Human.

This afternoon, my whole body caved to a surge of heaving sobs on my living room couch. The episode may have been induced by the fact that I hadn’t eaten dinner or that my body was still recovering from some unknown illness, but it occurred mostly because I was just done.

Grad school hasn’t been easy and I’m not trying to give anyone the impression that it has been. Classes themselves have been okay and the workload has remained fairly reasonable, but the entirety of the beast – classes, homework, assistantship, daily living – is a doozy. I’ve been thoroughly depressed.

It’s been an entire week since I last ran because I haven’t had the energy. Yesterday, several students commented on how tired I looked. My appetite has been nil and emotionally, I’m struggling.

In many ways, grad school isn’t what I expected…and after having a similar experience in undergrad, I should have expected that. The readings and the classes are about what I bargained for, but the over-all feeling of misery wasn’t quite what I imagined.

At the same time, I feel guilty for not enjoying everything about this experience because it’s exactly what I wanted one year ago. I was incredibly lucky to land my first-choice school and my first-choice assistantship. It felt like the stars were aligned and I thought non-stop of the promise this academic year held.

Then the future became the now and things were in full swing, and the joy I’d anticipated for so long wasn’t there. I enjoyed my classes, found great friends, and got the hang of my assistantship. On the surface, it seemed like things were on the up-and-up, but parts remained missing.

I can’t name the void, but I encounter it all the time. It’s in the circles under my eyes, in the times when I mess up at work, in the moments when I’m made to feel inadequate, in tears on my professor’s desk, in tears on my boss’ desk, in frequent calls to my brother because his voice reminds me that I matter.

This fog, which I half-humorously call the “grad school funk,” isn’t unique to my situation, my program, or my institution. I’ve spoken to grads in other places, studying other things who feel entirely the same way. Still, people don’t seem to talk about it.

On one hand I get it: it’s easy to feel bad about feeling bad- earlier in this post, I mentioned my guilt in feeling ungrateful – and bigger things happening in other people’s lives can make our struggles seem trivial. Yet, talking about it (if we’re comfortable) is what we need to do. It’s the only way we’ll squash the isolation and open up the conversation and, at the very least, give ourselves space to be human.

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Skirts & Ties: Reclaiming My Femininity

Earlier this week, I found myself in the handbag section of Marshalls, mesmerized by the array of style and color options. I hadn’t shopped for a purse in quite some time and I’d never truly cared for purses to begin with. Yet there I was, undecided between two purses and honestly quite invested in the decision. I chose the less expensive of the two: a black Tommy Hilfiger shoulder bag that looked professional enough to take to the conference I would attend on Friday.

Normally, I wouldn’t have brought a purse to a conference; my messenger bag or a small leather wallet would have sufficed. But I wanted a purse. I wanted to wear it with my heels and my necklace, even if that meant looking like a cis woman.

Recently, I’ve started relearning femininity, not because I’m supposed to be feminine, but because I’m not supposed to be anything. For too long, I’ve conflated my queerness and my transness with the need to be consistently masculine. I felt that in order to be “trans enough” or “queer enough,” I had to present a certain way in order for my identities to be acknowledged and respected. I had to play the part.

The fact of the matter is I don’t feel masculine all of the time and I don’t always want to present masculine-of-center. Sometimes I like to wear dresses. Sometimes I like to wear ties. Oftentimes I fall somewhere in between. Chest dysphoria is likely here to stay and finding dresses that accommodate binders and sports bras can be a challenge, but the emotional reward of discovering something that works is entirely worth it.

There’s pressure for queer/trans people to ascribe to labels, such as “butch,” “femme,” “androgynous,” etc. and I felt that in order to be validated as a non-straight, non-cis person, I had to fit into a cisheteropatriarchal mold of how someone like me should look. I worked to accept my love of menswear, but rejected the things I liked that were delicate and soft. Only recently have I realized that making space for one does not take away from the other. I still love tie bars, and button-ups, and t-shirts from the men’s section, but purses and nail polish are also great.

When I waltzed shuffled into yesterday’s conference wearing a necklace and 3 inch heels, paired with a not-too-masculine/not-too-feminine pantsuit, I felt authentic in the same way as when I sported menswear in public for the first time. I was still very queer, still very trans, and still very much myself.

