Why I am working part-time?
Why would an aspiring successful academic decide to work part time?
Isn't that the kiss of death for such a career, an admission of failure?
My diary entry from Sunday 26th July 1981 starts:
Didn't sleep well & woke up @ 3.30 drenched in sweat. Got up @
8.20, had a shower,... Felt sick all day.
I had Glandular Fever (Infectious Mononucleosis).
For several months I had relapses (typical of Glandular
Fever) when I became exhausted, had swollen glands etc.
Between these relapses my general level of energy slowly got worse and
worse until I was very tired all the time. I didn't really notice how
bad it was until one day I woke up and I wasn't tired (this
happened a few times subsequently but I wasn't able to figure out what
Diagnoses and treatments
I've seen many health professionals over the years and had quite a few
diagnostic procedures and treatments. The better ones have had no
effect, the others have made things worse. I was eventually diagnosed
as having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,
the main symptoms affecting by work being fatigue and cognitive
dysfunction. A recent study in the UK
noted that improvements in health of CFS sufferers was not correlated
with the number of health professionals seen. Here are a few of my
I've seen plenty of doctors over the years and have had plenty of
standard diagnostics tests done. I'm as normal as most people, possibly
more normal. Only one interesting fact was picked up - high levels of
serum biliruben. Yes, I have Gilbert's syndrome! Named after Gilbert,
who first noticed it, it has exactly one known symptom: high levels of
Quite a few years ago my mother was diagnosed as being a Coeliac (gluten
intolerance) and since there is a familiar link in some cases we though
my problems might be related. Perhaps this was the answer! I was tested
(it turned out negative like all the other tests) by having a small bowel
biopsy - a procedure with supposedly no side effects. Apart from being
very unpleasant, and getting a dose of radiation, it took about six
months for my bowels to settle down subsequently. Many years later,
after suffering stress-related stomach pains over a long period, I was
diagnosed as having a peptic ulcer (the unpleasant experience of having
a tube shoved down my throat again). I was positive for Helicobacter
Pyloris and was treated with a bunch of antibiotics which had a dreadful
effect on my health for weeks. In retrospect I believe my stomach
lining was damaged by the original biopsy, allowing H. Pyloris infection
and ultimately much pain and ill-health. So much for no side effects!
I am a vegetarian and many people who know little about diet suggest that
eating flesh might improve my health. At one stage my mother, who is
also a vegetarian, couldn't eat gluten (wheat, barley and oat products),
also had a lactose intolerance (so dairy products were out) and had
trouble digesting fats (so pulses and nuts had to be limited) but her
dietician never suggested resorting to eating meat. Besides I developed
CFS when I ate meat and becoming vegetarian made no noticeable difference
to my health.
The first "alternative" medicine practitioner I saw was a naturopath.
Diagnosis was buy taking a (not very thorough) history and use of
iridology. The diagnosis there was something wrong with my immune system,
which I still agree with. The treatment, nettle extract, made me the
sickest of all the things I have tried. I stopped taking the extract
and didn't go back. I was subsequently told that its expected for
things to get worse before they get better with such kinds of treatment.
This reminds me of my guaranteed cure for headaches (it also
works for any other malady): bang your head against a brick wall until
the pain stops (or the malady is cured). It works every time the
treatment is carried out as prescribed.
This was one of the more interesting experiences. I was diagnosed in
the traditional way - by taking my pulse. A brief,
superficial history was taken by someone who spoke some
English and translated into Chinese. I think the diagnosis was something
to do with the spleen. This is a popular diagnosis for all kinds of
symptoms, since most people have heard of the spleen but are not quite
sure what it does, exactly, and thus are are unlikely to disagree with the
diagnosis. After being given an impressive mixture of dried roots,
berries, bark and unidentifiable bits and being instructed on their
preparation (and paying my money) I went home and followed the
instructions. The brew tasted foul (I think those bits I couldn't
identify were Rhinoceros dung, but can't really be sure). The lack of
noticeable effect was later attributed to the fact that I added some honey
- the herbs apparently don't work unless the full horror of their taste
is experienced. After finishing this course of herbs and going back to
report the lack of progress I was given another mixture. This had a
spectacular effect, though not quite what I desired - the worst farts I
have ever smelled. I didn't go back.
I have seen psychologists individually and as part of groups. While
this has been beneficial for my personal development (and the financial
development of the psychologists), it hasn't helped my general health.
At one stage I was diagnosed as being depressed and was having trouble
sleeping. I took anti-depressants for quite a while. It helped my
sleep patterns but that was about all. Fortunately the side-effects
were very minor.
I was diagnosed has having CFS by a physician. While it was relieving
that my pattern of symptoms had been noticed in others and had even been
given a name (in fact, several different names), it didn't result in a
cure. There is no current consensus about the cause of CFS and little
useful consensus about effective treatments. When I was diagnosed I was
told rest was important. More recently light exercise seems to have
been shown to be beneficial in most cases. Scores of other treatments
have been suggested and seem to have had benefits in some cases but
there is no general consensus on any of these.
Life as an academic in our department has become much more difficult and
less rewarding over the years. This is also true of most other
departments in the University of Melbourne, most universities in
Australia and in the rest of the world. Our teaching load per staff
member (number of subjects and students per subject) have increased
dramatically in the last five years. Administration loads have also
increased and pressure to do more research, publish more and get more
grants has also increased greatly. Academics like doing research
and publishing papers, thats why we are here instead of earning twice as
much in industry, but we have less and less time to do so. Its is not a
relaxed, healthy, fulfilling work environment. Whose fault is that?
I'm happy with the way the department is run, but some faculty and
university decisions have had a dreadful impact on our department and no
greater good that I can see and successive Australian governments have
been bleeding the tertiary education sector dry, inspired by the global
trend of economic rationalism.
It has become more and more difficult for me to cope
with the work load and stress. Avoiding stress the main thing CFS
sufferers should attempt. In recent years I have typically had my
heaviest teaching load in first semester. I have managed to struggle
through it somehow, often spending weekends in bed, but my health has
suffered in the following months.
By the time my health has got back to a reasonable level its been first
semester again. Like many current practices, it was not sustainable.
So, I'm now officially working 1/2 time. I hope to relax more and regain
some fitness which hopefully will result in better overall health. I
might even get more research done than in the past...
This web page is a "coming out" in some sense. I've always found it
difficult to tell people I have CFS. Doctors have a poor understanding
of CFS, but at least most of then realise it. The general public
understands even less but half of them think they know the cause and/or a
cure for it. When I have been un-well in the past I have usually told
people I get sick a lot and its nothing too serious and I'm vague about
any further details. Now I can point them to this web page instead.