School as always been my thing, especially when it comes to reading and writing, so it’s safe to say that I thought grad school would be no different. And for a while, it wasn’t any different–I was in love with my library science classes, adjusting to the heavy theory focus of my children’s literature class, and figuring my way around Boston
And then what I expected to be awesome got really really hard. And not just hard on the level of academic challenge.
I’ve always considered myself an introvert (and still do), but it wasn’t until the middle of this semester that I realized that I’d always had people around me. I’d been a part of communities growing up and in under grad that gave me a ready built network of peers. My best friends came out of these spaces and whenever I needed someone to talk to or go on a Sonic run with, they were easily accessible. Even when I’d lived away from home for the summers in Washington D.C. and Maine, I’d had communities that I was able to quickly integrate myself into and spend time around.
That’s not the case in Boston. Sure, I have somewhat of a community that exists in my fellow grad students, especially a great group of peers who are also Library Science/Children’s Literature dual degree students, but instead of living in close proximity to these people or working with them full time, I only really see them a couple of times a week on campus because everyone lives in different parts of the city and it takes me about an hour to get to campus. Making friends in this kind of environment is hard, and at times has felt insurmountable, because it’s hard to hangout just for the sake of hanging out.
The commute to campus starting weighing on me, the loneliness I was experiencing really started to creep in at all times of the day, and the low key anxiety that has always driven me to an extent suddenly felt overwhelming.
I had two weeks of craziness when it came to assignments and then all of a sudden I had a four day weekend and it felt like I just crashed. Everyone says that the first semester of grad school is the toughest, and I recognize that, but I felt like I was failing in a way that I never had before.
It’s hard to feel like your life is suddenly running out of control when you’re big on control like I am. I like things that I feel like I can control, and I’m proud of my ability to maintain control in crazy unpredictable situations. Reading and writing have always been things that I’ve done for fun, and for awhile, I couldn’t even read and write for fun without over thinking things and starting to let my thoughts spiral out of control and down the rabbit hole.
So I called my parents. I cried. I made a list of all the things I felt and was experiencing that covered the front and back sides of a piece of notebook paper. I talked to someone at the counseling center. I started taking steps to try and make myself feel better.
I wanted to write this blog post because I’ve realized that talking about it and writing about it helps me feel better. And I am, feeling better and doing better but it is still not easy and it’s a process. And I’m thankful for the people and things that have helped me get to that point. So as I get on a plane back to Colorado to see my family for the first time since I moved to Boston, here are the things I’m thankful for.
My Parents (and family in general)
When I started struggling, the first people I called were my parents, who listened to me talk about what I was feeling, gave me helpful life advice, and even sent me a few things from home that went a long way in helping me feel better. I hands down have the best parents and I am so thankful for the fact that they are still there for me whenever I need them even from 2,000 miles away. I have sisters who I can text and call about silly things if I need to. I have grandparents who sent me the best letter that made me smile and laugh and think about all the good things they had taught me growing up. I cannot stress enough just how important my family is, and just how much they’re been there for me in this difficult time.
Not only do I have the worlds best family, but I also have some of the greatest friends. From calling and texting my best friend Katie, to sharing inside jokes with my best friend Kristen, I have people who are there for me and know me well enough to be able to empathize with what I’m thinking and going through.
A few weekends ago I got to go to New York City to spend the weekend with Logan, one of my speech team friends from undergrad and my lifelong Fetus Twin. Being able to talk with and laugh with someone who knows me, and just have a hug from someone, was the best feeling I’d had in a while.
Even when your friends aren’t always around to give you hugs (again because most of them live thousands of miles away) they can still help cut through the loneliness and the hard times. And I’m trying to make friends in Boston so I can have that here as well, because I need it.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been able to go see a couple of shows. I saw the touring production of Come From Away in Boston, which was absolutely breathtaking. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on and off since the spring, and seeing this show staged was even more powerful. I also went and saw the stage adaptation of Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief which was a much better adaptation than the 2010 movie adaptation. Watching this in New York City really reminded me of the joy and excitement of reading the book series for the first time as a kid.
