The Other Side of the Mic

1 Aug

If you’ve paid attention to my posts about my research or have read any of my published work, then you know I’m a qualitative researcher. More specifically, I’ve written ethnographic case studies and case studies of students–other professors’ students, as well as my own. Qualitative research is one of the dominant methodologies in composition studies and literacy studies, my two major areas.

I’ve been doing this type of research for over 10 years, but until this year, I had never been part of someone else’s research. Last semester,  one of my courses served as a research site. While the researcher’s primary interest was the students, I was interviewed a couple of times in order to set up some context and answer a few questions. Today was the last interview.

It was an interesting experience to be on the other side of the mic. The interview made me articulate things that I intuitively know about my teaching, and I think that’s always helpful. Some of the questions also forced me to think about particular issues from different perspectives, which I found valuable. For example, questions about my design of peer review groups helped me articulate more clearly my purposes behind peer review (grouping students of equivalent motivation but varying ability) and how those purposes may conflict with students’ perceptions (students who think “if someone’s peer review isn’t as good as mine, then it’s worthless”). Given the specific issue I’m thinking of, I don’t think this type of conflict is a bad thing–both students are learning something important in this interaction, even if the higher ability student doesn’t necessarily like the lesson that is being learned. But talking about the specific issue just reminded me why something can look so different from students’ perspectives versus a professor’s perspective. That is very helpful when I have to talk to students and let them know that I understand their frustrations (even though I may think that frustration is part of the learning process).

Something else I realized throughout the process of participating in this project is that I am an established researcher now. I have more experience with fieldwork than the researcher who studied my class, and I could feel that difference in ways I don’t think I would have sensed even just a few years ago. There were several times during interviews where I would inwardly analyze the interview as it was underway–anticipating questions I would be asked, thinking about questions I would ask if our roles were reversed, etc. There was information I volunteered because I thought it would be helpful to the researcher–answers to questions I suspected the researcher would later wish had been asked, identifying particular bits of data that may warrant a closer look, that sort of thing. I really didn’t think as I was doing it; I just kind of went into fieldwork mode.

It made me see in a new way that doing research has become a fundamental part of who I am–even when I am not conducting research, I am still thinking like a researcher. That was new for me.

Update on the Kids

30 Jul

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this past year I didn’t have to worry about M’s schooling. She had a great year at her new school. She did have her ups and downs; if you’re friends with me on Facebook, you know what I’m referring to here, but I won’t write it about here since I am not behind a password. Certain stories are for M to tell, not me.

That said, M’s ups and downs were very normal. She is doing extremely well–she LOVES school. She hated to be absent last year–the first time she had a stomach bug, she cried because she didn’t want to miss school–and she is excited for school to start up again next month. It is such a relief to see her so happy and well-adjusted. I didn’t realize until this year just how much of my mental, emotional, and physical energy her issues with school had taken out of me.

At the beginning of the year, we weren’t sure what to expect academically. She skipped an entire year of math–she went from doing third grade math in public school to fifth grade math at her new school. She tested into that math class, so I knew the school was confident she could do the work, but I still just didn’t know what to expect. She had never really studied social studies before this past year; in third grade she did a little group project on the tools Native Americans used, but that was about it. She had never had a social studies book or a test. She’d had very little grammar. In second grade they talked about nouns and verbs and maybe adjectives (can’t remember for sure), but that was all. I don’t think she’d ever written a report at her old school.

During the three months I homeschooled her, I tried to work in as many of these things as I could, but it’s hard to make up for three years of education in three months.  She studied Native American history with me, I made sure she had her multiplication tables memorized and that she felt confident about division, I had her write book reports, and I worked with her on vocabulary and identifying the parts of speech, as well as the subject and predicate of a sentence. That was really about all we could do, in the time we had.

She earned the lowest grade she’d ever received on her first social studies test; I can’t remember what it was exactly, but it was in the 60s. She was upset, but G and I told her not to get discouraged. She had never taken a test like that before–a test with short answer questions, multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, etc. All she had done to that point was spelling, as well as a science test where she had to label all the bones in the human body. We stressed to her that she was learning for the first time not only social studies, but also how to take tests like these, and that takes time. She worked diligently throughout the year, and her grades went up with every test. By the end of the school year, she had the highest social studies average in the class, an accomplishment of which she was extremely (and rightfully) proud. We were also very proud of her, because we saw how hard she worked to grasp a whole new way of learning.

