Thursday, November 30, 2006

Good news, bad news

The good news is that my rabbi, friends, and the adjuncts are staunchly behind me. Nechama held me in the student lounge as I cried, and Alona spoke with me several times despite being at work, at the doctor's office, and at the pharmacy. Little Marty came over with flowers: yellow roses for friendship, and the light-purple roses called Sterling Silver that I love so much -- I cultivated a bush of them when I was a teenager.

The bad news is that the faculty has discovered this blog -- of course, they won't tell me who ratted me out -- and analyzed it. Without saying too much, they believe I have a problem with anger over "trivial slights" (apparently "several" students have complained to them about my anger -- but of course I can't ask those accusers what angry outbursts they're referring to since they, too, are being held anonymous), shaky boundaries, and grievous ethics violation by testing people I know after the people I didn't know stood me up, and Dr. Jerk refused to let me ask other classmates for people to test. "You should have come to us," said Dr. Dragon. After the way you reacted to my post-colloquium honesty? Which of us has the mental illness???

But because they believe I am in tremendous pain -- ya think?! it's just a little bipolar disorder and a steady campaign of harassment! -- they offered me a compromise: I could withdraw this semester, go on academic probation next semester (and not attend classes), and be re-evaluated after that time. Currently, they think my anger problem and loose boundaries disqualify me from treating patients. Apparently either I'll yell at my patients or try to sleep with them.

I'm not sure how to deal with this. I have to talk to my rabbi, who despite a horrible cold and a child undergoing a medical procedure still mustered a lot of indignation at the way I'm being treated by the faculty. I'm going to seek his counsel, because I know he cares about me and believes in me.

I think, after discussing with friends, that I'm going to tell them I want to take incompletes in Dr. Jerk's classes, and finish the other three classes. I'll have a talk with Dr. A about the kind of grade I deserve in his class, based on my appropriate classroom performance, my homework assignments, and my midterm.

If the schools I apply to ask why I have incompletes in two courses, I'll say that I sustained an injury late in the semester and asked for more time to complete my assignments. Three professors were reasonable, one refused, and that's why I have incompletes in his classes.

Unfortunately, I've had to limit access to this blog to people I select -- i.e., no nosy professors or obsequious students always ready to turn on me. I hope that enough loyal readers who can't read this will try to email me at helpfordepression@gmail.com.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

D-Day

Only a few hours until I have to face the music. My heart is pounding. I'm going to take two tranquilizers half an hour before the meeting. I think even those who think I over-rely on tranks will cut me some slack this once.

Nechama comforted me yesterday at school. While she doesn't think the 4-on-1 meeting (aka educational gang-rape) is going to be pleasant, she doesn't think they're going to tell me I can't come back next semester. More likely, they're going to say that I'm doing better but I'm not there yet, and they're going to keep a close watch on me next semester to see if I can come back for the second year.

Radhika, another second-year who was sort of eavesdropping (Nechama and I were in the student lounge, and while we were on the lookout for evil faculty, we knew and trusted the students sitting close to us, Radhika and Ada), spoke up to offer advice and support. She told me that a friend of hers in the program survived a long, unpleasant meeting with Dr. Jerk by nodding, taking notes, appearing to take in everything he said -- and disregarding it as soon as she left his office. It was good to hear that I'm not the only student he tortures, and that the other students he torments are equally innocent.

My friend Yasmina rode the subway home with me and comforted me -- ever the optimist, she thinks the faculty wants to effect a reconciliation between me and Dr. Jerk, especially considering the positive interactions he and I have had these past two weeks. Tanessa called later that night and also expressed her support.

I also got a wonderful statement from Dr. CT:

Ayelet Survivor's performance in my Introduction to Cognitive Therapy class has been consistently enthusiastic, insightful, and candid. She routinely contributes informative comments on the class readings and lectures and often relates esoteric theoretical concepts to real-world and personal examples. Ayelet is humorous, collaborative, and appears generally interested in the material. She performed excellently on both assignments (A, Midterm Examination and A-, Case Conceptualization) and appears poised to garner a similar grade in the class.

She went out of her way to reassure me last night that I wasn't asking too much in requesting this statement, and volunteered to call Dr. Dragon and Dr. Octopussy to get a better sense of their problem with me. She has been truly wonderful.

I'm going to bring her statement into the meeting so that when I ask if Dr. Freud has reached out to the adjuncts for their opinion, I'll have something to point to. Dr. Stats gave me his cell phone number so that he can be called during the meeting to give his 2 cents and support. He has also been really wonderful.

I am truly lucky that the school knows how to pick good adjuncts, if not good tenured faculty. I would not be able to cope without their support, and without the support of my fellow students and friends.

The thing is, the faculty can't throw me out because they think I have loose boundaries. I haven't plagiarized. I'm doing well in all my classes, even Dr. Jerk's. My classroom demeanor is not flagrantly inappropriate, and I've only missed a few classes -- I'm not chronically late and I don't skip tons of classes. I don't chitter-chatter throughout class, unlike several of my fellow students.

They have no grounds for terminating me, and if they do, I'll not only file suit in civil court, I'll go to the American Psychological Association and the university administration and give them an exhaustively detailed report of how the faculty has abused me and ruined my career.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Why did I tell my mother about my blog?

I got a wonderful phone call last night from my dear friend Alona. She's part of my essential support network, which helps me monitor my behavior and cope with my illness and my life, and a loyal reader. Every time she calls me, and I start to tell her what's going on, she says, "I know -- I read your blog and I wanted to see how you were doing."

She and her husband, a lawyer, think it's possible -- just possible -- that the faculty is meeting with me to clear the air and tell me all is forgiven. Maybe they want to create a reconciliation between Dr. Jerk and me.

If not, her husband definitely thinks I have a lawsuit on my hands.

But they don't agree with the petition idea. They think that the entire school doesn't need to know why I'm leaving, if I leave, or how poorly the faculty has treated me. Alona went through a similar crucifixion at her last job, where the higher-ups treated her horrendously and unjustly. She didn't spread word among the staff about what they did to her; she found another job and left with her head held high.

So the petition's out. Even though Little Marty thinks I have nothing to lose, I can't employ the petition on the off chance that the faculty wants to reconcile, not pillory me. Because then the other students would know that I went through this.

Then I got a not so wonderful call from my mother. I love her dearly, but I can't talk to her about many things, because I get so exasperated. She just doesn't understand how I feel and react to things. So listening to her, even though her intentions are the best, can be very painful. I feel like she's constantly second-guessing me, telling me how to think and feel -- and the way I think and feel is very much influenced by my illness. Not having this illness, and not being a psychiatrist or psychologist, she doesn't understand my reactions and is always telling me how I should react. I hate that.

I refused to talk to her -- when I feel bad enough, I exercise my option to hang up the phone -- so she sent me an e-mail:

It's understandable that you are concerned about the meeting. But a follow-up meeting was to be scheduled, and now it has been. Do see whether Dr. Roda can see you before the meeting. Use the cognitive therapy techniques that you learned at the Ellis Institute to get into a frame of mind that does not see the worst possible outcome.

I do not think that a petition signed by students is a good idea. Escalating things is not a good idea, especially since you don't know what is on the faculty's agenda.

This program selected you. It is in their interest to see that their candidates succeed. The faculty do not want to think that they made a mistake in accepting a student into their program.

So Dr. Jerk is a jerk. There are many in this world. And the whole world does not have to like or respect you. You can thrive without their love or respect. Just get through this, and then you'll have options. But don't go in with your guns blazing. That's not a winning position. See that things are deescalated and that it turns into a win-win situation. Then if you want, you can get out of there.

Love, Mom

Hm. She has a point. I prefer reading her emails to talking with her on the phone; she can present her arguments, I don't have an emotional reaction while reading them -- and I almost always get emotional when we talk on the phone about stuff that's bothering me and how she thinks I should react to it -- and I can take or leave what she has to say.

If she had told me on the phone not to go in with "guns blazing," I would have probably gotten very angry. Of course I'm going in to the meeting calmly and not antagonistically! Does she think I'm a toddler? But all the meetings I've had with the faculty have been horrible; they lobbed personal attacks and severe judgments at me -- all of them unjustified -- and I had to sit there and absorb the abuse. That is NOT going to happen tomorrow. I'm going in with a prepared statement, and if I need it, I'll use it.

My good buddy Boaz also shot me a note:

I'm sorry that you have to go into that meeting -- but in all honesty, what can they say? That you've proven more than capable of doing well on your exams, you're completing your coursework with alacrity, and you've missed one lab? Big fucking deal. I would almost take the offensive, here. They have to give you solid, specific feedback and information, not vague feelings and characterizations. This isn't about you as a person -- it's about you as a student, and their judgments can't deviate very far from the facts on paper.

Maybe I'm just being righteously indignant on your behalf and I don't know anything. That's more likely.

No, I think he's right. And that's the attitude I need to adopt. That I deserve concrete evidence of my malfeasance before they kick me out.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why I was fated to meet Little Marty

Little Marty just called and helped talk me down off the ledge. He suggested that I create some supporting documents with which to arm myself when I walk into that meeting on Thursday: a petition for my classmates to sign, and a statement from the adjunct professors affirming that my classroom demeanor is appropriate and enriching, and I am fit to be a student in this program.

