Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Not waving but drowning

Okay here's the thing. Everything is awful and I'm not okay. Have you missed me these past weeks? I haven't posted because I just couldn't get my act together. I didn't even tell all my other lovelies that I needed a break. (I'm so sorry ...) I just disappeared.

I find myself experiencing serious overwhelm. I am hurting. It's not clear to me how I'm going to get through this semester. I just want to be real about it for a moment. Every Monday and Wednesday after class, I push two chairs together in my office, crawl under my coat and fall deeply asleep for 40 minutes. When my iPhone alarm goes off, I'm staggeringly disoriented. Sometimes, I cry.

I pushed back a grading thing by a week, which moved another deadline by a week, for my first years. Still, I've graded, for them, 40 short papers, and 120 online quizzes, and answered at least 40 intro emails, and met with a dozen of them in office hours. My fourth years have also produced 35 short papers that have been graded, and they've been coming to meet me about their projects, and it's a new course so I'm hauling ass to get everything prepped. My first year class turned into a new prep too, because my Dropbox got hacked and all my teaching materials disappeared (please don't give me advice on how to fix this: trust me when I say I've tried everything).

A couple of days ago, I told my daughter to stop jumping up and down on the squeaky part of the floor because "I don't like that noise, and you must stop." Her response? "Mom, there's a LOT of things you don't like." It's true. I'm very short tempered and impatient, lately.

The first week back at school I had a dissertation defence. I've got through one advisee chapter since then, and half of another, and I have two more on my desk that need my attention. Three students are waiting on me for stuff. I've organized two more defences since then, and two others took place this week.

Yesterday, I snapped at my husband in the car, for singing a funny song to make our kid laugh. "It's too loud and I need you to stop that right now!" I barked at him. Poor man. He's been making suppers and being quiet, and taking on extra chores. But I'm snappish and mean.

I've led four three-hour grad committee meetings, four Fridays in a row. We've also had team meetings, and a department meeting. And we're doing a program review and there's lots I'm in charge of. And my annual performance review files I had to pull together and narrate. And the kind of crisis that pops up unexpectedly but with great force in a big grad program, sometimes, that takes 10 hours and 30 emails to fix. Also we're doing an internal recruitment thing that means I'm having a lot of meetings with candidates and assessing a lot of files on my own instead of passing them to the committee. I'm asking for money, I'm planning an event, I'm dealing with people upset about decisions.

From January 30 to February 18, I worked every single day. And every night I slept in two short naps, usually between 11 and 3, and then from 5:30-6:30. I spent the intervening hours with a racing heart and racing mind, miserable. Some mornings, I isolated myself from my family, because I could not bring myself to be nice to them. Everything is too loud and too bright and too itchy, and if you drop a pencil too close to me, I will scream and my heart rate will shoot up to 140.

January 31, I co-planned a rally attended by more than 600 people. I did press, I did promotions. I cooked a meal for a local refugee family on the same day, in a fit of terrible scheduling. It was my birthday, and I had to be dragged out. I cried a little before we went to the restaurant. I missed, somehow, an email from my kid's school about an important meeting, so I missed the meeting, too.

I wrote a 6000 word research talk, and made a 72 slide Keynote deck to go with it. I spent a (truly lovely, inspiring, and amazing) day at McMaster to present it and meet people. The woman who introduced me made a big deal out of how important Hook and Eye was to her.  It was so touching! When I got back home, every email I'd missed reminded me how that time was not really mine to use for research.

I have two boxes of Cliff bars and a dozen meal replacement shakes in my office. I don't take lunches. I shovel food in my face dashing between my office and the department photocopier. I guzzle a latte between my office and my fourth year class. I guzzle a Diet Coke between my office and my first year class.

I have to convert the Works Cited for an accepted chapter into MLA 8. I hid from the editor so successfully because I couldn't find time to do it that she actually phoned my chair. This is my life now.

I'm not well. One day, I had to cancel some meetings because every time I stood up, I got dizzy. My insomnia is literally impairing my ability to think: I tried to drive somewhere a couple of days ago, and when I got in the car I couldn't visualize the whole route, I just knew which direction to start in. I figured I'd recognize it as I went. I did. That was scary. I had to meet a student today, and I went to school in oversized track pants and my pyjama shirt. I have not had a shower today. I feel like if I have to gussy myself up for one more thing I am going to have a complete meltdown.