She struggled with grammar quizzes throughout the year–grammar requires an attention to detail that is difficult for her to sustain–but she learned a lot and showed improvement by the end of the year. Her vocabulary grades were excellent; she was consistently one of the top scorers the entire year, and those tests were hard. She had to know not only the meaning and spelling of the word, but also its part of speech and number. She also had to be able to identify the words’ synonyms and antonyms. I am not exaggerating when I say that some of my first-year writing students could not pass those tests.

She did pretty well in math this year, but she blew the doors off the achievement tests in math this spring. Because she scored so high on those tests (and those test scores were consistent with her math scores during her admission testing and the IQ testing we had done), she’s skipping another level of math. For next year, she’ll be with the kids who were in the math class above hers this year; the class is Math Foundations II and III or something like that. In sixth grade, she’ll be in pre-algebra, and she’ll take Algebra I in seventh grade. She is very excited about this development, as her goal this year in math was to move up to this math group. I have to admit that I am not sure why it meant so much to her to be with this group  (most of her friends are in the group she was in this year), but it did, so I am happy for her.

I am a little nervous about her skipping ahead again, but I do know that she needs to be challenged. She tends to rise or fall to the occasion. To use a sports analogy, she plays to the level of competition. If the bar is set high, she meets it, but if the bar is set low, she meets it, too–doesn’t exceed it, just meets it. Given that we have ample evidence from both school and her neuropsych testing that this is her M.O., my husband and I, as well as the school, think this is the right call. If we are wrong, we can always seek tutoring for her.

The thing that makes me happiest for M is all the friends she made. She made so many nice friends this year, and it was wonderful to see her feel so happy and included at school. She always had people to play with at recess, and she played with a variety of kids. At our last parent-teacher conference, her teacher told her, “I don’t think there’s one kid in fourth grade who doesn’t like you, M. You make friends wherever you go, and that just proves once again that what happened at your old school wasn’t your fault.” I was so happy for her when I heard him say that! This also shows how wonderful her teacher was this year–again and again, he made sure to point out her strengths as well as her weaknesses, as well as helping her realize how far she had come this year and that the situation at her old school was not her fault.

P’s update won’t be anywhere near as lengthy, because he doesn’t have M’s tumultuous history. He was in the pre-kindergarten class this year, and fall semester was rough. I don’t think it helped that he started off the year with surgery (his adenoids and tonsils were removed and ear tubes were inserted), but the main problem was that his preschool class was doing things M did in kindergarten. He wasn’t ready for that. He was a four year old boy, and like most four-year-olds, he wanted to play. He had no interest in sitting at his seat and learning how to write not only letters, but also words, sound combinations, and the like. I understand why the teachers were pushing the kids harder–this year marked the beginning of statewide standardized testing in first grade (!). Because of that testing, there is so much more pressure now for kids to be doing even more in kindergarten.

But P was not ready for that–he just wasn’t. It became pretty clear to G and me that P needed to go to M’s school. We hadn’t necessarily intended on sending him there right away; we wanted him to try public school and see how things went. But M’s school doesn’t have to do any state testing, so the curriculum is free from teaching to the test. We also suspected that P would constantly be in trouble in a public school classroom. M had 28 kids in her kindergarten class, and the sizes just seem to be getting bigger, thanks to budget cuts. One of my grad students had a first-grader this past year, and there were 31 kids in his class. I know a gym teacher in the district who had kindergarten classes with 35 and 36 kids. That would be a disaster for P. He is a bit of a class clown as it is, and to have that many other children to perform for would be too great of a temptation for him to bear. Throw in the fact that he would receive little attention from the teacher and that he would have to sit and do a lot work, and it was clear to us that such a classroom would be a disaster for him.

