September 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
Amidst the clutter on my dining room table sit two hard copies of my dissertation. They are printed and cerlox-bound with transparent covers. These are my copies of the dissertation that I submitted last Friday to the department of graduate and post-doctoral studies. These are my personal copies, one to keep for the defence, the other to lend out to interested friends who actually have the patience to read it.
I expected, after seven years of labor, to feel proud of this accomplishment. Instead, to my dismay, I feel shame. I feel so embarrassed that it took me so long. That I continued working in an abusive relationship even as I watched others leave my toxic ex-supervisor. That I protected ex-supervisor from the critical comments of others even as I was being subjected to ex-supervisor’s manipulations. In fact, I can see now, that my protective comments were part of the whole web of emotional, psychological and mental abuse perpetrated by ex-supervisor.
I have announced to family and friends that I have achieved this milestone and they are reasonably happy for me. They await the invitation to attend a celebratory party with me, to participate in the glory of getting to the end of my graduate program. They would be dismayed to hear how I actually feel. That I want to cry, that I almost lost my marriage, that I almost lost my house, that I came so close to declaring bankruptcy, that I feel depressed, that I have been having panic attacks.
Here is the ironic twist to this horrible tale. The day before I submitted my dissertation for external examination preparatory to booking my defence I visited my department. There was a delay getting the printed copies from the copy shop but I could still pick up the paperwork that needed to be submitted with it. I checked in with my graduate secretary, my department manager, the department head, my new supervisor, and my new committee member. It was very nice to see them and know that they all have my back, that they all want me to get through.
I expressed my concern that my ex-supervisor, who is now barred from any communication with me or my committee members or even the graduate department regarding my case, would be allowed to attend my defence. I was worried that ex-supervisor’s presence in the audience would cause me emotional and mental distress that would impinge on my defence performance. My new supervisor did not think this would be a problem because the defence itself would be tightly programmed and there wouldn’t be an opportunity for any disruption from my ex-supervisor. My new supervisor could not grasp how upsetting it would be to have ex-supervisor in the room.
However, new supervisor had been told, unofficially, by the committee member who had replaced ex-supervisor, that ex-supervisor would not be allowed to attend. I next visited my new committee member and he assured me that ex-supervisor would not be allowed to attend the defence and that I don’t have to worry on that account any further. This was deeply reassuring, and I felt a mass of anxiety evaporate. I could now focus solely on my defence and not worry about whether I would have to contend with disruption from ex-supervisor.
In the aftermath of these momentous occasions, I am left observing my own reactions to changing conditions. I observe how concerned I was that ex-supervisor would attend my defence. I observe the shame I feel as I contemplate the documents on my dining room table. I observe the depression I am coping with in the aftermath of the relief that I am actually going to get out of this graduate program (with a degree). With these observations I deduce the depth of damage I sustained under the abusive tutelage of my ex-supervisor. I infer the magnitude of injury to my health and well-being. I realize I must take steps to recover from the injustice, the threat, and the unrelenting obstruction (in the form of belittling, invalidating, stonewalling, obfuscating, threatening behaviours) received from my ex-supervisor. I realize I must recover from my sincere efforts, in the continuing face of irrefutable evidence that ex-supervisor would never let me graduate, to try to win approval, to appease ex-supervisor’s criticism.
Today is Sunday, and I am going to clean my house, walk my dog, kiss my husband, and prepare for the week ahead. I am also going to work on developing my own program of recovery, so that I can make sense of what I have endured, ascribe meaning to the significance of these copies of the dissertation sitting on my table, and rightfully feel proud that I endured and I prevailed.
June 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
I have been listening to the Mental Illness Happy Hour whenever I have my ear buds on. It has been helping me to make sense of my experience, of the decisions I am making about family contact, and about how to approach my own mental health challenges. I have been drawing comfort from the conversations and the difficult topics that get covered in each episode. One of the most important developments I have drawn from the podcast is a new understanding of my portrait practice.
I draw and paint portraits. My practice has been interrupted by the dissertation writing, but it is never far from my mind. Once the dissertation is done I intend to get back to work, this time with renewed vigour. Although I felt compelled to work with portraits as multiple instances of images, I hadn’t figured out an underlying meaning to the compulsion.
When I draw or paint a portrait, I cannot do just one portrait to stand as a representation of that individual. I have to do 12 portraits, of different points of view and different focus of the sitter. On top of that, I have also been fascinated with making blind contour studies of the portraits, which make for very interesting psychological portraits. I used to be a little disturbed by my attraction to this style of drawing and painting portraits, now I see them as the representation of that which is not on the surface, that which is the reality of an internal life. Whatever we may interpret as we look at those distorted shapes, lines and images, we are also interpreting something of ourselves, our own internal condition shows itself as we make meaning of these strange images.