Friday, 26 June 2015

There Once Was A Sexist Called Hunt, by Dorothy Donald

Note: This is Dorothy Donald's third post for Depressed Academics. This one is about the ongoing controversy surrounding remarks made by Tim Hunt. I thought about trying to explain this situation briefly for those from other countries or from the future, but decided it was too complicated to do so. So if you want to know more about it and don't, google around. Dorothy provides some links at the end.

The night of his comments: “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

The morning of the ‘apology’: “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

After that: I’m somewhat indignant, but mostly laughing at the situation because what else can you do? UCL has got it in hand, as has Twitter with the glorious #DistractinglySexy. I read thoughtful blogs posts on how this is, in itself, not the problem. It’s a tiny drop in a very big ocean, a symptom, a sign that much more important work is still to be done (check out Dorothy Bishop, Hilda Bastian, Jennifer Rohn). I observe with a smirk as Boris Johnson is thanked cordially for his input and invited to sit back down, sir.

During the backlash: I’m really quite angry now. It seems that the anti-feminists will never tire of telling us to shut up, to go away, to ‘take a joke’ and, while we’re at it, stop trying to take space that could be occupied by someone more deserving. The arguments are summarised here for anyone who’s been living under a rock:
  1.  Don’t we know that Tim Hunt is A Very Important Man and entitled to say whatever he likes? (And no, this entitlement does not extend to his critics)
  2.  Don’t we know that he’s been hounded out of his job, that he’s finished, that our shaming of him has criminally deprived science of who knows what great contribution? (And no, the fact that he has not actually lost what you could call a job is neither here nor there. And no, women who are actually hounded out of science clearly weren’t committed enough to it in the first place – that’s completely different, shut up, do you hear? And women, in case you haven’t been listening, can’t really do science so it can’t possibly matter if they do leave)
  3. Don’t we feel ashamed of ourselves for engaging in this hate mob? (Count up the threats of violence issued towards Tim Hunt, and then those towards Emily Grossman. Go on. I warmly invite you.)
I read some more. I hoover it all up in a semi-masochistic frenzy. I promise myself that this will be the last thing I read. No, this will be the last thing I read. No, this will definitely be the last thing I read about Tim fucking Hunt.

Then, of course, I write. I sketch out what I see to be the important points, some of which I’ve seen covered, some of which I think have been missed. I read some more things. I make references to the useful sources I’ve read, add just enough snark to make it cathartic, and then I never ever post what I have written because I do not have the energy to be a woman writing about sexism on the internet right now. I have used all my energy up laughing good-naturedly at the well-intentioned colleague mocking Tim Hunt’s remarks by jokingly warning me not to fall in love with him. I have used it all up saying “He didn’t lose a research position – he lost an honorary title” five times yesterday, six times the day before, I don’t know how many times today. I have used it all up saying “Yes, actually, I really do think sexism in science is a problem.”

I’m tired.

I read some more. I see all the points I was going to make being made by other people with more guts, more clout, and - sometimes but not always - with more eloquence. I see what they get for sticking their heads above the parapet. I see brave women sticking up for each other in the face of misogyny that’s been crafted over years from misplaced fear and impotent fury. I berate myself for my cowardice while despairing at the fact that their courage is still required in 2015. We are still here. Is it hopeless?

But I’m sorry. I’m hi-jacking the blog. What could the whole Tim Hunt thing possibly have to do with being a depressed academic?


Friday, 19 June 2015

People who don't suffer from it just don't see it

This is a little bit off topic of depression, but I wanted to share this:

My experiences with sexism in science, by Julie Libarkin.

The motto of Depressed Academics is "Somewhere you can talk about it." And I'm very proud of Julie for talking about it.  (I don't know Julie by the way.)  But she is not talking about depression, she is talking about sexism in science.

I think depression in academia and sexism in academia have this in common: people who don't suffer from it just don't see it.

That is one reason I am pleased that a few people are prepared to blog on Depressed Academics. Other people can see that it is out there.  And that is why I am pleased to see somebody standing up in another area to say: "Hey, you know you don't see this? Well it's still there!"

I must emphasise that there's no reason that you should talk about it. Or that anybody else should.

There's another thing that depression and sexism in academia have in common.  That victims of them often don't like to talk about them. If you've suffered from something, and I mean "suffered", why would you want to talk about it?

And here's another thing that they have in common. If you do talk about these things, there's the risk that it will hurt you somehow. You might be worried that if you talk about sexism or depression you've experienced, people will react negatively, and it could hurt your career. Especially since you might think people won't be sympathetic, or just deny it's a problem. And even if it wouldn't hurt you, it's rational to think it might.

So yep, that's why I'm proud and pleased that people like Julie are prepared to talk about sexism in science. And there's no reason that you should if you don't want to.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Why yesterday was a bad day

Yesterday was a glorious day for the weather, but a bad day for me.

