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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.

Week 5, or The Busiest Bee

I have been getting increasingly bad about updating this blog.

I’m sad about it because I was really looking forward to reading back through every week of my entire first year in grad school at the end of the semester. I could review my successes, my struggles; assess my game plans and strategize for the next year.

But things have been rough recently. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been feeling out of whack, which truthfully, is not entirely due to burn out, but also due to some mental health issues I’ve been battling recently. The resulting panic from this discovery led to me cutting off my relaxed hair, and embracing my very short, entirely natural new ‘do. (If you’re interested in reading further about my cut, I wrote about it over at Literally, Darling.) My parents hate it but I’m almost 23 years old, and there’s really no reason to lose any sleep over my parents not liking my new haircut.

Despite all that craziness, I’ve finally managed to get my feet back under my in my New Woman course. I stopped thinking about my weekly precis as busy work, but instead using it as an opportunity to articulate some comments I have about the Tuesday readings (which I miss because I’m taking African-American Texts, which meets at the same time.) Thinking about it this was has helped alleviate the stress significantly, but as one door closes another opens…

I’m also coming up on deadlines for an annotated bibliography for that class. As you might remember from my posts last semester, I am a huge fan of annotated bibliographies and have a great deal of respect for professors who are kind enough to assign them. They’re your best friend in grad school. The fact is, annotated bibliographies ensure your stress levels are set to moderate instead of severe during finals because you’ve already done all the heavy lifting of research and pulling together an outline months in advance. All you have to do then is write.

Unfortunately, annotated bibliographies are still a ton of work. You have to do the research at some point, and apparently that point is now. Granted, I will be so happy all my research will be done when I’m struggling to write in April, but I’m mildly freaking out right now, mostly because I also have to figure out how to write a conference paper…

Also, at some point last semester, I might have written about my Black Panther paper getting accepted to the Southeastern American Studies Association Conference. I’ll be presenting on a panel with a few other people and I was so excited about it when it was theoretical. Now, I’m nervous about presenting my, possibly very shitty, little comic paper in front of serious scholars with Ph.D.s, one of whom will most definitely be one of my favorite African-American studies professors from UVA. She’s been such an advocate for me since I got into grad school. She’s suggested books for me for this paper. She’s talked me up and also been super supportive of me throughout this journey, just in general. I really don’t want to get up on stage an embarrass myself in front of her.

Add these worries to my usual pressing homework deadlines, Omohundro stress, the art exhibit I’ve been planning with Ari, trying to keep a steady flow of articles to Literally, Darling, and my parents, who have been more present than usual over the last few weeks, I’ve basically been a puddle of anxiety. Which, let’s be honest, is not that unusual for me.

Still, things haven’t been all bad. My friends haven’t let me hole up in my apartment behind stacks of books. They’ve rallied around me and supported me, from visits from my high school best friend to late evening phone calls, from being my personal hair guru to being my coffeeshop partner. They’ve made me get outside and get moving, playing frisbee with neighbors; they’ve gotten me early birthday presents; and they’ve even taken me out for a morning adventure to see “I Am Not Your Negro” in Richmond.  (Side note to review the film: I really enjoyed it. It was informative but it wasn’t necessarily new information. Artistically it wasn’t stunning or particularly moving and the most innovative part was looking at these stories from a new perspective.)

And I some things to look forward to. Mindfulness Training has been really useful for me. It’s my pause during my hectic week and the strategies we learn help me navigate the waves of uncertainty during the week. Not to mention, my birthday is coming up next Monday. It’s the first year that I can remember that I haven’t actively counted down to my birthday, but I’m still fairly excited. I don’t have any special plans but maybe something will pop up during the week. One of my friends also has a birthday this week, so maybe a joint gathering will be in the works.

I won’t say I promise to go back to writing every week because I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep, but I will do my best to keep setting aside a little time for myself every day, and hopefully, blogging will continue to be one of the things I like to do for myself.

 

 

Week 1: Ravynn “Branches Out”

This Black girl doing grad school is back in action after a blissful month of zero obligation and yet, I find that I’m still not ready to face the harsh reality of another semester at school.

School was supposed to start this past week for me, but life didn’t want to cooperate. My friend and I showed up on the wrong day for our class we have together; the next day, I woke up to a message from one of my professors informing me that her entire course was cancelled; and to further mess with my schedule, the class which I had wrongly assumed was the day before, had been cancelled because the professor was battling a nasty bout of the flu.