I haven't been to yoga for months, except to teach.

A faculty member recently came to my office to berate me for asking him to spend ten minutes writing a reference letter: did I not know how busy he was? and what an outrageous claim on his time this was? I had a vision of screams and fire and violence. I saw myself grow to the size of the entire building, rampaging. I pressed my nails into my palms and stayed quiet.

I don't need anyone to help me -- that is, this post is not itself a cry for help. It's reading week now, and I'm going to try very hard to catch my breath. I've taken some walks. I've played piano. I've baked with my kid, and cuddled my spouse. I'm letting myself sleep. I do myself the kindness of reaching out to the people who love me, who are loving me, and it helps. I'm writing this post.

What I'm intending with this post is to just flag that .... what? That I have all kinds of good advice and good habits and boundaries and all the rest of it but sometimes there's just actually too much work to do. That this can imperil your health and your happiness. That sometimes, mid-semester, all you can do is cling on by your fingernails, cut corners where you can, and wait for it to end. The problem right now is that there is just too much work to be done, and it's important sometimes just to recognize that. To recognize as well that my body is giving me strong signals that this is not sustainable: the dizziness, and the insomnia, will soon enough knock me flat on my ass, and force me to take a sick day. My body sends important signals, and I should listen.

If this is you, too, please know: I feel you. I'm sorry this is happening. Do not grin and bear it -- you might have to bear it, but there's no need to be cheerful about it. If you want to unburden yourself in the comments, please do. I do not want to normalize or heroize this kind of labour. I want to call it what it is--terribly and unhealthy, and harmful in many ways--and work towards making the kind of university where it doesn't happen nearly as often as it does.

11 comments:

  1. I am very sorry that this is happening to you. It also reminds me why the life of an academic is 100% not right for me. I hope this time passes soon for you, and that there is peace ahead.

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    1. Thank you, Sarah -- I should say, for me, this kind of workload is not normal.

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  2. I feel you. Take care of you. Hope you find restful moments amist this storm.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this. As a grad student it means a lot to have senior faculty members be open about their struggles. And it happens very very rarely.

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    1. You're very welcome. I will always try to be as honest as I can on the blog, without undermining anyone else's privacy or confidence.

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  4. Julie Rak here. It's a good thing I don't live with my amazing spouse right now, because I'd probably be snapping at her too. I am a Grad Chair. It is my Reading Week. I am behind on work I really need to do for the rest of my job, I am not being a good supervisor for my 7 PhD students, and I just wrote an irate email to a committee that wants to lay yet more work on me. All of the admin. higher than me is also laying yet more work on me. My assistant is part-time due to personal reasons, and there is no plan in place to support the work she does with me (so she does it anyway, at night sometimes). I am dealing with a student problem where I have been put in charge of the process, despite the fact that it is not part of my job to do this. I too find it hard to be patient with colleagues who tell me that they are too busy and then ask me to do their work, or who just decide not to do their jobs. Not all my colleagues are like this, and not even a lot of them, so I try to remember that. I'm just angry a lot. I admit it, I try to keep on being professional, I try not to be a perfectionist, I talk to my spouse and try not to just dump on her, I have dinner with friends and I pet my cats. I need to work out more, so I'll probably go do that today. That's all. I have to actually write an article now, and I think that will be healing for me. Hang in there Aimee. This too shall pass.

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    1. Oh all of this. This is exactly it. I have all those feels and all those problems. My family is the greatest but somehow this would be easier if I was all alone for like 6 weeks, so I wouldn't be disappointing them and yelling at them all the time, and feeling super frustrated that they, like, want to talk to me, or make noise in the house, or eat sometimes.

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    2. Yes. All of that. They love you and you love them, so you'll all get through this. We just have to be good enough right now, not perfect. And then we'll get to go to another phase....

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  5. As another grad student (one with a similarly overburdened supervisor), I too am grateful for your openness here. This kind of experience is more common than anyone cares to admit.

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  6. I would add that it's okay to defer meetings with/paperwork for your grad students if what you need to be doing at that moment is eating lunch or taking a nap or going for a walk instead. In most cases, they won't mind. They understand, by this point, that senior faculty are human beings too.

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  7. PRAWNCRACKER82@GMAIL.COM,is an awesome hacker,i found his mail in the darkweb,contact him if you need to hack your school grade,email,facebook,websites,etc. only for serious jobs.

    ReplyDelete

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