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.”


  1. Hi Dorothy, many thanks for a second beautiful post.

    I sometimes feel a fleeting sense of guilt for "enjoying" wonderful posts like this (and many others) on Depressed Academics. The scare quotes because of course I don't enjoy your pain, or anyone else's. But then I remember that I can love the post and the writing and hate the suffering that caused it to be written.

    I had a thought reading this, where you wrote about wanting to "be the academic I think everyone around me is", a perfect choice of words. It reminded me of something I came across when our first child was young, I forget where.

    When you have a baby, you might have had a sleepless night, the baby could have woken you up after you had 10 minutes sleep after the last time she woke you up and needed a complete change of clothes because the last nappy change you did was in a sleepy state and let stuff leak. You get up in a zombie state and half remember that you need to get something from the shops. So you spend a half hour getting everything ready and you get yourself out of the door. As you are pushing the pram along you see a mum pushing her baby in the pram. She smiles at you, her baby is gorgeous. And you think "How can that parent be so happy and organised and get her baby out and be cheerful and obviously loves being a parent. Look at me, I'm a shattered wreck." And the point of this story? The other mum is thinking EXACTLY THE SAME THING.

    I don't mean that everybody at work is having the same thoughts as you. But almost everybody is struggling with something in their life. And a very large percentage are looking around at other people and thinking "blimey why can't I be like them?"

    Looking forward to enjoying your next post, I'll try to write that without the scare quotes and not feel guilty about saying it.

    1. Thank you, Ian. And I completely understand what you mean about 'enjoying' the posts (or at least, I think I do!)


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