The petition states:

We the class of 2011 believe that Ayelet Survivor is an asset to the program. Her class participation enhances our educational experience, and our time at [this school] would be diminished by her absence.

I wonder how many of the other students will sign it.

And I also wrote a statement to bring into that meeting in case they give me any last words before terminating me:

I am not the only student to have a problem with Dr. Jerk. His arbitrary and entirely unfair grading “style” has caused tremendous discontent among most of my classmates. A former student who graduated from this program confirmed for me that Dr. Jerk has had this kind of attitude -- i.e., demeaning and belittling older female students -- for decades.

I have done nothing to merit this contemptuous treatment. On the first day of class, I asked him a reasonable question concerning my lab schedule, and he responded, with a snarl, "It shouldn't be a problem -- email me if it is!" He has been exceedingly rude and antipathetic to me ever since, belittling my classroom contributions and overreacting harshly when I was once late to class.

I asked him for reasonable accommodation concerning my knee injury and the difficulty my labmates had in providing me with people to assess. He told me that my injury could not possibly be very bad, since he saw me coming to class three days a week, and if I was really in so much pain, that I should take a leave of absence and withdraw from the semester. Such behavior is not only extremely unprofessional -- it constitutes harassment, and it is illegal. Moreover, his contention that other students sigh and roll their eyes when I contribute in class is a lie. None of the students I have asked have ever noticed such a phenomenon, and neither have the adjunct professors whose courses I take witnessed such adolescent behavior when I am speaking.

This has not been a just proceeding. This has been a witch hunt. Your personal attacks on me, my boundaries, and my behavior have been hurtful and entirely unjustified. When Dr. Dragon asked me if there was anything she could do after the colloquium on cognitive therapy, I responded honestly that I was afraid my insurance would not cover my medical expenses -- as indeed it has not. For her to take umbrage and accuse me of being sharp and disrespectful was ridiculous. I was in an emotional state, I had just stopped crying, and I responded honestly; unfortunately, I was not able to be as polite as she would have liked. Her callousness is truly appalling, considering the profession she has chosen and the position of responsibility and control she holds over so many students.

At our last meeting Dr. Freud asked me what he could do to help, and I asked him to contact the adjunct professors to get their opinion of my classroom demeanor and effect on other students. He has failed to do that. Perhaps he never intended to attempt to verify Dr. Jerk’s accusations, or perhaps he was, upon reflection, unwilling to make time to help out a student for whom he is supposed to serve as adviser. Either way, his conduct is shameful and extremely unprofessional.

I do not intend to bow my head in shame and slink out of here like a criminal when I have done nothing wrong. Your actions have been documented meticulously, and you will be held to account for everything you have done. I plan to speak with the university administration and contact my lawyer as soon as possible. You have no valid grounds for terminating me as a student, and if you dismiss me out of hand, you will effectively destroy my career prospects, because I will not be able to get into any other doctoral program.

If you wish to negotiate my leaving here on my terms, I am open to that -- provided my lawyer is part of the negotiation.

So Little Marty has served his purpose, as far as I am concerned. I don't have to wonder why I had to meet him at the wrong time to fall in love with and marry him. If this is the only thing he ever did or does for me -- dayenu.

It helped, a little. At least I don't feel completely helpless and defenseless. But if I get kicked out of this program, I don't know how I'll ever get into another one. It would completely torpedo my career.

I spent so long wandering through job after job, unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Getting into a doctoral program was a dream come true, and I worked so hard to get there. And I deserve to be there, damnit! I'm smart, I'm compassionate, and I'm good at this. I can't believe a single person can destroy my dreams out of capricious spite.

I don't know what I'll do if I can't enroll in another program. I'll be back to the existential angst that marred most of my twenties, when I had no idea what I would be when I grew up.

Much of life involves coping adaptively with uncertainty. I'm going to try to stay optimistic and believe that they're not going to kick me out. And if they do -- well, I won't go quietly.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Just when I thought it was safe to go back to school...

Just when I was starting to get my appetite back, just when I was starting to feel almost safe at school, I got another lovely little note from Dr. Octopussy, deputy director of the program:

Hi Ayelet,

Dr. Dragon, myself [sic.], Dr. Freud and Dr. Jerk would like to meet with you this Thursday to follow up on our last meeting and discuss your progress in the program. Please confirm that you have received this and can be there.

I wrote back:

I'm available and will be there. Where is the meeting?

Trying to act as though the prospect does not strike terror into my heart.

Why aren't I allowed an advocate, someone who's on my side? Dr. Freud, nominally my adviser, obviously does not have my best interest at heart. There is no ombudsman I can appeal to, although my rabbi did leave a message for somebody relatively high up at the university my psychology program belongs to. I have to call him tomorrow and ask him both about the recommendation he's supposed to write me and the person he contacted. There must be somebody in this godawful place who can defend my rights.

It's so wrong and so unfair. I was working hard, I was a good student, and not everyone hated me. I wrote Dr. Dragon, that bitch, a letter of abject apology. But because Dr. Jerk was allowed to tell vicious lies about me in faculty meeting, I'm in peril. And Dr. Freud never contacted the adjuncts to get another opinion.

I guess the worst thing they can do is tell me that I'm not coming back next semester. Which would be awful and unfair, but I would survive. I guess that would give me a lot more time to study for the GRE -- and if other schools ask why I didn't return for the second semester, I could tell them, honestly, that I didn't think the educational experience my shitty-ass school provides was worth the money I paid for it.

(I might leave out the term "shitty-ass.")
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, November 27, 2006

I take refuge in bad poetry

When I was a teenager, I frequently suffered from unrequited love (apparently because I was intimidating any potential love interests). I used to write reams of poetry about it all.

Last night I couldn't concentrate, couldn't focus enough to read a journal article or work on my statistics final project. So I wrote a poem about my Little Marty liaison instead. Today, I finished grading a bunch of papers for a former professor, but somehow I still can't pick up the reading I'm supposed to do for tomorrow. So I decided to post the poem here. (It still lacks a title; suggestions from the audience will be considered.)

Can’t sit still, my heart, my mind
Are restless as my feet.
Every inch of me is on alert, remembering
What it felt like when you touched me, how much I needed that.

Are you thinking of me as painfully
As I’m thinking of you?
Do your cold hands miss my warm body, does your mouth
Bend to grasp mine, and not find it?

I thought, I thought, I would not fall,
I would keep a grip on my senses.
I thought you would not tremble my equilibrium.
It seems I’ve been mistaken.

This happens to me, this happens too much, too much.
Always I find myself in
The right arms at the wrong time.
You could love me. You choose not to.

Eesh. I promise not to inflict too many more poems of this ilk on you, dear readers. But what good is a poem if nobody reads it?
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I have to believe

Went to brunch with Bina and Asher, who were in town for the holiday, and some other friends. Some married, some not. I was sad to learn that one of them had just broken up with her boyfriend -- they looked so happy at Bina's wedding, I was certain they were next. She's getting a master's in psychology and was appalled to hear about the treatment I'm receiving at school.

I encouraged her to date men as young as she possibly can -- after I broke up with my last serious boyfriend, G.I. Josh (I'll call him that because he was extremely fond of knives, guns, war video games, and warlike fantasy games like D&D), I went out with a boy nine years my junior (and made out with him) BECAUSE I COULD. Bragging rights. No future, no prospect -- just the intoxicating feeling that a very young guy couldn't get enough of me. That's why I'm still considering the 25yo as a romantic prospect -- even though we never seem to progress from IMs to Starbucks coffee date.

Bina is really happy, and so is Asher. It's beautiful to see, because they're both older than I am. So there is hope for me -- I have to believe that. I can't end up like that poor woman with the 10 cans of dog food and box of day-old danish.

I also spent some time today with my friend Chaya. She is convinced that the right guy is out there for me -- even thinks that Little Marty could come around. (I don't share her optimism there, but theoretically anything is possible.)

She wants me to believe, and honestly, I have nothing to lose by believing. Optimists, as I've mentioned, are healthier than pessimists -- even when they're wrong. People who perceive they have ample social support, even if they don't have it, do just as well as people who perceive and actually have social support -- and do better than people who have social support and don't make use of it.

I need to reach out to as many people as possible to feel validated. I can't rely on Little Marty's here today, gone tomorrow love. I need to spend as much time as I can with my nieces and nephews, and with Tikva. Because by caring for other people's children, I am preparing to care for my own. And I will have my own. I need to believe that.

Tonight, while searching for stamps in my phenomenally messy home -- I need to mail one application before December 13 -- I also unearthed a letter that RD-SOB wrote me about two years ago:

Ayelet, I don't know if this helps or hurts but you should know that your absence is not easy for me. I don't know if I'll ever meet anyone as similar to me as you are. But I do know that I'm not ready for an LTR/marriage right now.

I wish we could still be friends in the meanwhile, as I believe we're both lonely now and could use a friend to confide in. You will always be on my mind.

