I’ve been getting that a lot, lately.
This is an abridged and edited version of the email I sent to subscribers earlier this week:
I was in teacher training, ostensibly being taught pedagogical skills for my one-year stint as a Graduate Student Instructor. The training was led by two people: a man and a woman. At one point, the man decided to bring up the subject of students who come to instructors requesting extensions or accommodations due to mental illness — namely, depression.
“Don’t listen to those kids,” he said, his face twisted in disgust. “Anyone can fake depression.”
I didn’t listen to him. I had kids who came to me with doctor’s notes about hospitalization; I had kids who told me that they were so depressed they couldn’t get out of bed, let alone come to my class. I always cut them slack, because that’s what I needed when I was in school. (My ongoing series about schooling and mental illness is part of my aim to bring this issue to light.)
…The question of what higher education can, should, and should not do with its mentally ill students is one that’s been rattling around in my head for a long time. My post about why I left Yale is one of my most-commented-on posts ever — with some readers claiming that Yale owed me nothing, and others furious at how I was treated. I received emails and did impromptu Skype sessions with readers, usually young ones in college, who were depressed or otherwise suffering, and did not know what to do. I tried to tell them about my experience as best as I could, while offering resources that I thought could help. But what I think this demands is a greater movement toward unifying university policy and resources regarding mental illness in their students.
Here’s my problem. I need your help.
I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an administrative type, and I don’t know anyone who is. But maybe you know something. Maybe you happen to know about how colleges and universities work. Maybe you study law. Maybe you just have some good ideas, or some insights from your own experiences. Or perhaps you know someone who does know law, or is a dean or an administrator, or is familiar with how schools do and do not establish what is considered a disability under school policy — in which case, I encourage you to, if you are so inclined, forward this email to them, along with a message of your own about why you care.
What I’m hoping to do is get together a private Facebook group for those interested in this topic to have a discussion. Maybe nothing will happen. But maybe, just maybe, it will be a step in figuring something out.
Not long after I sent this email out, someone connected me to a woman at the center of organizing the movement to bring attention to colleges’ mishandling of sexual assault cases, as well as leading and organizing the movement of Title IX/Clery Act complaints. We started exchanging information. She expressed her enthusiasm for my cause, and immediately suggested four actionable steps we could take to get things going.
I was getting and sending these messages on a plane to New York. What I really wanted to do was turn to the pixie-haired, crossword-puzzle-working woman next to me, and tell her that something big was happening in the seat next to her. Right here, I wanted to say. In this window seat. Things are happening.
So things are happening.
I made a list of projects that I’m currently working on. This is something I often do when I have the vague feeling that I need to write down everything that’s on my plate before it begins to spill out of my head — through the ears, I’d imagine. I listed things under two categories: Front Burner and Back Burner. Lordy, there’s a lot of stuff on the Front Burner. Not only am I working on growing my site/blog, building my first, this-is-going-to-be-amazing-but-is-anyone-going-to-sign-up? offering as a Woman of the World (as Michelle Ward calls it), and launching an actionable movement regarding higher education and mental illness, but I’m also plotting my enormously ambitious offering for 2014, as well as beginning intensive DBT classes as part of my treatment in September.
I also have an idea for a workbook. Oh, and did I mention my second novel and its corresponding excerpt-as-short-story, or the applications I want to complete for various 2014 writing residencies?
The thing about starting is that you just start. At some point, you leap. You learn about launching products, you send your good-bye letters to your co-workers, you run off your big mouth about, I dunno, changing the world, and suddenly it looks like it’s going to happen — all of it — the new life direction, the online course that has lessons and a website and all of its big and beautiful components, the 105 (and counting) Likes on your last blog post — and who knows, who knows, my chickadees, what is going to happen next in this grand adventure of a life?
My online course, Rawness of Remembering: Restorative Journaling Through Difficult Times, is opening for early-bird registration on September 3. With Love & Squalor subscribers (sign up here) will receive a discount code in their late August/early September missive. I hope you come alongside me on this journey.