Since October’s apocalypse in which yours truly was seen heading to Wales for a long weekend with more members of my family than I’d had hours of sleep in the preceding week, I’ve been wanting to write an amusing blog post about my ongoing efforts at staying less crazy.
None of it was funny however, and I had zero spare energy to even write the tedious version. Most of the time, mental health is not dramatic or hilarious. Most of the time, mentalism is fucking boring.
Plus, my particular strain is specially bred in academia, a trade that is only feasible because of all the perfectionists, workaholics and insomniacs that keep it going – whether as students, administrators, support staff or teachers. And I couldn’t find a way to talk about how working as an academic makes me ill, and how that illness makes me work as an academic.
Four months of therapy later I am sat here having an evening without work. This makes me twitchy, and having eaten everything in sight I still don’t know how to not be working. This blog post is a step, hopefully towards many future work-free evenings spent in such revelry of slackness as watching telly or possibly even interacting with selected non-work humans.
There’s no story here just a bunch of episodes.
Running crazed sobbing out of the doctor’s surgery after being told “there’s nothing I can do”. This from the GP who mainly googles self-help leaflets to print out while I’m talking. I mention that the sleeping pills make me feel like I’m not myself, and stop me being able to do any work, so I don’t take them, because worrying about work is what keeps me awake. Doc tells me to take double at the weekends. Wanker.
Occupational Health nurse who listens to me properly for an hour, then writes a letter to my managers explaining what they can do to support me. Basically the same list I’d given them when I started work, but all official so that next time they do the opposite of what’s on the list I can wag my finger in an imperious manner, do Michael Caine impressions, or send them baby fox pictures with NO KULL KATY in neon pink bold comic sans.
Six sessions of therapy on the employee assistance programme. I always wondered why six is the magic number in free therapy situations. I see now that six hours is about the right amount of time for any therapist to come out with some damaging rubbish based on their own problems or prejudices. This one told me I was lonely. Lonely!! I live with my cat. How can that be “lonely”. I see no cat fur on YOU, lonely one. Whereas I have a mound of purring warmth permanently attached to my chest / legs / head. Tsk tsk. However, before coming out with this piece of errant nonsense the therapist did get me to start keeping a record of all the hours I work, with times and tasks written down. I’d always thought this would be an extra job in itself, and anyway isn’t this how lawyers work, and lawyers are evil, but in fact it’s dead easy once you get in the habit. Now I have 15 weeks’ record of exactly what hours I’ve worked and what I did. I know how long it took to prepare a lecture to cover for a colleague on sabbatical (10 hours 20 min). Or make the revisions requested for a journal submission (50 hours). Or read the primary texts for a new module (26 hours 30 min). Or discover that quote pasted from Wikipedia in your essay (2 seconds – you forgot to strip the hyperlink). I have a running total of overtime, and can now see why the pink chip system broke down and could only be resolved through a surrealist game of tiddly winks involving 3 human and one cat, concluding with different coloured chips awash all over the house.
The other little gem to emerge from the six sessions is that I’m using work as a form of self harm. The duties I have and the hours I work are normal for academics. This does not make it right or healthy, but it does make it harder to notice that there is something wrong about the way I work that has left me with nothing outside it that seems real or worthwhile.
I’m now almost half way into 10 sessions of CBT from my local IAPT, who are extremely good and swift in scooping the mentalists of Haringey, Enfield and Barnet into their assorted funnels of mind-mending. In a portacabin welded onto the side of a children’s daycare centre, pounded by toys hurled against a metal door, weekly I draw maps of how and why work came to be a way to hurt myself.
I’ve just taken Friday night off. It’s working. I mean, not working!!!