Vulnerable confession time: I’m admitting that I took on too much & need to step back. And you know what, that is completely okay.
This past October, I took on a part-time job in retail for the holidays. At first, I thought that I could handle this on random weekends and then during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. I quickly learned that yes, I could handle this job when things were great, but struggled deeply when additional issues, projects, and other things were put on my plate. I really was hitting a breaking point a few weeks ago and after getting sick (again) because I’m not taking care of my body, I stepped away from my part-time season job yesterday. And you know what, I feel GREAT.
Sometimes we need to say no to things in order to heal, to recover after a very busy time, and to recreate time to care for ourselves. If I worked one job and had very few additional responsibilities, I may have been able to handle it. This semester I’ve been balancing 2 classes and a practicum, an assistantship where I supervise 17 RAs and can only be there 2 full days a week, supporting my family through ups and downs, wedding planning, and managing other things (i.e. leadership roles, extra responsibilities). I. Am. Drained. My work ethic is also too strong to half-ass my job (which is what I was doing). If I can’t put my 100% into something, I need to prioritize and reflect on my decisions.
So now, I’m creating time for self-care this winter break. I’m prioritizing myself and my family. I’m also mentally preparing and getting organized for the SA Job search early next semester (AHHHH). I will be reading young adult books in my jammies and getting coffee with my sister. And honestly, that’s what I need for my sanity. If you can cut back in an area of your life to take care of yourself, DO IT. I recognize that many aren’t always in this privileged position, especially with a second job, but there are still ways to create space for you. Even if it is just saying “no” to taking an extra shift at work or an extra project from a coworker. Here’s to making 2019 a year of saying “no” when I want, saying “yes” to opportunities that grow me, and focusing on my physical, mental, and spiritual health to the best of my ability.
Vulnerable confession time: sometimes I still struggle with my mental health when my life is going exceptionally well. I am a successful and confident young woman pursuing my Master’s degree. I have a fiancé who treats me like a queen. My body feels better than it has in ages because I dropped over 18 pounds in the last few months. I should be on top of the world right? For the most part yes, I am. Over the past few days, however, I struggled to hold it all together. This is what depression looks like, people. I wish I had a dollar for every person who told me that I don’t look depressed. Or for those who told me that I have nothing to be depressed about. You’re absolutely right: depression doesn’t have to be situational. It comes and goes. You can have the most incredible, exceptional, extraordinary life and it will still be there. This does not make me weaker than anyone else. Also, I’m NOT faking it just because you can’t see my depression as much as you may see others.
My advice to you is to consider the invisible struggles of others. Know that mental illness is very real and must be accepted and perceived the same way that we look at physical illness. I am not insane. I am a fully functioning human being who sometimes has off days. And that is completely okay. If you have clinical depression or anxiety (or any mental illness), know that you are capable and strong. This illness doesn’t define you. I am competent, confident, and live a pretty extraordinary life. I will never let anyone tell me otherwise.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I haven’t written much in a really, really long time. That is because I’ve been struggling to swim in the midst of the chaos that is my life this semester. On top of 2 classes, an assistantship as an Area Coordinator, and a practicum experience, I am also making an attempt to get my health in check (with a new diet plan), mentally preparing to begin the job search, working really hard to get my 7-9 hours of sleep, and somehow managing to make time for me. Oh, and did I mention that I got engaged?? (Which is SOOOO exciting, but also…wedding planning! Fun stuff, but again, more on my plate). Despite the chaos I’m somehow managing to breathe. Over the past 3 weeks I’ve committed to finding time to live a full, positive, successful life in the midst of the busyness. I’ve also tried (and sometimes failed) to look past the “culture of busy” in order to make meaning of all the things I have going on. So yes, I’ve had so many days this semester where I fell apart, but by changing my mindset, I feel more full overall. This is how I’m working to balance my chaos:
Do NOT compromise your health & well-being for ANYTHING.
