GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Becoming a Cliché

In Lee's Posts on 2012/05/31 at 11:02

Lee Skallerup Bessette, writing from Morehead, Kentucky in the US.

I’ve been struggling with writing this post. I’m “burying” it here rather than sharing it on my regular blog post. I’m publishing it in the early summer hoping for fewer readers and that if anyone I know on campus reads it, they’ll have forgotten it by August when school starts again. I am going to be going to conferences and other activities soon where I will be meeting a lot of people face-to-face for the first time, and I hope that this isn’t the only thing they remember, being perhaps the last thing they read by me, about me.

I’ve been told more than a few times that I am brave for what I write in these spaces. What has come before this, I think to myself, has been easy. A friend of mine noted to me that I talk an awful lot, and I write just as much. I read voraciously, do multiple things at once, juggle as many things as I can, just to keep at bay that thing that I know is there but I most want to ignore and forget. If I stay busy, no one will notice, least of all myself. If I keep talking and writing about everything and anything else, stuff that I know people will react to, they won’t be tempted to ask for the truth from me, and I won’t be tempted to tell them.

I am depressed. This sounds like a flip or glib admission, and I don’t mean it to be, but I’m not sure how to put it any other way. I could use metaphors or imagery, but somehow it makes it worse, sound worse, more cliché than it already is in my ears. Ah, a depressed humanities academic. How quaint. How many times has it been done. What would she like us to do, award her a medal? No, I don’t want anything, really. But I also don’t want to be alone in it anymore, because it is too easy to bury it, ignore it, suffer in silence, tough it out, try to get over it, reasoning with myself, by myself, and failing.

Because there is nothing reasonable about this. My life is going well: good job, great family, a career on the (relative) rise, opportunities, community. And yet, I enjoy none of it. In high school, I listened to Denis Leary’s NoCureForCancer, laughing as he told those people who just weren’t happy to shut the f- up. But I’m tired of shutting up about it. I’m tired of my family not talking about how this is something now three consecutive generations of women have struggled with, leaving me to try and make sense of everything by myself.

This is not my first episode, far from it. But I could always blame it on something else. In high school, it was hormones. In university as an undergrad, it was acting out/finding myself/stress. It was easier, however, in university to hide (this was before cell phones) than it was in high school. My tiny res room became a place where I would hide, in the dark, for days, weeks, barely going to class, rarely going out with friends. Or I would embrace the most debauched elements of being an undergrad, once again to try and ignore the blackness, the unease I was never quite able to shake. At one point, during my masters after I had completed my course work, I didn’t leave the apartment I shared with two friends for months.

I figured I needed a change of scenery. Like I had so many other times before, I completely turned my world upside-down in the hopes that it wasn’t me, it was everyone and everything else that was making me feel …anxious and listless. Academia also provides a nice set of rules and guidelines, ones that I could fairly easily meet, and people would see me as “normal”. Above all, I wanted to blend in and appear normal. When I realized somewhere late in high school that what I felt and the thoughts I had weren’t what everyone else was thinking and feeling, I became increasingly self-conscious about trying to blend in. I don’t want to say that I was looking to fit, as I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, but at least remain, if on the fringes, acceptably so. And you could always fall into a hole for a while and no one would question where you were and why.

My life, at the moment, has become performative. I go through the motions of being happy, excited, optimistic, a loving wife, a good mother, a careful and engaged academic. But really, I’m just barely hanging on. The problem is that this status I am in comes and goes; I know what I should be feeling (but am not) and I also know that at some point, it ends. Now, however, a lot more is at stake than one more year of grad school or a lost weekend; I have relationships, people who live with me every day and see and notice a difference. I have two very small people who understand even less about what’s wrong with Mommy and one very large person in my life with whom I pledged to share everything and to whom I can’t even articulate exactly what’s happening. Or why.

So this is who I am right now. If I’ve appeared more disconnected, more distracted, less engaged, it’s because of this. I would take a break, but all of my activities are what keep me moving forward; if I stop, I worry I might never start again.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

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  1. My first response is to have your thyroid checked. Thyroid is often a cause of depression in women. Secondly, there are tomes written regarding women who do too much. I believe that like you, like me, we do it out of fear of loosing our grasp on life.
    My university recently initiated a women’s leadership group. The networking, coaching and even the assignments were motivating and meaningful. One of the most beneficial elements was listening to women talk about how they manage their lives. The younger women really helped me embrace a degree of imperfection and smile about it.

  2. That’s the whole question isn’t it? The feeling that we are disconnected when everything is dependent on others (our very being was determined by the interaction of two other people). As academics, I think we are especially prone to this because we spend just so much time in our heads: observing, learning. Its only cliche cause everybody feels it

  3. You have written this post honestly and from the heart but I sense this is a cry for help. My life is very like yours and I completely empathise with you because I also experienced depression for many years. I am now, thankfully, free from it but only as a result of seeking help. I accepted that I could not fight my battle with depression by myself. If you also seek help, take encouragement from the fact that you really don’t always have to feel the way you do now. Good luck!

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