Actually it wasn't that bad. Even when it was bad it wasn't that bad. And when it was good it was very good. I had some good times during the day, working and laughing with my friends, talking and playing frisbee with my children. I had a run in which I showed bad stamina since I walked the last quarter, but I was fine mentally. And I got myself out on a run in the first place which was good. I had a long nap, and I love naps.

So why do I say it was a bad day?

I felt I was bad at being the person I want to be, and I was bad in various ways that remind me of the person I used to be.

At my anxiety management group the leader often says: "People come here and say they want to get back to the 'old me', but I say it was the old you who brought you here." I don't want to get back to the person I was in the months and years leading up to signing off work, and I recognised a lot of that yesterday.

I didn't get a lot of work done but I felt like I was working all day. That might sound odd because I went for a run and then had a nap, so that's quite a lot of not working. But apart from those particular times, I always felt I had this bit of work hanging over my head.

On its own I don't mind working hard if I get particularly into something and make a lot of progress in a day. I hate pretending to work hard.  And especially pretending to myself. And when I say pretending to myself, it's the cycle of sitting down to get work done, looking at facebook, twitter, youtube, email, replying to an email, getting up to get a cup of tea, sitting down again, looking at facebook (you get the picture).  Yes I know we all do this, and it's part of life and I can deal with that. But then I find it's 10pm and I've made zero progress on the thing I was meant to do, and I've been doing stuff I don't like that much for several hours, and I wasn't doing stuff that I would have enjoyed a lot more during that time.  Even if that stuff was watching tv, but watching tv while knowing to myself that I wasn't meant to be working. After about 10pm I did get some reasonable work done which I am moderately happy with, but then that meant I was staying up late working which I am not a fan of.

This is a pattern I remember very clearly from months and probably years before I had my nervous breakdown (and I don't know if the latter is the right term for what happened). I didn't like it then but I especially don't like it now because I know what I think the result might be if I carry on this way.

Another thing that happened yesterday was getting wound up in my head about mentally composing emails. This thing often happens with me, and in this case involves me writing long emails in my head, then realising I'm best not to send them, or sometimes writing them on a computer and realising I shouldn't send them. Or sometimes sending some version and then worrying about what the response will be. Or all of the above simultaneously. It is a really bad thing to do. One problem I used to have with runs was that I would do this kind of gaming about whatever random email or real life or twitter or facebook argument I was having with somebody. Recently I've found a good distraction technique on runs of just looking around and focusing on the environment - oh look at that tree, that house is white, there are four cars parked outside it ... - the point is not that the distraction is interesting but it's a distraction. But yesterday I wasn't doing this when I was mentally gaming the particular conversation that was winding me up. And what is bad is not that the issue or conversation upsets me, but that I wind myself up about it far beyond what it should.

This is a pattern I remember very clearly ... well I could repeat the same paragraph as above. Except it's worse than that because it's been like that my whole life.

When I was playing frisbee in the garden - which was excellent and lovely - I found myself looking at all the weeds that I haven't weeded, and feeling bad about that (which I suppose is reasonable) and bad about myself for not having done it (which definitely is not.) It's given another layer by the fact that I've been trying to garden more often because weeding or planting often takes me out of myself and make me feel better - so now I can also feel bad about myself for not doing something that makes me feel better.

This is a pattern I remember a bit less clearly, but it is definitely something that happened, and it's obviously not good for me. Plus there's the avoidance problem: if I go and do some gardening then I might feel bad about not having done it earlier while I am doing it now, and so I avoid doing the thing that will make me feel good after I've done it.

Another bad thing was that I drank too much alcohol. When I come to drinking too much alcohol I definitely do things by halves. I don't mean literally drinking half pints, but I mean that I don't get drunk or go on benders. But yesterday I had a small can of beer, a pimms, a large bottle of beer, a glass of wine, and two or three small whiskies. So yeah, read like that it doesn't sound too bad, but I worry that I find myself doing this kind of drinking most days, and that puts me above government health advice. And what scared me yesterday was that I realised it was having little or no effect on me, which is why I kept having another little bit of alcohol. Until I realised that and I stopped.

Actually this isn't a pattern I particularly remember from before my breakdown, and indeed just before then I'd gone on a successful much-dryer period. But it did worry me a bit.

So yesterday was a bad day in a few ways for me. Not disastrous, but bad.

Yesterday was a bad day. If I can recognise that, maybe it's a good thing. And - especially - if I can avoid that kind day, that would be a great thing.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Vignette: This is how ridiculous anxiety can be

Just an hour ago as I am writing this, I was driving in St Andrews and for some reason had a rush of anxiety and the thought:
I'll never be able to hold down a job.
This is the kind of anxiety that you might have (and I think I did) when you are 16 (going on 17), or maybe a bit later when you are about to graduate.  At that point it might be unnecessary to torture yourself about this, but it's an understandable worry.

I am 50 (going on 51), and I've had my current job for 15 years (going on 16), and had miscellaneous other jobs before that.

My anxiety was not that I would lose my job and not be able to get another one.

My anxiety was literally that I would never in my life be able to hold down a job, even though I have actually done so for more than 20 years.

Anxiety can be pretty ridiculous!

