Sunday, March 12, 2017

Depression is. . .

being so stressed that your muscles all hurt when touched, and your shoulder are so tense they ache from nothing at all.

knowing that you're off-kilter and so you decide it's worth it to take extra time to carefully lay everything out, each class's folder and today's handouts and the reading in careful piles you can just pick up and take.  When you get to class, you realize the pile you picked up is the wrong one. 

even after the time you really did leave the burner on, though it didn't hurt anything, and you've tried to be super-careful most nights when you cook, you sit down and he says "the burner is on" and gets up to turn it off.  There's no question.  You did it again.

forgetting that you're preheating the oven to heat up a burrito and walking into the kitchen authentically surprised to see the burrito waiting there twice in ten minutes.

working plenty of hours this week (42 hours though I didn't factor in every email) but still insanely behind because you work.so.goddamn.slowly.  And I can't push myself very hard either because just going forward at all is such a struggle and clearly I can blow a gasket because I am so close to gasket-blowing every time some jerk does something foolish on the highway so I just try to keep as even keeled as possible and ask others to step in where they can.  Poor Husband.

hating being sick. Hating being a burden and a source of worry.  Don't worry.  Don't hate me because I'm going a little crazy now.  I'm sorry. Every meeting I go to, every class I teach I just want to say look, I am so sorry.  You totally deserve better than this, but this is all I've got.  I know it's shite but I really am doing the very best that I can. I don't even want to talk about how I feel about my parenting just now.  Right now Spirited! is being parented by Yoda.  He's gone ape over Star Wars.

walking from your office through the hallway to the classroom realizing you could cry right now, you could just burst into tears right at this minute but you're not going to and you're just going to pull yourself together and take a deep breath and go teach your class.

choosing to treat yourself carefully so you don't get so flaming pissed that you're screaming your head off in your car or having a panic attack while driving in the snow.

Friday, March 10, 2017

I'm Depressed. How Are You?

So Bardiac has a post up just now about seeing a student in office hours who is missing a lot of class because of anxiety and depression.  And I found myself having a lot to say in the comment I was going to leave because -- get this -- I just today went to my doctor to get meds because I'm having a major depressive episode.  I found myself writing a comment that was really all about trying to explain what it feels like to have a major depressive episode to someone who either hasn't had one or has had one but copes well enough through it to not be a menace to herself or others.  (I say that Bardiac may be a coper because she spoke of how for so many people "just getting up and dragging themselves through the day is how they get by a lot of the time."  That is how depression feels, so I'm thinking she just was able to slug through it in ways that some of us may not be able to.  I don't know.)  Anyway, it became clear I have something to say on this subject.

Though I've felt low for a long time, until this point I wanted to avoid covering up my unhappiness with meds and tried to address it naturally through supplements and herbs. (Also perimenopause is kicking my ass, especially how it has amped up my PMS to the point I really do actually hate everything for a few days and am sure that every single thing in my life is poisoned.) That I went to go get anti-depressants is a measure of how bad things are just now.  Part of why I chose to take meds this time is desperation -- I can't do anything about the things making me unhappy if I have no energy and motivation to do anything but be pissy about my unhappy lot.  (Quite literally, I don't have the energy to catch up on my grading or to apply to job postings I've found that sound like much better jobs than my own.  Help!) Also to control the damage -- I'm so low now I can't quite keep myself from letting it leak out, either in grumpy comments (you should see me cuss out every other driver on the highway), or cursing, even in front of my child, or snapping at people, especially my child.  So while I do on a regular basis drag myself out of bed and through my day, I'm doing it incredibly poorly now and with such bad grace. A huge part of my ability to drag myself through my day at all has to do with habit and responsibility and maturity -- absolutely zero of it has to do with how I feel or my energy level.  I have a kid and a breadwinner responsibility; that, my coffee, and more supplements than you would believe get me out of bed in the morning.  That's powerful force to counter the heavy weight around my ankle that is depression.  But if I only had myself to care for, as I did when I started this blog, I'd probably be in bed all the time.  I've certainly documented in times past the struggles I have to get myself to do things on my own.

Because of the times that I really struggle to cope, I empathize with students who suffer from anxiety and depression.  I get it. 

Sorry to be Debbie Downer.  That's what I'm really good at, these days.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ten Years Later

This blog's ten-year anniversary came and went in December, not that I've been blogging for that long -- there are several years I didn't write a thing here.  I certainly remembered and thought of the anniversary last month, but December is a really busy time with the holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries all crowded up against each other.  So the blog, as usual, gets short shrift.

