Category Archives: Mental Health

Intermission ft. Self-Doubt in “Are You Sure You’re Doing This Right?”

My last month has been great. I’ve been catching up on sleep, making myself good food and voraciously reading and watching shows and movies I missed during the semester. I’ve been journaling and making art. (Examples of both are actually at the bottom of the home page of this site! I can’t do much online but I rigged this to connect to my instagram page, RavynnCreates, which you should absolutely follow.) But I’ve also gotten some work done, too– I’ve already met with Jody about what my Lemon assistantship is going to look like next year and I’m killing it at my job at Michaels. (I’ve already gotten two really kind customer survey feedback reports, both of which are tacked on a board in our break room.)

I’ve even been having fun. I’ve always been mature and serious, so my idea of fun has always been very different than my peers’ ideas. But more recently I realized there’s point in always acting like I’m 40 when I have a solid twenty years before I get there and I have plenty of time after that to act like an old fuddy duddy. So I got a little more social. I stopped avoiding outings with friends and started taking people up on more lunch and dinner invitations. I’ve just been out and about more instead of retreating into my shell as I am so wont to do, going kayaking with buds or even just hanging out at coffee shops by myself. I’ve even *gasp* been to a concert!

Up until last Saturday, I’d never been to huge concert– unless you count going to BET Honors my fourth year of college, but that was definitely more show than concert– and I always assumed that my favorite artist would have to be headlining for me to go. (Read: I was pretty sure J. Cole was going to be my first and only concert.) But Chance the Rapper was in town, and I knew enough about him and his music to merit purchasing those spur of the moment lawn tickets. My friend and I hit the road to VA Beach, and I got to not only see the concert, but two of my dearest friends while we were there.

In between all of the various exciting outings, I have also been able to hang out with my parents and my uncles, who were up visiting from Key West last week.

And in between all of that?

I’ve been working on my Masters Thesis.

Even though I made a schedule for myself, starting seemed daunting. My first move was to get organized. I collected the two papers I wanted to use for my portfolio, collected my professors’ comments on those papers, any e-mail correspondence I’d had about the papers, and my SASA conference paper into one binder. I added a pad of paper to the back so if I had to take notes (which, clearly, I would) I could keep everything together.

So I had a nice heap of things I needed, strikingly organized in a clear binder with colorful dividers but that was about all I had.

I carried my project around in my purse with me for a few days so whenever I hit up a coffee shop (which was often), I could fish it out and look at it, as if staring at it would make clear what I was to do next.

For a while, I tried editing what I already had, slashing away at poorly worded paragraphs, circling ideas that were crucial but under developed, but it slowly became clear that though my Black Panther essay was the one that has been carrying me as a scholar, it’s also a mess.

I would have to rewrite it.

At first I was stuck in between a ton of emotions– frustration that there was nothing I could save, fear of starting from the bottom again, and a little disgust that I hadn’t written anything better. But I started to look at it as a good thing. The fact that I knew I had to try writing this paper again meant that my ideas had grown, my theory and source base had expanded and my execution has gotten better. Even just from semester one to semester two, my papers have gotten leaps and bounds better (though admittedly they still aren’t particularly well written.) I wanted my semester one ideas to be communicated with my semester two knowledge base.

It’s a good thing.

Then, after that panic subsided and I was able to move forward again, I started to worry that I would never be able to write in the tradition academic way. I wondered if I would ever be able to write clearly– create sentences, to quote Baldwin, that are “clean as a bone.” I remember reading a girl in my cohort’s paper at the end of the semester thinking, this is one of the clearest pieces I’ve read, this could be in a journal. She and I were both in the masters part of the program, but she could write like that and I still have trouble writing about only one idea at a time.

I began to worry that maybe I wasn’t “serious” enough of a scholar. I started to question the validity of my questions and my research interests. I started to question if I was doing something wrong. Clearly, comic studies and Black studies are vibrant fields, but I felt as if my work was missing components that made it relevant.

It didn’t help that I didn’t get the academic blogging internship I applied for.

Rationally: yes, I did submit my application late; no, I did not actually need to do the internship in addition to everything else I was doing this summer; and no, it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

Irrationally: I wondered why I wasn’t considered and instead of reasoning that a large part of it was my tardiness (which is probably was), I let the rejection be an indictment of my work. I blog, yes, but it isn’t “serious.” I do history, kind of. I do Black studies, in a way. I wasn’t doing work in a way that one particular group didn’t affirm as valuable. I wondered if I could be doing something better, what I could be doing better. I thought, maybe I should drop blogging all together and spend more time in the library, maybe I should try doing more archival research and then I’d be taken seriously, maybe I should stop trying to claim Black studies– is my work laughable?