For a while, we thought just going to M’s school would be enough; there are only 16-18 kids in K-4 classes there, so he would have plenty of attention and wouldn’t feel as much of a need to act out to get it. But by Christmas it was apparent to us that he simply  was not ready for kindergarten, no matter how small the class would be. He is very bright, and some of his insights about other people can be devastatingly accurate; he doesn’t say as much as his sister (few do, lol), but he can cut to the heart of the matter very quickly and with an accuracy that astonishes me. But in terms of developmental readiness (attention span, physical stamina, motor skills, etc), he just wasn’t there; this was his preschool teachers’ opinions, as well as ours.

Over Christmas break, G and I decided we would seek to enroll P in the school’s Kindergarten Prep program. This is a program for kids who are chronologically old enough to go to kindergarten, but developmentally aren’t quite ready–a perfect description of P. It runs from 8-1:15, instead of 8-3, and there are only 14-16 children in the class; there is a teacher and a teacher’s aide, too. The academic demands are not as great, and there is a real emphasis on art, which P *loves.* We just thought it would be the perfect program for him.

While we knew he would have to go through the full kindergarten admission testing, I told the admissions director we were only interested in Kindergarten Prep placement for P. He did all of the testing, and it confirmed what we knew: his aptitude tests put him well into the above average range, but he consistently scored in the 4.0-4.5 year old range on the Gesell developmental testing, with two scores in the 5-year-old range. That was pretty accurate, since P wasn’t going to be five for another three months at the time he took the test, but for kindergarten placement, the school wants kids scoring in the 5.0-5.5 year old range. As we knew, P simply was not ready.

So, P will be going to school with his older sister this year: Kindergarten Prep for him, and 5th grade (and middle school!) for her. They are both excited to finally be going to school together, though I know P is nervous about making new friends and having all new teachers. Over the next few weeks there will be a couple playdates at the school so that the kids can get to know each other, see the classroom and the teacher again (Pete met her when he visited last winter and loved her), and all the rest, and he is looking forward to that. I think those playdates will really help dispel his nervousness.

He has grown up so much this past year and has really come into his own. He loves sports; he played baseball this spring, went to a basketball camp at IPFW this summer, and is going to play soccer this fall. His preschool teachers this year taught him so much about art, and he really took to it. He loved learning about the artists and created some amazing stuff. I had no idea he had a talent for art until this year, but it’s become clear to me he does.  I am so excited for him to go to Kindergarten Prep, because he will absolutely love all the art. The teacher is known for her use of art in teaching the kids and is an artist herself. He’s going to really enjoy it.

Well, I guess P’s update wasn’t that much shorter than M’s. :) 

How I’m Doing Now

29 Jul

After yesterday’s post, I feel like I should provide some further follow-up about how I’m doing now.

I am doing pretty well overall, though I have my challenges. Last fall semester was especially difficult. In September, I made the horribly difficult decision to euthanize our dog, Lucky. I say “our” dog, but in some significant ways he was really my dog. I spent more time with him than anyone else in my family, and I was the one he wanted when he was sick or scared. It is still difficult for me to talk or write about Lucky without tearing up, so it should be no surprise that my emotions in the immediate aftermath of his death were extremely raw. I still can’t even think about getting another dog. I just can’t.

Another issue I struggled with last fall was Mentor Prof’s health. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2012. It was caught early, but it was an aggressive cancer. I hate to sound as if I am making her illness all about me, but I was terrified for her. I had already lost a good friend and a professor to breast cancer, and that was all I could think about at first. MP went through hell–aggressive chemo and radiation treatments that lasted nearly a year–and it was hard to see her suffer. At the same time, I was and still am amazed by her emotional and physical strength throughout the ordeal; at one point during treatment, she was walking five miles a day.

By spring, she was through some of the worst of her treatments, and I was through the initial stages of my grief for Lucky. Spring was a much better semester, but even with the emotions I was dealing with in the fall, I still did pretty well. I had no problems with functioning normally, in spite of my fears and sadness. When I think back on all of it, the difference between Fall 2011 and 2012 is hard to believe. I was a different person.

This summer has been pretty good. The first week at home was tough; this has been my first summer without Lucky, and I felt his absence quite acutely that first week. The house seemed so quiet and lonely without him. The Trayvon Martin verdict also shook me up pretty badly, and the following week was rough. I think I am going to write about that in a different post, though.

