I Can’t Read

reading on pile of books
Conceptual Books

I can’t read.

I mean, I can’t read anymore.

I used to be a voracious reader. You know the type. All through elementary, middle, and high school I could read sometimes three books in a week. I read in class, during lunch, walking down the halls, late at night. I cried over books. I lived and breathed books. Even during my undergrad I kept up my reading habit for the most part. I didn’t read quite as much as I used to, but I was still reading. Especially during the summer. During my undergrad I worked first at a grocery store, then at a Jason’s Deli, and finally at a Borders Bookstore, and I always had books with me during my breaks. And I would stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning to read. Sometimes I would just read straight through the night and not sleep at all.

In grad school my reading habit started to suffer. When I did read it was reading for my classes, and even that slowly became more sporadic. I would sometimes fake my way through class because I didn’t finish the reading. But then, every grad student does that.

The last three or four years have been different though. I can’t read anymore. I can’t concentrate and focus on the words. I read the same paragraphs over and over again and nothing sinks in. The words do not live in my brain the way they used to. I can blame this, mainly, on two things: the internet and depression. My reading first began to suffer, slowly but surely, when I got my first laptop the senior year of my undergrad. My internet addiction has been a severe problem for my ability to sit still and read. More often then not when I have free time I choose to be on my computer rather than pick up a book. And my patience, my concentration, and even my eyesight have all suffered because of my addiction.

But the other problem, the problem that has been the main culprit for the last two years at least, is my depression. Because of my depression I live in a constant brain-dead haze. Doing ANYTHING requires so much effort that it feels nearly impossible. Thinking feels like the most difficult thing in the world. Reading just can’t happen. I find I can’t even read things on the internet like fanfiction, which I used to be able to read even when my book-reading suffered. I simply can’t read.

It’s frustrating. It’s heart-breaking. Words have been my life for as long as I can remember, and now my brain rebels against them. My brain rebels against ME. And I hate it. And I don’t know how to fix it.

Sometimes Things Go Right

I am happy to say that my conference went extremely well. I went in so anxious and afraid and dreading it all, but it ended up being a great experience. I remembered why I enjoyed this conference in previous years, and why I keep coming back to it. The conference (and I suppose it won’t hurt my anonymity to say which conference it is) was the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, which specializes in the academic study of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. It is simply one of the most inviting, collegial, friendly, and supportive conferences I have ever been to. Everyone is so smart and so friendly. The panels are great, and the social events are even better.

I was very nervous about my role as student representative to the Executive Board. It ended up being a LOT of work, but it was rewarding work, and all the things I feared could go wrong, didn’t happen. The Executive Board meeting was interesting and educational. The panels I was in charge of went smoothly. My paper presentation went ok – I was very afraid I was going to sound like an idiot as it was NOT the best paper I had ever written, but it went fine and the audience had some interesting comments and suggestions for my work.

I particularly enjoyed the two formal luncheons on Thursday and Friday, and the Awards Banquet on Saturday night. On Thursday I sat with the Executive Board and the Division Heads and they were very kind about talking to me and making me feel included in the conversation even though I was the new person and everyone else had known each other for years.

On Friday I was able to sit with my friend and a person I had met earlier in the week. And the three of us were lucky enough to find seats with two published authors: Peter Straub, who is a well-known horror writer, and Joe Haldeman, a well-known Science Fiction writer who is most famous for his novel The Forever War. They told stories about their experiences and they were absolutely fascinating! Also seated at our table was one of the Executive Board members who knows absolutely EVERYBODY. And the most amazing thing happened. During the luncheon I saw one of my favorite authors of all time, Stephen R. Donaldson, walk by, and I pointed him out to my friend excitedly. The Executive Board member, Gary Wolfe, laughed and asked if I wanted to be introduced. I said yes, and he went and fetched Stephen R. Donaldson and introduced me to him! And Donaldson stayed and talked to me for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t stop grinning and I had to work very hard not to completely fall apart in front of him. But it was the most amazing thing ever!

