recorded direct to mp3 as well as playing 20GB worth of music, it meant that I could archive my favourite audio books that we had on tape.   For years I had been listening to books on tape to help go to sleep, but there was always the problem that at the end of the side of a tape there would be a big THUNK noise, which might wake you up.  Plus the fiddliness of changing tapes to continue the story.   When I had got some recorded, and bought some CD audiobooks which were even easier to get onto it, I could get about 40 complete audiobooks by my bed, in about the same volume as a single audio cassette in its case.   Plus many podcasts such as In Our Time.

I know the above does not sound extraordinary nowadays but once in a while it is good to remember how extraordinary it is.

Anyway, with convenient access to a huge audio library that helped me sleep, I became good at having naps at pretty much any time of day, if circumstances permitted.  I can remember the tipping point too.  It was when I realised that if I just lay in bed and listened to a "tape" (actually mp3 of course), I didn't have to worry about having a nap.   Worrying about going to sleep pretty much makes it impossible to sleep.  Once I knew that when I felt myself slowly drifting down, I didn't have to worry, I got good at having naps.

I love naps for their own sake, but quite often they have a huge benefit for me.  They let me turn myself off and on again.  If I am feeling particularly miserable and I know it's not rational, a nap will very often reboot my brain into a more acceptable state.  Perhaps I won't be happy but that clawing pointless misery might be gone.   More often than not it is gone.  

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Vignette: This makes no sense

I'm not going to go into details here because they're irrelevant.

In writing my most recent post, I was reminded of something which made me google it, and I found the result depressing.  And for the next two hours I've been depressed and miserable.

This makes no sense and here's why.   The facts of the situation are that somebody who wasn't me made a perfectly rational decision 34 years ago, which most likely has no discernible effect of my life as it is now, and it's guaranteed that it has no provable effect on my life.

I know it makes no sense, after the first pang of a second or two I realised it made no sense, and yet I've been miserable for two hours.  

I suspect that if it had been my decision, I could have shouted to myself "I love SMBC!" and I would be ok.  Maybe I need coping strategies for other people's decisions.

High Functioning Depressive (2)

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If you are depressed and nobody else knows it, does your depression make any difference?

What if you are depressed and you don't know it?

The second one happened to me.  I was diagnosed with depression when I went to the doctor about something else.  So I had been depressed without knowing it.  Not that I thought I was happy, it just didn't occur to me I had an illness called depression.

The first one happened to me at least in this sense.  I only recently told my children about me being depressed, and even though it had been going on most of their lives, they told me they had no idea it had been happening.  Overall I think that's a good thing, especially since I had worked half time to parent them.   On the other hand, if family members don't know you are ill they can't help you.

Let's drag this post back to academia, and maybe even to high functioning.

What if you are depressed, but functioning at a high level in academia?   Does your depression make any difference?

There is a strong feeling that depression in academia is almost a taboo: indeed that is the main reason for starting Depressed Academics.  Somewhere we can talk about it, and be anonymous and private if we want to be.  So many people in academia are depressed and their colleagues don't know it.

If your colleagues don't know you are depressed, and they also think you are doing a good job as a researcher or teacher, or being a good student, does your depression make any difference?  

For some people, it may literally make no difference to them or their colleagues in an academic sense.

For other people, I think it does make a difference.  Even if you don't know you are depressed in a clinical sense, like I didn't.   I've always found that when I am confident I do better work, and I'm not usually confident when I'm depressed.  Well, maybe not so much confident actually, but happy to operate outside my comfort blanket of stuff I really know I can do.

This post again shows why I find it so difficult to write about high functioning depression. I can't draw conclusions, just raise questions.   But I have got a final question for you.  

Even if your depression makes no difference to your colleagues, it makes a difference to you.  Why not be a happy Socrates instead of a miserable one?  

Monday, 11 March 2013

I have literally no idea why I'm here

"So I don’t know if I’m going to be a failure in my chosen field. I don’t know if I’m ever going to have a real career. I just know that I have to try." https://typeintype.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/research-ptsd/
Sometimes things just work out ... I started writing this post this afternoon.  But I just couldn't make it fit.  Then I read this wonderful post that Mikael linked to.  Now I know what this post is about.

I'm a professor (full prof in US terms).  I often think "I have literally no idea what I'm doing here."  In this case I do not mean the imposter syndrome.  I suspect many of us have that, but I also suspect you don't have to be depressed to think: "surely I'll be found out one day."   But that's not what I am talking about.

What I mean is this.  I'm a full professor, and at a great university (well at least at an old one that hovers around 100 in most world rankings.)   The question is: why am I here as a full professor?  Why am I not there as somebody who started but could not finish a PhD?  Or there as somebody who got a PhD but could never publish a paper?  Or there as somebody who wrote some papers who nobody ever read?  Or there as somebody who wrote some cool papers but an academic job never worked out for them?  Or there as somebody who got an academic job, and it was a treadmill, not a source of -sometimes transient but very real -  joy?  Or there as somebody with an occasionally joyous academic job, but not making progress in a career? 