Phooey. What an idiot, is the thought that strikes me. If I'm perfect for you, then get over your stupid attitude and grab me! Love me, marry me! I will not make you miserable the way your first wife did, and I'm the best stepmother your children could ever have.

Why do I always find myself in these situations? Why did I even bother getting to know Little Marty -- why didn't I run the minute I found out that the ink on his get isn't quite dry?
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Stolen fragments of happiness

Had a splendid Thanksgiving with the siblings and nieces and nephews. Jerusha and I resolved the tension that's been burning between us, to the delight of her daughters. She even offered to pay for a GRE course so I can do better on the exam for my re-applications.

And I planned to cap off a great day with an evening of fun with Little Marty.

The evening turned into Black Friday (although all we shopped for was groceries), Shabbos, Saturday night, and breakfast Sunday morning. Don't know when I'm going to get my schoolwork done, and I'm so demoralized by the faculty that I almost don't care. I'm not going to excel in Dr. Jerk's classes -- so I might as well just do the minimum and eke out a passing grade. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to focus and hit the books again -- there are barely 3 weeks left in the semester.

But I clung to this weekend with Little Marty because I felt like I've got a limited amount of time left in which I'm young and pretty enough to garner some male attention. I no longer really believe I'll fall in love and get married. If it happens, I'll certainly be prepared, and appreciative. But I don't really believe it will happen. So I've got to take what happiness I can find, wherever I can find it. Even in the arms of a man who can only love me for a night or three, not for a lifetime.

I've held off describing my sexual activity on this blog, largely out of respect for my many friends who read it. But I also need to be honest. As a single woman in my thirties, I need sex. I am flesh and blood, and it's unnatural for me to be chaste. So I'm not.

Maybe that makes me a worse Jew, or a hypocrite; I don't know. I think it's best to try to adhere to as many mitzvot as I can, rather than chucking the lot -- not keeping kosher, not keeping Shabbos, not keeping anything. I am doing the best I can with an intolerable situation. I need closeness, I need touch.

And Little Marty can deliver all that in spades.

What he can't deliver is any kind of a future. This I know, and rue. He just is not ready to settle down again; he married too young the first time, and needs to sow some wild oats. That is the only role I can play in his life -- not wife, not even girlfriend. He can't give me that right now, and by the time he's ready for it, he'll probably want a much younger woman (he's four years younger than I am, and not as constrained by a biological clock).

So I have to steal what fragments of happiness come my way with Little Marty. And as fragments go, they're plentiful. It's been a long time since I spent an entire Shabbat with someone; usually I go somewhere for meals but return home to a lonely bed. It wasn't just sex; we played board and card games, we looked at pictures from his adorable youth and childhood. Saturday night we saw Borat, which surpassed all expectations for me; I thought it was the most hilarious 87 minutes I've spent in a movie theater ever. I laughed harder than I've laughed in months -- this after getting DSL and downloading plenty of Ali G and Mind of Mencia naughty bits.

I tried to do what my classmate Little Buddha would recommend and just stay in the present. Just shop for groceries with Marty; don't focus on the large, lonely, 40something woman in line ahead of us, who bought 10 cans of dog food, 5 prepared frozen dinners, and a box of day-old pastries. I felt like I was seeing my own future -- ringless, husbandless, overweight, loved only by a pet.

But I didn't let myself dwell in the future. I just watched Marty as we shopped, paid for the groceries, and cooked together. (He did most of the cooking, being a professionally trained chef. I mainly washed dishes and vegetables; occasionally I was allowed to peel something.)

I let him hold me close, I let him nuzzle my neck, I allowed him any number of small intimate liberties. I let him hold my hand walking back from the movie theater -- I didn't reach for his. He reached for me partly because his hand was cold and mine was warm, partly just because.

There was beauty in every moment, and I tried to savor it. To stay in the moment, not think about tomorrow -- not even think of ten minutes from now. Watch him cook, watch him eat, watch his hand move to stroke hair off my face. I was trying to store up memories for the rest of my life.

This is similar and different to my experience with RD-SOB, the other recently divorced man I became entangled with. He wasn't honest with me. He waffled. He wanted me, he didn't want me, back and forth, and I got so bruised and battered, emotionally. He hurt me, time and time again, but only because I let him. I finally saw him for what he was: an embittered man who wanted to kill his ex-wife for ruining his twenties, and due to legal constraints, he could not. He took all that aggression out on me; doesn't take a Freudian to see it.

So I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, with Little Marty. I never thought that my loneliness would feel so much emptier when contrasted with what he gives me, and what he can't give me. I honestly thought I approached this entanglement with a clear head and a strong idea of what I would get out of it. I can't believe how bereft I feel, knowing that for the first night in four days, I'll sleep alone.

I've gone back to a technique I employed with RD-SOB. I visit breakup-songs.com. Before I had DSL, I'd read the lyrics and hear them in my head; now that I've got youtube, I can actually listen to them. I listen to them, and sometimes cry, and the time passes. I know that the more time that passes, the less I'll feel this unrequited ache. I just have to get through it somehow.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, November 23, 2006

What am I thankful for

It's Thanksgiving, and while I'm eager to see my nieces and nephews, I'm not looking forward to once again being the only single girl at the table full of happily marrieds. So I thought that before I subject myself to this experience, I should inoculate myself against any bad feelings by reminding myself what I have to be thankful for.

I'm thankful that the stress at school is not making me depressed.

I'm thankful that the stress at school is making me lose weight.

I'm thankful for the friends who read this blog and check in on me frequently. Their support is crucial to my well-being.

I'm thankful that the adjunct professors are writing me recommendations for my re-applications.

I'm thankful for my nieces, nephews, and friends' children, who bring laughter and love into my lonely life.

I'm thankful for my fine mind, great skin, beautiful hair, and sense of humor.

I'm thankful for my rent-stabilized apartment -- without it, there's no way I'd be able to live in Manhattan.

I'm thankful for the strength I've developed, which allows me to support others.

And I'm thankful to be alive, since there have been many time that I wanted so badly to die, to cease existing and hurting.

There might be a furious post later today, since I'm going to my sister's (biggest house = hosts most often). But maybe not. Maybe I'll just have a pleasant holiday with my family.

And I am Marie of Roumania.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Dr. Jerk lovefest

Or as close as it comes to one. In today's IQ testing class, I had a question about some confusing results I got when I administered the test to Little Marty.

At first Dr. Jerk was not encouraging -- he never is when I have questions. But he was intrigued, despite himself, because the contradictory results required a level of analysis that he wants us to engage in. It provided a good teachable moment. At first he was going to make me figure out the answer myself, but he was so drawn in to the intellectual exercise that he gave me the answer, and then briefly discussed the issue that my question had raised.

I'm always stressed to the max in Dr. Jerk's class; I could barely express the confusing results to him, but I was determined to learn why the results fell out the way they did. He was patient and encouraging, even friendly. It was so anomalous that a few classmates commented afterward -- he's never that nice to me!

(And he wouldn't be so happy to learn that I've been having it off with the person whose fascinating results we discussed. We're not supposed to know our test-takers. Screw that, I say -- I've had it with being stood up by people who don't care if I flunk out of school.)

Unfortunately, he's not being so nice to a classmate of mine, Tanessa. I got a 76 on the midterm -- but she got a 49. She has had to meet with Dr. Jerk several times to discuss this, and he has made her feel incredibly stupid, like she didn't belong in the program.

Which is baloney. She's one of the best people in the class -- sensitive, wise, caring. She already works as a therapist since she has a master's degree. (Dr. Jerk managed to let her know that as far as he was concerned, master's degrees in psychology were bought and paid for -- not earned.)

In our most recent psychopathology class, Dr. Jerk went over the midterm. And Tanessa and I both deserved far better grades than we got.

I've been able to support Tanessa through this stressful time mainly because I know exactly what she's going through. I've lost 15 pounds on the Dr. Jerk diet. Maybe that's why I had to suffer through it -- so I could help her realize that it's not her fault, just as it's not my fault the faculty is trying to crucify me.

I told Tanessa that I'm applying to other programs (with the recommendations of both my adjunct professors), and a panicked look shot across her face. "You can't leave me!" she said. She's not as badly off as I am -- she's only got Dr. Jerk against her, not Drs. Dragon, Octopussy, and Freud as well. But I wouldn't blame her if she wanted to apply elsewhere as well.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, November 20, 2006

Little Marty -- not so big, either

Several of my female friends were much more optimistic about Little Marty than I was. Not all divorced guys are SOBs, they said. Maybe he'll surprise you and be ready for a serious relationship.

Sorry to disappoint all of you -- and I'm the most disappointed of all -- but Little Marty behaved exactly as I expected him to. I tentatively brought up the concept of doing more than just hanging out, and he gently but firmly set me straight. He doesn't know what he's ready for. Even though he missed me terribly over Shabbos, he didn't know if that meant he was ready for a relationship.

Not that he's unfeeling. He's always ready to fall in love with someone, because he believes you can never love too many people or have too many people love you. But marriage? He's in no rush. He also said that while "you're already inside me" emotionally, he's not so sure if we'd be compatible long-term, because he tends to be a very neat and organized person.

