When Being Good is Better than Being Great

My annual evaluation

I had my annual evaluation meeting yesterday, and I did good. I met expectations in all categories, and I was very happy. I was happy because I managed this two years in a row. I was happy because it seemed like I was settling into a new normal that was, in fact, satisfactory.

My former messy life

For anyone who has not been following me, I have bipolar II disorder. I wasn’t diagnosed until 9 years ago at age 48. The problem that brought me to the psychiatrist was a frightening lack of sleep — at least a month at 2 hours of sleep a night. I dragged myself through days yet had racing thoughts, half-finished projects, and broken promises. And a feel like I was about to accomplish something great.

This is what hypomania looks like, at least in me. Overcommitment, sleep disturbances, slight grandiosity — but a brilliant ability to shine in those things I finished. I accomplished three things for each thing I abandoned.

Until I was depressed, and then I barely managed things. I would slump into deep depressions, barely making it to classes to teach.. My course evaluations would go down just as they went up during mania. During the last depression before the big crash, which I experienced near-simultaneously with the high, I would write these long, self-flagellating notes on Facebook, worrying everyone I knew.

After the crash

The inevitable crash sobered me. I spent a week in the behavioral health unit getting stabilized on my meds and walking off the most hideous side effect I’ve ever encountered (see akathisia). This is when I realized that I couldn’t go on as I had, and that I had to stick with the meds and find a new normal.

Learning to live with the new normal, however, was difficult for a person who had lived with effortless energy for a good part of her life. On meds, I didn’t feel the exhilaration of new projects that would buoy me up, so my productivity compared to my manic moments. My self-esteem went down, and I had trouble adjusting to this “new me” who didn’t get kudos for accomplishment.

Good enough

For a while, I didn’t do enough. Because I would get seasonal depression with a certain mix of meds, my fall evaluations would be down, and I didn’t do research because I had fallen out of the habit while my free-wheeling moods had taken over me before my diagnosis. Then, finally, my new department chair marked me as “not meeting expectations” in my annual report.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

This shocked me. Other than gym class, I had never been marked unsatisfactory at any point in my career. I had had the fall/spring semester discrepancies, I had quit doing research, but I had never had an unsatisfactory mark in course evals. I panicked.

And then I set some things in place, knowing that I could no longer coast nor could I accomplish the wild amount of work effortlessly as I had in the past. I explained my bipolar disorder to my boss (I am protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act as long as I do the expected amount of work. I explained to him that the course evals might continue to be cyclical but that I would work on concerns. And I informed him that I would do enough work to get satisfactory scores, but would not be going for full professorship.

I have been working toward improving course evaluations and research. Some years have been better than others because I still seem to get seasonal depression. But for the past two years I have done good enough, and that’s the best outcome.

How about you?

What does a job well done look like to you? Feel free to answer in the comments.

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