But I wanted to note something here just for the record.  Ten years ago, I started this blog when I went to the Big Academic Conference for interviews for the first time.   I couldn't see into the future and imagine where I'd be in ten years but I was interviewing for jobs.  Where am I?  I'm tenured, overworked, out of place.  I'm married with a son.  It feels funny to have worked so hard in grad school and now I wonder whether the academy is the best place for me, though I honestly can't think of a better place.  What's going on with me now besides moving my projects forward at the snail's pace that is my wont is that I've taken up a hobby, purely and totally for enjoyment.  No little voice in the back of my head saying maybe I could make extra money at this or change jobs or whatever.  I've finally, in my forties, learned the value of something that is 100% a hobby (unlike crochet, where you get something at the end of it and so can call it useful).  And that seems important, not just in terms of my own life, but also that in terms of what becomes important to a person who is post-tenure.  You know what's important?  Joy.  Delight.  Happy times.  (Not working all the time.)

I want to go dancing.  (Some things don't change.)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Slow Week the Last: Conclusion: Collaboration and Thinking Together

For our final week of discussion, in the Conclusion, the authors reflect on their own collaboration in writing the book, which they describe as putting Slow principles into practice, as well as the various merits of "thinking together." Fundamentally, inspired discussion and supportive collaboration builds and is built on trust. 

Since the co-authors had known each other for a long time, "we were more patient with each other and more compassionate when life events or work pressure intervened in a deadline. Recognizing that the understanding and care that we extended to each other brought out the best in us has made us more compassionate towards our students" (88).  They sandwich in that sentence the idea that this support, rather than some kind of organizational cure-all or fire-rimmed deadlines, brings out the best in themselves and each other.  (Something in me instinctively bristles at this, as if "the best in us" is made by more exacting standards rather than loving support -- and I'm not sure I like what I'm discovering about myself.)

This is the conclusion, after all, and so there's only time for one more definitional clarification: "Slow philosophy overall should not be interpreted, Petrini reminds us, as "the contrast . . . between slowness and speed -- slow versus fast -- but rather between attention and distraction; slowness, in fact, is not so much a question of duration as of an ability to distinguish and evaluate, with the propensity to cultivate pleasure, knowledge, and quality" . . . Slow professors act with purpose, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience to the effects of the corporatization of higher education" (89-90).

So in the face of the fast currents coming at him or her, the Slow Professor aims to not get caught up in it and instead think deeply and purposefully.

This is our last week and so is a great time for summing up.  What have you gotten out of this reading and discussion?  Can you imagine going about your professorial life differently -- with a more conscious consideration of Slow principles?  How can you make time for timeless time?  What ideas do you have for teaching more Slow-ly?  How can a consideration of Slow principles help to nurture your research and scholarship?  How can you engage in building the kind of trust in your department or academic circle that will nurture your intellect and emotions?  How can you work to champion work-life balance for you and your colleagues? 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Slow Week 6: Collegiality and Community

While the last two chapters focused on teaching and then research, this week's chapter focuses not on service, but on collegiality.  Berg and Seeber begin the chapter by focusing on the necessity for academics, as professionals in one of the helping professions (to be jarred by this distinction is, I think, a feminist issue), to see "psychological wellness" as a "ethical imperative."  One kind of self-care is social support and this means that there is an ethical imperative to have positive emotions in the workplace in order to do our work well.  By contrast, in the corporate university social support is not there because people are too busy and people instead have negative emotions because of loneliness and isolation.  (Yes, Yes, Yes!!!)

They go on then to describe how isolating and rude a space the corporate university can be with people texting at meetings and instead explain that we need to be able to vent, understanding that venting isn't whining (especially with colleagues, I've found, since they can come up with interesting ideas), and that we really need emotional connection and support.  

And so if you really identified with all that, and you're hanging on by your fingernails trying to figure out what on earth you can do, Berg and Seeber tell you that the conventional advice about making more opportunities for community through creating series and events is wrong. These kinds of events can just be an additional onerous obligation when the point is to create more positive emotions and community. 

I'm skipping some pages in this synopsis because I felt a little bit that Berg and Seeber were long on explanation and short on help, resistance, or solace.  For example -- and I am not claiming here to be a representative reader -- I am super-sensitive and anxiety-ridden -- but the knowledge that social support has a powerful effect on health just gives me another thing that I can't control to worry about, another stressor, another reason to be frustrated at my job, further harming my health.  I don't think the Slow way is to leave us all depressed about the state of things.  Slow Food is premised on countering the dehumanizing and homogenizing qualities of Fast Food by embracing, savoring, and anticipating flavor!  I wanted Berg and Seeber to come up with some resistance, something we can embrace with gusto here, so I was disappointed to learn that Berg and Seeber weren't going to include practical advice in this chapter because an individual is not in charge of his/her community and because useful advice to promote community is hard to give.  Isn't there something we can embrace here? 