Ouch. I've mentioned what a disaster my apartment is; I even told him I didn't want him to see it. Clearly, when he told me "it doesn't matter," he meant, "I don't need to approve of your apartment to make out with you." When it comes to longer-term matters, however, my lack of organization is definitely a drawback in his eyes.

So that's it for Little Marty; I won't be eating any of that Chubby Hubby. I think we'll stay friends, but I am definitely not going to let myself get emotionally drawn into him. If he notices that I'm distancing myself, I'll tell him why: simple self-preservation. And I'm very glad he doesn't know about my illness. I think he'll ultimately be a transient person in my life, and the fewer people who know, the safer my secret.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Friday, November 17, 2006

Mindful students united against Dr. Jerk

It's 3:30 a.m., and I guess terminal insomnia can occur during hypomania (or pre-hypomania) as well as depression. Maybe I'm in a mixed state. That would really suck.

It has been very hot in our classrooms lately -- the building managers haven't noticed that we're having an exceedingly un-November-like November. Near the end of yesterday's guest lecture I had a little trouble sitting still, I was so overheated and eager to ask my questions. Later that night, in class, all of us -- students and professor -- were a little trippy. So I felt like my hypomanic behavior was a little less noticeable amid the general gaiety.

Dr. Roda believes my happy mood is probably due to the romantic encounters with Matt and Marty, although he approved of me stopping the flaxseed oil supplements and we're going to test my lithium levels. As I've mentioned, my mood has been good, maybe too good, even though my stress level hasn't really decreased. I can tell because my appetite has virtually disappeared; I'm not interested in eating most of the day. I force myself to eat meal replacement bars every so often, because if my blood sugar drops too much I get very shaky, but over the past three days, I haven't really eaten much. (Although if I go to someone's home and they offer me appetizing food, I'm happy to eat it. I just don't get very hungry on my own or fix myself much to eat.)

So the stress is still there -- it's just not being expressed cognitively as depression.

I guess I feel that what I'm saving in groceries I can spend on some clothing that actually fits -- since as I've mentioned, I am now too thin for my fat clothes and too fat for my skinny clothes -- or small rewards to myself for doing well on most of my midterms, like a few items of inexpensive jewelry or perfume. So I've been doing a little shopping. But small rewards add up, and I probably need to stop.

I say "most" of my midterms because I got back my psychopathology midterm and I got a 76; according to his curve, that's a B. And it was entirely unjustified. Some people who gave the essentially same answer to a question as I did got more points than I did.

But I wasn't the only person to suffer from Dr. Jerk's arbitrary grading practices. And many of my classmates were angry; in fact, one was awarded a 49. She had to go talk to him -- I do not envy her. Dr. Jerk is not pleasant nice one-on-one. She was afraid that he would tell her she doesn't belong in the program -- but we checked in with second-year Nechama, who said that he was probably just going to tell her how to give him what he wants, not that she doesn't belong.

I spoke with two of my classmates in the lounge (constantly looking over our shoulders to see if Dr. Jerk cometh). It was, as usual, an extremely validating experience. One of them, a Buddhist (I will call him, affectionately, "Little Buddha"), is one of the most grounded, centered, serene people I've ever encountered. When I told him that the faculty thought my boundaries were loose based on my disclosing about my knee injury in colloquium, he was shocked. "I was so glad you shared that with us!" he said. "And I thought the lecturer was glad too -- it gave him such a great opportunity to illustrate his theory."

I just had to hug him. He was also appalled that Dr. Jerk told me I should take a leave of absence to deal with my knee injury, instead of trying to reasonably accommodate me.

I told Little Buddha and the other classmate that we as grad students should make use of one of our greatest assets: each other. Many of us come from interesting backgrounds and have particular expertise in certain areas -- we could learn a lot from one another.

Little Buddha said he's always thought that we should work on ourselves before going out to fix other people, and I agreed. He said that so many people live in the past or the future, and this causes so much needless anxiety and tension. Mindfulness helps us live in the present.

So I said, "Let's start a Mindfulness Club!" I think it would be hilariously psych-geeky to have this sort of club. We could get together over the winter break, and Little Buddha will instruct us in ways to "be here now." (Maybe we could meet at Marty's apartment. It's a nice big one in Queens. When I turned 30 I threw a big party at my then-boyfriend's apartment and served pizza and doughnuts, so I've got precedent. We would just need to borrow some chairs or big pillows to sit on -- or tell everyone to bring a pillow or mat to sit on.) So I'm going to try to drum up some enthusiasm for it and coordinate a meeting.

But the main good thing about talking with the others was the validation. Little Buddha did something that Buddhists generally don't do: he engaged in gossip. He had heard that one year, a group of first-year students angered by Dr. Jerk's arbitrary grading had complained to the dean of students. As a result, Dr. Jerk was forced to take an early sabbatical.

I'd heard this as well, and I also knew that Dr. Jerk's technical title is Associate Professor. He's been at the school for WELL over a decade. The fact that he's not a full professor is telling.

Nevertheless, you have to know when to stop Jerk-bashing. It rained last night, and one of the students who commutes by car gave me and another student a lift to the train station (usually we have to take the bus).

Dr. Jerk's name came up in conversation -- I think the driver wanted to know why he wears several rings on his right hand -- and I said it was because he spends a lot of time in New Mexico and consumes Native American culture, showing yet again that he is cool. We know he is cool, I continued, because he talks about doing yoga (although he's none the serener for it) and playing an instrument (not the accordion) and how much his patients pay for therapy with him.

"I didn't know I was going to ignite a Dr. Jerk-bashing session," said the driver wryly. So I shut up, after noting that my stimulus threshold for engaging in Jerk-bashing was incredibly low.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Put down the flaxseed oil, Ayelet

Whenever I feel happy, I worry. Because the last thing I need, in my chaotic life, is to ascend into hypomania. That is the road to disaster and perdition.

Today we had a guest lecturer on a topic I'm very interested in. I listened to her describe the research she was doing, which had such -- to me -- fascinatingly counterintuitive results. I started imagining myself doing an internship at the institute with which she's affiliated, mining her group's data for my own research purposes. And I'm usually not interested in research; I'm mainly planning to go into clinical practice.

She encouraged us to contact her if we were interested in her work. I emailed her to ask if they hire students as research assistants, and whether I could apply for my second-year externship there. I got so engaged with the material and excited about the possibilities, I began to worry that I'm becoming hypomanic.

Signs are there. My mood has been very labile -- I'm up, I'm down, I'm thrilled, I'm angry. I've been taking more tranquilizers than usual (although NOT to excess).

It could be that for the first time in a long time I'm on the receiving end of a lot of male approval and attention -- even affection -- and that is really boosting my mood.

Or I'm so angry at the treatment I'm receiving at school that I'm overcompensating -- since I refuse to let it get me down, it's paradoxically inflating my mood and making me feel self-righteous and put-upon.

Or I'm taking too many flaxseed oil supplements. Apparently, as another person with bipolar has informed me, flaxseed oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acids -- as opposed to fish oil, which I can't overindulge in as it makes me feverish and lethargic -- is associated with kick-starting a hypomanic episode.

I'm going to speak to my psychiatrist tonight, and we'll talk about everything that's going on. School, men, my sister, and my current moodiness, which is a little unusual even for me. I guess the easiest thing to do would be to stop taking the flaxseed oil -- and if Matt, Marty, and/or the 25yo dump me, I could start taking a small dose again.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Land of confusion

Last night I spoke with both Marty and Matt. And I'm feeling kind of baffled. At this stage in my life, all I want is to meet a guy who's ready to settle down (but not settle), get married, and have kids. Neither of these guys fits that profile; Matt is very unsettled emotionally and in terms of his career, and Marty -- well, I've been down that road on this blog. He may or he may not be ready; I just don't know.

Mick Jagger said that you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need.

Is all I need a little romance? A spark, a connection from as many men as possible? Validation of my beauty and wit, even if the validation doesn't come with a sparkly ring and health insurance?
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I repeat: Not a junkie

Tonight's cognitive therapy class was very painful for me. It was all about depression and the negative cognitions depressed people are prone to experience. Almost every description of how depressed people think and behave aligned with something I did while in a depressive episode. I could have illustrated every concept in tonight's lesson with a personal anecdote.

It was unbelievably painful. I wanted to cry, and I couldn't. I felt naked, raw. All I could do was stare at my desk, and try to focus on writing down everything the professor said so that I could lose the forest in the trees.

At one point, the class discussed, disparagingly, the direct marketing to consumers conducted by the manufacturer of one of my favorite antidepressants, Cymbalta. "Where does depression hurt? Everywhere. Who does depression hurt? Everyone." Yes, it's cornball, and I usually don't approve of direct pharmacological marketing to consumers -- but that's how I learned about Cymbalta, that's why I told my psychiatrist I wanted to try Cymbalta, and I LOVE Cymbalta. It has improved the quality of my life 1000%. It really helped with my lower back pain, and it's probably a major reason why my knee pain is bearable. And I wanted to say that -- and they needed to hear it -- and I couldn't.

