Lowest Point In Higher Education

There’s an article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education (September 27, 2019) about an English professor who has decided to come clean with her students. She tells them about her lowest point in grad school when she almost gave up and quit. This inspired me.

Some would refer to me as a hard-core academic; others as an academic wanna-be. Whatever. I have 5 years as an undergrad getting a Bachelor of Arts degree. Five years because I wanted to get another year of Greek. I then followed this up with 3 years of seminary at a tough seminary, along with supervised field experience (i.e., internship or, in today’s parlance, externship.) This degree was entirely paid for by virtue of my previous academic success. This resulted in a Master of Divinity degree. Then, a little later, I entered a program in library and information science. Another master’s degree. So, altogether, I have at least 10 years of higher education following high school. Plus I have a couple of courses I took just for fun, post graduate. In addition to my years as a pastor, I have 10 years as a public librarian answering all of the questions you have but can’t figure out on your own; then 20 years as an academic librarian assisting students doing their research as they pursue their master’s and doctoral degrees.

So what was my “lowest point?” My lowest point came when my mental illness required I make a change in careers. I became paralyzed in my first career. I literally could not do the work any longer. To get into my second master’s degree program, I had to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE.) I utterly blew it. I did not prepare and I was struggling with anxiety and depression and PTSD that, at the time, I was not consciously aware of. I got admitted on probation, again based on my previous academic success, certainly not based upon my GRE scores. I was told not to take any more than 9 hours of credit. I took 12. About 3 weeks into my first semester I stumbled down a set of stairs doing something rather rare. In addition to popping the ligaments, etc., I actually broke my heel bone. That achievement required some rather specific maneuvering. The doctors at the university had never seen such a fracture.

So, I had serious mental illness for which I was on only Ativan/Lorazepam. (If my current regimen is any indication of what my mental health requires to manage, then I was under-medicated.) I was taking 3 graduate hours more than my advisors thought I should take being, as I have mentioned, on academic probation. Plus, I was hobbling around on crutches with my foot in a cast up to my knee. Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention that I was serving a tiny church that did not have, could not afford, a full time pastor. Oh, yeah. I also forgot to mention that my wife and kids were living literally 100 miles away. (Google says it is actually 101 miles.)

This has to have been the lowest point of my adult life. We can do much more than we think, if we help one another through the low points.

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