The first thing that I have not done in a while is compromise my health and well-being. The Angela from last year would have worked to solve her stress with a very unhealthy (yet oh, so satisfying) meal out. Stress eating is my weakness when it comes to having a lot going on. Over the past few months I started Weight Watchers in order to hold myself accountable and to live a healthier lifestyle. I can honestly say that I’m building healthier habits and feeling a million times better in the process. Instead of binge eating or taking a nap at 7pm, I take a brisk walk instead. I also make time to cook a healthy meal almost every evening. I make time to do things that are good for my body instead of reverting back to the bad habits of my college days. I’ve also significantly cut down on drinking alcohol, which has definitely helped me with feeling more alive and healthy. No matter what, do an evaluation of your health and wellness “bad habits.” Think about what you need to break in order to be your best self. And no matter what, don’t make excuses. NOW is the time to make a positive change for yourself.
Get things done EARLY.
This one is easier said than done. I always make strides to get my work done early when I can. In grad school, the homework readings pile up significantly quicker than in undergrad. Every week I make a huge list of all my homework tasks for the following week and I work to start them at least a few days in advance. Yes, there have been weeks where I’ve only been able to do the work the night before, but for the most part, I am preparing in advance which helps me to feel more knowledgable of the content and less anxious.
NEVER compromise time with your loved ones.
My fiancé helps me to hold my shit together. No matter what, I make sure that I make time for him as much as I can. It’s easy to push away those that we love when we are busy and struggling to make time for enjoyment. Every time I spend a weekend with him, I try to get my work done in advance so that I don’t have to focus on the stress that comes with thinking about my to-do list for the next week. He is also my person so spending time with him is also good for my mental health as well. No matter what, don’t forget about your person in grad school (or during life in general). They’ll make sure you stay sane throughout it all.
Maximize your time.
My latest goal is to maximize my time to feel recharged and productive. I’ve been trying to be more attentive to my productive times while listening to my body when I need times of rest. I make sure that I can go to bed early when I don’t have events and that I wake up about 2 hours before work so that I can get things done in the morning. In addition, I tell myself that no matter how exhausted I feel, I will be a million times better with a good walk or workout. Figure out what your body needs and make time for it. You’ll feel more recharged and productive later. You’ll also feel better mentally!
Don’t stress over the little things & live in the moment.
The greatest thing I remind myself of is that it’s a waste of energy to stress over the little things. I do so much better when I take a breather to recharge and then work to complete whatever stressful/anxiety-inducing task is in front of me. I’m also working to live in the moment. Sometimes it’s more fulfilling to take a beautiful sunset walk than to get my homework done right that second. Or instead of getting annoyed that there are students laughing in my office I should put my work aside and join in their laughter. After all, that’s why I’m in this field in the first place. Make time to enjoy things. Don’t stress over the small stuff. Remember to live.
Overall, you CAN balance it all. The journey isn’t an easy one, but it’s worth it in the end. I’m sick of living a lifestyle where I’m completely exhausted all the time. Life is entirely too short to focus on those things that bring you anxiety. Sometimes you need to check yourself and your behavior in order to move forward in the right direction. Now go & focus on what you need to do to get your life in order. I believe in you!
In the recent light of yet another suicide, there have been a lot of conversations around mental health (as there should be). Kate Spade’s death came as a shock to many of us because on the surface, she hid beneath a facade of happiness & sparkles & joy when in reality, she was mentally living in a dark world. Please know that it’s okay not to be okay. I know that everyone is saying it but the truth is, it’s okay to seek help. It’s okay to go through dark times. It’s okay to admit that you’re in this place. You are not alone. Many are in the same place as you, my friend. Many of us have also been there.
I personally have gone through very dark moments in my life where I too wondered if life was worth it. These were my absolute lowest times. The first was when I was in a very mentally abusive and manipulative relationship, and the other was when a close college friend of mine died very tragically. These two situations brought so much darkness to my life. I felt trapped and alone, even though there were tons of people who I could have gone to.
