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News: Talk about how to cope with chronic illness, disability, and other health issues in the academic workplace.
 
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Author Topic: Managing long-term depression and its affect upon work  (Read 2854684 times)
britmom
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« on: February 21, 2012, 12:06:17 PM »

Before I start - my apologies for the long and convoluted post. I'm not the most effective writer today.

So, to cut a long story short - it's been two long years of trying to get my (postnatal) depression under control. (I should add here that my psych is considering/believes that I may have an underlying bipolar condition.)

I seem to have a combination of med's that work, BUT I'm finding that the slightest thing is enough to trigger a decline in my mood. I just can't tolerate any disruption to my sleep, to my routine or any additional stress. As you can imagine, this just isn't conducive to academic work. For example:

Going to a conference (the disruption to my routine, the tiredness from travelling and the stress of writing the paper and sorting out child care arrangements at home) is enough to send me crashing down (and has done.)

I've just been working really hard writing on an article for a deadline last week, although it wasn't like I was working crazy hours. I was starting between 8-9am and finishing 5.30pm, with a few nights of working until 7 or 7.30. I also worked for about 4 hours each day during one weekend. I did that for 2 weeks. That seems to have been enough to send me in to a crappy low. I  can't focus, concentrate, I'm crying at anything, I don't want to go out and I am completely exhausted. I've ended up talking to my psychiatrist today and increasing my med's as I really feel that I can't pull myself out of this and there are signs that things could get a lot worse.

There are plenty of other examples where fairly low-key, work-related stress precipitated a period of low mood that stopped my work dead. I'm starting to despair of ever being back to the way I used to be -  when I could handle a bit of stress and put the extra hours in where needed without hitting the bottom of a big, black hole.

So, my question to those who have suffered from severe/long-term depression is: is this common--to be stable, but be living on such a knife-edge that fairly standard job-related 'stuff' is enough to send things spiralling down? How do others cope with this level of inflexibility? I'm really struggling to see how I'm going to get anywhere in my career if my brain won't be able to tolerate the slightest bit of stress. My work have been very supportive and accommodating, but I can't keep pulling out the illness card again and again; I need to find a way to work effectively.

I'm really trying to figure out if this kind of life represents the new 'normal', or is this still a recovery phase?


« Last Edit: February 21, 2012, 12:13:20 PM by britmom » Logged

Sometimes the only way to stay sane is to go a little crazy - Girl Interrupted
prytania3
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« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2012, 3:32:23 PM »

I'm bipolar, but for what's it worth, I'm on the right meds and small things don't send me off a cliff. Hopefully, there will be no major events that will send me over either.

If you are bipolar, most of the meds for regular depression don't work. For example, SSRIs don't generally do much for bipolar folk other than make them tired and listless.

Good luck to you.
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britmom
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« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2012, 4:06:13 PM »

Thanks for that response, Prytania. SSRI's definitely make things much worse for me. I'm currently on two mood stabilisers.
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itried
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« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2012, 1:12:38 PM »

britmom, I really feel for you. Since I was an adolescent, I have cycled through major anxiety and depressive episodes, and now consider myself dysphoric. Similar to you, an over-stimulating conference or streak of overwork can really bring me down to the point of reclusive depression, i.e., I will shut off my phone and lay around in my apartment for 10 days without talking to a soul. I've learned (and am still learning) that I have to manage the balance of my workload, social activities, and other demands very carefully to ensure that I always have enough restorative downtime. For example, I recently turned down an invitation to an annual conference that I usually attend, because its intensity and lack of opportunity for solitude (including the housing situation) are too taxing on me. Not going will not hurt my career, so I'd rather not go, and instead will save the energy for something else.

