Monday, April 16, 2007

Mood Watch - 37

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been nineteen days since my last Mood Watch. Though actually, come to think of it, nineteen days isn't all that bad.

Hard on the heels of my last trip (to the Chicago area), I took another, this time to Vermont. I went there to be a presenter at a symposium, but I arrived on Friday, March 30, a couple of days before it began. Checked into a lovely bed and breakfast and spent most of the weekend with a friend of mine who showed me around the central part of the state.

Aside from four quick business trips to Boston, I'd never been to New England before, much less Vermont. Everyone I met apologized for the scenery -- it was "stick season": too late for the winter snow and too early for the green of spring and summer and the beauty of the turning leaves in autum. But I thought the state was just lovely: lots of rushing streams, quaint villages and small towns nestled between the shoulders of mountains. All in all, I had a lovely time.

The symposium was fun, too. It has that reputation -- the organizers brings in good speakers, install them at the Northfield Inn, and everyone gets pretty well acquainted, not just over the rich breakfasts but especially in the evenings, when everyone kicks back in the living room/dining room area, cracks open a beer (or six) and talks into the wee hours.

I boarded a flight home on Wednesday afternoon. It figured that after such an enjoyable six days I'd feel a bit of a letdown afterward, but I was surprised -- even shocked -- by how quickly the bottom dropped out of my mood. By the following day I felt so anxious and nearly faint that I had to cancel a class, something I hate to do. Things didn't improve for a full week. Then, as quickly as it hit, the depression lifted. To my mind, that's the very signature of a biochemically based depression.

My therapist, however, doesn't think so. For maybe a year now she's noticed how unhappy I am in my work environment (a lot of my colleagues feel the same way -- my department is undergoing a difficult transition period, for reasons no one quite understands). She thinks the department culture is complicit in the depressions. Initially I was skeptical about this theory, but over time I've become more convinced. Anyway, by the logic of her thesis, this recent depression came about not just because I was leaving a pleasant environment where I felt well regarded, but also because I was returning to one in which I often feel like a stick of furniture.

Be that as it may, now that I'm back to normal I'm sleeping a bit less than usual -- which tends to be my pattern. It isn't too extreme. I generally get at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, and Saturday night I got about nine. But I didn't sleep at all Sunday night. I didn't feel drowsy, so mostly I just rested as best I could. I'll try to push through the day without a nap and go to bed at 9 or 10 p.m. That usually gets me back on a regular sleep schedule.

I had a nice experience the other day. In one of my classes a context emerged in which it was appropriate to say that I had bipolar disorder. The class had 240 students, which meant, statistically, that two or three of them already had bipolar disorder, or would be diagnosed with it at some point in the future. Sure enough, after class one student approached me to say that he too had bipolar disorder and he thanked me for being so up front about it. He keeps his condition private because of the stigma attached to it, but he could readily see that I'm so frank about it, in part, because it's a way to combat the stigma. When 240 students discover that a professor they like and respect is also someone coping with a serious bioaffective condition, it educates them, and the world moves a tiny bit closer to treating people like me the same as they would someone with a physical illness.

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