Something that really helped me this year was M’s schooling. She had a wonderful year at her new school, and it was such a relief to not have to worry about her! Having that worry removed from my life helped enormously as I continued to heal and grow stronger this year. She will be in fifth grade and MIDDLE SCHOOL this fall–I can’t believe it.

I have talked pretty openly with the kids about my depression and have stressed again and again that it is not their fault. They didn’t make me sick, and they can’t make me better. I also remind them repeatedly that I love them, even if I am crying or angry over nothing. It’s not perfect, but I do think they know that it’s the depression that can make me weepy and moody, not them.

Once I started getting better, I realized they knew more than they ever let on, especially P. One day last fall or winter (this would be 2011-2012), after I had been on the meds a while, he said to me, “I’m really glad you don’t cry all the time anymore, Mommy.” Of course, that statement made me cry, but he was right–I was no longer driving them to and from school or activities with tears streaming down my face. I was able to come home and spend time with them, instead of being curled up on the couch. When he said that, I realized just how much he understood, even though he was only three at the time.

P knows that Mama has problems with feeling very, very sad all the time, even when there is nothing sad happening in my life. He knows that that this is called depression, that it’s because of the way my brain is wired, and that I take medicine so that I can feel better and have more energy. He also knows I see a therapist and go to our family doctor for this reason. At his age, this is the explanation that I feel is appropriate. He still worries about me. He is very quick to notice if I am crying, and he asks if that means I am getting sad again. I remind him of the difference between regular sadness and what Mommy feels, and that helps reassure him. I also remind that our doctor and my therapist (who he has met) are taking good care of me and that I take my medicine so I can be well. That reassurance seems to set his mind at ease pretty quickly.

Since M is older, she has a deeper understanding. She knows that I suffer from depression, that the problem is rooted in my brain, and that I take medication for it. She has gone to my therapist with me and learned about some of the things that can affect my well-being. I am open with her when I have a bad day. I have talked with her about the fact that this is something I will watch for in her as she gets older, since problems with depression can run in families. I have stressed to her repeatedly the importance of getting help and that taking medication for a mental health issue is the same as taking mediation for a physical problem. I am trying to make sure she doesn’t grow up with the stigma that I grew up with about these issues. I have not shared with either child the extent of my depression. I fear knowing that I was suicidal could be very traumatic and upsetting for them, and my therapist agreed that knowledge could be harmful.

I do worry that my illness puts too big of a burden on the kids, especially M, but both my kids are pretty well-adjusted. They are happy and healthy, physically and emotionally. I can see that with my own eyes, and their teachers (as well as my therapist and our doctor) say the same thing. I am trying to trust in that and not worry.

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not…”

28 Jul

Some of you may remember that about two years ago, I wrote a series of password-protected posts. I suspect most of you reading this post read the others, but today I am going to write about what was going on in my life at that time. I have wanted to write about these issues for a while, but it took me a long time to feel emotionally ready to do it; I also didn’t want to write about this until I had tenure.

I used a password on those posts to protect the secret I hid from almost all of my family, colleagues, and friends: I was suicidal.

It is difficult for me to remember a time when I did not struggle with depression. I suspect my problems started in the aftermath of the sexual assault I experienced when I was seven. I don’t know that I was the happiest child before, but I vividly remember how my world turned very dark afterwards. I had to deal with the aftermath alone, with no adults to talk to or to help me understand and process what had happened to me, and that is an extremely heavy burden for anyone, let alone a child who had just finished first grade. I felt very sad and very alone for many, many years.

In fifth and sixth grade–but particularly sixth–I slid from sadness to clinical depression. I was struggling with what had happened to me, and I was bullied by a girl who came to my school in fifth grade; she turned every single kid in our class (and in most other classes) against me. The hurt and isolation of that experience was enough to push me over the edge. My depression went undiagnosed and untreated, given the dynamics of my family, but in retrospect, I know what I was experiencing. Even at the time, I knew, because at eleven I was old enough to understand that wanting to kill myself wasn’t normal or healthy.  This went on for months. Things started to get better between the summer of sixth and seventh grade–namely, I made some friends–and the suicidal thinking gradually stopped.