7 Ways to Recognize Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Despite the negative connotations associated with the word “suicide,” today is all about recognizing the efforts being put toward prevention, hope, and healing, and inspiring people to bring fresh energy and ideas to suicide prevention work. This time around, I thought I’d share some ideas for how people might recognize World Suicide Prevention Day through action, education, and awareness.

  1. Learn about suicide
    Take a few minutes to read about suicide and suicide prevention on a local, national, or global scale. Familiarize yourself general information and numbers, then delve into the narratives of those affected by suicide. Learn about suicide prevention efforts and the awesome work that people of all ages, from all parts of the world are doing to prevent suicide.

    Some material to get you started:
    Suicide Statistics (from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
    Suicide Prevention (from Helpguide.org)
    Suicide (info from the National Institute of Mental Health)
    Split Image (very powerful article by Kate Fagan, ESPNW)

  2. Spread awareness
    Talk to someone you love about suicide prevention. Today gives you the perfect reason to jump into casual conversation about a topic that is often hard to bring up. Share an article. Retweet a fact. Post the number to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline on your newsfeed.

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    Miami University/Oxford Out of the Darkness Walk, 2016
  3. Share resources
    Know the number to a local crisis hotline? Think other students could use the link to your school’s mental health resources? SHARE THEM. Passive spreading of awareness isn’t the best approach for every social cause, but it’s an effective way to reach people who may be in need of help, but are afraid to reach out. Showing your support for certain mental health resources helps eliminate the stigma around asking for help and may even cause others to recognize you as a safe person to reach out to in times of crisis or distress. I’d also suggest taking a few minutes to learn how to help someone who might be experiencing thoughts of suicide.

    Some resources:
    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255; for Spanish: 1-888-628-9454
    Crisis Text Line: Text 741741
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline: 1-800-662-4357; more geared toward people fighting substance abuse
    The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386; text and chat options also available
    You’re Not Alone: People & Organizations Supporting Minority Mental Health (blog post)
    5 Mental Health Blogs Created For People Of Color

  4. Tell your story
    If suicide or mental illness have impacted you in some way and you feel comfortable talking about it, consider sharing your story. Resources, articles, and statistics are awesome, but the impact of a personal anecdote should not be underestimated. In addition to spreading awareness, your story could bring hope and healing to others and help some feel less alone in their journeys.

    Helpful link:
    Talking and Writing About Suicide: Why It Matters, What to Say

  5. Donate
    If you have the means, consider donating to a mental health or suicide prevention related organization. Most groups will take money, but some might have a list of needed material items. A quick internet search will reveal countless organizations and initiatives, serving a wide range of populations at varying scales. All of the organizations listed under #6 accept donations.
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  6. Take action
    Find a way to get involved with an organization or initiative on a local or national level. If time permits, you might consider volunteering with a crisis hotline or text line. Don’t have time for long-term involvement? Search for opportunities to participate in suicide prevention events that occur on a specific day. Especially consider participating in an Out of the Darkness Walk in your area. Can’t find a way to take action? Start something yourself!

    Some organizations:
    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
    The Trevor Project
    Trans Lifeline
    To Write Love On Her Arms
    Active Minds
    Crisis Text Line

  7. Practice self-care
    Learning and talking about a difficult topic like suicide can be a lot. Make time to care for you! Here are 134 self-care ideas.

To-Do

The past several weeks were hectic as I learned to balance a new job with a new city, new people, and a new school. While the balancing act isn’t quite perfect, life feels 1,000 times more together since I recently put everything on paper.

I love planners and calendars to an unhealthy extent, but it usually takes a minute for me to figure out exactly how I want to organize them each school year. Due to my own indecisiveness, I currently own four different 2017-2018 planners. After a trip to Target with $15 to spend, I finally nailed it.

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I found a simple weekly/monthly planner on sale in the stationary aisle and picked up some cute sticky notes, page flags, and a paperclip-shaped bookmark in the dollar section. While I’ve always envied people who bullet journal, I don’t have that kind of time or artistic skill.

Color-coded tasks and the dollar section extras add just enough flair for the planner to look fancy while requiring far less effort than bullet journaling.

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Having all class assignments, work deadlines, running goals, and appointments in one spot puts me at ease. Today consisted much less of trying to remember a million things I might forget, and much more of actually getting stuff done. Who knew a simple planner could have such a profound impact?

Hit the Ground Running

I miss being an athlete more than I can convey in words. I recently watched part of a practice at the Indianapolis Rowing Center and was overcome with nostalgia. IRC membership is a bit out of my price range, but I realized I could find the same structure and goal-focused mindset through running.