I confided my worries to a fellow Black doctoral student in a different program and said to her, “Sometimes I really wonder if I’m even doing this right.”

She kind of smiled at me and said kindly, “I hear you and I hear your concerns, but I really doubt you’re doing this wrong.”

At the moment, I smiled and acted like I was reassured, but the truth was, I was still carrying around my project and not really doing anything with it. I was reading more articles and books, writing little summaries of them, just generally plodding along but not really moving forward.

This past week wasn’t much better. I spent a couple of days scouring the National Archive, hoping there might be something I could use for my paper so I didn’t have to go to Michigan to the archive my professor had suggested, mostly because I didn’t apply for summer research money. Finally, I returned to the Wakanda Syllabus, a tidy document of comic/Black studies resources, written by Dr. Walter Greason and posted on Black Perspectives, for new inspiration. A solid half of the material, I’d already come into contact with in some shape or form, but I made a point to click on every link.

One of the last sources linked me to an article in RVANews about a comic archive at VCU.

And it was like everything fell into place.

Another hour of researching uncovered that the archive had original issues of all of the comics I’d wanted to use, plus hundreds more that could almost certainly be relevant.

I took down as much information as I could, including the name of the archivist and her phone number, already getting excited that I had found something so relevant so close to home. This archive, at most an hour away from my apartment, might resolve a lot of the hiccups of self doubt and invalidity that I’d been feeling about my work.

(So definitely stay tuned because I’ll probably be writing about my first archive trip before long. Honestly, thank Rao that this archive is so close.)

I probably need to stop worrying so much and just let my mind take me where it wants to go. I wouldn’t be here if at least a few people didn’t think I had potential. I’ve got plenty of ideas– I just need to learn to stop doubting them. They’ve gotten me this far, I doubt they’ll fail me now.

Week 11, or Prioritizing and Priorities

When I was younger, I didn’t take sick days off from school. Every day I went, come hell or high water, and even if someone had to come get me part way through the day, I was dropped off at the threshold of my school each morning.

That obsession with attendance followed me as I got older. Even if I knew I wasn’t going to be productive because of a fever, a pounding headache, a disgusting sinus infection, a panic attack, you name it, I consistently pushed myself out of bed and either plopped down in front of my computer screen at work or at my desk in class, and tried. 

But in the last few years, I’ve realized how important it is to take time when I need it. There came a point when I absolutely needed to take time off but the “present by any means necessary” mantra by which I lived my life kicked in, and I tried to convince everyone around me that I was fine to go back to class the next day.

I hadn’t slept for days and I could barely see, my eyes were so swollen.

A few weeks later, I’ve rested up enough to try and integrate back into my normal life. And in my defense, I think I would’ve been fine if I didn’t have the added stress of worrying about my mom, who is still in the hospital. 

I tell myself I’m going to try to work at the beginning of every day, but the pattern’s the same. I get up, I try to clean the house (to varying degrees of success) before my dad comes home to shower and eat. I maybe stare at a few pages of reading before Dad walks in. I ask if anyone is with my mom. He says no. I get up and drive to the hospital. I talk to my mom for about twenty minutes. I help her to the restroom a few times, another twenty minutes each time, from the time she gets out of the bed until she gets back in. Food comes and I help her eat. She asks for water. I read to her a little. She falls asleep. I try to read. She wakes up and we do it all over again.

The fact is my priorities are still out of order. There is no universe in which reading for a class I won’t remember in ten years trumps caring for my mother, who gave birth to me and was an active and caring parent to me for my entire life.

What I should be balancing is caring for my mom, caring for my dad and caring for my own mental health. My school work comes much later. People are more important than things.

I wish my dad and I had more help, but one family’s tragedy is another’s minor inconvenience.

I try not to get frustrated with other people. I try not to get angry or sad. But everything feels like it’s happening too slowly. The nurses don’t move fast enough when my mom calls for help, the doctors aren’t figuring out what’s wrong fast enough, even I’m not moving fast enough to help. It feels so urgent that I find myself wanting to scream at everyone around me, “MY MOM IS SICK WHY AREN’T YOU HELPING HER?!” I feel like screaming at the doctors, her family, me. The only person that’s doing it right is my dad. He’s the only person that ever does anything right.

I feel guilty taking time to even write this, to steal hours to read and write when I know I should be sitting by her, reading to her, cheering her up, buying flowers and hanging pretty words around her room to make her smile. I want (read: need) to talk to friends who forget to call back or miss texts, and in between, they missed everything and I need to tell them what’s going on. I wouldn’t even know what to say, if I should talk about how I feel or if I should talk about my mom. And instead of working through the feelings, I let them overwhelm me and I shut down.

