J’ai peur

I am so depressed already and it is only the end of the first week. Real teaching hasn’t started yet, even. It is the basic language classes that do it. I barely began to recover from these over the summer and it is all starting again. I the angel of death appeared I would say take me, I leave no one, I have seen everything, I have nothing to live for, my pain is too great to bear. I do not feel I should post about it but I have to say something. Mon Dieu, qu’est-ce que je souffre.

Why is it that I was lectured so severely throughout graduate school about how I would not “get” to do this when I became a professor and that if I did do it, I would not advance professionally — and that then, when I became a professor, I was lectured so severely about how people who do not like best to teach “the first course in their field” — which has to be whatever the institution considers the first course and considers that the field is — are “not serious” (“lack of seriousness” being the most capital sin)?

I can hear all these voices now and I wish I were underground or in another country far away. The classes themselves are painful enough — ask any instructor. But the problem are these flashbacks, and the pain of them, and how I fear that pain.




Filed under Banes

19 responses to “J’ai peur

  1. I’m so sorry you suffer, friend!!! This sounds very harsh, what you are going through.

    But the semester will be over sooner than we can imagine right now, and there will still be so many fun, great things for you to do and experience.

    I know very well how such negative voices can rob one of years of life. I used to feel paralyzed by them for years. Stuck in bed, unable to move, while they kept chattering away, telling me that my life choices made me a failure. And knowing where they came from and who put these words there was not really helping. Nothing was really helping. So I feel your pain! I really do.

    I hope knowing that you are not alone helps a little.

  2. Z

    Merci! I remember what it was like not to have this problem. And yes – knowing where one got it really does not help.

    I’m in this weird self harming mode which I am guessing it’s good I at least recognize as such. Complicity with evil, I do believe it is.

  3. Didion

    This post just captures so much of what I understand about teaching: the unbelievable grueling nature of it, the tendency to blame oneself for making bad choices, the almost religious kind of suffering. And I kind of like teaching. Just not the beginnings and endings of semesters, which are awful beyond belief. (Actually, let’s narrow it down: I like weeks 3 through 5.)

    I always forget that I knew more at age 25 about how to create opportunities for myself. Sometimes it’s just the idea that I might have opportunities beyond teaching that can help me survive another week of suffering.

  4. Z

    Thanks, Didion.

    And, it’s really the course in this post that causes my exhaustion overload:

    Why: because I had to go through such hell to get the materials, which are only now starting to arrive; because although I like the course concept it is far too advanced for us; because doing the translation and interpretation that turns out to be needed is draining … and why am I giving it? Because that was the topic that was deemed likely to make.

    But, the post was featured on IHE, it seems, so there’s that.

  5. Z

    Also, I’m just definitely doing too much and I don’t know what to cancel. It would all work out without the language courses – I’d still have a full load and a full plate. But this is really like doing a professor job and also an instructor job, both full time. 15 hours teaching per week, administrative duties, major grant proposal, and research. I should give myself credit. And/but all I could cut out would be the things which are precisely those which will create more opportunity for myself. So who knows.

  6. I can’t imagine how one could deal with this workload. Is this going to be a permanent situation at your school or is it temporary?

    You are a hero for doing all of this.

    • Z

      It is supposed to be temporary, but I do not trust them. Hero, I don’t know, it feels more like martyrdom but I guess this is a good idea, try to turn it to some non Pyrrhic kind of victory.

  7. Didion

    I’m with Clarissa: this is way, way too much. At the rate we’re going, there is no attraction to becoming a professor unless you are prone to a kind of martyrdom.

    I have a thought about the potentially too-hard course: do it anyway. I’ve seen again and again that students may bitch and moan, but they will try, and sometimes they’ll finish the class saying, I’ve never worked this hard and I’m so happy I did. Granted, that doesn’t mean you’ll get strong course evaluations. But sometimes it’s worth the try — if for no other reason than such texts can help *you* think.

    And if it doesn’t work, you laugh and say, lesson learned.

    • Z

      The university doesn’t think it is too much.

      Yes, there’s that level of difficulty but I have a lot of students who have trouble in both their native and their second language with things like spelling, basic reading comprehension, and so on. There is a limit and if I think something is hard for me it probably is too hard for them.

  8. servetus

    I was really, really dreading stepping back into the classroom. And wondering exactly who it was that was going to accomplish that. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. But what I wanted to do was agree that the fear and dread of doing it are just as bad or worse than the actual action — noticing this because i enjoyed my classes a lot this week. I’m sure setbacks will occur: but the awful feelings of foreboding were severe and almost impossible for me to resist. If the fear were bad, and then the actual classes were bad, too, I’m not sure what I’d be doing, now. Probably planning to resign in January.