During the Saturday Awards Banquet I could not sit with my friend, but I once again was extremely lucky with who I ended up sitting with. I sat with a group of Children/YA Literature scholars who were absolutely hilarious and friendly. They joked and told stories and we got into a debate about the live-action adaptations of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, and we laughed so hard that the other tables kept staring at us. I had an amazing evening sitting with them. I just feel so lucky and grateful for their company.

I flew home Sunday afternoon and I dreaded returning to work on Monday. But I am so happy I went to the conference and had a marvelous time.

Humorous Interpretations of Anxiety and Depression

This post was too perfect not to share.

Artist Shows How It Feels To Live With Anxiety And Depression By Julija Televičiūtė Anxiety is not a joke. But what if a light-hearted laugh could make things a little bit brighter? British illustrator Gemma Correll draws comics inspired by her own anxieties and depression. She thinks that the best way to deal with […]

via Artist Shows How It Feels To Have Anxiety & Depression — Anxious Mind

Here I Am Again

About a year ago, I stopped posting on this blog because I felt that it had served its purpose, run its course. I wasn’t updating as I should and I had worked past the worst of my depression. I thought about continuing with the blog but last year ended up being very busy and I just never found the time to return.

But now, here I am.

2016 was a busy year for me: I attended an academic conference in March. I was voted Representative of an international student organization in April. I went to New York for the first time ever in May. In June and July I taught at a prestigious summer studies program. In August I attended the World Science Fiction convention in Kansas City with my best friend. And then the Fall semester started. And in October I moved for the third year in a row.

At first, it seemed that 2016 was going to be a good year for me. I was doing some great things. Experiencing new and exciting things. But then in July I took a nosedive. I started becoming increasingly anxious about everything: my teaching, being alone, travel, everything. My teaching position in July became a source of pain for me and I spent a lot of nights crying and thinking about quitting. By the time the Fall semester started at the end of August I was barely holding it together. My anxiety and depression were becoming so bad I was thinking about quitting my full-time teaching position and damn the consequences. The move in October was excruciating. I went so far down hill that by the end of October I was suicidal again. I was a little better over Winter break, without the threat of teaching to fuel my anxiety, but just barely. I nearly refused my teaching position for the Spring semester, but finally decided I couldn’t afford to refuse the job when I didn’t have another job lined up.

So here I am.

I’m halfway through the Spring semester. I’m on Spring break. And my depression and anxiety are still so severe I’m barely functioning. I manage to teach twice a week, but every other day of the week I sleep until 11am and then I crawl out of bed and onto the sofa and stare at the television for hours. I’m behind on all my grading. I haven’t worked on my dissertation in months and months. I daydream about quitting. Quitting everything. My job. My PhD. My life. Everything.

In the midst of all of this I have a conference to attend next week. And I have so many responsibilities for this conference I don’t know how I’m going to manage it. Executive Board meetings to attend, and panels to organize, and student organization events to manage, and on and on. I did this to myself, of course, but when I signed up to be responsible for all these things I was feeling much better about my life. Now I’m not sure how I’m going to hold it all together. But somehow I have to. People are counting on me. I have responsibilities. Duties. Somehow I have to do this. I have to. I have no choice.

I thought that returning to this blog might help like it did last time. Give me an outlet. Or something. I can’t promise I’ll do much more than come here to vent every once in awhile. In any case, here I am. Again. For whatever that’s worth.

Update

My February “Long Shot” has failed, as expected. I’m not bitter or upset about it. It was what I was expecting, and I’m okay with that. I’m glad I tried anyway. I haven’t decided what my Long Shot will be for March yet.

I’ve been very busy working on a conference paper for a conference I’m presenting at in mid-March. And I’ve been torturing myself over my dissertation. And my meds are still all messed up. And I really need a doctor’s appt but with my insurance all messed up I haven’t been able to get one.

All of this is to say I’m having a rough time and I’m really busy and I’m probably not going to be posting here for a while.

