Monday, May 10, 2010


"That can't be good," I murmured as I settled the laptop on my tummy and looked at the referring website on my SiteMeter page. I squirmed uncomfortably against my pillows as I skimmed the comment, blinking with no small amount of surprise that someone disapproved of me so vehemently. Then I waited for the inevitable reaction. The shaky hands and sick stomach, the hot embarrassment and bleak dread of what horrible thing might happen next.

I frowned when nothing happened. Held out my hand and waited for a tremble that never came. Closed my eyes and searched for a stomach cramp or headache, finding neither. I wasn't upset, I realized with a sense of awe. Bemused, I realized I remained stuffy and a bit sleepy from having coughed myself awake multiple times, but I was otherwise right as rain.

"Huh," I finally said, getting up to brush my teeth and head downstairs, settling with my work laptop and habitually switching on the news so I could listen while I read my devotional, checked email and reviewed my calendar. I took Chienne for a nice walk, folded the rest of my laundry, showered and dressed, then left for work. Some 10 hours later, I knocked on a door and peeked around the corner at a worried colleague.

"What's going on?" I asked gently and listened as he told me. I nodded and frowned and sat thoughtfully after he finished.

"I struggled in grad school," I confided. I frowned as I tried to remember my first year of graduate study clearly, having been nearly 10 years ago. (Goodness - I can't believe that's right.) "It was so much harder - different pressures, higher standards - and it all felt so terribly important. I had problems."

I nodded when he asked if I could elaborate. "You could say I was pretty self destructive," I decided. "I'd skip class. Sleep all the time. Not answer my phone or email. I just wanted to be alone - to try to escape the constant feeling of impending catastrophic failure. It would last for days - rarely over a week, but generally just around that time frame. Then I'd get better - I had good friends who would catch me up and cover for me - and just wait for the next episode, I guess."

I shook my head when he asked if I got better. "Well, eventually," I corrected myself. "I'm here now and I'm sometimes still surprised I'm well enough to do this job." I grinned at him. "This morning? I got up and something unpleasant happened. A couple of years ago, it would have sent me back to bed and I would have spent a day or two thinking about how I was a horrible person and the world was filled with vicious, miserable creatures who were out to get me. I would have cried and been terribly angry and played it over and over and over in my mind until I was exhausted. But today, I got up and came to work. I took meetings and phone calls. I was busy and productive and happy. And I'm sort of ridiculously proud of myself for it.

"But," I continued, "I was unwell - off and on and to varying degrees - until my late 20s. I tried medication and didn't like being that kind of person so I stopped. I tried therapy and it was so miserably hard that I stopped. But I found environments where I could be sick and still function at an acceptable level. I always found one person who I loved and admired and who would - for some reason - decide to take care of me when I couldn't do it myself.

"Eventually, Friend urged me to get help. She said it was OK to take the pills and good to see a counselor and was so accepting of me yet insistent that I help myself that it became a feasible solution. And I guess I grew up enough to let go of the worry about being that kind of person and understand that sometimes important realizations are miserably hard. And I'm better now - nowhere near perfect, but better than I was."

We talked a bit more and I promised to pray and reached to pat his hand. I paused before reaching to open his door, turning to watch him from across the room as he slumped in his chair, worry making him seem much older and more fragile than he is.

"Tell her," I requested, "that it's OK to be scared and overwhelmed, angry and sad. That people - some really good people - have felt just that way before. It's not her fault - perhaps there were some questionable choices and there are places where responsibility should be taken - but there are also factors beyond her control that led her to this awful place. Tell her," I said, blinking back tears and remembering lying curled on the bathroom floor, alternating between moments of blessed blankness and of suffocating pain, "that she will get better. That when she's ready, she'll find something - medication or counseling or a different career path or new coping mechanisms - that makes these weeks something that happened in her past and not something that defined her future.

"And," I finished, "remember that my parents cried too. They worried and visited and tried desperately to help me. And now they get to know that I have work that gives me purpose and pride. I laugh and cry and think and love. And they still worry, I'm sure, but not that I haven't gotten dressed all week or that I won't answer the phone. Know that this will pass. That she'll be fine. And, until then, if there's anything I can do, I hope you'll let me know."

Then I came home, feeling conversely heavy with the knowledge of suffering and bouyant with the hope of recovery.


Becca said...

I'm glad that you're here to write as you do.

Anonymous said...

I've been a fan of your blog for how many years? I really appreciate your advice and perspective.


The bean-mom said...


I think I saw that same comment on that referring website. I was surprised at its venom, and I am glad that it didn't bring you down (I know that it would have had me in tears).

I can't pretend to know what it's like to struggle with major depression, but your colleague is very very lucky that you did, and are so willing to share your support and experiences. All the best to her.

Girlpostdoc said...

I'm glad you write about your experiences too. I've learned to just ignore those comments. Everyone has an opinion and sometimes it's done without respect.

Anonymous said...

Katie, I am glad you are so much better now. I have learned so much from you. Not a big fan of that blog, most of those folk seem to have no idea how to have a respectful conversation. It's like a sad version of high-school over there.

post-doc said...

Becca, Soon-to-be -
Thank you. While the hateful comments don't sting nearly as much anymore, the sweet, supportive ones continue to be wonderful.

Bean-mom -
I think it was the level of hate I felt from it that made it easier to take. Disapproval and dislike is fair - I don't want to spend time with every person I meet and understand I'll rub others the wrong way at times. But that sort of unprovoked comment strikes me as coming from a deeply unhappy person and I felt more sad than angry about her.

Girlpostdoc -
Thanks! It's been quite a long time, but I think I'm finally in a place to begin accepting - if not completely ignoring - those comments.

Anonymous -
I'm not a reader there, honestly - I find myself being upset and offended by the attacks on people. Even the post in question struck me more as a way to kick someone while she was down and I think it opens the environment for people to be uninhibited about their disdain for others.

Having noted that, do you know much traffic they get? If anyone ever wanted to see a boost in site stats, I'd advise writing something inflammatory about yourself and watching the readers come.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

""That can't be good," I murmured as I settled the laptop on my tummy and looked at the referring website on my SiteMeter page."

I'm sorry but I had to giggle at that! I would have had the exact same reaction (I've had the pleasure a couple of times now, but on both occasions someone emailed me the link before I saw the referrals on Statcounter). I'm glad you're dealing with it so well.

Girlpostdoc said...

Oh yes. But it's worse than that, I've noticed that readership plummets as soon as you write something positive or uplifting. I think the attraction to the inflammatory speaks to the voyeuristic nature of people. I suspect it's precisely why Jerry Springer drew such a large audience. But if you keep up with your most recent blog about Debonair, you might also find your ratings skyrocket, for perhaps, different reasons. ;)

post-doc said...


It took me a day to notice, but I've long dreaded attention from over there. There are a few different ways to look at blogging, I know, and I understand theirs differs from mine. So it's natural to be mutually disapproving but I'm hopeful that we can do that quietly - by completely ignoring each other. :)

Girlpostdoc -
I so wish Debonair would become a major character here. He is someone we must admire mostly from afar, I'm afraid. Sadness.

Amelie said...

Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. I'm very sorry that you know all these feelings. Depression runs in my husband's family, and I worry for them, for him. Your honest writing here is much appreciated.

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