Saturday, July 20, 2013
Law Prof Lisa T. McElroy (Drexel) has a gripping piece on Slate about her battle with mental illness as she progressed along the tenure track: Worrying Enormously About Small Things: How I Survive Anxiety and You Can, Too. Here is the opening:
I sat in my tent in the Kenyan bush. It was nighttime. I was up late, in Kenyan time, at least. Back in the United States, it was afternoon. The afternoon that the tenure committee was meeting to vote on my future. As a university professor who had worked 13 years toward a goal of job security and respect from my peers, it all came down to this one conference room sit-down.
I listened to the lions roar. And I thought about walking outside the demarcated safari “safe area” into the night, into the bush, into the wild. Because, for me, the safe area was not safe. No place was safe. No place on Earth, I’d found, as I’d crossed hemispheres—west to east, north to south—trying to find one.
If the lions ate me, my family would get my life insurance. And then a tenure denial wouldn’t matter. Having a back-up plan made me breathe easier.
It was a very long night. No email arrived by 1 a.m. I took a sedative and tried to sleep. At 5 a.m., I checked again. There it was. The email.
I had been voted tenure.
So many colleagues across the country had tried to tell me that getting tenure would be anticlimactic. It wouldn’t matter, they said, because by the time the vote came around, I’d have a pretty good idea of whether I’d met the standards or not. I’d have a feel for the politics of my law school. I’d have heard through the grapevine which way the winds were blowing. The vote would not be a surprise.
But as I write today, a month after the board of trustees formally granted me tenure, six months after receiving that email after a very long Kenyan night, I can tell you that my colleagues and friends were wrong.
You see, for a person living with mental illness—in my case, a severe anxiety disorder—the kind of security and certainty that come with tenure are an exquisite relief. And that is because the six years it takes to get there are an exquisite kind of torture, of terror, of talking oneself into being semicalm through the night to make it to the next day, the next class, the next faculty meeting.
Those years are full of lions around every bend. And so the lions in Kenya were familiar, if not friends. And considering letting them eat me alive? It couldn’t be worse than the six-year job interview I’d just been through.