The Right Direction?

When I first came to Menninger, I wasn’t sure what I would do there or how I would proceed; I only knew that I had chosen to come to Menninger and that it was, hopefully, the best place for me. After my suicide attempt in January, I treated just about everything around me with a sort of calm acceptance; after all, I had tried to leave the world, and that wad about the worst thing I could do, so what else could really bother me? 

I still felt depressed, of course, but not to the degree I had been when I tried to kill myself. I just felt… numb, I guess. And so coming to Menninger, while frightening, was something I thought was the right move for me. I knew that, when I arrived, one of my biggest challenges would be getting to know the people around me. I had been isolated for so long that I didn’t know where to start, and it took other people approaching me to really get me started. Those were the people I felt closest to, and they are still the people I try to remain close to – perhaps too close.

So, one of the goals of my treatment is to try and learn to get close to other people, to make friends, but not to cross boundaries. It was much easier to do at Menninger, because there were other patients around and it was hard to spend time with just one person. Here at the step-down, it’s harder. I drift towards one or two people constantly, and so I feel closer to them than to others and try to spend more time with them. I realized this might be a problem earlier this week, and started making efforts to reach out to others, but I’m a little slow and awkward at that. I like to think that I can compartmentalize, that I can focus on my friends for part of my time and on myself at other times, but I may just be fooling myself.

One of my other goals of treatment was to try and increase my physical health and lose weight. My self-image has been tied to my self-esteem for a long time, and being overweight has made me feel like I would be unattractive to women – which, in turn, probably shows, and makes people avoid me. I did well with this at Menninger, because, honestly, there wasn’t a lot to do in our free time other than go to the gym and exercise most days. I slacked off on this at the step-down for a while, but have recently been trying to pick up on that. I don’t know how well I’m progressing, and it is slow going. It’s discouraging, but I can’t let that get me down. 

I’m also trying to work on my independence. I’ve been living with my parents for so long, depending on them and seeking their approval, that there are times I don’t know what to do without their input. It’s one of the reasons I think that staying here where I am would be good for me – it would put some space between us, and would let me try and figure out what I should do with myself outside of their influence. For quite a while I’ve been wondering if finishing my PhD would be the best move in my life; I think a large part of why I was doing it was because it was easy to simply keep on the scholastic path, and I thought it would make my parents happy.

Now I’m not so sure it is what I want; I could easily teach high school or community college with the education I have now, and while I do like medieval studies, my real interest in literature is in the more fantastical – fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, horror, things along those lines. I don’t know that those will be accepted in greater academia for a while, but I could probably manage to find a place to teach them in community college. That’s if I want to teach at all.

There are other options, too. Editing is a possibility; I’ve been editing papers for friends and family for years, and I think I could probably easily handle doing it for money. I think the only problem with that is that it would be a relatively isolated job, since it would be mostly online, and I don’t know that it would be enough to support me fully; I’d probably also have to do something else.

Content writer for websites is another one that has come up; I’ve read a lot of websites, and some of them could use a writer’s touch, because they read like they were written by a computer, and not a particularly creative one, at that. It would require some study into what each website is about, of course, but that could be interesting in and of itself. It presents the same problem with isolation, though, and again, I’m not certain it would bring in enough to support me.

My sister mentioned an interesting possibility to me, partially because of this blog – mental health advocate. Because of my experience with mental illness, and my writing ability, she thinks that I might be able to try to explain to the public, or just certain groups, what it is that people with mental illness go through in an articulate and well-reasoned way. I have to admit I find the idea intriguing, and not just because mental illness has been the primary focus of my last several months – most people who have commented here have mentioned that the blog is easy to read, and that they can see and understand the type of things I have been through. I don’t know how well I would do speaking to a crowd, but that is a fear I need to confront, as well, so it might be a good way to move forward with my treatment.

Regardless, I think my independence is important. I don’t know if that means staying here, where I have a support system and probably a lot more in the way of job possibilities, or returning to St. Louis, moving out, and finishing my PhD while trying to build a whole new support system there. What I do know is that I have to make this decision by myself, which is odd for me; I have always relied on the help of others for this kind of thing. I can ask for input, but ultimately it comes down to me and what I think would be best.