I don’t have time for anything but us right now, me, my mom, my dad. No one else had been there for us we needed help. No one else but us. I don’t have time to write précis, or read that 500 page monstrosity, or text back about anything that doesn’t include my mom.

My mom is my priority. I am my priority. My dad is my priority.

If that makes me a bad grad student, so be it, but it certainly makes me a good daughter and a good human.

Now, excuse me. I’ve got to go see my mom.

Week 10.5, or the Mental Health Project

In the spirit of being honest, I won’t lie about my lapse in blogging over the last two weeks. My mental health took a very serious turn for the worse and I ended up having to go stay with my parents for a week until I got stable again.

Despite having missed an entire week of school and work, I’m surprisingly not stressed out by it. What I am stressed about is my mother also falling (physically) ill right as I was scheduled to go come back to Williamsburg. She went to the hospital yesterday for a ruptured appendix and so naturally I drove right back to Suffolk and parked my butt on the futon in her room.

For the last maybe three weeks, my life has been an undeniable mess.

And for some reason, that’s also why I’m not stressed about school.

Somewhere in between the tears and panic attacks, the stomach aches and urgent care visits, the doctors appointments and naps, I realized that I only have one body and I only get one life. Fact of the matter is, my body and my mind do not require school. They do, however, require attention and care. I realized that I can do literally nothing else if my body is not properly fed and watered and if my mind and my emotions have been neglected. I have to cater to myself first. I have to check in with myself, make sure I’m okay. I need to rest when I’m tired. I need to honor my feelings when I’m down. I have every right to ask for what I need to feel nourished spiritually and emotionally so that I can function.

Somehow, I let myself believe that the only way to operate was on productivity/excellence lever 12/10. That same perfectionism that is so motivating is also what pushed me all the way down.

have to do better.

There is no way I can accomplish any of the things I want to do if I don’t learn to take care of myself, or how to say no something, or how to stop giving every little thing 3,000 %.

I take everything seriously. I work meticulously, my hobby is my strictly regimented blog, and I’m even very serious about all of my friendships. I take care to treat them all carefully and work on them where needed, because I think relationships deserve that kind of attention.

But I’m also serious because I truly believe in being an excellent Black scholar. As a Black professor, I will come into contact with students at a critical age– right when they are beginning to truly be able to think critically for themselves, develop their own opinions and ideas, and learn to move intelligently through the world. I want to be like the professors I had– I want to sharpen their minds, encourage and invest in their unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and show them the power of a well educated young Black person. I want them to be able to think. In order to invest in our youth, I have to invest in myself so that I can be there to teach them.

But I have got to invest in me.

So after I finally pulled myself together and woke up from a long sleep Tuesday morning, I went to work.

I started a bullet journal that I’m going to use to track my self-care. I’m doing everything from keeping appointments in it, tracking my food, my moods, my medication, my sleep, my attempts at meditation and mindfulness, and even my prayers.

I deserve to have 30 minutes a day where I self reflect. I deserve to have an outlet for my creativity. I deserve to spend time on myself.

It’s been keeping me surprisingly honest. Monitoring my physical well being helps me see if those things are effecting my mood. My gratitude log, mood log and prayer pages help me notice my thoughts and feelings, but then leave them on the page. I’ve noticed that as soon as I write down a worry or a feeling, my mood mellows out and I can continue with my day. Best of all, it’s an excuse to treat myself with new stationary and pens. Spending time on my page layouts bring me joy and get a thrill from sharing my creations with others. I even decided to start a “creative” instagram where I’ll post pictures of my bullet journal layouts and various other artistic/creative endeavors. (click here to check it out)

Even though it’s been rough, there is always a bright side, two of my own rays of sunshine have included:

  1. Seeing my suggestion for a comic to share with novice graphic novel readers used in a Buzzfeed article! (see #6 on this list; click here to check it out!)
  2. Being recognized by an all-female secret society here at the College for my work with the Lemon Project. (This is particularly fantastic because the Lemon Project is not even my job but I have spent a lot of time and effort on my personal, small contributions.) It’s good to know that Ari and have clearly touched someone/somebod(ies) and I am grateful to be a responsible for positively impacting this college. I am particularly grateful for someone taking the time out to say thank you. You have no idea how much such a small gesture, and some kind words can mean.

Hopefully next week I’ll be back to some regularly scheduled Black Girl Does Grad School posts. Being ill and dealing with illness has prevented me from writing what I can only imagine would have been spectacular blog posts about the art exhibit I curated, my last African-American texts class in which I connected Stokely Carmichael to comics and Eldridge Cleaver to J. Cole, and my meeting with renowned American Studies scholar, George Lipsitz, who encouraged me in my scholarship, art and activism.

Not to worry, though, maybe I will tell those stories. After all, they are certainly worth telling.