I stayed somewhat healthy for several years; I knew I struggled, but because I didn’t want to kill myself and functioned pretty well, I thought I was just “weird.” Five years later, at the end of my junior year of high school, I went through a terrible break-up with my first love. A particularly nasty aftermath left me heartbroken, and the depression returned; it lingered until I went away to college. Fortunately, I wasn’t suicidal during this episode; the thought of finally getting away from my horrible school and going to college is what sustained me. There was no way I was going to even think about killing myself when I was right on the cusp of everything I had ever wanted: going away to college, where I would receive a real education and have more freedom than I had ever known. I also had made some really good friends at my summer job, and they helped me enormously. I would “joke” with them that they kept me from losing my mind and we’d laugh about it, but in truth, that was a serious statement on my part. They helped prevent that awful sense of isolation that pushed me over the edge before.

Once I was in college, I had the freedom to seek therapy, which I did. Rosalie (my therapist) helped me work through so many issues and gain some peace with my molestation and its aftermath, and I think working with her helped prevent any more recurrences of depression during my college years. But after college, I struggled. My grandmother, who was like a mother to me in many ways and who lived with my family the last eight years of her life, experienced a steep decline in her health; she began having TIAs (mini strokes). I couldn’t get a job; I had trained to be a high school English teacher, and everyone I knew assured me I would have no trouble securing a position: I was so bright, I was a hard worker, I was good with students, I was enthusiastic, etc. But I didn’t get a job, and I felt like a failure–me, the girl who had never really failed at anything academic. That led to me working in human resources for over a year before I started tutoring in the basic writing program at the University of Cincinnati; the professors there told me I had a gift for working with basic writers and that I needed to go to grad school so I could become a professor.

So, like the good student I had always been, I listened to the teacher and applied to grad school. Around this same time, we learned my grandma’s cancer had returned and that she would probably be dead within six months. In December of that year, she had a major stroke, and she died six weeks later. Then, about six weeks after her death, I learned I did not get into graduate school.

I was devastated. My grandma’s death was enough to throw me into another major depressive episode, but the rejection gutted me. It called into question who I was. I was the girl who never failed at anything, yet I couldn’t get a teaching job, and now I couldn’t even continue to be a student. I was a failure. I so badly wanted to see my grandmother again, and after I hung up from the rejection phone call, all I could think was that if I died, I could be with her forever. There would be no more rejection or pain, because I would be with her.

Somehow, I had just enough sanity left in me that I called my husband at work and told him what I was thinking about doing. I told him that he needed to come home, because I didn’t know if I could stop myself.  I had to pick him up, because he had gotten a ride to work that day, and I remember how I seriously considered driving my car off the roads and overpasses I was traveling on. But I forced myself to think about other people who could be hurt if I caused such an accident. I forced myself to think about G and my parents–did I want G to have to identify me? Did I want my parents, who had just lost my grandma, to then lose their youngest child? These were the thoughts that kept me safe until I could reach G, who promptly took me home, held me for hours, and got me on the phone with a friend of ours who was a therapist. She then put me in touch with Maureen, who became my therapist for the next three years and whose care saved my life.

It took a year for me to emerge from that episode; once I made it through the all of the first holidays without Grandma and the first anniversary of her death–as well as coping with the deaths of a good friend and G’s 18-year-old cousin, both of which were from cancer–I started healing. The excitement of being accepted to grad school also helped in my recovery; once again, I had something to look forward to.

I certainly struggled for many years after this episode, but I didn’t think I was depressed. To me, depression was barely being able to get out of bed every single day and wanting to kill myself. Sure, I had days when I was so upset that I couldn’t face the world. I felt horrible sadness at times, I was pessimistic, I was filled with self-doubt and self-criticism, and I was prone to epic freak-outs. But I was a graduate student, and frankly, all of that seemed pretty normal for a grad student.  In comparison to some of my peers, I was a relatively well-adjusted student, especially since very few people in my program ever saw that side of me (only my very closest friends and my dissertation director). I saw a therapist on campus, and she kept me functional.

