Essays On Health

Gleb Tsipursky describes how he struggles to teach with a mental health condition, and how instructors and their colleagues can deal effectively with such disorders.

Essays On Health

These are the kinds of anxious thoughts racing through my mind whenever a student walks up to me after the end of a class session. Such thoughts are not pleasant, functional or rational. They result from my mood disorder, characterized by high anxiety. If unchecked, the anxious thoughts are profoundly debilitating. They really impair my ability to interact with students well and undermine my ability to connect and engage with them.

This mood disorder also results in occasional flare-ups of fatigue symptoms. Here is how it looks in the classroom.

Imagine yourself as the teacher standing in the middle of a class, orchestrating a flowing and rich discussion. You are at the top of your game, the students are deeply engrossed in the topic and everything is going great.

Suddenly, you feel a wave of weakness spreading from your head into your chest and thighs. You need to sit down. You tell the students to keep talking while you find a seat. They are looking at you, confused by what is going on, the topic forgotten. You try to revive the discussion while managing your fatigue symptoms. You find it hard to raise your hand and point to students to call on them to talk. You are even struggling to speak yourself. Believe me, it is not fun.

The mental health condition I experience, an adjustment disorder, is relatively minor, compared to some others out there. However, it was very disturbing to me when I first discovered the condition in fall 2014.

Let me share my background for some context. I was always passionate about teaching others how to think more critically and rationally, and this helped motivate me to pursue my career as a history professor. I research emotions, decision making, meaning and purpose, fun and leisure, and civic engagement in historical contexts, focusing on the Soviet Union.

I am fortunate to be a historian, as I can draw on a multitude of diverse disciplines to inform my scholarship, and I also focus on psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Engaging with these fields brought me into contact with the modern rationality movement, dedicated to adapting academic research in these disciplines to optimize patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior.

Unfortunately, Agnes experienced a nervous breakdown in July 2014. At first, we did not realize its severity. We collaborated together to apply many of the research-based methods promoted by Intentional Insights to her mental health condition, and when she visited a therapist three weeks after her nervous breakdown, the therapist recommended keeping 90 percent of what we'd developed together for Agnes going, because it worked really well for her needs.

I found myself in a tough situation in the fall 2014 semester. I spent a great deal of attention and efforts to help Agnes along her way to improvement. I lost count of the many nights we stayed up until 5 a.m., talking through the issues she was experiencing, or with me simply holding her as she sobbed in my arms. I helped her with many daily life activities, such as getting food when she was too weak to walk. I took over the vast majority of our household activities, areas that she had managed previously. I knew I was doing the right thing for my wife and for our family, but this was an incredibly draining experience for me.

I take great pride in my teaching and responsibility for the experience of my students, always striving to balance teaching them in a way concordant with the latest research in educational psychology while also helping them have a positive and satisfying experience conducive to their well-being. While maintaining my focus on teaching, I dropped some intended scholarly projects and some minor service commitments. I also took over the day-to-day operations of Intentional Insights, which Agnes had previously managed.

By late October, my own mental health condition began to emerge. I began to experience the anxious thoughts and emotions described at the beginning in interactions with students, whether face-to-face or by email. Giving students negative evaluations and grades exacerbated my anxiety. By mid-November, I also suffered fatigue symptoms.

  Maliha Javed

  Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019       705 Views