Episode 4: Work Smarter, Not Harder

Episode 4: Work Smarter, Not Harder
Season 1

 
 
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Kristen talks to a residence life professional from Canada in this episode where we discuss the issues with asking our higher education staff to work harder instead of working smarter. Listen in to learn more about their story, including how they first discovered their depression through physical symptoms and with the diagnosis of their primary care physician, and how they learned to care for themselves by recognizing the limits on their energy.

 

Show Notes:

Episode 3: Discovering It’s Depression

Episode 3: Discovering It’s Depression
Season 1

 
 
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In this episode, Kristen talks with Gavin Henning about his experience with depression – including the long journey to discovering that the problem for him was actually depression. Gavin discusses his career in higher education from hall director to faculty. He also discusses how, despite his experience with depression, he’s been able to hold such positions as the president of both College Student Educators International (ACPA) and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS). He shares with us his experience trying to cope with his depression with alcohol abuse. Give this episode a listen to find out more about Gavin’s path in higher ed with depression.

 

Show Notes:

Episode 2: Anxiety as a Man of Color

Episode 2: Anxiety as a Man of Color
Season 1

 
 
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In this episode, I talk with Sylvester Gaskin, who has written for us before at The Committed Project about his anxiety, his supportive partner, and his experience at conferences. We talk about having anxiety as a man of color, how our partners and network make all the difference in providing us the support we need, and what the positive aspects of having anxiety in higher ed can be. Sylvester also talks about why it’s so important that he not only share his story, but that he attach his name to it, as well, so that other young professionals of color can see that there is someone like them, and if he can do it, so can they.

I’m not gonna lie to you here – this one made me tear up a little. So grab your tissues and take a listen to our next episode.

 

Show Notes:

 

Show Transcript (PDF)

Episode 1: Counselors Have Depression, Too

Episode 1: Counselors Have Depression, Too
Season 1

 
 
00:00 / 27:38
 
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In our first full episode, I get a chance to talk to a woman who is a Ph.D. student in counseling and experiences depression. Throughout her life, doctors have diagnosed her with a number of different illnesses, but as she has gotten older, they have begun to recognize that depression is the correct diagnosis. Continue reading

The Committed Podcast Intro

The Committed Podcast Intro
Season 1

 
 
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A few months ago, a good friend of The Committed Project, Laura Pasquini, suggested to me (Kristen) that I listen to a podcast called Sincerely, X. This podcast told stories from anonymous contributors around many controversial subjects and allowed them to share their perspective and their ideas with how to make things better for everyone. Laura asked me, what if you did something similar with Committed? Continue reading

Conference-Fueled Anxiety

One of the most challenging parts of being a higher education professional with mental illness is conferences. There is nothing like taking us out of our comfort zone and putting us in a foreign situation with strangers to create that conference-fueled anxiety. Sylvester shares his recent experience fighting the anxiety dragon at a conference. 

Anxiety sets in

I could feel the panic attack coming before I even got into the van. I was already dreading going to this conference. Knowing that I wasn’t going to be at 100% made me feel even worse. I told my partner that I would rather feign an illness and stay home. She understood, but she encouraged me to have fun and enjoy the experience as best as I could. So I went to work, corralled my students and got in the conference-bound van. Continue reading

About the Author

Sylvester Gaskin is just a simple brother trying to live with his anxiety.

Having Mental Illness…Can Be Good?

In this closing post for Mental Health Awareness Month, Kristen reflects on what she’s learned during a month of posts by people she knows. And in that time, she discovers that having mental illness isn’t always a bad thing.  Continue reading

About the Author

Kristen Abell is one of the two co-founders of The Committed Project and is our Executive Director of Awareness and Advocacy. Kristen blogs frequently about the issue of mental illness, especially her depression, and this month The Committed Project featured her story during Mental Health Awareness Month. She is extremely relieved that this microscopic look at her life is over. She’ll continue fighting the stigma around mental illness in higher education as long as she can.

