I had planned a course for this summer called “The philosophy of psychiatry and mental disorders”, and I was really enthusiastic about it. Unfortunately, quite recently it turned out that I had way too many hours on my schedule, due to a bit of internal miscommunication at the department. In a way, it was a relief to find out, since I had noticed that I worked much more than forty hours a week, and started to wonder whether I was inefficient and bad at planning or simply had too much to do. Turns out it was the latter. The only feasible way to rectify this with the semester already underway was to cut the summer course, even though interest had been huge and twice as many students had applied as we had space for.

However, this event made me reflect some more on the issue of mental illness and moral responsibility, which I also research and publish on…

I have some personal responsibility for keeping track of my schedule. Sure, this time there was a concrete internal communication failure, but the department’s administrative staff can’t keep track of everything, in particular when it comes to presentations given at conferences and the like at other universities (something which I’d stuffed my schedule full of last fall, all on my own). Even with the afore-mentioend communications failure, I could have spotted the problem myself, but I didn’t, and I could absolutely have thought through my schedule before proposing the summer course to the higher-ups, but I didn’t do that either.
When I was told how much overtime I had, my reaction went through these stages:

1. Oh, what a relief, that means I really had too much to do, it’s not that I’m inefficient!
2. But wait a minute, how sloppy of me not to notice that I had way too much on my schedule! Why did I even ask to give this summer course, without considering first how much teaching and research I already had on my plate! Why did I just accept more and more tasks, and not only when people asked me if I could, but also on my own initiative? How terribly stupid I am!
3. But perhaps this somehow happened because I’m mad? If so, I couldn’t help it! That’s great, it means I’m not stupid after all. Hm, once in the late nineties a psychiatrist told me I had abnormal mood swings, bipolar style, perhaps that’s why? Maybe I’ve been manic for some time, and that’s why I haven’t been able to say no to things and over-enthusiastically created this course, despite it not fitting into my schedule? That must be it. Not my fault, couldn’t help it.

I think it’s fairly common among madpeople/neurodivergents to go through the above stages. We’ve often gotten so much crap throughout our lives for things we didn’t manage, and internalized it, thus developing strong tendencies to harshly blame ourselves for every little mistake we make. Next, we learn to exculpate ourselves, with “but I have [diagnosis], so I couldn’t help it”.

However, when I talked to our department head, he pointed out that academics in general are prone to over-enthusiastically accept way too many tasks, and how it’s not the end of the world that I happened to do so and that we had to postpone the summer course. That’s absolutely true! I haven’t done any gigantic, mad mistake. I’ve made a perfectly ordinary one.

It’s easy to forget that even madpeople and neurodivergent ones, people who sometimes do some pretty weird shit (by sane standards, at least), also think, feel and do countless ordinary stuff throughout their lives, including run-of-the-mill minor mistakes and wrongs. If you do this, and then – instinctively and because of old internalized crap – start beating yourself up, the healthy reaction is not to exculpate yourself by way of diagnosis, but to take a step back, realize that it was just a minor thing, and that you don’t need any exculpation to begin with.

This is something I need to practice. And, I believe, many others too.