The Thing about Sexism Ed

How could the book be good when depression convinced me it wasn’t?

Some of you might already know this story. Some of you might not. But, I am going to tell it again anyway. This is one of those stories about the keen difference between what’s happening to a person on the inside and how they act on the outside. It’s a story about depression and its consequences. It’s a story about me, a book I wrote, and how depression lies.

Last year, when I was finishing up Sexism Ed and until it was published, I was more depressed than I had ever been before. There were lots of reasons for this. There’s no reason to get into them.

Depression, if you’ve never experienced it, means that just existing is exhausting.

What you need to know is that I almost didn’t finish the book. I considered walking away from the book contract because every time I tried to work on it, I had to force myself to open my laptop and write. I wrote in bed when I couldn’t bear to be at my desk. Some days, I couldn’t work on it at all. I only finished it because of my partner and the press's editor insisting that the book mattered. I worked on it, even as I wasn’t sure that I could believe her.

Depression, if you’ve never experienced it, means that just existing is exhausting. It is exhausting to get up every day. It is exhausting to interact with people, answer email and texts, avoid phone calls, go to the grocery store, help with homework, and all other every day tasks. Finishing a book felt impossible, even as I hacked away at it.

But once I finished it, I was convinced the book was not good enough, or worse, I imagined it would be an absolute disaster. Finally, everyone would know what a fraud I was. I was terrified that the book would be published, and the reaction would be bad. That, maybe, this book would be the end of my writing career.

So, as the publication date neared, I spent much time in a quiet panic about how bad the book would be and thinking that I should quit writing.

(And this wasn’t my normal “Hahaha, I should quit writing,” but a bone-deep feeling that I should quit writing and maybe all kinds of other things too.)

I kept asking my first readers and my editor if the book was just “good enough” to be published. Not good, I knew it wasn’t good, but good enough. Mediocre even.

How could the book be good when depression convinced me it wasn’t?

And I couldn’t process the strange looks I got when I said this aloud or how my readers were like, “What do you mean ‘good enough’?!” I had baffled them with my questions and desperation. They would say nice things about the book, so I assumed that they were just being nice, not truthful.

Depression was convinced that the book didn’t do anything important or really say anything.

Now, my best friend says my texts get weird when I finish a book anyway because my anxiety is usually riding me hard. But, with this particular book, it wasn’t just anxiety. Depression was convinced that the book didn’t do anything important or really say anything. All of my efforts were in vain, that negative voice in my head whispered, Why do you even write?

When the book came out, I tried to be excited. I knew I should be exited, joyous even. But, I felt nothing. I hesitated to do book promotion. Did I actually want people to read the book? I wasn’t sure. But, I promoted it anyway because I knew I was supposed to. The press deserved my best effort, so I gave it.

When readers started to tell me nice things about the book, I was baffled and uneasy. When they told me it was important, I wanted to argue with them.

But, I mean, authors shouldn’t argue with readers about how bad their book really is. So, I kept my mouth shut. I offered gratitude, all the while I continued to assume the worst.

Authors shouldn’t argue with readers about how bad their book really is.

Sexism Ed came out a month before I asked my doctor for help, went to a psychiatrist, was diagnosed with a mood disorder, got medicine, found a therapist, and finally started therapy.

Now, it takes a while for medicine to work and to get the dosage right. Weeks and weeks passed by. Nothing happened. My therapist explained patiently about how depression was impacting me and how it lies.

It took months before I felt like myself again. One day, I realized that I was smiling, and it wasn’t fake. It was genuine smile, and I had forgotten what that felt like. It took months for me to realize that I was a good human, not just a good enough one.

And yet, I still wasn’t sold on Sexism Ed because on its close association with my depression. I couldn’t think of that book without thinking about how depressed I was. But, I started to listen, really listen, to what people close to me said about the book. I listened to readers. I tried hard to believe the things they said. And one day, I did.

And began to understand that the book was good, not good enough and definitely not a disaster. That it said important things. That I should be proud of my accomplishment. That the book meant something to other people. That, maybe, just maybe, it could mean something different to me.

And then, two things happened. First, Book Riot named Sexism Ed, one of the five books that you should read to understand higher ed. To read Derek Attig’s article and see my book as one essential to understanding higher ed was joyous and surprising. Attig wrote that the book was “both meditation on and battle plan for the future of academia,” and I couldn’t have been more proud. Second, Sexism Ed is a finalist for a Foreword Indie in Women’s Studies. When I received that news, I was in the middle of session at a conference. I almost squealed in excitement, but then, I had to work not to cry. Tears, not of sadness, but joy.

Depression almost stole all my joy about the book, but somehow, I am gaining that joy back.

I have come to realize, perhaps, that I wrote a book that was so much better than I imagined. That depression almost stole all my joy about the book, but somehow, I am gaining that joy back. That maybe my book was actually badass. That maybe I should glory in what I accomplished in spite of my depression.

And now, Sexism Ed is on sale for $0.99 for a week, so I hope you’ll consider getting a copy of this book that makes me proud, even as it reminds me of how I struggled. It’s an artifact of where I was and where I am now. It’s a symbol that I managed to overcome.

And I hope it helps you learn something about how sexism continues to be a problem in higher education and how we can imagine a better system, if only we decide to try.

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