Recovering from depression with a 40-hour work week

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.

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One thought on “Recovering from depression with a 40-hour work week

  1. Glencora Borradaile Post author

    This was far too personal for me to post at the time. Of course, I can’t imagine being able to so publicly talk about depression if I were currently experiencing it now, so I don’t think tenure has changed that. However, I do feel very strongly that our work culture is unhealthy to an extreme (and there is another post coming along those lines). I also remember feeling at the time that since my depression was largely caused by the stress of the job (and the lack of support on the job) that it was my ‘fault’ for not being able to ‘handle’ it. Of course, I know now that such feelings are false and unhelpful, but it does explain why I haven’t talked more openly about my experiences with situational depression.

    It is a lot easier to talk about now that I can say I am fully recovered from depression — and hopefully that is a lasting recovery.

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