Last week, I began running again, using a training plan found in an old issue of Runner’s World. I later switched to a different plan, found online, because it was a better fit for my goals and starting ability. Having a non-work-or-school affiliated goal and a set schedule for reaching that goal helps fill the empty space that rowing used to occupy, and I love that it gives me something else to think (and talk!) about.

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What runners use to fuel their bodies is half the battle.

I also realized that in being an athlete, I had to start eating like an athlete again. I made a trip to Trader Joe’s in pursuit of some healthy, but not-overpriced food and left with a week’s worth of nutritious ingredients for what I normally spend on weekly grocery trips. I hope that along with the endorphins, eating better will also cause me to feel better.

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While my end-goal is to run a 10K, I haven’t yet signed up for a race. Still, I’m excited to see where the next two months take me, both physically and mentally.

Seeking Freedom

This post is the first I’ve published in a long time. The past several weeks have been busy and I went through a period of doubt re: the continuation of this blog. I love this blog and the stories that it holds, but it feels so negative. A lot of the things I post are deep and pessimistic. I think about the kinds of blogs that showcase recipes and adventures, and part of me wants this site to become one of those.

On the other hand, absolute optimism feels disingenuous, which is not what I’m going for. If anything, my posts have been honest and I’d like to preserve that quality. However, I feel like this blog gives an incomplete picture of who I am because my mindset isn’t all doom and gloom. I use this site as a platform to speak up about injustices and significant personal experiences, but it does’t always have to be that deep. I don’t know where to start, so this post is about to take an emotional turn as well.

I’ve spent the past few days listening to Kesha’s “Learn to Let Go” on repeat because every single word fits perfectly into my brain like a puzzle piece. A few posts back, I talked about forgiveness and my tendency to hold onto everything without ever really moving past it. Kesha’s song is all about doing the opposite.

As a mental health advocate, I talk about overcoming, but as a human, I dwell like no other and I drag others down with me. Reaching out for help when I’m struggling is perfectly okay, but constantly inundating people with my woes and life troubles is just tiresome…for them and for me. I’m exhausted from talking about the hard stuff. Sometimes it’s necessary to talk about, but I bring it up to an extent that prevents me from focusing on all of the good in the world.

I’m trying hard to let go of everything that holds me down, whether it be mistakes that I made or ways in which other people harmed me. We all mess up; we all cause others hurt without meaning to. It’s part of being human. We’re also capable of moving past those things, but in a society that preaches drama and grudge-holding, it takes a lot of work to do so.

The university where I work is focusing on the value of reconciliation during this academic year. For work, I watched a video of a nun talking about the importance reconciliation. She separated it from forgiveness, explaining that both are necessary, but that forgiveness is a conscious decision, while reconciliation is the idea of truly and completely letting go. In other words, letting go to the point where no hard feelings come with the memories of people or situations that knocked us down.

I want to get better at this. I want to let go – truly and completely – of the stuff I carry on my shoulders. It has no use there. All it does is add negative energy to my life and to the world, especially when I project those things to other people. Do I want to stop telling my story? No, of course not. But do I want to stop dwelling on the hurt and the struggle? Absolutely.

It’s a work in progress. I’m trying to figure out how to reframe past difficulties and move forward from them, whether that means using them as springboards to launch ahead or tossing them over my shoulder and leaving them behind. It’s complicated and nuanced, and I’m not going to do it perfectly, but I’m really going to try.

As the lyrics go: “I think it’s time to practice what I preach / Exercise the demons inside me / Whoa, gotta learn to let it go.”

Micropost: Radical Kindness

I spent the past week with the letters “rk” penned on my hand in black ink, a constant reminder to practice what I call “radical kindness.” To me, being radically kind means seeing the light in everyone, expecting the best of them, reconciling, forgiving, and expressing genuine care, always. Some aspects come more easily for me than others, which is why I need the reminder to pause and think before I say or act.

Radical kindness does not mean ignoring pain, anger, or disappointment; it does not mean letting others do hurtful things without being held accountable. It means acknowledging those things, but not holding onto them. It means showing just as much care and compassion for people who are hard to love as we do for those we love easily. That’s what makes it radical.

Radical kindness is an active and deliberate choice to put more love into the world, especially when it’s the most challenging to do so.