Luckily, the "themes for reflection" are actually really good.  One took me right back to my grad program and this wonderful, alas unbloggable, aspect of my grad school life that allowed me to really feel part of things in a weird way and to have different connections to people.  I had tons of pleasurable emotions from that.  I miss it terribly.  Definitely ask yourself what you miss.  That brought up other things, like intellectual engagement, which is why I usually think a speaker's series is a good idea.  I can see why it could be a nightmare and feel mandatory by the tenure-track.  Maybe I want a reading group -- where we're all just reading something that none of us has written and discussing ideas (hopefully without trying to one-up each other, as sometimes happens).

One thing that I've been trying to do is champion people's work-life balance and telling them not to apologize when they have family obligations or plans in the summer.  But the discussion of collegiality and community is weird right now because my department is now in major upheaval.  We're trying to figure out what to do and move forward, considering the changes that are happening.  We need to come together.  But at the same time I personally really need to be away.  And I feel bad about that. 

What were your thoughts about this chapter?  Do you have a safe space and supportive community to vent (rather than whine)?  What do you miss?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Slow Week 5: Research and Understanding

This week's reading hits me where I work, because I work at a very corporate university where other values -- slow values, academic values -- are eclipsed.  So the best thing I can do for myself is put in a very visible place as a constant reminder the following:  "Slowing down is a matter of ethical import" (58).

I need to put this to make an everyday mantra because I know I've said, in an admiring way, "s/he's a machine."  (Probably not often, but enough times for me to know I don't want to say that anymore, that none of us should be machines, and if someone feels so driven that they have to produce in a machine-like manner, we should probably find out what's wrong.  None of us should aspire to be as productive as a machine. To me, this really shows us an everyday example of what societal values actually are.)

And to support us, this chapter offers us the following:

Slow opens up ways of thinking about research that challenge the corporate ethos. Using the language of Slow connects us to a larger political and social movement.. . .Knowing that there is a global movement for slowing down can fuel us, and this is important because challenging the dominant model of research is quite difficult; going against the grain usually is not easy.  Slowing down is about asserting the importance of contemplation, connectedness, fruition, and complexity. . .(57)

There is more to this chapter -- a discussion of the ethics of time for self and other, the concern that the instrumentalist approach deflects critical inquiry into its own process as well as feminism, a focus on language, and specifics suggestions for us to try.  I have to admit I had a long day and not enough time to read and think about this chapter, so I'm going to leave it here and come back later.

What do you think of this chapter and its points?  What kind of language do you use to describe someone's accomplishments?  Are there ways you could advocate for a Slow-er take on research? 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Slow Week 4: Pedagogy and Pleasure

This chapter champions pleasure as important to teaching and learning.

It seems obvious that when one teaches well, one enjoys it, but perhaps the reverse is actually more accurate:  that when one enjoys teaching, one does it well . . . it may be the case that pleasure -- experienced by the instructor and the students -- is the most important predictor of "learning outcomes." (34)

Pleasure here is discussed as a positive and embodied emotion that affects our thinking in important ways, arguing against online coursework on the ground that it is not as effective as face-to-face interaction where emotions are infectiousThe authors here quote Picard et al: 

"a slight positive mood does not just make you feel a little better but also induces a different kind of thinking, characterised by a tendency toward greater creativity and flexibility in problem solving, as well as more efficiency and thoroughness in decision making." (37)

Who doesn't want to gain greater creativity and flexibility in problem solving?  Who doesn't want students engaging in more creative and flexible thinking in the classroom?  The answer is to "work at having positive emotions" in order to counteract the brain's instinctive negativity bias with several suggestions, the most succinct of which is probably we need to "stop abusing ourselves with overwork" (40).  The other suggestions were varied:  remember to make a transition to class; "hold the space" in silence before beginning class; remember to breathe; don't be afraid to laugh and make students laugh; listen and pay attention to students; giving students specific boundaries in the syllabus or course guidelines about social media (one lesson I took from the "intercepting" section); "'reduc[e] one's attention to time may therefore be an important, yet previously overlooked, means of promoting flow'" (as quoted from Conti, 50), (the other lesson I took from the "intercepting" section; prepare classes in brief enjoyable sessions; think about preparing one's class as a story as well as use stories to make the lessons more engaging; prepare assignments that are "useful and enjoyable for the students themselves" (50).

What is the most difficult part of teaching for you?  How could you make teaching, preparing for teaching, and/or grading more pleasurable?  Are there boundaries you could set that would help make teaching more pleasurable?  What concrete steps could we take to "stop abusing ourselves with overwork"?  What gets in the way of really listening and attending to students?  Is there a way to introduce "timeless time" into the classroom without getting hopelessly behind?  What does thinking about your course as a story do for you?