In fact, I’ve been half-considering shutting down this blog entirely. It served its purpose, which was mainly to get me through my suicidal phase last July-September, and now it seems to be in a holding pattern, just a place I come to occasionally to complain or update my small number of readers. And why would readers continue to come to a place that only does occasional personal updates rather than actual CONTENT? And how does this blog do me or anyone else any good if it only serves as a place for whining every two or three weeks? I don’t know… I haven’t decided for certain yet. This isn’t my first blog and it will likely not be my last, but maybe it’s time to just let this one die.

Going Wrong

Everything is going wrong in my head. I feel like my brain is moving in slow motion. Like I’m trying to walk under water. Like I’m slowly sinking.

I suspect the Seroquel is having a negative affect…

Addition 1 (Feb 17): I mean… It’s ridiculous and more than a little terrifying how quickly I can slide back down the hill. It took an act of god to get me out of bed this morning, at a 11am, after weeks of being up by 8-8:30. I feel like shit. I just want to curl up on the sofa and stare into space for the next month. My brain power has completely vanished. How is this fair?

Addition 2 (Feb 18): I’m really not okay. I didn’t take the Seroquel last night. And I have a few Abilify left so I’m going to take half of one tonight to see if that’ll help keep me above water while I try to figure out what to do long term.

The Long Shot Clause: Or, learning to be brave

I’m trying something a bit different lately. Something I’m (somewhat goofily) calling my “Long Shot Clause.” Each month I’m going to try something that is a long shot, that I acknowledge and accept is a long shot, something that would be really nice if it worked, but which I understand is not likely to work and for which I will not punish myself if it doesn’t. I’m not sure I’m explaining this very well, but you get the gist, I’m sure. Failing at these things cannot hurt me. But succeeding at them can help me immensely. And they help me learn to be brave.

Here’s an example: my first “long shot” was in November 2015. I picked a paper I’d written for a class, added to it, cleaned it up, edited it, etc. And then I submitted it to an academic journal to be considered for publication. I knew it was a long shot. I had no expectation of being accepted. I saw it more as an opportunity to possibly receive some feedback so I would know how to improve submissions in the future. And I figured at some point I just had to TRY or I was never going to get anywhere in my academic career.

Shockingly, in early January, I discovered that the journal had in fact accepted my submission, with very few required revisions. And now I have an article published in an online academic journal! Admittedly, online academic journals (particularly new ones like this one) are not QUITE as prestigious as more long-running, or print academic journals, but it is still a big deal to me, and it is still a great step in the right direction for an academic career. (You’ll have to forgive me for not posting the journal or article here, as it would negate the semi-anonymity I have here).

My “long shot” for January was to apply for a teaching position with the Duke Talent Identification Program – a position, as I mentioned before, I got with enormous speed and ease mere hours after my interview process. So, two long shots, two successes so far.

This month, my “long shot” is to submit a short story for publication. Specifically, I added to and edited the short story “Gone” I posted here (I’ve now changed the title to “The Haunting of Alex Dietrich” which is more catchy I think), and yesterday I mailed it to the submissions at the literary magazine Conjunctions. Now, Conjunctions publishes both known and unknown writers, including some pretty big names in the business, so I have absolutely NO illusions about being accepted. But again, at some point you just have to TRY and see what happens. Perhaps I will at least receive some constructive criticism from the editors. Maybe all I’ll get is a “no thanks.” Either way, it could be months before I hear back from them. But at the very least, I am trying to do things. To be brave. To push myself. To put myself on the line in ways that are fruitful but will not utterly destroy me if I fail.

I haven’t yet decided what my “long shot” will be for the month of March. I might not be able to think of anything else so soon after my last few attempts. I’d like to try to do something every month, but I won’t kill myself over it, because I think that would destroy the low-stakes feeling of it all. If anyone has any suggestions on other things I could try, or if you have “long shots” you want to try for yourself, please feel free to share. I’d love to hear about them.