I got out of these times by seeking help from friends, relatives, and a counselor. You need to know that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with going to a counselor. There is also NOTHING wrong with taking medication and for having a mental illness. So many of us live with mental illness every day. It is very real and when we don’t take care of it, it can easily destroy our world.
So if you’re reading this and you’re not ok I need you to ask for help. Seek out your support system. If you are feeling suicidal or are in need of help, call @800273TALK (8255) or text NAMI to 741-741. Look into the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website & twitter pages for stories of people who are dealing with their mental illness. Stories of survivors.
If you’re reading this and you’re not ok, I want you to know that I want you here. This world is a better place with you in it. I need you to know that so many of us have been there. We’ve been in the darkness, but once you seek the help you need trust me, you will find the light again. You will learn to walk again with hope and a sense of purpose. You will realize that life is worth living.
It took me a very long time to recognize that I deserve the beautiful life that I have. Often times we find that our struggles define us and for some people, it’s nearly impossible to get past the bad times in our lives. I’ve been taking a lot of time to reflect on my journey. I’ve reflected on how far I’ve come as a person despite my past relationships, traumatic situations, and at times, having the cards stacked completely against me. No life is perfect. It may seem that some people have it all together but what we need to realize is that we all have a journey and all of our life journeys are sloppy at times. Here are just a few of the life lessons that I’ve learned from my beautiful, yet sloppy life.
I Deserve to Be Where I am Today (& so do You)
I worked a very long time to get where I am in my career. Although I’m only halfway through graduate school, I’ve had quite a journey so far in regard to employment and my career life path. Throughout my whole life, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. In the fall of 2013 I quickly realized that this wasn’t my life path (right when I was in the middle of my student teaching experience). I truly believe that I had a mental breakdown at that time. I knew that I wasn’t happy. I came back to my room and had panic attacks every single day. I knew in my heart that I wasn’t on the right path. And so I decided to quit student teaching to focus on my mental health. I worked at a Barnes & Noble for almost a year (which I loved, by the way) and focused on taking on side projects in student affairs (which is what I really love). I’ve had at least 10 random part-time jobs and work study positions over the years. I made it through undergraduate school despite the challenges of being a first-generation student. And now I’m here, working through grad school and doing work in Residence Life. I hope to continue to be successful after graduation.I deserve it.
No One Can Define You But Yourself
People are mean sometimes. Yes, I believe that people are mostly good but in reality, people tend to be mean when they are not happy in their own lives. I suffered through years of bullying as a child. I was called names because of my weight on a daily basis. Fast forward into high school and college. I was in an abusive relationship and other relationships with abusive tendencies. I learned to hate my body and everything about myself. I was never pretty enough or smart enough or thin enough or outgoing enough. It took me roughly 24 years to love myself and the life I’ve worked for. My time working at Saint Mary’s College was the turning point for my self-confidence when it came to my body image and my career. I took an intentional two year break from dating. I focused on “dating” myself and reflecting on the things that I love to do. I also reflected on and refined the skills that I am good at. I truly learned that I deserve to be where I am: happy and successful. I am the only one who can define my life. By learning to love my body and myself I took away that power from those who would try to hurt me with their words and actions.
Laugh so You Don’t Cry
Life is stressful. There will always be stressful days and things that go wrong. I learned that I need to laugh things off instead of constantly crying over them and letting them destroy me. It is so easy to let negativity consume our thoughts. When something goes wrong at work, I try to step away and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. When I think about something particularly sad, such as the death of a loved one, I try to reframe and think about a joyful memory with that person. Laughter is truly the best medicine. When we try to find the good in our unfortunate circumstances, we have the power to reclaim happiness instead of letting negative emotions to destroy us.
Happiness is Something that You Create
I know a staggering number of people who say that they would be happy if they had more money or a new car. I’ve learned that waiting for happiness to come to us is not how we should live our lives. Happiness is something that we personally define and create.Yes, having money or other things may ease some difficulty in our lives but that is not truly the answer to a happy life. We need to take steps to create our happiness. Go out for coffee on a Saturday. Make a phone call to the people you love. Do whatever you can to create happiness for yourself. Your life will be so much more fulfilling.