But: I did not take a tranquilizer to deal with my negative emotions. I could have. I felt miserable and stressed, and it was agony to keep myself together. (I'm not counting the painkiller I took this damp morning when my knees were aching. The narcotic tramadol is so mild, there's virtually no mood elevation.)

But I sat through the class on depression drug-free -- even after Dr. CT told me she still hasn't heard from my advisor, Dr. Freud, who had promised to contact her and see if her impression of my classroom comportment jived with Dr. Jerk's. Obviously Dr. Freud isn't interested in the adjuncts' opinion of me; Dr. Jerk's is the only opinion that matters. But I didn't run to a chemical pacifier. I stuck it out, uncomfortable and uncomforted.

Today I also found myself thinking more and more about Little Marty. He's excited a bit of comment on this blog, including an email I got from a high-school friend who's become a faithful reader. First she wrote about my former high-school crush, who tracked me down:

I am dying to know if Matt Stein is his real name. For the life of me, I can't remember a Matt Stein, and I don't have a yearbook in town. Drop me a line directly and let me know!

I wrote back to disabuse her of that notion -- every name on here, mine included, is a pseudonym. [If you know Hebrew, you'll understand why I chose specific names for certain people.] She responded:

Thanks for satisfying my curiosity! I bet you intimidated a lot of our classmates in high school. You were/are a lot brighter than the average bear, even in a smart environment like [our award-winning public high school].

As for "Little Marty" -- not all recently divorced people are SOBs! Some of us are at our best right after a divorce, because we have just figured out who we are and what we want out of life. Pay attention to the reasons for the divorce -- does he understand it, or is he still angry? If he is comfortable with himself and where he is in life, let yourself relax and see where things go naturally.

Hm. I'm afraid of letting things go where they will go naturally. That happened with RD-SOB, the man who used and manipulated me in the wake of his divorce. At first he treated me like a queen, then like used bathroom tissue. I don't want to go through that again. I wrote back:

The problem is not that divorced guys are jerks, per se, but that they might not be ready to get back into a serious relationship. Marty got married young and was married for almost 10 years -- I think he has a lot of wild oats to sow. I think he and I are at different stages in life.

So I have to be careful -- because the last thing I need to do at this age is lose my heart to a guy who can't treasure it. He's not angry about the divorce; he's actually pretty happy about it (although he's frustrated with the slow pace of working out the financial arrangements). But I don't think he's ready to settle down again yet.


And yet....

Two things happened today that made me very happy and very scared.

[Mom, Dad, and Ruchama: You might want to stop reading NOW.]

First was that I got some very cute, very naughty text messages from Marty. I'm not a big texter -- I'm a really fast typist, so I find texting awkward and slow -- but I love getting text messages. Especially when they say how hot he is for me. I guess I find that flattering.

So I called him back after class, and he was at the supermarket. "Ben & Jerry's ice cream is on sale," he said. "What flavor do you want me to get?"

"Chubby Hubby," I responded automatically. Then it hit me: I'm supposed to see him this weekend -- he's coming to my apartment so I can give him an IQ test.

"Are you going to bring it with you when you come over to take the test?" I asked.

"Of course not. You're going to have to come here to get it. A little incentive."

So we're presuming that I'm going to be spending time with him in his apartment. I have no reason to go to his neck of the woods except to see him, whereas he works in Manhattan and comes to the Upper West Side for Shabbat.

This hanging out is starting to look suspiciously like a relationship. And I'm afraid to start a relationship with him. I really, really, really do NOT want to be used, manipulated, hurt, and discarded again.

But -- what if he is ready for a real relationship? Is he even someone I could see myself with, long-term? Am I dismissing someone with real potential to love and honor me?

Oy. I think that after I give him the IQ test, we might need to have a little talk. Because up until now, I've been saying to him that we're not really dating, he's not in a place in his life where he can date, he just needs a very good friend to hang out with. And he's agreed.

But if that is true, I don't think I can be that friend while I wait for Mr. Right to come along. I'm too prone to get attached to someone who is this affectionate and demonstrative, and I won't be able to keep enough distance to keep things light and fun, not serious.

I'm supposed to go out with another guy next week -- a 25yo who found me on a dating website. But I think he's kind of immature, and maybe not bright and interesting enough for me. So obviously I have to keep looking. Will I keep on zealously looking for a husband if a lot of my needs for companionship, intimacy, and pleasure are being met by a guy who can't offer me much else?

I don't know. But I'm not going to talk about it with Marty until I've given him the IQ test. I've suffered enough for this damn course; I'm not going to shoot myself in the foot now.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

For the record: I am NOT a junkie

Several readers (this means you, Mom and Dad) have commented on what appears to be my liberal overuse of tranquilizers.

I would like to set the record straight: I am not abusing this medication. I do not treat it as a recreational drug. I don't take it when I'm a little sad or annoyed; I take it when I'm exceedingly upset. I don't need it to go to sleep at night. I don't take it every day; the most I take it is twice a week, even though the prescription is for twice a day.

And I only took three tranquilizers that day because I was under exceptional stress, which people with bipolar disorder tend to have a LITTLE trouble tolerating. This is why I take a handful of capsules, tablets, and supplements every night, and this is why I sometimes need a little extra help in the form of a tranquilizer.

I shlepped out to Queens to test someone who didn't have the courtesy to tell me she was still out of town. This put my ability to complete an important assignment in serious jeopardy. Then I had to go to my sister's house because I desperately needed to see my nieces and nephews, and that really amped up the stress. Right now, just being in the same room with my sister is almost as unpleasant as being in the same room with Dr. Jerk.

(I've noticed that on days when I have class with Dr. Jerk, my appetite is markedly decreased. I'm glad to be losing weight, but sitting through two hours of him is torturous. At least I'm still able to eat at my sister's house. And no, I didn't finish the mango slices.)

I didn't think I'd be able to be polite to Jerusha without a little chemical help. Because she usually doesn't bother being polite to me. Or honest. And that is stressful. I needed some chemical support to deal with the dearth of emotional support that an encounter with my sister provokes. She drains my equanimity. I needed to replenish it.

So to everyone who's afraid I'm becoming addicted to these tranquilizers: Please calm down. Have a clonazepam.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, November 13, 2006

Little Marty -- not so little

I should be studying, I have reading and assignments, but so much happened this weekend that I have to write something about it all.

First off, I went to an oneg Friday night, and from there was dragged by friends to the Carlebach Synagogue. I never go to Carlebach; I'm not the slightest hint hassidish, and I don't usually go for the guys that hang out there. (Too old, most of them, and also too weird.)

But I went, and ended up talking to a guy who was speaking to my friend Amy.

At first we discovered that we knew another person in common -- he had recently had dinner with a guy I went out with (once) a while back. This guy, he told me, had walked down at his wedding.

"Was he at your divorce, too, or did you not send out invitations for that?" I asked.

For some reason, he wasn't put off by my sarcasm -- he began confiding in me. And I listened. I'm very wary of divorced guys -- a few years back I was bruisingly manipulated by one recently-divorced SOB, and the wounds are still raw. So I thought I'd just listen to him and practice being a psychologist. How was he handling the divorce? How was his child handling it? Was he...?

"Stop putting me on the couch," he said. Okay. So I just listened. It got late, then later. We were standing in the synagogue foyer, and my knees began to ache badly. I told him I was going home, and he said, "Oh, which way are you going? I'll walk with you."

Which was 10 blocks and three avenues out of his way. But I didn't think he was interested in me. I catch on slow. I guess I just thought that he was enjoying the conversation -- and so was I; like me, he's a lively, creative person, and he's fun to talk to (I eventually did get to do some of the talking).

He walked me to my building and we stood in the doorway, talking. And the mood between us slowly changed. It became charged, liquid, sensual. Even though the topic of conversation hadn't gone in any mildly improper direction, even though he hadn't told me I was pretty. I was just very aware of his presence.

Now I know better than to get involved with a recently divorced guy. I have my previous bad experience to thank for that. But I suddenly wanted him to kiss me. I didn't know if it was pure physical hunger -- it's been a LONG time since I've felt a man's intimate touch -- or my attraction to him, or how much I liked his tie and shirt (every girl falls for a sharp-dressed man), or the tendrils of his curly hair that I wanted to run my fingers through, or a signal of interest he was broadcasting. I just wanted him to kiss me.

I could have snuck closer to him in small steps, very subtly, but every article I've read in women's magazines (especially those written by men) make one point very clear: MEN DO NOT GET SUBTLE SIGNALS. They just don't. They're too cautious, or blind, or simple.

So I took a big step toward him and looked up at him with my best bedroom eyes. He looked at me, in an almost calculating way, finished his thought (which took a few phrases), then stepped in, took hold of my arms and kissed me.

That was two nights ago, and the thought still makes me melt. It was an amazing kiss, not too bold, not too shy, in fact, very tender, but I felt it: across my face, down my back, in my chest, through my stomach.

In short, an incredible kiss. He stepped back and looked at me.

