Depression and our relationship to work

There is little in life I consider “luck” (let alone angels looking after you – but irritation with that is another post). The world is big enough that it presents itself to all of us as essentially random. Our ability to respond to that randomness, and sort out things that might be good (for us? to us?) from those that are not is a matter of skill, intelligence, and training.

What one is given in genes is also random. And sometimes there are traits one receives or doesn’t that, while random, are tempting to classify as “luck”. Things like Huntington’s disease.Various members of my family struggled and still struggle with depression. I am lucky in that I do not seem to have this. I have been depressed. very depressed – but its what the shrinks call “situational” – unexpected death of young people, ending a long term relationship. I have coped, sometimes with more skill and grace than others.

There is a post on Jezebel about depression. The title is “I feel like I failed”. I read a little of this with mixed feelings: empathy for the writers, sad for my family members. And a healthy of dose of let’s move on here. But it made me think about another one of those “green, green, green” situations that we/I/many mentees have with our work.

When I was younger, a grant proposal rejection would make me feel depressed for days. I’d be unhappy and feel like I failed. Like there was no point in being a scientist. Like who the hell would ever fund me? Like I would never get tenure and I would be a crazy lady living in one room filled with cats or newspapers and recycling tin cans for a living. Eventually it would give way to anger (those fuckers, I’ll show them, they don’t think this is worthwhile? ha!). I was so wrapped up in my work: it was an extension of me.

I also noticed that lots of my male colleagues (and I was the only woman in the department for large stretches of my early career) didn’t exactly have the same response. Or if they did, it didn’t come to the lab with them. One of the things support for women (in my early days) kept saying was: men see rejection/problems as hurdles that they must jump over, but women see them as road blocks, mountains, oceans and by and large insurmountable (insurcrossable?). That was young me, for sure.

Now, getting rejected, getting a stupid review, losing a political struggle still gets an emotional response from me. But its often irritation and anger as much as “I have failed”. I think thats just age (on the other hand, I can’t run 5Ks anymore). In fact, to my perception (with NO data to back it up), many younger colleagues, now, of all genders, have more anger and disbelief at rejection than depression (Maria for sure).

So why is this green green green? Because thinking you are failure from a proposal rejection, or not getting a specific job is very blue. The sense of entitlement that makes you say “how dare they” in response to the same result is very yellow. I am glad my response to NIH funding decisions is no longer so strongly emotional. But it is emotional, a little bit, because I love what I do. I can’t stop feeling about it.  But it’s in a healthier range.







One thought on “Depression and our relationship to work

  1. Pingback: Yep, it’s hard – a guest post from iGrrrl | Fumbling Towards Tenure Track

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