I have recently left the world of academia to return to front line nursing. After seven years teaching in a university I’ve decided it’s time to move on. I’ve spent much of this week wondering how I feel about this move. I was sad to leave friends and colleagues behind .I was sad to leave classroom work behind. I am a good teacher and enjoy the buzz of classroom work. But…as I carried on thinking about my reaction to leaving, it dawned on me that I was rather numb. I wasn’t clear about my feelings. As this week has gone on the numbness has given way to relief. From this comes a feeling of freedom. I can breathe! (This was apparent in my singing lesson. I had breath to hit the high notes. To be able to move from a low note to a high one and back down again. Without too much effort. I could breath.My lungs had room to expand.)
As I was musing about these feelings it dawned on me that this was what is described by women who come out of an abusive relationship. Many of my patients describe a pattern. At first their partner is very loving and attentive towards them. They feel loved and wanted. As the relationship develops things change. Slowly and imperceptibly. He becomes more controlling .He wants to know where she has been. Who she has been seeing. He goes through her mobile and looks at her text messages. (But gets very angry if she does the same thing.) Little by little the power is taken from the weaker one who continually adapts herself to her partner’s demands. There seems to be no end to her compliance and his dominance. At the end there is a truly MAD relationship- Mutually Assured Destruction.
My relationship with my university fits this pattern .When I first got the job I was delighted and excited. Oh! The wonderful conversations I was going to have! The heady atmosphere of living and working with academics! (Yes. I know! But one has to dream a little!) In truth, the early days of our relationship were fun. We laughed a lot. We enjoyed each other’s company. Slowly, however, things began to change. My dream partner became more demanding and less helpful. I was left to write and run a course by myself. (I had no idea how to do this. I’d spent 20 years as a clinician.) The person given me to help simply returned my poor attempts with red lines everywhere. “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” No proper help was given.I was left, literally, in the cold. (My office was a small, cold, damp room in what had been the servant’s quarters.An apt image.)
As with any abusive relationship, there were good times. Friends who supported me and shared their experiences. Both good and bad. Once or twice I complained about my treatment to “the authorities” .Support was mixed. I had to follow appropriate procedures. Fill in the proper forms. Go through the right channels. So I carried on because I had invested a lot in this relationship. I was proud of my status as their partner.
There is a story told about frogs. Put one in a pan of boiling water and it will do its best to jump out. Take the same frog. Put it in a pan of cold water. Slowly increase the temperature of the water. The frog will adjust to each increase in temperature. Eventually it will boil. But never have tried to escape, not realising its danger. The end result is the same.Death.
My turning point came after one particularly painful episode where I felt bullied, humiliated and threatened one time too many. There was, as always, a power imbalance. I was, structurally, the more vulnerable partner. Following a bout of depression I handed in my notice.I left this week. Hopefully I will be missed. Friends are sad that I’m going.My students will miss me and my funny ideas! The university has lost a gifted teacher. But nothing much will change. It rarely does…
There are many more things I want to explore in future blogs.General issues about power and abuse. Bullying and victimhood. Where and how we should train future nurses, therapists and counsellors. About the ways in which an organisation chooses to ignore its shadow side. But seven hundred words is enough for today.