My Mom Has Depression

Aedan is Kristen’s 11-year-old son. He has known that his mom has depression for the past three years – ever since a particularly bad episode almost ended her in the hospital. Since then, he has had multiple discussions with both his mom and his dad about mental illness. His dad interviewed him recently about his thoughts on mental illness for this video.

Kristen in glasses smiling with Aedan in blue t-shirt, also smiling. Aedan's mom has depression - he talks about it in the video in this post

My Mom Has Depression

Kristen has written about her relationship with Aedan before and how mental illness plays a role. Read Kristen’s letter to Aedan about her depression.

Resources for talking to kids about mental illness

Talking to Kids About Mental Illness – American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Should You Tell Your Kids About Your Mental Illness – PsychCentral

How to Talk to Kids and Teens About Mental Illness – U.S. News & World Report

About the Author

Aedan is one kick-ass kid. Seriously, not only does he understand mental illness and depression, he loves Harry Potter, Minecraft, and riding his Y-Fliker around the neighborhood. He also doesn’t like haircuts, just finished fifth grade, and would want you to know that he’s working on having his own awesome YouTube channel – as soon as he figures out all the technical stuff. He is loved dearly by both his mom and dad, and he’s just a good human being.

Using Depression for Empowerment

Sean and Kristen have been together for over fifteen years, and married for most of it. There is no one who has more insight to Kristen’s depression (besides maybe Kristen herself) than Sean. In the past few years, though, he’s seen a different side to the illness – he’s seen her using depression for empowerment. 

Sean makes kissy face at Kristen, who he believes is using depression for empowerment

Down in the valleys

For much of my relationship with my partner, I was able to see bouts of visible struggles with her mental illness. These were, for the most part, fleeting. They would come at periods of high stress, or sometimes even seasonally. There would be a period of adjustment, sometimes even a struggle to cope, and then Kristen would adjust and move on.

Some periods were more difficult than others. Sometimes Kristen could see the valleys approaching, and sometimes I helped her take stock of where she was at. In all of this, my partner found a way to pull through it. Again, some episodes were easier to manage than others, but she always managed to find her path forward. Even in some of her darker times, I always admired her ability to keep pushing. She was resilient. She found a way.

Turning the darkness into light

I think that resilience helped to change her relationship with her depression. Looking back, it seems like one day she decided she had enough of dealing with depression on her own. She made some amazing connections and met new friends who brought strength to her struggles with mental illness.

To me, it kind-of seems like she just decided to face her depression head on. She was no longer finding a path through a dark time. Instead, she decided to turn around and bring some light to others.

Using depression for empowerment

Now, it seems like Kristen has some command over her depression. I compare it to the way that announcers talk about a pitcher having command over his or her fastball. I think Kristen has been able to exert a similar control. By turning around and facing her depression, she has empowered herself and many others to talk about mental illness more openly. She is using her depression for empowerment.

The number of people I’ve seen reach out to her to talk about their own struggles or struggles with their family members is amazing. Depression will always be a part of Kristen’s personality. It’s part of who she is. But instead of just finding peace and adjusting, she is using that relationship with depression to empower herself and educate others. Kristen knows there will be tough times, but I think the resources she has created for herself and others are something truly special.

About the Author

Y’all, Sean Grube is the bomb-diggity. He is a director of housing by day, and an amazing and loving and supportive partner and father by night and day. He goes to all the Boy Scouts stuff with his son so his partner doesn’t have to, and he does all the cooking, so he’s pretty much your dream guy. Most importantly, if he didn’t support his partner as well as he does, she would have a much, much more difficult time getting through those valleys. He is her heart.

Creativity and Mental Illness

Supervising someone with mental illness can have unique challenges, but there can also be positives. Find out more from Kristen’s boss, Alia, about what happens when creativity and mental illness combine in the workplace.

What it means to be creative

I have a theory about creative people.

