written on May 8, 2012 and saved for publication until tenure
Sometime in the fall of 2011, it became apparent to me that I was depressed. More than likely, I had been depressed for several years before, but that it had slowly become worse. Fall of 2011 was difficult for me. I was teaching two large classes, one a freshman class that I had not taught before. It was the last quarter before I submitted my mid-tenure review. By exam week, after weeks of just barely managing to keep up with my teaching duties, I knew that I needed help beyond that of my partner and close friends.
I was not teaching during the winter quarter of 2012. So, I was able to devote a little more time to getting better, seeking council, and experimenting with various treatments. But I felt behind. Very behind. I would feel energetic and would pour every ounce of that energy into finishing papers, travelling, giving talks, advising students in a hopes to make up for what I thought was four months of futility. And I would tire myself out and I would crash. I think the technical, and thankfully figurative, term is ‘lose my shit’. Travelling was particularly stressful and, months and months before, I had planned for this teaching-free quarter to be a quarter of reconnecting with collaborators and establishing new ones. I managed a few of those trips, but had to cancel others. I was up and down on at least a fortnightly basis.
So when winter quarter finished, and with a positive mid-tenure review behind me, I faced adding teaching to what I felt was an unsustainable pattern, I knew something had to give. I talked with my boss about taking a partial leave. Cutting back on my hours. She was very supportive and so I arranged to take one day a week off work. In addition to weekends. So, instead of working 6 days a week, I would work 4. I did this officially, through human resources, applying for FMLA leave so that I could take my leave unpaid and ease my guilt.
So for the last 6 weeks, I have been working 40 hours a week, consistently, for the first time in a long while. I know that many (perhaps most) salaried employees work more than the usual 40 hour work week, but still, I do find that it is strange that I went through the rigor of federally protected sick leave to allow myself to work what is intended to be a normal work-week. I know I could have gotten away with working 40 hours a week for a long while without taking leave. But, I did this for myself. First, I knew that if I didn’t need to write on a piece of paper that I didn’t work one week-day per week, I may make excuses and exceptions. Second, I was worried that, if it took a while for me to feel mentally recovered, my productivity may have taken a dive and I may need an extra year to work towards tenure. With leave, I would have no problems getting that extra year.
Nevertheless, it seems to be working. I have had 6-7 weeks of keeping my shit together. I feel productive. I feel happy. I feel healthy.
Maybe we’d all feel a little better if we worked a little less.