Now, I’ve never had something like that happen to me– have an entire course get cancelled on me last minute. It was scary and stressful and quite frankly ruined my bullet journal. I spent most of Thursday sending e-mails and texts, and arranging meetings with professors to see if there was something I could take last minute. Finally, I managed to scrounge something together and my courses for this semester will be:

  1. Texts in African-American life since Reconstruction- a history course which promises to be interesting. At the very least, a solid quarter of the books have been on my reading list for a while and it never hurts to dig deeper into my Africana Studies side.
  2. Independent Study, Harlem in Vogue- reading some Harlem Renaissance lit, some criticism and hopefully putting together a bomb project for this class.
  3. Independent Study, New Women- reading some New Women lit. It’s not exactly me but fortunately it’s close enough to what I am interested in, plus writing a literary criticism paper will be useful practice for me considering I’d like my degree specialty to be in English.

You might have noted a bit of sarcasm and a hint of bitterness– it’s because being disciplinarily English and Africana Studies in an interdisciplinary program which emphasizes History is a struggle.

It’s no fault of the program’s or the school’s. We have a world renowned history department. Anyone who’s serious about American History for higher ed probably looked at William and Mary, particularly colonial history. Who wouldn’t want to take courses in a world renowned history department?

Well, me, I guess.

Honestly, history is far too white, far too male and far too rigid for the kind of work I want to do. Practically, taking more history courses does nothing for me when I hope to eventually be hired as an English professor (or at least in a position that lets me teach literature). Realistically, history matters most to me when it’s used to exact justice or when we learn our history to inform the path we take forward.

History matters to me when it’s active. For example, the Lemon Project Branch Out Trip.

Last Friday, I was minding my own business while my friend took a call as we walked through campus together. She was getting ready for this three day intensive retreat that was supposed to kick off Saturday morning, and she’d been fielding e-mails, texts, and calls most of that afternoon. All of a sudden, I hear, “Oh…no, it’s okay…I can ask Ravynn or Adam if they’d like to fill in.”

After she got off the phone, she explained that her boss had gotten sick and she needed someone to help her lead the workshop. We did a little back and forth, but eventually, I agreed to do it, since I’d been planning to lead a mini workshop on Black Protest Art as a part of the retreat anyway.

The first day passed in a relative haze, as I did my best to remember names and act like I knew what was going on, but the second day brought almost all of the students out of their comfort zones. In the morning, after I gave my lecture on Black Protest Art, I gave them the opportunity to create something. Considering most education is a merit system which rewards regurgitation over an investment in the knowledge itself, it was no surprise the students were stunned that I had asked them to make something. It took a little pushing, a few quiet one on one conversations, and a little encouragement, but they slowly warmed to the idea. In the end, they spent more time than we’d anticipated sharing and explaining what they’d made, one student in particular was amazingly brave and vulnerable as she shared how her piece reflected her multi-faceted identity.

The afternoon continued to get tougher. The students watched 13th, Ava DuVernay’s documentary on the 13th Amendment, and it was…difficult. I noticed one of my girls disappeared well before the end of the film and wasn’t back when it ended, so I went on a mini quest to find her. When I did, the moment that we shared reaffirmed the reason I wanted to get my Ph.D. I wanted my degree for her. I want my degree so that I can be the professor that understands how hard it is to talk to a room full of white people about slavery and mass incarceration. In that moment, she needed me, a Black woman who had been in her shoes and who could cry with her because I, too, understand how heavy the burden is.

I honestly believe in lifting as we climb with all of my heart.

That moment was so powerful that I immediately cancelled my plans for the following day (I originally only signed up to help run 2 of the 3 day and had been planning to spend day 3 doing community service with the Black Law Students). I instinctively knew I needed to be there all three days.

Over the course of that three day retreat Ari walked them through history and taught them how to make it their own, I explained the legacy of Black expression and helped them create their own, and they learned that the best weapon they have in the fight to be better citizens is each other.

In just three days, they not only made strong bonds, but they completed bystander intervention training, they protested together at a weekly local event called Moral Mondays and created a digital exhibit which explores the College newspaper’s stances on race throughout the last hundred years.

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Lemon Project Branch Out students and facilitators at Moral Mondays; Photo credit: Zack Meredith
This kind of teaching also matters. The kind that engenders a kind, compassionate, empathetic, and creative type of student, whose thirst for knowledge comes from a desire other than an A on the next assignment. This is the kind of history lesson I’d be glad to teach for the rest of my life.