  9. Z

    It’s foreign languages specifically that I don’t like to teach. I feel really guilty about it — I know that, being so good at them, teaching others is what I should want in life; I should be willing to tolerate anything for the privilege of teaching foreign languages; etc. But it’s physically painful and I am ridden with guilt and flashbacks. I can feel them hitting me and I just wish my apology could be accepted — I am sorry, Mother, sorry that I did the PhD, I know how much it hurt you, I have spent more time now incarcerated than in graduate school, please release me now. I feel as though if I could be forgiven for having done the degree, I might finally not have to teach foreign languages any more. I actually think I know what conversation I am flashing back to and when it was, and that is my discovery for the week.
    I also feel guilty about not liking where I live. It isn’t loved enough and it is a poor thing, it needs my love and I am not loving it enough, is what I feel, so I know I am hurting it and that it is so upset because I want to abandon it. All of this is why I want to do psychoanalysis and/or leave leave leave, no matter what I could have written or might write or the “contribution” I “owe” the field because it “gave” me a PhD.
    So yes, it appears I am an abuse survivor and foreign language teaching triggers flashbacks, but we knew that. And it takes so much out of me that I am not in a position to leave it, and that is my paradox, and we knew that, and the paradox creates the blog.

  10. Z

    And it’s the physical pain. Like that Brazilian soap opera actor in my favorite film, Burden of Dreams, who says acting in front of a camera gives him physical pleasure, that is why he endures a lot to get to do it — if it weren’t so much fun, he wouldn’t sacrifice. Teaching foreign languages (not teaching IN them, teaching them) causes me disabling physical pain and it has always gotten worse, every time I am told it is what I “owe,” to various creditors, the guilt and pain get worse.

  11. servetus

    oh, the voices that tell us what we *should* feel, want, do. One thing that’s changed for me this year is that those voices are weakening in the morning. Last year it was, “I should want to get up and go to teach those students,” now it’s, “I have to do this in order to be paid.” The latter is a much less punishing thought. But I have no explanation of why this is happening, maybe because I’m a VAP now and not really implicated in the larger project in which I am participating. The pleasant side effect: I leave the classroom and don’t think about what happened in it. This is after a week, we’ll see if I can sustain this attitude. If I could feel this way about it I might be able to continue.

    I can see how the voices would give you physical pain.

    Last year I was thinking a lot, “you know, I am a fantastic teacher, and I could just find some place else to teach and do only that and everyone else would be happy with me, but at the end I would have done that. The teaching takes away energy for something else that I maybe am not as skilled at but which is of greater emotional importance.”

  12. Z

    I’ve got to say, VAP jobs are truly fun. I like teaching generally but I am traumatized re basic language teaching for various reasons. And it’s out of field for me so it really takes up time / energy I need to help keep any kind of research focus. My issue with it is also the situation one has doing it in the kind of place I’ve done it — there are all these wars over it and I hate that, I want to just do it effectively and go.

    “The teaching takes away energy for something else that I maybe am not as skilled at but which is of greater emotional importance.” Yes. I also feel sort of the same way, or feel something analogous about research. There is great research being done now in my fields whether I add to it or not. But with all the terrible things going on now and my administrative and activist skills I feel I should be doing something less passive — especially since I’m not in a position I enjoy / that makes me happy / that will allow me to save for when I am old / and so on.

  13. Didion

    Every year or so, I think I’ve achieved some kind of equilibrium that makes me believe I can juggle the labor of my job with its perks and be reasonably happy. Then I lose it.

    I will say that of the many semesters I’ve begun in the worst possible way — with a serious crisis of confidence/relevance, a true discouragement about teaching, etc. — it usually gets better. But better than “serious crisis” is not really very good at all.

  14. Z

    “…better than ‘serious crisis’ is not really very good at all.”

    This is where many Americans and many professors, I find, disagree. What I’ve always been told is correct is to get through things, limp along … to want more is too greedy.

    Interesting comment from a retired instructor the other day, to a newish assistant professor who is overworking and stressing: “You are suffering, and you are drinking and smoking all too much, so you are right, you have no quality of life. At the current rate you will publish a great deal, but you will not realize your other dreams and you will also be dead in twenty years. Are you sure this is what you want?”

  15. Didion

    That’s horrific. And yet if my case was representative at all, most newish assistant profs need work and abuse themselves to even get the minimum amount of writing and research done — it took me years to learn how to become a more efficient writer. My first years were appalling — I barely survived.

    I don’t even want to publish “a great deal.” I want to publish a moderate amount that allows me to have sustained thoughts, however esoteric, and allows me to be willing to spend time teaching that doesn’t feel like I’m being sucked dry by the mere labor of it. I used to think this wasn’t a lot to ask. Now I’m starting to see that it’s not common at all to have a healthy balance, and not even for people with very reasonable teaching loads at fancy universities (where their grad students suck up their time).

  16. servetus

    And let me add to this: I became extremely concerned last year that in my state of constant exhaustion, overwhelmedness, and inability to concentrate, I was modelling to my students that it was admirable or at least acceptable to lead this kind of life: as if the person who’s the most stressed out wins.

  17. Z

    It’s interesting – I’ve never had a writing issue, but I have research time issues – don’t dedicate enough time to it, feel too guilty about teaching to do so, and that creates writing issues; I have teaching efficiency issues, too, largely because of terror about spending any time on it at all (inculcated from childhood) and guilt about being research oriented. These issues rear their ugly heads in high teaching load places, otherwise I have time to process / control them.

    It seems the majority have writing problems, though. What you seek, I also seek, and I also didn’t think it was a lot to ask, but now I also see that it’s very rare.

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