Single-Malt Workohol

Despair is a heavy burden, and I bear its weight by working out.

I am not diagnosed with depression or anxiety, but there are days when I wonder whether I should be. Hints of how I deal with anxiety are scattered throughout my writing, but depression is a rarer visitor. I’ve avoided any real accounting of my depressive symptoms of episodes because of one peculiar fact: they’ve been incredibly useful to me.

Anxiety drives me to dissociation, tremors, stomach upset, and organizing things until the world makes sense again. Depression drives me to work. My low spirits take away first the pleasure I find in the things I actually enjoy and purge the enthusiasm required to choose between them. The resulting boredom verges on physically painful. Between that and the guilt I feel when I go more than a few hours without contributing to my household fortunes, attending to obligations is easy. Switching from the agony of trying and failing to have fun to the relief of accomplishing something, anything is its own motivation, and I can’t even resent having to do something if my brain won’t let me do anything else. In utility, I escape my own mind.

I graduated magna cum laude and earned a Doctorate of Philosophy by the sheer force of my depression.

Alyssa at her Ph.D. defense, wearing a black top with elbow-length sleeves, a filmy pink floral skirt, a pink necklace, and black wedge heels. Her hair is in a ponytail other than two forelocks.
Alyssa at her Ph.D. defense, May 2016. I had so much hope then.

School is now almost a year behind me. Viable employment is still a strange, distant dream. Two related events drove me to anxious heights in rapid succession, which I should not discuss in detail here until they are finally resolved, making the passionate creativity of blogging impossible for weeks at a stretch. Recovery from those storms means a stretch of anhedonia instead of abject, desperate terror, and anhedonia means work. That means taking on a project or three to escape my brain’s enforced tedium, and once more glumly leveraging myself into a more accomplished future. So I’ve begun two long-delayed goals: I started teaching myself French with Duolingo and the mountains of French text on every food label in the house, and I started learning how to code in Python.

These are worthy goals in a town where francophonie is a near-mandatory skill and in a life that harbors few remaining aspirations for academia but never got tired of logic and loops. Worthiness was never going to be enough, when blogging puts money in the ledger right now and a new skill puts it in maybe later, nor was knowing that I would derive happiness from  solving the logic puzzles of while x < 10 and Excusez-moi, je suis une femme, d’accord? To get over the activation energy of these new, ongoing challenges, I needed to lose the joy of anything I’d rather do, and the excuses of needing that time for things I enjoy. It needed to become excruciatingly clear that I was not choosing between Duolingo/Codecademy and blogging, or the two and gaming, but the two and nothing.

So here we are, where the only thing on my mind is the perverse fortune of having “accomplishes things” as a depression symptom, and hoping for brighter days.

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Single-Malt Workohol

2 thoughts on “Single-Malt Workohol

  1. 1

    Depression and anxiety suck (chronic major depression, here). Breaking into academia sucks, hard.*

    All the internet hugs, if you want them.

    * I’m an academic down under. The only advice I can give, from another country and different disciple, is to publish as much as you can.

    I really feel for North American PhD grads. Things were rough over there even before the new US government went all anti-research and made things harder, causing flight to adjacent countries. Unfortunately, our crappy Australian government just made it harder for international academics to get jobs here, as part of their racist anti-immigration posturing.

    Best of luck in your search. We need more good minds like yours influencing learning.

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