In your case, do you think that stepping back to take a look at that balance might help? Maybe pulling back from one or two demands -- not entirely, but partially -- can free up restorative time and space for recuperation. You may be able to do this without a decline in your work performance; if you're strategic about what you pull back from, no one may even notice.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2012, 1:13:55 PM by itried » Logged
britmom
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« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2012, 4:52:30 PM »

britmom, I really feel for you. Since I was an adolescent, I have cycled through major anxiety and depressive episodes, and now consider myself dysphoric. Similar to you, an over-stimulating conference or streak of overwork can really bring me down to the point of reclusive depression, i.e., I will shut off my phone and lay around in my apartment for 10 days without talking to a soul. I've learned (and am still learning) that I have to manage the balance of my workload, social activities, and other demands very carefully to ensure that I always have enough restorative downtime. For example, I recently turned down an invitation to an annual conference that I usually attend, because its intensity and lack of opportunity for solitude (including the housing situation) are too taxing on me. Not going will not hurt my career, so I'd rather not go, and instead will save the energy for something else.

In your case, do you think that stepping back to take a look at that balance might help? Maybe pulling back from one or two demands -- not entirely, but partially -- can free up restorative time and space for recuperation. You may be able to do this without a decline in your work performance; if you're strategic about what you pull back from, no one may even notice.

You're absolutely right, but the pressure is really on at work at the moment. I feel like I can't slow down at all - except I'm going to have to figure something out or everything will come tumbling down. The one thing I can do is to withdraw from a conference that I've got coming up. It will free up some time from not having to write the paper + the energy and time of actually going to the conference. Overall, it's not a big deal career wise, and I don't believe there'll be many networking opportunities, but it will probably really p!ss off the person who invited me to join the panel. I'm going to have to consider doing some serious damage limitation - I think this is getting nasty.

You're right - in future, I'm going to have to plan more carefully.
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Sometimes the only way to stay sane is to go a little crazy - Girl Interrupted
itried
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« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2012, 7:56:02 PM »

It sounds like pulling out of the conference might take some pressure off and help you feel less overwhelmed. It's thoughtful and kind to be concerned about the reaction of the person who invited you; but, there's no reason that her reaction should be more important than your physical and emotional health. People pull out of commitments -- it happens; she'll find someone else or she won't, and it won't affect your career much if at all (and won't likely affect hers either). So, in this case, I think you should put your mental health first.

It's interesting that you mention planning better; yes, that's just it. For me, it does take some foresight and self-trust to see clearly and tell myself, "No, choosing that will tire me out and push me over my limit," especially if I'm in a great mood or not feeling overwhelmed in the moment I'm making the decision. In the conference example I mentioned upthread, this is the first year in five years that I've had the foresight to remember how I always feel during and after that conference -- exhausted and in desperate need of restorative solitude. Opting out feels right, and I'm relieved. It has taken me awhile to identity, accept, and act upon my true nature, and I'm still really working on it.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2012, 8:00:28 PM by itried » Logged
itried
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« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2012, 8:02:37 PM »

Excuse me: "identify"
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zarathustra
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« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2012, 8:20:42 PM »

Hey Britmom...

Just posting to wish you the best.  Sounds like pulling out of the conference is a good plan.  Take care!
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britmom
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« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2012, 4:04:35 PM »

It sounds like pulling out of the conference might take some pressure off and help you feel less overwhelmed. It's thoughtful and kind to be concerned about the reaction of the person who invited you; but, there's no reason that her reaction should be more important than your physical and emotional health. People pull out of commitments -- it happens; she'll find someone else or she won't, and it won't affect your career much if at all (and won't likely affect hers either). So, in this case, I think you should put your mental health first.


You are absolutely right. I'm beating myself up for being so useless as to not manage a simple conference, but I guess you need to do what you need to do. The person in question is very nice and I'm sure she'll understand. I won't be leaving her high and dry as the conference organisers added another 3 papers on to the panel. Thinking about it, they may be relieved as 5 papers on a single panel strikes me as OTT.

Hey Britmom...

Just posting to wish you the best.  Sounds like pulling out of the conference is a good plan.  Take care!

Thanks! It's good to have a consensus on that.
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itried
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« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2012, 8:36:50 PM »

britmom, I'm sure she'll understand. That won't be an easy conversation to have / e-mail to write, but it sounds like the right decision for you at this time. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone else you knew was at her limit.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2012, 8:38:30 PM by itried » Logged
sadsock
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« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2012, 2:56:59 PM »

I'm not a super regular poster here, but wanted to post under a sock.

britmom, I hope you are feeling a bit better. I'm hoping for the best for you, and I wonder if you might update us when you get a chance.