I took a lot of pride in my ability to hide my mental state from those around me; I always had. For example, no one at U.C. had any idea how depressed I was after my grandma’s death; when I confided in two professors the following year, they were stunned: “But you always seemed so happy!” I did the same thing in grad school. I was very invested in looking capable and confident. I wanted people to think that I had my shit together, and for the most part, they did. Of course, I was also pretty vulnerable as a grad student: I needed professors to work with me, I needed awards and grants, etc. It’s no wonder I was so invested in portraying a certain type of image to others–there were very real consequences if I didn’t. That is also why I turned to blogging in grad school: I needed a place where I could get out all of my secret feelings and fears. I needed a place where I could share all of my insecurities, where I could have my melt-downs, and no one would think less of me for it, because no one would know who I was. That is why I loved pseudonymous blogging so much–it gave me the freedom to be flawed.

All of the above continued throughout my first several years on the tenure track, for all of the same reasons. I was still trying to hide my emotional issues while projecting an aura of cool competence to my colleagues, but now the stakes were higher: tenure and promotion. For the first several years, I managed fairly well; I didn’t even find a new therapist when I moved here. But eventually, things started to unravel. I think it started after my son’s heart condition was diagnosed when he was nine months old; I resumed therapy at that point. Other issues in my personal life–things which I cannot write about publicly, since they involve other people–had a very detrimental effect on my mental state as well, and pretty soon I was in trouble. Fortunately, by this point I had some colleagues who I trusted enough to let see behind the curtain, so to speak, and they began advocating for me.

This is the real reason why I stopped the clock in late 2010. I have maintained publicly that it was because of P’s birth, but the reality is that it was because of depression. The colleague who I’ve identified as Mentor Prof played a pivotal role in the process. She knew much (though not all) of what I was struggling with at the time, and she flat-out told me that there was no way I was in any shape to go up for tenure the following fall. She was right–I cannot imagine prepping my case at that time, given where my health was at that point–but I fought her on it, because I didn’t want to look “weak.” She pushed me and pushed me to seek the help of another mentor who had influence with the dean, as well as my chair, and eventually I did so. The two of them advocated on my behalf, not only to the dean, but also in concert with the dean, who appealed to the vice-chancellor.  This is one reason why I speak so highly of my mentors, my chair, and my dean–they have all gone to bat for me in ways that I know aren’t common at many universities. They looked out for my interests when I  wasn’t capable of doing so. That is rare, and I will always be grateful for it.

I think Mentor Prof hoped that delaying tenure would give me some breathing room and help my mental state, but it didn’t. Throughout the spring of 2011, I continued my long slide into depression. Over the summer, my therapist very nearly begged me to take antidepressants, but I wouldn’t do it. I’d gotten through depression without them several others times, and I didn’t need them. But therapy wasn’t going well; I had reached a point in my depression that therapy really couldn’t be effective. The only way I know how to express is that I was too far gone. Every thing she tried to say, I countered with why it wouldn’t work, why that wasn’t true of me, etc. There was just no helping me in the state I was in; I was incapable of assisting in my own recovery.

By fall 2011, I could barely function: I taught my classes, I picked up the kids, then I came home and collapsed on the couch or in my bed until G came home. I had little control of my emotions, I cried at everything, and I was irritable with the kids. Even though I loved teaching, I could barely muster the energy to do it. The only way I could cope was to count how many more days I had left in the semester: just 30 more classes, just 29 more classes, etc. I had wanted to die for months, and that fall my thoughts turned towards actively making that happen. I felt like I was being carried away by forces that were beyond me: in a classic English professor moment, I remember thinking that my life had become like that of a naturalistic heroine, like Carrie from Dreiser’s Sister Carrie or Edna from Chopin’s The Awakening–I was hurtling towards my inevitable conclusion, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

While I had those feelings, I also worried about my children. A large part of me felt they would be better off without me, but I worried about them, especially M. I worried that my “inevitable conclusion” would destroy her; I didn’t worry about P so much, because since he was only three, I assumed he wouldn’t remember me and would thus never feel my loss (logic was not my strong suit at that point). But M was a different story altogether. Even in the state I was in, I could see what my depression was doing to her. I saw her worry and fear; she didn’t understand what was going on with me, but she knew something was wrong. I feared she would blame herself for my actions and that it would haunt her the rest of her life. I couldn’t do that to her. I couldn’t make her live with that.