So why am I here?

I hope you have guessed the answer. 

I have literally no idea why I'm here. 

I don't want you to think I am being modest.  A nice thing about Depressed Academics is that I find it easy to be honest here.  If I was talking about my academic abilities in person I'll probably be understated and modest and self deprecating, because of a combination of old fashioned British nature, and partly because it can be funny (again a British type of humour.)  On the other hand, if I'm writing a CV for a job or promotion, or for a grant proposal, you will be surprised not to have seen me giving my talk for the Turing Award.     

So here goes the honesty.  There are some things I'm very good at.   I'm very clever.  And that manifests itself in thinking about fiddly kinds of discrete mathsy kind of things.  I know that doesn't make a lot of sense ... but I never really got on with applied maths and then when pure maths got really infinite (measure theory) I hit a wall there too.    But give me a small finite problem or a chance to think about algorithms for finite problems ... well I can do that.  I can have ideas about these types of things.  There are also things I'm bad at.   Maybe the oddest amongst academic skills that I am bad at is reading lots of papers.  My friend Patrick Prosser always found it justifiably hilarious that I had the job title of "reader" when I was so bad at reading papers.   [Reader is an odd UK academic title, don't worry about it.]  I never seriously learnt to program.  I can write programs to implement a cute algorithm but I'm not a great programmer especially in the large: I regret that as it cuts off some types of research I'd enjoy.   And, two sides of the same coin for good and ill: I can get incredibly enthusiastic about a line of work, a great thing and I can drive it hard because I love it; but I can't get things done well if I'm not enthusiastic about them, and worse that might be something I was super enthusiastic about a month ago.  I don't want to go on and on, but put it this way.  There are things I'm good at and things I'm not so good at.

What is the point of all this stuff I just pontificated about?

I have literally no idea why I'm here. 

What I really mean is this:

I cannot look in my memory at the me who was doing a PhD, or a postdoc, or a junior lecturer, and honestly say I can figure out why that guy was going to become a professor.  There are things I thought I was bad at then, and it turns out maybe I wasn't so bad at them.  Or I am bad and everyone else is even worse.  Or I am bad and other people are better but those things don't matter so much.  There are other things that I had never even thought of, which are very important in an academic career.  I would not have thought of them, and maybe even now I haven't worked out what they are.

I think about this quite often.  I think about friends who maybe haven't got here yet.  Maybe I can see that I happen to be good at something vital that they are not so good at.   But I don't see that it was something clear we could have spotted 20 years ago even if we'd sat down to talk about it.  And if we did talk about it, could I rewind the universe and flip the coin again, and say "aha, I'll do well and you won't"?  No.

I have literally no idea why I'm here.

This hasn't got a lot to do with Depressed Academics.  Because of that I quit writing this post half way through.  But when I read TypeInType's post, I knew what this was about.  TypeInType has problems that make research hard, but writes this:
"So I don’t know if I’m going to be a failure in my chosen field. I don’t know if I’m ever going to have a real career. I just know that I have to try." https://typeintype.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/research-ptsd/
I don't know if those problems will stop you getting a PhD, or progressing after a PhD.  I really really really don't.  But I do know that I don't know.

I have literally no idea why I'm here.  

PTSD in academia

An internet friend of mine recently posted this meditation on PTSD and the ways it influences their research activities. Suffice to say: if your brain suddenly goes on leave for a few days, and obliterates any short-term memory for you, it's hard and requires conscious strategies to keep up projects that take a long time to bring around.


The post also articulates how utterly petrifying it can be to try and talk about these issues when an early-career academic. Me, I just hope that nothing I write here will be immediately disqualifying when a hiring committee decides on my potential as a candidate. My friend points out that writing candidly about their experiences may just potentially obliterate their career — when future employers find the text and read it.

We need to be able to take care of our members.
I have no idea how to combine this with the reality of the academic job market.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Bipolar and work output

The other week I had a regularly scheduled developmental chat with my boss. It was surprisingly pleasant and good — I learned a lot about how she sees my role in the lab, my performance, and what she is doing to enhance my productivity, situation and activities.

I was surprised to hear that she really appreciates having me around.
That she thinks I'm doing a really good job.

I suspect the fact that I am so surprised is tied more to my depression worldview than to anything remotely similar to objective reality.


The point I wanted to talk about was how my boss brought up how she's gotten herself to get used to how I tend to work in waves: I'll have a very low output for some time, and then work frantically for some time, producing immense amounts of work, and then have a down time again.