I am sort of looking for a safe space right now to get a little support and advice. I've been struggling with an off and on stubborn depression for close to 15 years; it's complicated by chronic insomnia and history of eating disorder. I just counted up the number of medications that I've been on to try to tame this beast. Including the three (!) that I'm on now, I've been on 14 different medications. One will work for a year or so, and then stop working.

I've never been hospitalized but have managed to "pull through." I've learned enough over the years to be able to manage and often banish suicidal thoughts when they come. I'll go through periods of functioning pretty well, but have collapsed again in the last couple of weeks. My psychiatrist and therapist are really helpful. My husband is really supportive. I have a decent support network when I have the energy to take advantage of it. But I really am struggling with the demands of a tenure track job: I'm behind on research, that is, so behind that getting tenure will be difficult (though not impossible). My teaching schedule leaves me a good amount of time to get research done, but it's hard to do that when my energy level is so low. Right now my research is dead in its tracks. I've lost interest in and enthusiasm for my field; I'm having an impossible time structuring the hours in the day; it's really difficult to summon the energy to get in the shower, let alone exercise. I feel self-conscious reaching out to people because I am afraid they will think I am whining and navel-gazing (and I am really worried that I will come across like that here).

I don't think laziness is a big part of it, since I was able to get through grad school pretty successfully and land a good TT job. But I feel like I am failing at it right now and terrified that I will eventually be unable to work because of this.

Has anyone advice or feedback? Even random cyber-hugs would help.

Sorry for being a downer. It stinks being in the pit.
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irhack
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« Reply #11 on: March 09, 2012, 4:27:21 PM »

just sending cyberhugs...

Do you think the time of year is related to these cycles you go through?

I had some serious adolescent struggles with depression that are mostly gone but seem to resurface annually around February. Today I cried in front of two coworkers and hid in my office when a different coworker brought their little kids in because I couldn't stand how happy they seemed, when we're dealing with some issues with my young son. I'm not quite all the way down, but have had some dark dark hours in the past couple of weeks. Anyway am giving myself a month to "snap out of it" cause who has time for therapy, right?

I know this is so not helpful but just wanted you to know you're not alone in these feelings, and I hope for you and Britmom too that spring brings new hope.
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alto_stratus
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« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2012, 5:33:36 PM »

<Random cyber hug>

When I was going through some tough times, I found a to-do list and a schedule helped me stay on track.  Otherwise, my mind would wander, and I would wallow and not get anything done.  I started off the first few days with just a couple of things to get done.  Easy stuff.  Then added a few more things when I saw that I could manage to get more done.  And even today, I find writing out what I need to do, and setting realistic timelines/schedules helps keep me on track when my mind wants to wander and feel badly about various things.

I should probably go create another list now.
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hegemony
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« Reply #13 on: March 09, 2012, 6:22:11 PM »

Sadsock, I'm so sorry you're going through this.  I suspect your experience is not so foreign from that of a lot of academics.

What has helped enormously for me is to set up a way to be accountable for my work and social at the same time.  For instance, once a week on a regular schedule (Tuesday mornings) I meet up with a colleague and we write together (and talk/gossip in between writing sessions). I mean we sit at the same table in her house and type away on our own projects.  And every day I e-mail another colleague/friend at a far-away university and we report in on how much writing time we put in that day, and keep a satisfying chart of our accumulated time.  I look forward to both of these things, so they're a source of fun and of productivity at the same time.

The challenge, of course, is getting them off the ground.  But I submit that it's very much worth it.  And when you're more productive, some of the anxiety and guilt fades away, which is all to the good as well.
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dr_evil
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« Reply #14 on: March 10, 2012, 12:45:27 PM »

Also joining in to add some hugs.

I'm sorry I don't have much advice.  I was looking for some suggestions myself, as I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed and down lately.  All I can offer is that things will get better...at least we all hope it does.
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