But first I should clarify. When I say creative people, I’m not distinguishing them by skill or talent. I’m talking about their motivation, their creative drive. Everyone has the ability to be creative on some level. But some people are more naturally inclined to tap into their imagination than others.

The people I’m talking about, though, are not just inherently imaginative. They are driven – regardless of actual talent – by a restless need to make sense of the world. They do this by interpreting it and reframing it over and over again in various ways.

The vulnerability of creating

We—because yes, I count myself among those both cursed and blessed by this creative imperative—tend to be more sensitive than other people. We’re more sensitive because the act of creation requires an openness to our senses, our subconscious thoughts and our instincts. Being open in this way can make us vulnerable, and we are constantly left exposed and raw by our endless need to create.

On top of this, any attempt to share our creations brings with it the certainty of judgment. People will respond to whatever we made and have opinions about it—both good and bad. If they are particularly astute, they might also learn something about us from our work. Sometimes it is something we didn’t even realize we had exposed.

When creativity and mental illness meet

My closest friends share my creative impulses, and I have worked with many creatives in my career who also fall into this category. We have a lot in common, but the commonality that is most striking to me is that so many of us also suffer from one or more mental illnesses. I couldn’t say if the vulnerability of the creative process actually puts us at a higher risk of developing a mental illness. Maybe creativity makes us more in tune with ourselves and more aware of the imbalances that already exist in our minds as a consequence. Or perhaps it’s merely an odd correlation that has nothing to do with causation at all. Whatever it is, creativity and mental illness appear together often.

I said at the beginning that I have a theory, but I suppose theorizing is probably better left to someone who is more adept at science than me. All I can speak to is the pattern I have observed. And as a supervisor of a group of creatives, I have seen this pattern continue. Mental illness is a factor for many of the people on my team, and I can’t afford to ignore the impact these illnesses have on our daily work. I’m lucky in that I have some expert support in this area.

Having an employee who is “out” with her illness

I have known Kristen Abell for nearly a decade now. We have been friends and colleagues in various contexts over the years, and I currently have the privilege of being her supervisor. While I don’t recall when we first started talking about our experiences with mental illness, we have had many conversations about the subject over the years. I am someone who struggles with anxiety and depression and has also supported family members with similar illnesses. I can tell you first-hand how wonderfully reassuring it is to be able to talk to someone who understands what it’s like. It’s especially important in a society that is so dismissive of these issues.

Kristen has always been open about her experiences. That openness fosters honest discussions and removes stigma. Of course, not everyone is as comfortable sharing their experiences as she is. But if even one person is willing to speak up, everyone else feels more accepted.

The co-worker relationship

Many people on our team seek Kristen out when they are struggling. They ask for advice or merely share their own feelings without fear of judgment. She has inspired me and others on our team to be more open about our own experiences. Her openness has made us more aware of the impact of mental illness in general.

This open dialogue leads to understanding when someone needs to take a mental health day. Sometimes it provides encouragement when people ask to work from home. And it can push them to flex their schedule because they find it difficult to focus on certain tasks in the disruptive office environment.

We must talk about mental illness at work

In my experience, most people want to do their best work all the time. Often, however, factors like mental illness can get in the way of their good intentions. The more open we can be about hearing their challenges and working together to solve them, the more likely we will be to succeed in removing the barriers in their work.

But because mental illness is so often invisible, sometimes being open to listening is not enough. If we are feeling brave enough, we should follow Kristen’s example and share our own experiences. This way, other people will know that we take their concerns seriously. They will understand that we will welcome a conversation about their struggles.

And while I work mainly with creative people, I believe that this is a truth that applies to everyone. It’s not just us quirky creatives.

About the Author

Alia Herrman is the Director of Creative Services at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and manages to keep Kristen in line…most of the time. In her spare time she is a writer of sci-fi/fantasy literature, so she and Kristen bond over their love of writing, as well as all things geek.