Is this where I am now? Talking about it, writing about it. I imagine those who know me have already tired of my sharing. A reveal (and the surprise and/or empathy and/or pity) is really all they need or want.
But may I write anyway? For as long and as often as I feel compelled? May I put this out into the ether, may I share it? For in sharing I don’t want anyone I know to feel obligated to keep reading. But I need to have this out there where it could be discovered, because I don’t want to be ashamed anymore. I don’t want to keep keeping secrets.
I want to be a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear me. Because I still make a sound.
Aside: It’s safer to fall when no one I know hears my crashing. But I want to be able to be vulnerable enough that i am not alone in the forest.
I’m tired of not knowing how best to answer the ubiquitous question, “How did you go from economics professor to this?” But I’m amassing options.
The pithy: Well, most economists are assholes. Most plants are not.
Aside: No, you are not an economist if you minored in econ, or had a bachelor’s in econ, or even a master’s in econ. You may nonetheless be an asshole, but you are not the specific kind of asshole addressed here.
The not-telling-the-real-truth-so-help-me-god: I got into economics because I wanted to understand economic wellbeing, but it turns out that most people in the field just want to know how to get richer and richer.
The dipping-my-toes-in: Honestly, it was a really hostile work environment, and I just had to get out.
The bold and bald-faced: Well, I got tenure. (Oh, you had tenure? *shock and awe* Yeah, and a 6-figure salary.) And then I went on my sabbatical to Cornell. While there, I got a call asking me to come back and chair the department. And then there was a series of threatening and abusive incidents with no real administrative response. I wasn’t safe there. I was diagnosed with acute stress disorder, then post traumatic stress disorder and severe depression. I began planning to kill myself, and when my husband realized it, he begged me to leave. So I did.
Cue one or more of:
- Silence. (This could be discomfort around mental health issues, particularly suicide. Or maybe they’re thinking: holy shit, TMI much? I didn’t want to hear that, I don’t know you that well, why are you telling me this?)
- Yeah, I have PTSD too. (Followed by exposition, which I find both annoying and comforting. Hey, why are you making this about you? And thank you for not making me say any more.)
- Wow, I had no idea. (Um, yay? I hid it really well, right? But then maybe that means you think it couldn’t have been that bad, since you didn’t know I’ve been in such pain. I’m not fucked up enough to deserve your support or empathy. So why is it taking me so long to be Better?)
- That really sucks. I’m so sorry to hear that happened to you. (I guess this is the best possible response, right? But I don’t know what to do with it. Thank you? Say more? Change the subject?)
What do we do with this pile of crap I just tossed on the floor between us?
Aside: My gross income in 2018 was one thousand six hundred dollars and fifty cents.
My options were to kill myself or go be with my husband and spend an indefinite amount of time in misery.
May I tell you another secret? I’m still not sure I made the right choice. And I don’t know if I will ever feel that I made the right choice.
I had to imagine a dragon walked me to campus, in order to get myself to go.
Every day at some point I shut my office door, turned off the lights, crawled under my desk, and cried.
I never answered the phone because I didn’t know if it would be someone yelling at me.
I rarely checked my email because I didn’t know what mean and nasty shit I’d find there.
I started drinking by 3pm most days, and kept drinking until I passed out around 2am. (I don’t think I admitted this publicly before.)
Aside: I didn’t try to get drunk, but I was self-medicating to dull the pain–like someone who takes ibuprofen everyday. I don’t seem to get chemically addicted, thanks to my genes, I guess. As soon as I moved to Philly, I immediately drank less. I could get through most days with less or none because I felt just a smidgen more safe.
I remember watching myself acting like I was okay, being playful in my bellydance classes, displaying compassion while advising econ majors, smiling while up onstage, as though I was having fun. I remember that I got shit done, I paid my bills, I showed up for classes. Who was that person? The skin she wore wasn’t mine.
I didn’t attend a single department meeting during my last semester. I stopped cleaning the house. I stopped showing up to committee meetings. I got a disability accommodation to only have to be on campus two days per week. I didn’t finish the grant I co-PI’d. I didn’t finish a class I taught at another university. (That still fills me with great shame.) As soon as the semester ended, I disappeared from my former life. I put all of it in a box and taped it shut, though it was bursting at the seams. Then a trigger would hit me, and one of the seams would burst open, so I frantically gathered what fell out and stuffed it back inside. More tape, but still not enough…the triggers kept coming.