Category Archives: Ravynn: Act 2, Scene 1

Week 12, or The Mental Health Project, Part 2

Last semester, I wrote about my mental health struggles and how I would be working through them, convinced that, after a few months of dedication, I would be on top of my mental health and the picture of emotional stability.

The truth is that I have a mood disorder, and no matter how much I want to con myself into believing it can be conquered, the best I can do is regulate myself as best as I can to minimize the damage of a mood episode. It’s the mental equivalent of batten down the hatches, because my mood, like the sea, is really going to do whatever it wants to do, whenever it wants (usually when I’m least prepared for it) and all I can do is be ready and vigilant.

Now, stress is the enemy of so very many people with mood disorders. Unusually large amounts of stress are likely to trigger a mood episode. (Mood episodes are honestly like weathering the worst sea storms imaginable for days, weeks, sometimes months at a time. You’re being controlled and beaten by your own emotions, and all you can do to save yourself is hang on for dear life.)

As you can imagine, the added stress that comes at the end of the semester is no good for me but I do my best to take care of myself. Here are just a few of my self-care techniques:

  • Bulletjournaling. I love the ability to track everything– food, medicine, sleep, gratitude, dreams, goals, to do lists, etc. I especially love the freedom of getting to create and organize my own planner/diary exactly how I want.
  • Therapy. Sometimes, you just need to talk it out and your usual chat with your girlfriends won’t cut it.
  • Hydration. Kelsey pointed this one out to me, but sometimes if you’re more tired than usual, you might just need to drink some more water. Try to hydrate a little more before jumping to any illness related conclusions.
  • Healthy Eating (or just eating, generally). I am a terrible eater. I blame my mom– she’s a bad eater, too. Anyone that knows me, knows that during finals season I pretty much exist on granny smith apples, popcorn and hazelnut lattes. Cooking in bulk on Sundays ensures that I have food at the ready the whole week and no reason at all to avoid eating a real meal.
  • Playing with my dog. Playing with Genghis or taking him for a walk for thirty minutes, with my phone off, is a great way to reset if I don’t want to take a nap and just need a little boost of happy energy.
  • Pleasure reading. This seems impossible, particularly in graduate school, but I find that I actually can make the time to read a little of what makes me happy every day. During hard times, I read a chapter of a Harry Potter book every night before bed, but now I’ve been slowly making my way through We Were Eight Years in Power.
  • Knitting. I’m a serial binge watcher and I always tell myself I’m going to do something productive while I catch up on my CW superhero shows, so knitting is the perfect way to do something with my hands while enjoying a relaxing few hours of entertainment.
  • Essential Oils/Aromatherapy. Lavender Stress Relief essential oils are the plug. They’re also amazing for helping me fall asleep, too. I put a few drops on my temples and on my wrists before bed, and on my soap for my morning shower. (You can get oils in packs of 3 or more at TJ Maxx for about 10 dollars, and if you have a little more money to spend, you can always try Bath and Body Works’ Aromatherapy line!)
  • Reaching out to friends. I have about five friends who I can always count on to make me laugh during the most trying of times and a couple grad school buddies who have always got my back.
  • Meditating. It’s a hard habit to get into, but once you start meditating consistently, it’s so worth it. Start your day with a five minute meditation, and you’ll feel calmer and ready to take on the day.

As often as you can, I think it’s worthwhile to list out things you can do to pick yourself up when you’re sad, things that you love doing because it feeds your soul, and just things you need to do to feel like a functional human. When it feels like nothing will make you feel better, just looking at list of things that make you smile reminds you that, at some point, all of this made you happy. During finals season, I’m going to make sure I come back to this list, so I can do things that center me and bring me a little peace. I deserve to have a quality life, and I am the only one who can ensure that for myself.

Week 11, or A Classroom Should Be…

The high from last week spilled over into this one: I started out enthusiastic from putting on another successful Lemon Porch Talk, getting my article from the Junto republished on HASTAC.org, and finding out that I would be a HASTAC scholar for the next two years. Despite the feelings of excitement from gaining new Twitter followers and relief from actually finishing all my readings for once, I ended the week on a contemplative note.

I’ve been thinking about classrooms– how they are both sacred and contested, places of refuge but not life rafts. And while it was at first difficult to think of what exactly the magic of a classroom is, I could very quickly discern what it was not. It is not a place where participants interrupt each other, disagree aggressively or otherwise check out all together. It is not a place where hesitant attempts to contribute in discussion are met with snickers or side bar comments. It is not a place where you may take a pejorative or patronizing tone when explaining something that everyone else might not know. While these dynamics are understandable to a degree– excitement causes interruptions and the need to whisper your thought so as not to interrupt the person speaking can be understood– explaining away the problem does not negate the facts.

These dynamics are not conducive to a fruitful classroom environment.

If this is what I do not want my classroom to be, then what do I want it to be?

