Someone asked me today why I’m so behind and what is going on in my life that I’m failing so much, but they weren’t genuinely looking for the truth. That’s okay; I’m not close with this person, they aren’t really a friend so much as an acquaintance. The slightly biting, sarcastic edge to their tone also made it clear that a deep answer wasn’t necessary. But I don’t lie easily, and there’s only a deep answer here. So I answered as truthfully as I could that they didn’t want to know. Because how can you tell an acquaintance that you’re ill, that you’re struggling, that you can’t afford the treatment that you need, and it’s affecting every aspect of your life. You don’t. You blog about it instead, then leave it on the internet where it is incredibly google-able and open.
Because here’s the thing: I’m ill. I have severe anxiety, moderate depression and post-traumatic stress. I know this, and although I have years of therapy that have gotten me through the worst of my panic attacks and my inability deal with physical contact and social interactions, it’s not like the symptoms ever go away. Self-talk doesn’t solve everything, and while it can delay or prevent an anxiety attack sometimes, other times I’m standing outside my classroom door surrounded by the pulsing throng of students moving from one classroom to the next and my vision goes blurry and my breath becomes shallow and I still have to go in there and teach. I still have to go in there and pretend to be an expert when my mind is telling me all the while that you barely even speak Portuguese how dare you pretend how dare you have the audacity to want to study this literature how dare you think you deserve to be in grad school at all when you’re clearly not stable enough for it, when the only reason you survived your MFA was because it was low-residency and you could spend a solid month without leaving your house if you had to. How dare you pretend to be a scholarly person when you’re so clearly less than and unprepared. One day I may wake up and learn that the department has finally seen the light, and they will unceremoniously kick me to the curb and give the fellowships to people who deserve them more. I wouldn’t blame them at all.
I’m working on an essay right now called “I Left My Therapist in Pennsylvania,” and I promised myself that I would pursue proper publication this time instead of just ranting on my blog. I’m still working on it, but here’s the highlight: I worked with the same therapist for years in Huntingdon, I miss her terribly, and I still need therapy despite all the work we did. I’m not in a place where I can afford long-term counseling financially, and while there is a student counseling center at UMass Dartmouth, their website specifically says they are there for short-term needs. I’ve also had very mixed experiences with student counseling centers, and am naturally wary of them. The last thing I need is for the act of seeking treatment to make me worse.
It’s crushing and humbling to admit that I am not doing well on my own, but let’s be clear here: I’m not doing well on my own. I have spent days upon days too depressed to move, or too anxious to breathe, and I constantly feel as if my lungs are in a box at the bottom of the ocean. I can’t focus on anything for longer than about ten minutes at a time. I oversleep, I undersleep, I completely forget to eat meals. I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart beating in my temples, or I step out of class and check my pulse and count it at 140-170 bpm. I shiver. I forget. I get distracted. It’s not like I’m completely alone here in New Bedford; I have a roommate and classmates and students. But with maybe one exception, I don’t have anyone in my immediate vicinity with whom I am comfortable enough to genuinely talk about what’s going on in my life. I try. I’ve always been an open book whenever I can. I like to imagine that maybe my frankness about my mental illness and history of sexual violence could be helpful (dare I say inspiring) to someone else who might not be at a place where they’re able to talk about it yet. That’s why I put it all on my blog, where it’s easily viewed by anyone. So I do talk about my problems with a few different people here, but I never feel comfortable. It’s like I’m wearing a skin that’s not my own, but looks like me, and it’s made of a material that itches at the mind.
I hate that my mental illness is officially getting out of control, that I need help but can’t afford it, that I feel so alone when my key contact people live in DC and PA. But more than anything, I hate that my mental illness impacts my academic life. I love academia, love taking classes and writing papers and learning new things. I love challenges and puzzles and critical theory. I love reading novels and watching films and then dissecting them with a critical lens. And while I don’t love teaching, I do appreciate the fact that I am in a position to maybe intrigue someone younger than me in an academic way and share with them what I know. I love academics and I love studying, and my illness makes these things that I love become miserable and detestable and nearly impossible to do.
Why am I so behind in life, so overwhelmed and so stressed and failing at my job, my classes, everything? While there are some external factors (a friend’s suicide attempt last year, a friend’s abusive boyfriend, the recent death of a loved relative), the main truth is that I am ill, and I can’t afford treatment. But that’s not something you want to know.