How did all of this impact my ability to work this semester? I’ve already described how I took a week of for rest and research in October. But the impact on my semester was much more pervasive than a single week off from work. Starting in mid September, I realized that I simply was not able to keep up with my responsibilities at work. I am a tenure-track faculty member, meaning I have a job that takes most people 80 hours a week, but I probably spend 60 on when I’m not sick thanks to great time management skills. Unfortunately this leaves little room for improvement under adverse circumstances as I am already doing the maximum amount of work in the minimum time possible. Luckily the job does have built in breaks (thanksgiving, end of semester) and opportunities to cut back (not teaching). Unfortunately, they generally can’t be scheduled as needed, but simply come as the year rolls by.
Not meeting my responsibilities was very trying for me, I really hate to not meet my own standards of performance. One reason was that I was losing 10-15 hours per week to my need for extra sleep. Another problem was that I needed to spend time researching possible causes for my symptoms/my condition (once diagnosed). Additionally, I spent hours and hours in doctors’ offices, labs, and with nurses — getting tests and blood work, meeting different doctors, getting an EEG, MRI, hearing test, and more, getting my PIC line installed, meeting my home health nurse weekly, and other things I probably can’t remember. Not only that, but I was at times in such pain and so tired that I simply could not focus in meetings, and other people present could visibly see that they simply needed to take over and run things without much input from me.
I turned to several people for advice, including both of my advisers from graduate school, mentors and friends within my department and my department chair. I was so affected by my (at that time unknown) disorder and my inability to live up to my standards of performance that more than one of those people asked if I was depressed (and if that was possibly the cause of my illness — more on the negative side of that in another post, perhaps. Just remember not to let yourself be convinced it’s all in your head!). They were also incredibly supportive, encouraged me to back out of those things that I needed to and to cut back or get help, even if it put them themselves on the spot. I took the following actions (some later in the semester, some earlier).
- Canceled a talk I had planned to give at my alma mater
- Delegated some of the job of teaching one of my classes to a close friend and mentor
- Arranged for extra grading help in my bigger course — thanks to the kindness of two faculty and their TAs I was saved hours of effort. A special note here: I was lucky enough to be in such a supportive department that even without a diagnosis I could safely approach senior department members and explain that I was sick and needed their students’ help. This kind of support made a huge difference in my ability to face what was happening to me and get through the semester.
- Leaned more heavily on the regular TAs and co-instructor in my bigger course and tried not to feel too guilty about all the extra hours they were putting in for me
- Canceled all non-essential meetings that I ran (e.g. the group meeting I normally hold weekly with all my students)
- Stopped attending meetings that I am supposed to be at such as faculty meetings
- Became extremely efficient with my time management
- Cut out all hobbies (music, especially, was a sad loss)
- Cut down on time with my kids (e.g. I stayed late at work about once a week and missed family dinner, a huge concession in our family)
- Said no to pretty much everything that came across my plate, even if it might help my career
- Explained my situation to my students and asked them to be understanding when I started canceling meetings left and right for doctors appointments, took a week off, etc
- Said yes when folks volunteered to take over things for me that I hadn’t asked for
- Requested relief from all committee work
- Backed out of teaching in the Spring and otherwise cut down on my Spring commitments in preparation for the possibility that I wouldn’t be better yet
- Asked my husband to travel less in the Spring for the same reason
There are probably more things that I did that I can’t remember, but the list above is a pretty good starting description. Again, all of this was possible because of the support of my colleagues. I am so grateful to be in a place where people are so understanding and supportive. Even so, I worry about what comes next and really hope that I won’t have to confront that in 6 months.