In the spring of 2002, I earned my Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in poetry. I immediately began looking for a tenure-track position teaching creative writing/English at a 2- or 4-year college or university. I even had an on-campus interview for a 2-year college in New Jersey! (It didn’t pan out.) My husband (my boyfriend at the time) had a full-time job in the suburbs, though we lived in the city.
While searching for something permanent, and in order to contribute to our household finances, I taught freshman English as an adjunct instructor at a number of 2- and a couple of 4-year colleges, beginning in the summer. At the time, I made an average of $1,500 per class for the entire semester. To help make ends meet, I had to teach 4 classes per semester, which is a full load. I earned about $6,000 for the semester. As for health benefits? I was lucky my student health insurance didn’t expire until a year after graduation.
One other thing about being an adjunct is that you’re rarely assigned more than 2 courses per school (that was my experience), which meant I had to teach at 3 or 4 schools, none of which were remotely near each other. Some of my classes were in nearby suburbs, while others took me as far away as Joliet — about 50 miles from Chicago.
My commute was demanding, and so was teaching. I only taught for 3 quarters while in grad school, and that was just one class (as opposed to 4) per quarter because I was taking classes myself. So teaching was still pretty new to me.
During the 2002-2003 school year, I experienced rapid cycling between being hypomanic and mildly depressed (I could still function). I was mostly hypomanic. I was seeing a psychiatrist and on meds at the time, which he adjusted accordingly. Admittedly, I loved being hypomanic because I felt really good about myself, and because I was extremely productive. In hindsight, I was overly so — I was creating spreadsheets for anything and everything, for one, and staying up all hours of the night to work. But to be honest, I think it helped me get through my year of teaching. [NOTE: I do realize that hypomania should not be romanticized, because it can lead to self-destructive behavior and/or hospitalization.]
At the end of spring semester, my laptop crashed. All of my grades for all of my classes were on it, and I hadn’t had a chance to back them up onto a disk (remember those?). I believe that the rapid cycling, the stress of teaching (a fairly new endeavor), the stress of driving everywhere, and then finally, my computer crashing, caused a breakdown. That, and combined with the Stigma [I Experienced] in the Workplace.
All I can remember after my laptop crashed was panicking and then shutting down: I couldn’t get out of bed except to use the bathroom; stayed in my pajamas; slept all day; felt that my life was over, that I was a failure, that I was a loser who might as well die.
My husband talked to my supervisors to tell them what happened. He took my laptop to the Gateway store (whatever happened to them?), where they were able to recover my files, thankfully. He turned in my grades for me. (He taught English in grad school also, so he had experience with that.)
I ended up in the hospital, and I haven’t been able to function in the same way I did pre-Breakdown, ever since. And I hate it. But I’ve accepted it. Or maybe I’m just used to it.
Photo credit: dierk schaefer via Visual Hunt / CC BY