And several bits of knowledge that he'd shared during our hours of conversation -- the city he was from, his last name, his career interests -- clicked and fell into place. And I said, "You're Sammy's little brother Marty! Sammy married my old roommate Rebecca! I met you right before the wedding, years and years ago -- you were little Marty!" Sammy had brought Marty to our apartment so Rebecca could meet him -- Marty had been studying in Israel during their entire courtship and engagement. Since I was there, I also met "little Marty."

At first he was amazed that I remembered him -- he had no memory of me (claims he was jet-lagged). Then he recovered his equilibrium, and quipped, "Not so little."

It's amazing to me that he graduated college, got married, had a child, and got divorced -- all within the time that I've been living on the West Side not doing any of those things. I'm not sure which is worse.

And I know I can't date him -- he's still re-establishing himself as a single person, and going through some career changes. I learned the hard way that recently divorced guys make TERRIBLE boyfriends; I'll post about that some other time, but suffice it to say that the recently-divorced SOB (RD-SOB, for future reference) burned me badly. He was awful to me.

But little Marty, not so little -- that was an amazing Friday night.

And I ended up taking him to my classmate's 25th birthday party Saturday night. Both of us enjoyed having someone to dance with, hold hands with. We're both affectionate, temporarily partnerless people. That night, we were Mr. and Ms. Right Now.

It was funny -- I made it clear to my classmates that he was recently divorced and just a good friend, and one of them said, "But in seven years, would you consider marrying him?"

"In seven years, I'll be over 40," I told her. "I hope to Gd I'll be married by then!" Shows you her frame of reference; she's 23.

The rest of the weekend was not as pleasing. I shlepped out to Queens to try to give someone an IQ test, and the bitch stood me up. Fortunately the due date for the assignment was pushed back a week, so I still have next weekend, but I'm beyond frustrated with how poorly this semester is going. It's Murphy's semester, and I'm the poster child. There is no reason I should be having so much f**ckin' trouble finding people to test! And I can't tell Dr. Jerk, because he will not care.

I was so angry and upset, I took three tranquilizers, because I was on my way to Jerusha's big suburban McMansion to see the kids, and I did not want to interact with my sister in such an angry state. She makes me angry enough.

My little nephew about broke my heart when he said, "Aunt Ayelet, I never seed you!" Shira kept saying, "Aunt Ayelet, I love you more than you love me." How can I cut myself off from this much love?

Unfortunately, I couldn't talk to my older niece Malka very much, because when we attempted to discuss her school issues, I fell asleep on her bed -- apparently three is one too many tranquilizers for Ayelet to take and remain conscious. Something to remember.

Malka told Jerusha that she wanted us to make up, so we tried to talk it out, and it didn't help. I was accused of being an ungrateful and ungracious guest, never helping out with anything or only offering when there's nothing left to do, and too prone to finishing all the mango slices in the fridge. Which is all a blatant lie. I always offer to help -- set the table, do the dishes -- and she never takes me up on it. I never finish a container of mango slices unless there's another one in there. I always thank her before I leave, and I always tell her the food is great. She is nit-picking because she has no substantive arguments to make.

She castigated me, claiming I make fun of her in front of her friends. I sniped that I react that way in front of her friends because she's rude and dismissive to me from the moment I arrive. She refuses to see it.

The funny thing is, when she dropped me off at the subway station, she still wanted me to call and let her know when I got back to my apartment in Manhattan. I know she loves me. Why, oh why can't she be nice to me? Or if not nice -- why not pleasant? Civil? Decent??
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ego boost, out of the blue

About a week ago, a guy I knew in high school e-mailed me on one of those websites that help people get in touch with former schoolmates -- let's call it Nostalgia.com. He was someone I'd had a tiny crush on, who had not been very nice to me -- along with most of the rest of my high school classmates.

I was intrigued. I actually paid $15 for a three-month membership so I could read his email:

Hey Ayelet, it's Matthew Stein. I just thought of you from the day we ran into one another at [the university we both, coincidentally, attended]. I hope your life is going well. If you get this, and want to, drop me an email at [e-mail address]. I live in [semi-large city not far from NYC]. Warm Regards, Matt

This was interesting. Why would Matt want to talk to me? He never gave me the time of day in high school unless it was to snipe at me for my liberal opinions (he's a dyed-in-the-wool Republican). We did end up attending the same university, but with more than 10,000 students, I only saw him once during my entire four years there -- and that was a good 10 years ago.

Hi Matt -- curiosity killed the cat, so I actually joined Nostalgia.com to see what you wrote me. It's great to hear from you. I'm in my first year of a doctoral program in clinical psychology. I've lived in NYC since college and I really love it here, although right now I don't have much time to take advantage of its cultural richness. What brought you to [semi-large city]? What's going on with your life?

Well Hello Ayelet,

I'm pleasantly surprised to hear back from you. I honestly can't say what exactly made you pop into my head but it's nice to know you're doing well. I wish you the very best in your graduate studies. I've though about going back to school many times over the years, but never found the motivation. Actually, after studying evolution and anthropology as an undergrad, I seriously considered an advanced degree in cognitive science or psychology. Maybe it's not too late!

After graduation I've been working mostly in the software biz (some Internet stuff around the turn of the century/millennium.) I moved to [semi-large city] about two years ago to be near my then-ailing (now dead) Grandma, and my Mom. (My whole family is originally from [state his city is in].) Dad has long since retired to the golf-course in Florida.

In truth, I've been a bit of a screw-up for most of my adult life, as a result of being generally lazy and irresponsible, and of having a bit too much to drink a bit too often. Right: being a drunk. I'm single, never married, no kids, studio apartment... C'est la vie.

Thanks for the note, and please keep in touch if you feel like it and you have the time. All The Best, Matt

Interesting. The psychologist in me thought he was probably depressed: depressed people have difficulty with motivation, which is often misunderstood as laziness, and depressed men are much more likely to drink than go to a psychiatrist or psychologist.

The curious girl in me had to know why he was contacting me after all these years.

It's never too late to go back to school. I didn't figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up until I was almost 30. Although it's hard to be in school with kids so much younger than I am. They can't believe I don't have a Facebook profile... it's a world of cultural differences.

At the risk of sounding like an armchair psychologist, have you been screened for depression? Your "laziness," alcohol abuse, and dissatisfaction with the stage of life you're in (I too live in a studio apartment with no spouse or offspring) all sound like symptoms of depression to me. It's a treatable illness, and treating it might help you make progress in the areas of your life that you're unhappy with.

If you'd like to talk on the phone, I'd be happy to discuss this with you further.

He didn't respond for a while, and I figured I'd scared him off with the pop psychologizing, but then he wrote back and sent me a link to his website. I thought it would have some text that would illuminate his character, but it was just a picture of him holding some guns. (Looking back, that should have terrified me, but it turns out he's just a gun enthusiast who target-shoots for fun.) I sent him my phone number, and he called.

You know how people always say that the guys who like you in elementary or high school are mean to you because they don't know how to deal with their feelings? I always thought that was a load of crap -- if people like you, they're nice to you. Turns out I was wrong. Matt thought I was pretty, and smart, but he didn't want to like me; my liberal politics offended his conservative sensibilities, and he was also envious of my intelligence. He wanted to be the smartest guy in the room, but the smartest guy in the room was a cute chick. So he wasn't so nice to me -- and he was calling to apologize.

We had a great conversation. It was the first time I had thought fondly about high school in... well, almost ever. He said he was intimidated by me, but thought I was so cute, and just didn't know how to handle it because he was immature. He asked me to forgive him, again and again. And of course I did, because it's been so long that how could I still be angry about what he did? It wasn't nearly as bad as what some of my other tormentors dreamed up.

Also, he confessed why he'd thought about me suddenly: He had a dream about me!

Not a sexy dream (I was a little disappointed) but a dream that made him wake up and think, Whatever happened to Ayelet? So he looked me up on Nostalgia.com and wrote me.

It was amazing talking to someone from my past who had such wonderful things to say about me. I was not popular in high school; it was great to hear that he thought I was special and wonderful back then -- although he allowed that I sound much more laid-back now than I did then. I told him I'm much more comfortable with myself now, and happier, so I don't sound as stressed out and nervous. He was so sweet, and in so much pain. He's unhappy with his life, he definitely has a drinking problem, and he needs a nonjudgmental friend.

It felt good to be able to give something to somebody. I often feel like I'm such a needy person and I don't get what I want; the only way to distract from that, I think, is to focus more on the selfish joy of giving. That's why I go to the park with Ruchama and her kids, so she can supervise the older ones on their bicycles and I can push Tikva on the swings or watch her slide down the slide 500 times. That's why I talk to my niece every night about her problems with her school friends. That's why I go out of my way for my classmates.

So we're tentatively making plans for Matt to visit me soon -- I can't believe a Jewish guy from the U.S. has never seen NYC. I can't wait to see him -- and to see if he still thinks I'm pretty.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Second-years see things my way

Had a great chat with two second-years, Nechama and Ada, who are in my cognitive therapy class. We were shmoozing in the student lounge -- sometimes it's more important to reality-check with your peers than to finish all of your reading.

