For the past months I have not only taken a hiatus from blogging but also, to some extent, life. It’s been a difficult time for me, both in body and in mind. I’ve experienced a host of problems in all aspects of my life; perhaps I should have seen the implosion and explosion coming. I didn’t.
I suppose it all traces back to my dissertation troubles. When ethical issues arose regarding my participants, I had to make a difficult decision: complete the dissertation and risk harming my participants or rework my methodology, rewrite most of my diss, and risk my job in order to make every effort to protect the psychological well-being of my participants. I chose the latter, unwilling to take the chance that my career aspirations might harm someone else. For me it seemed like the ethical, the right thing, to do. I still believe that, in spite of the fact that it has indeed cost me my job. For the first time since I was old enough to work, I am unemployed. It may have been the best thing to happen to me at this point.
For six months I ignored an ongoing fever, increasingly debilitating insomnia and headaches, dizzy spells, and a deteriorating mental state. I moved 900 miles to a new town, became a first time home owner, started a new job as an Assistant Professor, taught writing to a total of 98 students, had no doctor, made no friends, and tried desperately to complete that dissertation so that come the Spring, I would still have a job. My illness, the stress and time consumed by teaching, lack of medical care (my fault, I know) and social support were too much for me. By the end of the semester, I could barely function, and I was profoundly depressed. I felt that I had failed at the one thing that truly mattered to me, the one thing that made me important and special– my career. And I was wrong.
The truth is that your career means little if you aren’t around to enjoy it. This is where the scary admission comes in: I was suicidal. It wasn’t the first time and sadly, it probably won’t be the last. I owe my survival mostly to the best friend of mine who didn’t. My first year of grad school at Purdue was his last and it damaged me so profoundly that I’ve understood how much more it hurts the ones who love you. Suicide is the ultimate ” fuck you” to the rest of the world. As easy as it might seem, I can’t hurt those I love the way I’ve been hurt. And damn, it’s really hard to admit publicly that I’ve wanted to make that escape, but slowly I am learning to practice what my dissertation preaches. I’m getting past my fear of disclosure. I’m speaking out instead of being silent, in spite of how it will influence the way others see me and, even more frighteningly, that it might hurt my career. However, I take comfort in knowing that my greatest strengths as a scholar and teacher are my compassion and empathy, my true desire to help others and work for positive change. I applaud my participants for speaking out, and my dissertation practically advocates for blogging as a mode of healing. How, then, can I see my own silence as anything but hypocrisy? Maybe I’m being too harsh, but even so, I’m taking my chance and stepping a little farther into the blogosphere of self-disclosure. I’m stepping away from my fear of being perceived as narcissistic and into an awareness that my writing is sharing. It helps me, but it also has the potential to help others not feel alone in their own struggles. And that, dear reader, is not in the least bit narcissistic.
And so, I return to both living and writing. I crawl out of my cave; blinking into the glare perhaps, but what really matters is that I’m opening my eyes again.
I’ve been a reader of your blog for a number of years and I’ve thought about this post on and off since I read it in April. Stark depression is just about impossible to climb out of and once experienced, it profoundly changes you in ways that are difficult to articulate. I respectfully disagree that suicide is the ultimate fuck-you- I see it as being unable to find your way out than wanting to stick it to your community of family and friends. I’m sure that losing your academic job was very painful for you but I hope you now have the luxury of time to focus on your healing. Although I am a complete stranger, feel free to send me an email if you’d ever like to chat.
You’re right, Laura. Suicide is more complex than how I’ve expressed it in this post. I should have been more clear in my articulation. I meant that knowing what I do (i.e., how my friend’s suicide impacted me) that for me it would feel like I was saying “fuck you” to my loved ones. Even though depression sometimes makes me feel as though they’d be better off without me, another part of my brain is aware of the damage that my suicide would do. Knowing that I would hurt people that I love keeps me going. Also, I thank you for reaching out to me. It’s always gratifying to know that there’s someone out there who hears my voice.
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