Tag Archives: Mental Health

Week 6, or The Psychic Violence of Graduate School

I had one really rough class this week. At the break in my three hour seminar, one of my classmates approached me and asked me why I had been quieter than usual so far. I told her that I didn’t have much to say considering that one of the pieces we had read for the week involved a grotesque amount of explicitly described violence against enslaved people, particularly assault against enslaved women. Another African American student from the class described the experience of reading such things traumatic. I was angry because it taught me less about a history of racial formation than it did about a history of the horrific things white slaveholders could do to enslaved people.

I am an incredibly sensitive person, despite whatever impression one may have of me. I found myself unable to watch movies about slavery until I was in college because I would have a panic attack. Even then, I still haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave because I know how much violence is in it. It is a psychic assault in some ways to be forced to read about the traumas suffered by your ancestors as written by a man whose ancestors would have been enslavers.

So I did the one thing that I have a hard time doing: I spoke up.

I expressed my concerns about the gratuitous violence and fought back against the students that tried to assert that violence is an effective learning tool. I countered by saying, “The first time you think to yourself, ‘oh, Black lives do matter’ should not be when you see a dead body on the 5 o’clock news.” We shouldn’t need violence to prove that the institution of slavery was horrifying and we shouldn’t use violence as a tool because it becomes a spectacle. This is one of the main arguments of another text that we read for this week: Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection. I appreciated the ways in which she acknowledged violence without letting it become the focal point of her work and therefore a spectacle.

Black pain has been a spectacle in this country for as long as Black and white people have coexisted in America. (To put ‘being forcibly removed from one’s own continent and forced to do hard labor’ gently.)

Because Black pain has moved into different arenas, including the classroom, we need new tactics to deal with it. For the purpose of thinking productively, I want to include a list of things that you can do, and that I have done, to protect yourself in moments of psychic violence in the classroom:

  • Take a break. When I find myself overwhelmed by a classroom discussion that just isn’t going my way, I excuse myself and take a walk around the hallways.
  • Write down your ‘would be’ responses. One thing I started doing last semester in a similar class was to write down my responses to the problematic statements happening in the event that I didn’t get a chance to get a word in edgewise.
  • Speak up. This is hard to do and requires a lot of bravery that I do not have, often preferring to internalize the hardness of the conversation and reflect on it in writing later on.
  • Speak to your professor privately. I have always found talking to my professors about concerns I have in their classes to be productive. This is something that I haven’t done yet, but I think I might do in the future.
  • Tag team. My friend pointed out that when there are moments of violence that you are trying to address but that might be difficult or traumatizing for you to do, tag in a friend to help you fight.
  • Self-care. Sometimes the best option is to opt out and preserve yourself to fight another fight, which is usually my option. It’s a cop out option to be sure, but I admit that I simply am not a fighter in the conventional sense.

These moments happen. They happen more often than one would care to admit. They’re troubling, difficult, disappointing and sometimes can drive you to want to leave this whole world of the Academy behind. This moment happened on the tail end of a week where I have very seriously considered taking my Master’s degree and calling it quits. One of the things that gets me through is the hope of creating my own classroom where I can minimize the degree of pain. I don’t want to be the type of professor that turns away from conversations regarding my students’ pain because it is uncomfortable. I want my students to be able to come to me with that and I want us to be able to work through it together. I’m in this race because I simply don’t want other students of color to have these isolating and traumatic experiences. I’m in this for them.

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 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.