For reasons I don’t understand but for which I am grateful, one Saturday in early October I had an epiphany: I had a life-threatening disease, and it was going to kill me every bit as much as other such diseases if I didn’t seek treatment–pharmacological treatment. If I had cancer, I wouldn’t hesitate to follow my doctor’s advice and take whatever drugs were needed. Why then was I so adamantly resisting my therapist, who kept trying to persuade me to take an anti-depressant? I couldn’t come up with a legitimate answer, and I knew it.

I cried a lot that weekend, and I did a great deal of reading as well. That Monday, I went to see my therapist and told her that I needed to get better and that I didn’t think I could do that without a prescription. We talked for a long time about my condition. It became clear that I had been suffering from dysthymia for most of my life and that I was currently in the midst of “double depression“–a major depressive episode (i.e., clinical depression) on top of dysthymia. Within a day or two, I saw my family doctor, who concurred with the diagnosis and prescribed Wellbutrin. He talked with me about how much has been learned about depression in recent years and how there is now an accepted understanding that every major episode of depression re-shapes the brain, and each subsequent episode makes the changes more pronounced. As he put it to me at the time, once that genie is out of the bottle, it can’t be forced back in. In other words, when someone has had several major depressive episodes, as I have, it is difficult to nearly impossible to treat subsequent episodes without medication–and that doesn’t even take into account the dysthymia, which makes depression even more difficult to treat.

Fortunately, the Wellbutrin had a huge positive impact. The suicidal thinking stopped right away, and I was able to do the work I needed to do in therapy. But the end of that school year (the 2011-2012 year), I was much healthier. It’s been nearly two years, and I’m still getting better. I definitely still have bad days, but that’s it now–bad days or even hours, not bad weeks or months. It’s a huge difference.

I’m still taking Wellbutrin every day. In all likelihood, I’ll be on it (or some other anti-depressant) the rest of my life. That has been the hardest part of this for me–admitting I have a disease over which I have no control. I know it’s ridiculous–I have asthma, and I don’t think of it as a personal failing that I can’t make myself breathe well and that I’ll have to take asthma meds every day for the rest of my life. But the stigma of mental illness is tough to shake, and it still gets to me. I struggle with the voice that whispers, “If you were just strong enough–a better, tougher person–you wouldn’t need meds. What do you have to be depressed about, anyway? You’re such a whiner!” But I keep on. I tell that part of me to shut up, because I know those feelings aren’t grounded in reality.

I wanted to write about my struggle with depression, because I think it is something many people have but are ashamed to admit. I was that person for a long time, myself. I see it in my students. I see the impact it has on them when I’m trying to persuade them to seek help and tell them, “Look, I have struggled with depression most of my life. Therapy and medication helped me–it will help you.” I know there are students who would not have gotten the help they needed if I did not tell them I have been there, too (and am still there).

That said, I do worry that others will take me less seriously because of my illness; that’s why I didn’t write this post until now. I didn’t want anyone to see my T and P case through this lens. Personally, I am amazed that I accomplished what I did while struggling through the worst of the depression, but I know there are some who wouldn’t see it that way at all. Once again, the stigma of mental illness emerges.

I don’t know what will happen in the future, and it worries me. I am very afraid of having another episode of clinical depression, even though I know it’s likely that I will. I try not to think about it, though. I have an excellent doctor and therapist, and they keep very close tabs on my treatment and condition. I trust them to take care of me.  So far, I have been able to recognize my own crisis point, and so I try to trust that I too will know if and when my condition worsens. When I really start worrying, I go back into “one day at a time” mode–I’m healthy today, and I’ll see what tomorrow brings.

For now, it’s working.

The Future

25 Jul

Obviously, I haven’t blogged in a long time.

I need to figure out what the future of this blog will be. I have several conflicting emotions:

  • I don’t feel as much of a need to blog, because Facebook has become a place for me to share funny anecdotes about my kids or to pop off with my opinion on the issue of the day.
  • I really miss pseudonymous blogging, because there are things I really want to write about that I can’t write under my own name. For example, there are particular parenting challenges I would love to write about, but now that M is ten years old (TEN YEARS OLD! How did that happen?!), I have to respect her privacy. I don’t want to make her vulnerable to teasing or ridicule.
  • There are personal topics that I would love to write about at length–writing that can be shared publicly, but that isn’t academic. This blog would be a good venue for that type of reflection.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. I think I am going to try to pursue option three over the next several weeks.


