I’m getting to the panic-attack stage again. Back in the summer, I had a full-scale nervous breakdown, from all the stress that’s been piled on this year. I’m been slowly recovering my native equanimity, but it is still easily undermined.
Next week, I have to present my prospectus (dissertation proposal) to the faculty. It is a stressful prospect in the best of times; at the moment the very idea is stealing my sleep and making me hyperventilate. I am not concerned about my project, I’m very confident that is viable. I AM concerned about the general sense of discrimination I have felt at the university, and the possibility that I will remain significantly behind my cohort due to the other things going on in my life.
The discrimination has not been overt, but it has been present. In the five years I have been associated with this university, I have never been offered a TAship. I have repeatedly asked for one; I have sought out funding in other ways; I have been a good student; and now I have independently taught six classes of my own at the community college level, demonstrating my teaching proficiency. Despite this, the department has refused to fund me, giving available positions to new graduate students and consistently overlooking me.
I am convinced that the reason is my severe hearing impairment. There isn’t any other reason it could be.
While my bad hearing does make it difficult to lead group discussions, and to hear questions in a very large lecture hall, I have found ways to compensate and adjust when guiding my own classes. I’ve also been very open with students about my hearing so that they understand when I need to ask them to repeat themselves sixteen times. But the faculty – they don’t get it.
I’ll admit that I have slowly stopped being involved in campus life, stopped attending colloquiums and lectures, because of my hearing. The accommodations offered from extra-curricular events are not very useful to me, and my peers – my fellow graduate students – have been neither welcoming nor friendly. It is as if I have been invisible for five years.
In my first year, I had a two-semester Latin sequence, and thus had class with the same group of people for an entire school year. Guess how many people made the effort to speak to me? 0. The rest of the class eventually formed a study group to help with their work; I heard about it months later, but was never invited to join. They would go to lunch together after class – again, no invitations. I had other seminars and courses with them: they were never friendly.
In the beginning, I made the effort to try to speak to them, to try to participate in conversations. Unfortunately for me, those efforts are not successful unless other people are willing to try to help me when I can’t hear. No matter how much I might want to, I can’t magically start understanding the words someone is saying when there is lots of background noise, or when they’re more than a few feet away from me, or if they cover their mouth with their hand, or if they speak quietly, or mumble. I can only “try harder” to be social and sociable so far; after that, people have got to try to meet me half-way.
The combination of rejection by the faculty and rejection by my peers has made it hard to keep my nose to the grindstone. It’s a rotten form of rebellion, and I would much rather finish the degree that I started, but it’s so hard to fight the uphill battle, especially when so many other issues are pulling me back down. I usually can use opposition as competition, and push myself to prove my opponents wrong about me, but this time depression, apathy, emotional turmoil are overwhelming. I don’t like how bitter I have become about my prospects of success, how pessimistic I am about my life, or how panicked I get when I think of facing everything right now. I feel alone and invisible, incapable of accomplishment, unable to see where my life is going to go from here. All of the things that I set out to do – complete the doctorate, function as a scholar, enjoy friendships, become a mother – seem like impossible dreams.
To endure – to keep going – is all I want right now. But even for endurance, I need my feet to like hinds’ feet so that I can be secure on the heights; I need my arms to be trained so that I can bend a bow of bronze. How else will I be able
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go?