After talking about their frustrations with their externships, we got on the topic of how the faculty is treating me. A classmate of mine walked into the lounge and told me that Dr. Jerk hadn't approved her term paper topic; I said, "I thought I was the only one whose topic he didn't approve! That must mean he doesn't hate me as much as I think he hates me." I then related Dr. Jerk's many unkindnesses, criticisms, and harsh actions toward me.

At first the second-years were shocked. "Dr. Jerk said that students in your classes sigh and roll their eyes when you speak?" said Ada. "That's really weird." Neither of them thinks this phenomenon occurs in our cognitive therapy class. (For that matter, neither does Dr. CT. Unfortunately, she's an adjunct, so she doesn't go to faculty meetings. And Dr. Freud hasn't yet contacted her, as he promised he would, to get her opinion of me -- and I don't think he's contacted Dr. Stats either.)

"I get along with Dr. Jerk, but I can't stand Dr. Octopussy," said Nechama. I won't go into the ugly details, but suffice it to say that Dr. Octopussy unfairly flunked her in one class and has caused her almost as much grief as Dr. Jerk has caused me.

Nechama was also warned by the faculty that her contributions were too plentiful and personal; her behavior, tone, and speech were too offensive to others; and she was in need of therapy. Deja vu all over again. I told her how the faculty is crucifying me for contributing personal matter about my knee injury at the guest lecture, and she exploded.

"Ayelet, what you did was right! What you did makes you real. We should be drawing on our personal experiences to illuminate clinical phenomena. I can't believe the way they're framing it -- as you being needy and trying to get attention." They talked about another student in their class, who excelled academically but was similarly castigated by the faculty for expressing a personal opinion in a public forum.

Like me, Nechama was warned that her admission could be revoked, and has been trying to keep a low profile ever since. "The way to succeed in this school is to keep your head down and don't stick your neck out," she said. "Which is a shame, because they should be encouraging us to think for ourselves and take intellectual risks."

I guess it makes me feel better to know I'm not the only student the faculty treats this way. And to know that my behavior is being criticized by very biased reporters. I've definitely decided to re-apply to other schools; if I get in, even if the faculty here graciously decide to let me finish, I don't want to. It's worth losing a year, even at my advanced age, to be in an environment that really supports my intellectual development.

I'm supposed to talk to Dr. CT later this morning (I doubt she's in the office at 4 a.m.; damn terminal insomnia!) about the tenured faculty's criticisms of my classroom behavior. But she's already agreed to write me a recommendation for my reapplications. Which is a great comfort, because I'm sure the schools I'm re-applying to will wonder why I want to leave this school.

I'm really pissed at Dr. Freud for not following up with the adjuncts, and for taking Dr. Jerk at his mendacious word. I'm angry at Dr. A for agreeing with Dr. Jerk. I'm angry at Dr. Octopussy for assuming they're right and I'm wrong. And I've cautiously asked a few other first-years whether my classroom contributions really inspire such exasperation among my peers.

None of them see it.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Control

Just found out that my control-freaky scrawny little TA has an interest in eating disorders. Which makes perfect sense; eating disorders are all about control. That's why she tries to control us and the lab session, and that's why she dislikes me -- I refuse to submit to her control. She probably told Dr. Dragon, whom she works for as an office assistant, that I over-contribute in lab -- which, combined with Dr. Jerk's accusations, makes me look unstable and out of control.

It's amazing how little insight most psychologists have into their own actions.

A few of my fellow students are doing term papers on eating disorders for our psychopathology class (we had a session where we talked about our paper topics.) One of my professors in my master's program said that every psychologist and psychiatrist he knew came from a chaotic family background. I wonder how many of my skinny, skinny classmates have suffered from eating disorders, and if that's why they decided to study psychology.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fair -- so far

I got an A on my first assignment for Dr. Jerk, a short paper diagnosing a famous fictional character using the DSM. Most people seemed to get A's, although one person was asking what we thought the average grade was, leading me to think she didn't do so well. (She's very immature and narcissistic, I find her tremendously annoying, and it doesn't surprise me at all that she's not getting good grades.)

Of course, this paper is only worth 10% of my grade. And he didn't write anything more than "Very thorough," although he scattered a few check marks next to important points I made. More significant will be the grade I get on my midterm, which he hasn't given back yet.

Also, the constraints that the testing library has set are no longer a problem; I ended up signing out the test with a classmate who happens to live near the person I'll be testing. One less thing to stress about.

Speaking of stress, Dr. Jerk lectured today about the toxic roles anger, anxiety, and hostility play in the development of mental and physical pathology. These emotions increase autonomic arousal -- your heart pounds, your endocrine system secretes more cortisol, your blood releases more platelets -- which, continuing unabated, fatigues you, decreases your immune system's efficacy, and drives your cholesterol through the roof.

I can no longer look Dr. Jerk in the eye after learning he told the faculty that my comments in class cause other students to sigh and roll their eyes. My heart pounds and my stomach churns when I sit in his class. And my knees hurt more. Significantly more. Angry/anxious/hostile people have a much lower threshold for pain, he told us today. No kidding.

Yesterday I was feeling even worse. I was so frustrated at my classmate's refusal to commit to taking the WAIS out with me -- I took it much too personally, but it felt like she was distancing herself from me, a rat deserting a sinking ship, another betrayal. It was a three-tranquilizer day -- normally I try to limit myself to two, but I couldn't do my reading, I was sobbing, I felt utterly alone and helpless and besieged on all sides.

I wrote to my friend Tovah that I was considering re-applying to some of the schools that didn't admit me on my first go-round. She wrote back,

Wow, it’s really bad enough for you to change schools? I didn’t realize that; I actually thought maybe things were looking up a little.

I responded:

It is so bad that I can see myself going into the ladies' room and taking all the tranquilizers and painkillers in my handbag. That is how bad it is.

Please don't tell anyone about this. I'm not going to do it. It's just that I am so stressed out, between the horrible treatment I'm receiving from the faculty and the inability to plan ahead that the testing library imposes on us, because we have to check out the WAIS in pairs, that I'm extremely stressed and miserable.

Tovah immediately responded:

I won’t tell anyone, but you have to promise me that you will take care of yourself. Get whatever support you need, do what it takes to get you feeling better. Is there anyplace you can let off steam so you won’t take it out on yourself?

Is school maybe taking over your life too completely? It seems like you need something to put things in perspective in order to mitigate some of the stress.

I wrote back:

I promise I will not act on this. And I took 3 tranquilizers. My doctor won't give me stronger ones, so I have to take more. I'm also diffusing lavender oil in my apartment in a more holistic effort to soothe myself.

The problem is, school pretty much is my life right now. Even though I love spending time with Ruchama and her family, downloading videos from youtube, getting mani-pedis, etc., school is the most important thing in my life. And it sucks on so many levels that it's making my life miserable. I try really hard to focus on the other things I have going on, but it's very difficult. I have a lot of social support, but being single and alone and solely responsible for my financial support and health care is really getting to me.

I'm feeling better today. Of course, I had to take three painkillers and a tranquilizer in order to tolerate the four hours I spent with Dr. Jerk.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Paging Dr. Freud

The real one, not my advisor.

I had a feverish dream early this morning that I was a scientist/artist in the early Renaissance time being hounded by the Inquisition, sort of a cross between Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo. (I never said I wasn't a narcissist.)

The dream was quite elaborate; I remember writing desperate letters in beautiful handwriting, drawing pictures, and propounding theories that I wish I could remember clearly. (Ironically, Dr. Jerk is very interested in dreams and nightmares. I could single-handedly give him fodder for years of research.)

Obviously, the dream is about my problems at school. The dream ended when I/the scientist/artist decided to give in to the Inquisition, pretend he wanted to submit to their superior knowledge, and ask for guidance/instruction at a fairly elementary level. ("Who is Gd?" kind of stuff.)

As Dr. Roda, my Czech psychiatrist, would say, "Dreams are trying to tell us something." (It sounds much more portentous when delivered in a semi-thick Central European accent.)

I have to submit and be silenced. I have to pretend they know everything and I know nothing -- even though I know that isn't true. That is the only way I won't be burned at the stake.

But even if I submit, I'm still at risk of a fiery public execution.

I had another dream, a few weeks back, that I insulted Woody Allen. Readily believable, because I think the man's a pedophile and moral reprobate and cannot believe any responsible judge let him adopt young girls. (I guess Soon-Yi's getting a little long in the tooth for him.)

I didn't want to apologize, but my mother insisted I go up to his apartment, ring the doorbell, and apologize to him. I remember riding up in the elevator, getting more and more tense and apprehensive, until I got off on his floor and stood in front of his door.

And I couldn't knock on it. I got back on the elevator and told my mother I would send him a letter or an email, but I couldn't apologize in person. I was afraid he would hit me, even though I joked that I could probably take him.

Woody Allen = Dr. Jerk. I've been afraid to confront him in person, preferring to do so by email. Unfortunately, the email led to a personal meeting, which was severe and harsh. I was right to be afraid of him.

I can't envision spending the rest of my graduate studies with my head held timidly down, terrified of how the professor will attack me. My stomach is constantly clenched. I've got ferocious diarrhea (now that I'm managing the knee pain without taking prescription painkillers). This is almost unbearable.