Most of you already know this from Facebook, but I was tenured and promoted to Associate Professor this spring. I am so very happy to have reached this stage in my career. It is sometimes hard to believe that I am the same person some of you first met–the new mom struggling to write her dissertation. I’ve come a long way since then.

This summer has been great. I was awarded a summer research grant, and it’s been wonderful to focus on research without having to worry about grading papers. The manuscript for Re-Reading Appalachia is in review at the University Press of Kentucky–my co-editor and I sent the manuscript to the press in June, and it’s now out for external review.

Fall is approaching much too quickly. I don’t even want to think about M and P going back to school in a month. I start a month from tomorrow. I love my job, but I’m not really looking forward to the craziness of the academic year–trying to get everybody out of the house in the morning, all the driving, supervising homework, keeping up with my own grading, etc.

And on that note, it’s time for me to head to the kids’ school and drop off their immunization records. Afterwards, P and I are going to the library (M is at day camp).

“Everybody needs a little time away…”

3 Jan
Image from

Image from

I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been too busy enjoying my break.

While I have a lot to do over this break, I really wanted to have a real break this year–to spend lots of time with my kids without my iPad in front of me as I did so. So, for the past two weeks that they have been off school, that is what I have done. I’ve read some books on the iPad, but I haven’t used it for work purposes at all. Aside from posting Christmas pictures or status updates on Facebook now and then, I’ve stayed off my desktop computer, too. I needed that time with my children, and they needed me. It has been wonderful and has helped me deal with the emotions stirred up by the Newtown shooting.

I’m blogging now because a highly vivid dream that involved getting stung by a bumblebee (why this dream, especially in January?!) left me unable to get back to sleep. Everyone else is still asleep, which is a nice time to get a few things done.

I have to start getting back into work mode. Today the kids and I will probably run up to campus so that I can grab the books I’ll be teaching from this semester, and I’ll start working on syllabi tonight or tomorrow. My first-year writing syllabi will only need some minor updates, though I do think I’m going to change one assignment; haven’t completely decided on that yet. I am using a different book in my literacy studies course, so I will have to make some significant changes there. Still though, I don’t think it will take all that long to revise the syllabi for these courses. I want to have them all done by Sunday so that when the kids go back to school on Monday, I can use that time to focus on my research.

People are starting to stir, so I had better go. I’ll be blogging more as I start to get back in a work routine over the next few days.


Things That Are Making Me Angry

19 Dec

1. The shooting itself. With each day, I get angrier and angrier. Something has to change. We cannot allow these tragedies to continue any longer, and we have to change our culture to make sure they don’t.

2. So-called Christians who say the Newtown massacre was due to one of the following:

A. “removing God from our schools.”

B. “God being a gentleman” who “is not going to go where he is not wanted.”

C. Gay marriage and abortion

D. Jon Stewart

E. some combination of the above, plus gun control

3. Scam artists preying on the families of the dead.

4. “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” for all the reasons articulated here and here, but most of all, here.

5. All the people on Facebook who keep re-posting “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” while raving about how “brave” and “honest” this woman is. I get that she feels isolated and alone, but her need to talk about these problems does NOT outweigh her son’s needs and rights, especially given the timing of her post. The place for her to work through these issues was in therapy, not in a piece of writing republished under her own name.

As I said on a friend’s wall, in what world does it help a 13 year old with normal 13 year old issues of self-consciousness and loathing, in addition to more serious issues, to publicly compare him to the perpetrator of one of the worst mass shootings in history, the day after said attack?! How in the world does that help his mental health, his life at school, his friendships, etc.? God only knows what that poor kid is thinking and feeling now, especially since his mother has now gone on a media tour–because that is really going to help him, of course.

I don’t have a problem with people blogging or Facebooking about their kids; I do it, too. But there are certain lines you do not cross, and comparing your child to a mass murderer–especially when the entire country is very freaked out about said murderer–is one of them.

I cannot believe I am in the minority on this, but among my circle of friends with children, it seems that I am.


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