Friday, 5 June 2015

Session One

This is our second guest post from Dorothy Donald. Their first post is here. 

I sit down opposite the therapist and make myself not-too-uncomfortable. Basic questions first: Job (academic), relationship status (single), anti-depressant medication (no), living situation (fine).

Then the kicker: What seems to be the trouble?  Answer: I am a self-saboteur of the highest calibre. I stifle myself in everything that I do. I dislike myself intensely. I do not see the point of being alive. There’s a fog in my head, dense and persistent, slowing me down, tiring me out.

You know, the usual stuff.

It strikes me as we talk – and it doesn’t escape his notice – that most of the problems I identify are to do with work. Sure, there are life events, relationships, but these feel secondary. When he asks me to tell him what I hope for from therapy – my ‘dream outcome’ – the first answer that comes to mind actually surprises me a little.

The answer is: I want to be productive. I want to be a ‘good academic’. I want to do lots of work and enjoy doing the work and be good at it and for it to come easily. I want to be the academic I think everyone around me is. Because while I’m told again and again that everyone gets imposter syndrome I know, I know, I know in my bones, that I am the true imposter. Not intelligent enough, not disciplined enough, not hungry enough. Not enough. And any improvement to my mental health is a means to an end – not sought because it’s appalling to feel that life isn’t worth living but necessary because I’ve got to get some papers out. If I didn’t have the head-fog I could take things in so much faster. If I thought more highly of myself I could write a more convincing case for support. Never mind what depression is doing to me – look at what it’s doing to my career. That is why I need fixing.

I swallow that answer and rummage for something that feels a bit more appropriate. I don’t come up with much. I tell him I want the fog to lift. I don’t tell him why. I don’t want to sound weird.

He delicately tells me that time is up, that he’ll be happy to work with me, that it’s up to me if and when I want to book in again.

In the meantime, he suggests, maybe I could try being more compassionate towards myself?

I nod.

“Please,” says the voice in my head. “Spare me that trite old stuff about compassion. I don’t need to be compassionate towards myself – I need to be better! The problem isn’t that I’m not happy – it’s that I’m not doing anything worthwhile to be happy about. It’s not that I judge myself too harshly – it’s that I actually am useless. It’s not that I beat myself up – it’s that I’ve got so much to beat myself up about. How is thinking about myself differently going to change any of that? This was a waste of time. Why on earth would I want to be happy as I am?”

Driving home, I hear this a few times. I have time to think about it a bit.

“Fine. Fine.” Says my voice. “I will have the damn therapy.”

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Asocial Networking

I spend far too much time social networking, and indeed if I cared about such labels at times I might have been labelled as addicted to social networks. One of the things I did when I signed off sick from work was sign out of twitter and facebook for a while. I'm back on them now.

But this post is not about that at all.

The fact is that as well as my ordinary life, and things like my facebook life, I have a separate life of what I might call "asocial networking"

Since coming out as a depressed academic - mainly by starting this blog and later announcing in an email to my whole department that I was taking time off sick due to mental illness (which may have been a subtle clue to some people) - I have had many conversations with people who I had no idea struggled with depressions or other forms of mental health issues.

Some of those contacts have been one-off messages by people, sometimes long conversations have resulted. Sometimes in person. Sometimes on facebook. Often people say "I had no idea you had such struggles". Often they talk about their struggles and I think "I had no idea you had such struggles."  I don't know if I can help you. I hope that maybe reaching out to somebody helps you, even if I can't. I have no medical training, I have my own experiences and they might not be valid for you. Anything I might say might be ... Exactly. The. Wrong. Thing.

The enormous difference with social networking - hence the name "asocial networking" - is that obviously these conversations are confidential. I don't go talking about them to other people. I have been fairly open about my issues, but I am a very strong believer that nobody else should feel they have to be open about theirs. If you share your issues with me, then you deserve to assume that I won't share them with our common facebook friends, or our common work friends and colleagues, or our outside friends. I believe you can assume that with me.

Secrecy is not my natural metier, but despite my wearing-my-heart-on-my-sleeve persona, I believe that when I need to I can keep secrets. My rather different evidence for this is when two of my friends were applying for the same job, and I tried to give each the best advice I could. When they both realised the situation (through some other route like both being invited to interview, I don't remember the details), I said something like "Oh gosh, it turns out I can keep secrets after all."

I will say one thing. If you talk to me about this there is a good chance I will tell my wife. Not necessarily and not if you tell me not to. But I might. It's a mild safety valve for me.

I don't really know how to say the following.... so I will just say it. Often these contacts make my day. I worry about saying some thing like this because it sounds like I am pleased that you are struggling. Absolutely I am not pleased, I am sorry. But I am pleased and honoured that you felt safe or at least prepared to share it with me.

It might sound an odd thing to say, but absolutely one of the best things for me about being open about my problems has been that other people have entrusted things with me that they would not share with many people. As they say, when you are having a hard time you find out who your friends are. I may not succeed, but I like the fact that I at least try to be a friend to people during their hard times.