Have you ever felt like the floor was falling out of your life? I have. Several times.
The worst was when I was teaching in the Mathematics Department at Iowa State University. I had gone there full of so much hope, excited to teach and to have the chance to do interdisciplinary research. I immersed myself in various activities and loved my first year, but by the middle of the third my enthusiasm started to flag.
My lungs are a perfect reflection of my mental health. When I am stressed, my asthma gets worse. When I am relaxed and happy, I breathe pretty well. I began having bouts of bronchitis. The doctors upped my asthma medications. During my fourth year in Iowa, I decided to sell the house I had bought, but I still wasn’t sure what I would do. My fifth, and last year, was the worst. I was lonely, depressed, and my lungs never cleared. I couldn’t work. I had nightly nightmares in which I was trying to escape from prison or being hunted by awful zombies.
You would think it would have been easy to resign, but it still seemed impossible. Teaching at a University had been my goal for a long time. The outside world seemed a scary place, for which I was horribly unprepared. Finally, I dreamed one night that I was run over by a car and died. I walked into the Department Chair the next day and said I had to go. He wasn’t happy about it. He asked me to take a leave of absence, but I knew in my heart that I could never return to that cold, windy prairie.
Some of the self-help books I’ve read imply that when you make a major choice that’s really scary but you know you have to make, the world will open up to you and you’ll know your path through life. If that has happened for you, I salute you. It didn’t happen for me, but at least things have never felt that entrapping again. My nightmares stopped immediately. My lungs improved over the course of the next year to a point where I use a minimum of medication.
I have gradually come to see that none of my agony had anything to do with the reality of being tenure track at a major state university and everything to do with my world view and my personality. You can probably see from this why life choices, career choices and personal development have occupied a lot of my time and also are a focus of my fiction writing.
Please leave your comments. I would love to hear about your difficult times and how you got out of them.