A Classroom Should Be…

  • A Safe Space; but that does not mean it is always comfortable. As an undergraduate at UVA, one of the first things I learned was that I loved my classrooms. I felt free to learn, make mistakes, and grow. As I took more classes, I realized that even though I loved growing intellectually, it was often uncomfortable. Professor Harold challenged me constantly, Professor Woolfork told me I wasn’t always right, Professor McGrady encouraged me to do the hardest thing I could imagine– because even if I failed, I could say I’d been courageous enough to try. I used to think those professors hated me, but they loved me. They loved me enough to force me out of my comfortable patterns of thought and actions so I would grow. It was tough love, but love nonetheless.
  • Conducive to learning. In order to learn, there is a certain amount of vulnerability one must have, and I believe we must respect and protect students in their moments of vulnerability. We need to make our students feel empowered and encouraged to share, because fear of being wrong is hard enough as it is.
  • A Workspace. In a classroom, learning is a communal process. A good class is one where I not only develop a rapport with the professor but my classmates as well. They become your teammates. One of the best classes I’ve ever taken was Interracialism my first semester in grad school, and the five of us fed off of each other, built off of each other, learned from each other, encouraged each other. It was beautiful, and I wouldn’t have learned as much without my team.
  • A Space for Mistakes. I have made my fair share of mistakes and misinterpretations in the years and years in which I have been a student. I have indeed failed a quiz or two in my lifetime. There have been moments in which I have read every page of an assigned book and got absolutely nothing out of it. (Seriously, it happened just last week.) You won’t understand everything, you won’t ace everything, and you will occasionally follow a train of thought so far in the wrong direction that there’s no coming back. But part of the process is feeling free to go in the wrong direction and fall down a few times.

For a classroom to feel like this, it requires certain degrees of trust and respect that sometimes, admittedly just aren’t there.

Classrooms are hard spaces to “get right” and there’s no formula for it. Particularly since every classroom has a different purpose, a different professor, a different space, and most importantly, a different combination of students. Just one minute difference will change the tone of an entire class. As a scholar whose duty lies in the classroom just as much as it does in my research, I’m making a point now to think through power dynamics of the classroom and decide what I can do to create the kind of environment I would want to learn in.

Week 10, or 15 Minutes of Fame and Other Victories

This week was a haze of victories.

This semester, in spite of the never ending feelings of exhaustion and stress, has been a haze of victories, too. It’s hard for me to see the stars for the trees sometimes, which is why I’m so grateful to have this blog. I have no shortage of falls and failures to write about but it gives me such great pleasure to recap successes. In this semester alone: I finished writing my Master’s Thesis; I successfully defended it; I attended two amazing conferences back to back; I went to Comicon for the first time; I ran my first (packed audience) Lemon Project Porch Talk; I joined a club; and I met some amazing scholars.

But this week was nothing short of amazing.

The whole thing started with the amazing feedback I got about my BGDGS post I wrote about the Race, Memory and the Digital Humanities Conference last week. (Sidenote: Moya Bailey made a storify of it. Check it out!) The conference participants circulated the review, getting some retweets by my own professor, and the director of Conferences and Communications at Omohundro even plugged my review. I was thrilled by the new wave of traffic I was getting on the blog.

It didn’t stop there, though. By Tuesday, I had already written, edited and submitted an entirely different and more professional review of the conference to the Junto, a blog on Early America. A scholar I follow (and greatly admire) on Twitter solicited a review for them, so I happily obliged, always willing to get a little more exposure for my work. I woke up Wednesday morning to even more traffic on my blog, as people were following the link from the Junto article to my site. People were really reading!

By 9 AM Wednesday morning, I’d already launched another winner: my cousin Leah’s new guest column, “She Got Game,” went up on the site. Leah’s article was also bringing in traffic, but beyond the stats, it’s exciting to have a new permanent writer on the site. Every time we talk, we’re bubbling with enthusiasm about what our next expansion move is going to be. (Obviously, stay tuned, we have projects in the works!)

My Junto piece was performing so well that on Thursday the director of HASTAC asked me if they could republish my piece on their site. With 15,000 followers, who was going to say no to that kind of exposure? It hasn’t gone up yet, but I can’t wait to see my piece circulate on yet another site. Then, I found out that article had racked up about 2,700 views, which is probably the most views I’ve ever gotten on a piece. (Some of my Black Girl Nerds content might’ve picked up some views, but I never found out.)

I think the best part of the week was just the amazing responses to my work that I got on Twitter:

(Making my professor proud! #EqualityLabFellows!)

(When you might be a resource for other grad students! My, oh my. Thanks, SMU Grad History!)

(Getting a shout out from my old stomping grounds…)

And my personal favorite, a shout out from Karin Wulf herself:

So many things were happening in this exchange that I had via Twitter with the Director of the Omohundro Institute (aka my former “Big Boss” as an apprentice). She not only linked to my Junto piece, but also to my personal blog, while calling me a “Scholar to Watch” and pointing to some of my earliest pieces on BGDGS about apprentice life. That means she reads my blog, y’all. She read my Omohundro pieces from last year. Wow.

I know not every week is going to be like this. I know that most weeks are not going to be like this. Still, I thought it was well worth documenting what a really nice week felt like, so I can always come back to it when I’m feeling run down.

Looking to the future, there are only a few weeks left in the semester (5 if you count Thanksgiving Break, 4 if you don’t) so it’s getting to be every grad student’s favorite time of year: Finals Season. Fortunately, I’ve got some fun final projects to look forward to that I definitely will share at the end of the semester. Let’s hope by the time the next post drops, I’ll have actually made some progress on my finals. And if not… all’s well that ends well.