Capture Life in Moments, not Things
At the end of the day, you’re going to find the most joy from the moments that captivate you than from the newest electronics. Yes, buying new things is nice (and often necessary), but when you have the option between going on an adventure and buying something for yourself, I suggest that you go for the adventure. Life is all about the little quirky moments that make you happy, not about the new expensive things that you want to buy. For example, this year for our anniversary, my boyfriend and I decided to take a trip to Washington D.C. instead of buying gifts. We had an amazing time, laughed a lot, and had the opportunity to spend a super fun weekend together. We have no regrets about this decision and plan on trying to do it every year if we can!
It’s okay to have a Career that you Love without Allowing it to Take Over your Personal Life
In America, we have this tainted perception that in order to have a career that we are passionate about, we must give up a lot of other things, like a family, relationships, self-care, etc.It is important to know that you do NOT need to pick or choose which of these things you want. Life is all about balance. I am currently a full-time graduate student pursuing a career that I absolutely love and feel called to. I also spend every weekend I can with my significant other, his family, and my own family. I map out the workout classes that I want to attend every week. I also make sure that I go grocery shopping for healthy food so that I’m not eating like crap. If you plan out things accordingly, you can have it all. Yes, having a career while balancing a life is extremely stressful, but you need to know that it will all work out if you make the time to invest appropriately with all aspects of your life. Yes, I love my job, but my family and my significant other come first. I want to be successful in my career and to help others as well. It is okay to want both of these things.
Make Self-Care a Priority
I say this all the time, but one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is to make self-care a priority. Self-care doesn’t have to be extravagant trips to the spa or vacations to Hawaii (although those sound amazing). Self-care is simply the daily, weekly, monthly or yearly things that you do in order to maintain your balance, to refocus on your happiness, and to take care of your body and mind. My self-care practices involve getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep every night, taking coffee breaks when my anxiety is high (I know this doesn’t make sense, but grabbing a cup of coffee really helps me to recenter myself despite the caffeine), talking to my loving partner every day about the good things and the bad, grocery shopping instead of doing takeout, and going to yoga and Zumba classes as much as possible (which is about 2-4 times per week when I can). Self-care is saying no to things that you cannot add to your “plate.” It’s about advocating for yourself in the workplace and knowing that it is okay to speak up about your feelings. Taking care of myself is not selfish. You need to know that this is a part of life. If you don’t take care of yourself and practice self-love, you will not be able to love and take care of others.
My Mental Illness Does Not Define Me (& neither does Yours)
Mental Illness is often difficult to talk about because many people are still extremely judgmental about the validity of mental health needs. Although we are doing much better as a society at reducing the stigma, there are still many people out there who choose not to understand what we go through. I’ve learned that even though my Depression and Anxiety are a huge part of my life, they do not define me. I am not my mental illness. It has taken me years of hiding my mental illness and refusing to accept it for what it was. I went of medication when I thought that I was “better” (which I wasn’t). I still have days where I want to hide in my room because facing the world seems too difficult. I sometimes have panic attacks when I have a million things going on and my brain does not know how to cope. I’ve grown so much in self-awareness when it comes to my mental health. Your mental health journey will look very different from the journey of others. Just know that your needs are valid. Learn to embrace and understand your mental illness in order to practice the self-care that you need. Also know that what works for one person may not work for another.
Life is not easy. It wasn’t meant to be easy. Life is sloppy at times. We have absolutely amazing days where we wake up and feel like we can handle whatever comes our way. Other days we can barely make it out of bed. I deserve laughter and love, a career that I am passionate about, health and happiness, family, a partner that I couldn’t live without, and an extraordinary life worth living. You deserve this too. Get out there with your head held high. Pick up your feet. Yes, some days are really tough but I need you to know that when you get to a point of true joy in your life that the journey will be worth it.