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 Went to see my grandma today. She is such a sweet woman, and really quite remarkable. Cut: Medical details )
There was a steady stream of visitors all day - five people other than my mom and I came and went while I was there. I got a good hour alone with her, which very rarely happens and is nice.

I hope I can go up and see her again soon - she does so well most of the time that it's easy to forget just how old she is, and how limited our remaining time together could be. I hope she's able to gain full movement in her arm - she still cooks everything from scratch, bakes all her own bread (and the bread for many others), reads, crochets, and plays cards. She's really worried about what it could mean for her if she can't gain mobility back.

My gratitude list is pretty closely related for today:

1. I am so so so grateful that my grandmother has good medical care, and an extensive network of family and friends that can help support her. 

2. I am also grateful that I live within a couple hours' drive of her, so that I could actually go see her.

3. I am grateful for my mother. She is an incredibly caring woman, and watching her help my grandma gives me new appreciation for just how loving and wonderful she is.

My pride list is mostly related to school:

1. I am proud of myself for managing my anxiety this week. Holy wow it's been stressful, but I somehow managed to be present for family and get my things done and sorted and move along for grad school.

2. I am proud of how I finished up my first week of grad school. It was hard at the start, but I'm feeling much more confident now after speaking with my academic adviser. 

3. Milestones. Just gonna recognize how much work it's taken to get here.
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TRIGGER WARNING: I'm not placing this entry under a cut, mainly because I want to be open about my depression, which also means allowing this content to be that much more visible. There is no suicidal ideation - just depression and anxiety. BUT if you are really suffering right now and don't have the spoons or the energy to devote to reading this post, PLEASE skip past it. 

This week has been rough. I wasn't expecting that when it started. Most of Monday went very well, but then I got the call from my mom that my grandma was in the hospital and I totally flipped. Transitions are always hard for me, and I thought I was sooooo prepared for this one but clearly I was not. What came up for me this week was intense regret - regret that I haven't been able to make a career as a community organizer work without a master's degree, and shame that I'm starting school. It's a signal of failure. I didn't miraculously do it on my own - I didn't land the job I wanted to, I didn't accomplish what I set out to accomplish when I graduated with my BA.

Which the logical part of my brain knows is a total fallacy. I have made the best decisions I could make, all along this road, based on the information that I had. There are very few jobs in my chosen field, and about a dozen (or multiple dozens of) qualified candidates for each position, and so much of it is about being the right person in the right place at the right time. And when I'm suffering from depression and anxiety, it's so much harder to prove that I am that right person, or to see opportunities in spite of anxiety. It's so much harder to put myself in that right place.

Earlier today I read this fantastic article at The Hairpin - it's basically a conversation between very articulate women who suffer from depression. This conversation right here nailed some serious nuances of what it means to have mental health issues, and it really resonated with me. And particularly this quote:

"Relying on external validation is easy, right? We have so many examples of what it means to gain a sense of self from what other people say about us, what positions or awards or bylines we get, who chooses to associate with us. And all those things can be incredibly gratifying! But at the end of the day, depression will find a way to make you think every last one of those things isn’t worth a damn. The act of cultivating a love for yourself that isn’t contingent on markers of validation feels not just cute but imperative."

I need to cultivate that self-love. I need to truly accept that success isn't always about being offered the job you want, or about getting the grant, or about being honored with some award. And what's more - I can do everything in my power to get a job, to be that successful woman in charge of campaigns or research, doing what she loves - but there will always be things that are outside of my control. I can't make anyone hire me - I can only make the most of the opportunities I'm given, that I've worked for.

So I need to claim success on my own terms. And the biggest part of that? Accepting me in all my glory, no matter where I'm at or what I'm doing. No matter what my job is, or how many creative projects I have going, or how "stable" I feel. I need to recognize that I have power, that I have creative energy, no matter what my employment situation. I need to find ways to make validation come from within.

And that is not easy. 

Writing this entry is one step of that process. Articulating this journey in words is a step in a right direction.

A friend of mine posted that she was declaring this Self-Care September for her, and I think I'm gonna jump on that bandwagon. She's got all sorts of ideas that will work for her, and I have only a couple, but it's a start.

Here's my list:

1. Gratitude/Pride Journal: Each day write down three things I am either grateful for or proud of having accomplished.

2. Feed Myself: Make and keep food that nourishes me, that doesn't make me feel sick, and don't forget to eat when I'm at school. This will probably look like planning out my week around food every Sunday.

3. Allow Time to Recharge: I'm taking the train to and from school every day. I'm going to set aside at least one way of my commute for reading something not connected to school, like readin knitting, or to journaling. 

4. Implement an Envelope Budget: Basically, all the income for my full semester is going to be given to me up front (from loans and scholarships), and I have Anxiety about that. So, to make sure that I'm toeing the line, I'm going to operate on a mainly-cash basis. Every month, I'll withdraw an amount of cash that I have budgeted for specific things. And when the cash is gone - it's gone. Matt also really likes this idea, so he'll be helping out with it.

Those aren't huge shifts - They're more like being mindful of certain triggers. I didn't want to pen myself in to something I can't maintain, especially because there's just a huge schedule shift that's going to happen with grad school. But it's a start.

I think I'm most excited about #1 (and might share with you all.)

What have you found that works for self care? What strategies do you use to manage mental illness? I'd love to hear from you if you're willing to share!


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May 2017

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