I think I am still moving forward in my treatment, and I think writing in this blog is a part of that. It’s part of why I hope for comments and criticism – not so you can change my mind, but so we can start a conversation. Some of my best ideas have come from good conversations. It can be hard to see progress from the outside, and fairly difficult for me to see if I am still going, but I think I am. In any case, I think that’s about all I have to say for now. If you have any thoughts, let me know. 

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5 comments on “The Right Direction?

  1. Eric Miller says:

    I’m a teacher, but as an extreme introvert, Classroom teaching can be very difficult for me at times, and many colleagues and administrators simply don’t understand the introvert mind. Also, the constant, meaningless hoops the system puts you through due to public misconception of the roles and qualifications of educators are just excruciating and will likely lead me to leave the system one of these days. Have you gotten teacher certification?

    I wish someone with your interests could be accepted in academia. All the archetypical stories and the cross-pollination of influences in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy are very rich with meaning.

    I resonated with what you said about accepting things after facing death. I think this is an important lesson to learn, like the line in the flaming lips song “Do you realize.”

    You may remember my family has a genetic tendency to obesity and I seem to have inherited the worst of it. I’ve managed to bring my weight down through a long maze of nutrition research and dietary changes. I don’t really exercise other than walking when I can, but this week I weighed the least I can ever remember. I won’t prescribe what I do to anyone because there are so many nutritional pitfalls, and everyone digests food differently, but I would like the world to know it is possible. I would suggest to anyone to remove processed foods, chemicals and refined-sugars from their diets. I lost my first 40 pounds or so that way, when I cut corn syrup out of my diet. The next 40 pounds were much trickier to lose, and keep threatening to come back.

    • I don’t have teacher certification, which would be a problem if I went into teaching. I know some private schools don’t require certificates, but I don’t know about community colleges and the like.

      I wish my interests were accepted in academia as well, but I think it will be a while before that takes hold – as liberal as the liberal arts can be, they do seem to be very slow to accept change on that level.

  2. tom says:

    Portions of this blog bring to mind “Darkness Visible” by William Styron. If you have not read this, I recommend it. It’s all of about 90 pages and will be a very quick read for you. Styron became a mental health advocate later in life – although not without controversy. There are two other books – which may fall outside your comfort zone – that might be helpful in triggering your thinking about the decisions that you are considering at this stage in your life: “Living A Life That Matters” by Harold Kushner – another quick read. Kushner is better known as the author of “When Bad Things Happen To Good People,” but “Living A Life That Matters” is much more stimulating and deals with issues of self-esteem in a way that is not threatening but very thought provoking; and the other is “Man Is Not Alone” by Abraham Heschel. You may not enjoy the book; it is a bit dry as is most of Heschel’s work; but, like you, he has a gift for language – for big ideas. Heschel’s book may offer some additional insights and may help you sort through some of the issues of faith that you have touched on in this blog. It is not a book of or about doctrine, but an exploration of many of the questions you raise about the time we spend on this earth.

  3. Janice says:

    Community colleges may pay adjunct salary to regular humans, but they seem to want a PhD for faculty jobs. (Speaking of which, have you ever read this? Because I totally think it’s all true.)

    In fact, I have a grad-school medievalist friend who now teaches at a private school. He tried a university job and it didn’t work out – one of his main interests is comics. If you think you might like to talk to him about his path to highschool teaching, send me an email (janice dot friend at the google’s favorite mail).

    Also this one is about science editing but a) it’s written by someone who makes a living off it (in Wisconsin, no less! of course, I’m in VA now) and b) believe you me, scientists need editors even more than everyone else.

    • One of my problems with finding a job right now is that because of my time in grad school, my resume is practically non-existent. I have no job history to speak of, I haven’t done any teaching, I wasn’t a graduate assistant or a research assistant. All I have is an MA in English and several years of PhD study under my belt. The job market is going to be rough for me.

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