I'm also frustrated because the testing library has decided that we must take out the IQ test in pairs. Only problem is, our class has 29 people. I emailed the class through our Yahoo group to see if anyone would partner up with me. No responses.

How am I supposed to fulfill the requirements of the program if I don't have access to the materials?

I emailed one classmate whom I confided in about my troubles. I asked her earlier if she wanted to sign the test out with me, and she was evasive. So I wrote her:

Hey -- I need to know whether you and I will be taking out the WAIS together or whether you've partnered with someone else. Since there are 29 people in our class, I think one group will need to triple up. As I mentioned, I'm scheduled to administer the test next Sunday morning and should be able to give it back to you by 2 p.m. that day. Please let me know if that works for you; I can bring it straight to your apartment as soon as I use it.

I hope that doesn't make me sound too needy. But what am I supposed to do?

Aish.com
had an interesting piece on the role of suffering in our lives.

The Jewish view of suffering... is that it is part of a process of self-development -- in effect a process of birth of the self. Though we would never choose intense suffering for ourselves, faith that it is part of a growth process can take away, if not the pain, at least some of its sting. Knowledge that the suffering has purpose and is leading somewhere offers me the strength to weather the crisis.

But I'm having trouble finding consolation in this when I'm paying out so much hard-earned money in tuition and medical costs, suffering physical pain and emotional anguish, and in danger of being kicked out of the program I worked so hard to get into. And I've already suffered considerably in my life, including my disorder and its profound mental and physical effects.

Is Gd telling me I'm not supposed to be a psychologist? What, then, am I supposed to do with my life and the ordeals I've survived? I'm obviously not getting married and having kids anytime soon. What else is there, if I can't make it through grad school? How am I supposed to make my contribution to tikkun olam?

And why do I have to suffer so much in the process? When does my life settle down into something that I can lead with pride and dignity?
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Who's against me?

I heard back from Dr. Octopussy about which classes my contributions are monopolizing, and pissing off the other students:

I cannot speak to the classes taught by the adjuncts, but those you have with the permanent faculty have all noted it in recent weeks. You should also be aware that depending on your knee, if there are accomodations you feel you need and aren't receiving, you can speak with the Office of Student Disabilities, document your situation, and reasonable adjustments can be made. Dr. Freud will follow up with you regarding feeback with your adjunct instructors.

"The permanent faculty" refer to Dr. Jerk, who teaches two classes, and Dr. Adorable (whom I shall now refer to as "Dr. A," as an abbreviation for another word that begins with that letter). I will no longer defend his boring, useless, waste-of-time-and-money class to the other students, and I'll certainly never raise my hand again in his or Dr. Jerk's classes.

I wonder if Dr. Freud will bother telling me that Dr. Stats and Dr. CT (cognitive therapy) don't find me an annoying time-wasting nuisance of a student. And I think I'll ask the orthopedist for a letter about my knee condition -- just to put on record with the Office of Student Disabilities. They already obviously think I'm lying about it, although I have no idea what they assume my motivations are.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

Friday, November 03, 2006

Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!

Yesterday I met with Dr. Octopussy, the deputy director of the program, and Dr. Freud, my faculty advisor. I was supposed to meet with Dr. Octopussy next week, but she'll be out of town then, so they double-teamed me.

I had asked them for some more concrete examples of my sins, and concrete suggestions for what I could do to improve. They told me that my behavior, both in and out of the classroom, has angered many people in the program, faculty and students, who thought I misread them and got angry too easily. And I needed to be aware of the impact my behavior, words, and tone have on other people.

I was glad I took a couple of tranquilizers before meeting with them, because I don't think I could have survived this meeting without some chemical support, since no emotional support from either of them was forthcoming. (I don't count the vapid smiles and falsely empathetic, "What can we do to help you, Ayelet?" they granted me at the end of the meeting.)

Apparently my mistaken disclosure at the lecture was just APPALLING to both of them. Why would someone new to the program want to make themselves known that way? The fact that I did it because I was trying to provide a teachable moment didn't make a dent. So I apologized and promised never to do it again.

Then they told me that after the lecture, when the director of the program -- I'll call her the Dragon Lady, or Dr. Dragon, because she's beautiful, emotionless, and vicious -- came up to me and asked if she could help, I was sharp and disrespectful to her.

Rude? I had just stopped sobbing convulsively. My emotions were raw and racing. I told her my most immediate concern: I was worried that my insurance wouldn't cover my medical costs -- which, as it turns out, was a legitimate fear, since it hasn't. And she perceived me as being rude! Because, of course, she has nothing to do with our lousy insurance.

I tried to explain to Drs. Octopussy and Freud that I have nothing but respect for Dr. Dragon, and that I was so emotional I couldn't think clearly at that moment. They acknowledged -- briefly --that this might perhaps have been a teeny factor influencing my behavior. I also promised to apologize to Dr. Dragon formally in a letter.

I updated them on my progress with Dr. Jerk -- his refusal to take my injury into account and suggestion that I take a medical leave. Rather than saying he was out of line, they reiterated that a medical leave was something people in my position often take advantage of. I told them I didn't think it would come to that, and was also less worried about how he would grade me because his response to one homework assignment seemed fair. They were pleased to hear that.

Then they told me that my contributions in class were annoying other students. Apparently some professors -- they didn't say which -- were noticing a lot of eye-rolling and heavy sighs every time I opened my big yap; this indicated tension, a sign that I was monopolizing class time and too often shifting the subject to myself.

And they told me they thought I needed therapy. Fortunately, I was able to tell them that I'm already in therapy, and that I do discuss my school issues with my therapist. (I didn't share with them his recommendation that I treat difficult faculty members as difficult patients.)

Then, after tearing my heart out and grinding it beneath their feet, they smiled and asked what they could do to help me. I said they could tell me if I was in danger of being removed from the program. They said I was right to be concerned about that.

I thought schools were supposed to provide reasonable accommodation for disabled students, not take their money and kick them to the curb. Yes, I made a huge mistake by disclosing in the lecture, but I thought I was helping! How many times do I have to apologize for a mistake? Why do none of them have any compassion for the physical pain I'm in and how it might affect my behavior and judgment? (Incidentally, they interrogated me about the injury, asking for details. Which legally they have no right to know. It seems they suspected I might be lying about it. Fortunately, I was able to dispel their doubts with a detailed description of what was revealed by the MRI I paid for.)

I also asked them to talk to the adjunct professors who teach me cognitive therapy and statistics, and see if they had the same impression of the tension-building impact I allegedly have on class culture and on students too rude and immature to hide their displeasure. (Honestly -- why aren't these students being called on the carpet for their behavior? Or the students who chatter to each other throughout Dr. Adorable's class?)

I spoke to my statistics professor before class and told him Dr. Freud would be asking him about my behavior in class and why. He was surprised to hear that I was perceived as rude and annoying, since he didn't experience me that way at all and didn't think I bothered the other stats students. He promised he would tell that to Dr. Freud.

"Thank you," I said, tearing up a bit.

"It's the truth," said Dr. Stats.

And I'm fairly confident the cognitive therapy professor appreciates my contributions; she usually emphatically agrees with everything I say. So I wanted her take on me to be part of the judgment, too.

I know I said I was going to stop faculty-bashing, but I'm so appalled by this that I don't know what to do. I honestly considered re-applying to some of the schools that rejected me last year, but I don't think I'd have better luck this year.

After the awful meeting, I thought of something they could help me with and sent them an e-mail:

Dear Dr. Octopussy and Dr. Freud,

Thank you for meeting with me this afternoon. I will certainly be more mindful of my behavior and its impact on people in and out of the classroom, and I will do my utmost to limit my self-reference. I will be giving Dr. Dragon a written apology on Tuesday.

You asked if you could do anything else to help me, and I thought of something specific. Could you please let me know in which classes the other students were nonverbally expressing displeasure with my contributions? I think that would help be a tremendous help in determining when my contributions to class discussion are appropriate and when they are not.

Thank you, Ayelet Survivor

It's unfair to accuse me without allowing me to confront my accuser(s). I realize this is not a democracy, it's an oligarchy, but don't I have any rights? At the least, I have the right to know in which classes the teachers are saying my contributions cause such problems. I wonder if Drs. Freud and Octopussy will let me know.

If it's the T.A., who's ridiculously intimidated by me, then I want the other students in the lab to refute her perceptions. Three out of four (I haven't talked to the fourth) of them were surprised to hear the T.A. thought I was dominating lab discussion and stifling other students. "It's a good thing you had something to say," one of them told me. "Until we actually started working with the IQ test, we didn't have much to talk about in lab. We never took the full two hours. And it was boring. So it was better when you had something to contribute."

If it's Dr. Jerk -- well, I have my doubts as to his reliability. I told a classmate/friend about this latest meeting, and she was truly shocked; she said she'd never noticed people rolling their eyes or sighing when I spoke up, and would have considered them rude if they did.

If it's Dr. Adorable -- well, I'll just have to stop speaking up in class. He's always trying to get people to participate, but if my contributions aren't appreciated by him or the other students, I'll have to curtail them significantly.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"