I wonder how tightly connected these habits are to my underlying bipolar issues? I know my paper writing episode last fall, when I produced most of “Sketches of a Platypus”, happened in what felt like an essentially dysphoric light hypomania. I was energized and had to get this thing written and done, and worked every waking hour at producing text, sleeping less than usual, and pushing onwards even though it often didn't feel very pleasant.

And my down times, my improductive times, usually come with a growing despair at how as much as I try to do work, I seem to only surf the web and play games. And do nothing but.

In the end, my improductive periods provide my bad self-esteem with enough fodder to feed the self-image of myself as lazy, unworthy and improductive that it drowns out my high output periods when I try to build my own self-image.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Vignette: Re-reading text

Consider this text about high-functioning depression:

So high functioning depression is cool, right: I can do my job?  Well, not so much. This year I have been much happier than for a while.  And in the first few weeks of the year, apart from starting this blog with Mikael, I've got involved in helping the community save the youth theatre group my kids take part in, and am winding up to launch onto an unsuspecting world the most ambitious project of my career so far.   All of these have seemed far easier than I expected, perhaps because I haven't been worrying about them, just either doing them or not.  Maybe of course that is overconfidence, but in the past I have noticed a high correlation between when I'm confident and when I do my best work: not necessarily by best work technically but my most ambitious work.    
Tidied up today, but basically written a few weeks ago: I've been wanting to write about this for a while and finding it hard to publish. 

Just at the minute I'm not so cheerful as I was when I wrote that.  It's interesting to me that I read it now and think negative thoughts automatically.  I'm not actually that miserable now, maybe a 2 on my 10 point scale.   But I read that text and think "I haven't been writing many posts for this blog, that's rubbish."   And "this project is probably rubbish and anyway I'm not the right person to do it."
It almost but not quite reads like text written by somebody else. 

High Functioning Depressive (1)

I've been wanting to write a post about people in academia functioning well while depressed, but I'm finding it really hard for several reasons.  Enough reasons that just writing about them is hard and would make a long boring post.  So I've decided to give up trying to write a post but to write smaller posts with parts of my thoughts on this.

First difficulty, I'm not sure "high functioning depressive" is a thing, or if it is out there, whether it should be.  The analogy is with "high functioning autism" but I think that might be a controversial term.

Somehow my working life is approximately insulated from my depression.  I mean that even when I am depressed and quite badly in my own terms, where I might be saying internally "I want to kill myself" every few minutes, I can teach and write and think.   On those days there's almost a sense of your game playing tricks with you.  It's saying "Ok I'll let you do your job but I won't let it make you happy, and just wait till you get home, then you'll be miserable."  

There's an old puzzle: do you want to be a miserable Socrates or a happy pig?  I think most of the times I think about this I decide rather be a miserable Socrates.   It's only just occurred to me that I should choose to reject the question's premise and be a happy Socrates!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Stepping it up

As of today I am adding Wellbutrin to my Fluoxetin.

Fluoxetin alone did quite an alright job in reducing the severity of my bad moods; but did not so much in decreasing their frequency. Instead of crashing and burning daily, I have been apathetically dull daily.

Friday, 1 March 2013

But I thought you were just lying to me…

I had my annual Development Talk with my professor the other day. One of the things that surfaced there has been niggling at me for several days now, and it ties in with behaviors and thought patterns I am all too familiar with.

My boss asked me whether I was happy here. And I am.
She pointed out that making sure I am indeed happy working here is a priority.
Keeping me around is a priority.

And I realize I am surprised at this.

Mind you, many people have articulated appreciation with me, my presence, my work and my competence through the years. When I was about to start my PhD studies, my (private sector) employers went to some length to convince me to stay on at least half-time. My supervisors have invariably been very pleased with my work.

Similarly, I have many and good friends. I have a wife who loves me deeply, and have had girlfriends who have been attentive, loving and caring before that.

And yet…

And yet, I cannot seem to bring myself to trusting in the love and appreciation I meet. I, like many other academics, have a clear case of Impostor Syndrome — I am often just waiting for someone to realize how I am not good enough for my job, and take care of the problem: removing me. I am often worried that I simply do not work enough to be able to continue — even in the face of blatant contradictions.

I am surprised when people love me, while simultaneously desperate to earn that love. I am surprised when people cherish my work, while simultaneously pushing myself hard to maintain a high quality standard and high output rates. I am surprised when my boss tells me she wants to keep me around, that I enrich the workgroup that I am in, that they are — in fact — genuinely happy to have hired me, while simultaneously forgetting that they did hire me, they did invite me to host my grant here, they worked with me to make the grant happen.

I don't know why, but even now, even looking straight at my accomplishments, I still tend to feel that anything I want is granted to me as a gracious and thereby capricious boon. Everything good is something I did not in fact deserve, and can be taken away again at a moments notice. And when it does get taken away — this is because I did not, in fact, deserve it in the first place.

It is destructive.
Utterly unfair to the people around me.
And I do not know how to stop thinking in these ways.