Being able to go see a show is a great way to completely escape for a few hours, to be uplifted by the music and inspired by the emotions presented on stage. The communal experience within a theater is something that’s pretty incredible. In a pinch, movies will work too. I saw Frozen II with a grad school friend on a Friday afternoon, and it was also a great distraction and way to spend time with a new friend.
Part of my problem is that I all of a sudden have all this free time available to me that I’ve never had before and I don’t know what do with it so I ended up spending a lot of time wallowing which inevitably led to overthinking and falling down rabbit holes I didn’t want to be in. So in the last few weeks I’ve tried to start some new habits to keep me busy and add some more structure to days when I seem to have nothing going on.
I got a YMCA membership and have started going to strength training classes (which are reminding me how long its been since I’ve seriously exercised), but I’ve also started going to the Y just to walk on the treadmill because getting out of the house and getting active really helps. I’ve also started using Calm a guided meditation and mindfulness app. It’s not always easy to get out of bed and go to the Y, or to remind myself to take 10 or 15 minutes to practice some mindfulness, but I do think that it really is helping. I’ve also started going to my church’s prayer meeting and bible study as a good midweek break and a way to talk with other people outside of just school contexts.
I’ve even been participating in National Novel Writing month as a way to give myself something that needs to be done every day (writing a set amount of words) that becomes something I really feel like I can focus on while I’m working. It’s definitely not good writing by any means, but it’s writing nonetheless. I’m approaching 50,000 words and I already know that my story is going to go beyond the word limit, and I can see possibilities for revision that will stand ahead of me once I finish the first draft.
These new habits that I’m working on forming also serve as a reminder that there are highs and lows. That feeling better doesn’t happen overnight and that like everything in life, it’s a process.
Hot tea is just a blessing. And I felt like I couldn’t not include it here, there’s something about a cup of peppermint tea to perk you up, breathing in the sharp, sinus opening qualities, of its steam, or a cup of chamomile tea to calm down with in the evening. I still prefer a cup of coffee in the morning, but peppering in a cup of hot tea at some point in the day is so nice.
I started the semester by using my commute to and from campus to read for class, and sometimes for pleasure, but I noticed that if I was reading a physical book, it became too easy to get distracted, to start over thinking things, and to let my anxiety get the best of me.
So, I made the decision to switch to audiobooks for my commute to see if having the audio to focus on, knowing that if I stopped paying attention I would miss something vital in the content, would help me distract myself but still get to experience a book.
I started by listening to Amy Poehler read her audiobook Yes, Please! and followed it up with Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody. For the most part, I think that these audiobooks have been helpful in giving me something a little more concrete to focus on during my commute since I can’t just look away from the page when a thought pops up in my mind.
Right now, I’m listening to Michelle Obama read her memoir Becoming although depending on how long I spend on the train in the coming days, I may be finished with it by the time this blog gets posted. After I finish Becoming I’m planning on moving to some childhood favorites on audio for the first time like Harry Potter and Little House on the Prairie as I finish up the semester.
It’s no secret that I love notebooks. When it comes to journaling and creative writing, I’m a Moleskine purist and generally cycle through a new notebook every two to three months. However, near the end of this summer I invested in a subscription to Field Notes, a Chicago based company which produces memo sized notebooks and does a quarterly special edition. I’ve just received my winter shipment and it’s incredibly beautiful featuring metallic foil on the covers and gilded edges.
But I’m not here to talk about how bougie I am, or brag about my beautiful notebooks. Instead, I’m thankful for my field notes because they’re a lot more convenient to carry everywhere than a Moleskine is. I have three that I’m using that I generally take everywhere: one for work notes, one for personal notes, and one to keep track of my finances and spending.
These past few weeks I’ve used the personal notes notebook to jot things down that I’m thankful for, to find small moments of joy and gratitude, to make little lists, and jot down small snippets of poems. The best way I can think to describe field notes is that it’s like using the notes app on your phone, but with the tangible pleasure of writing something down by hand. It’s a good distraction tactic to feel like you can write anything at any time without the added anxiety/temptation of knowing you’d probably just end up checking social media if you used your phone.
I feel so much better when I have a chance to talk out loud about the things that I care about. In class right when things were at their most difficult, I got to leave class feeling energized and excited because I got to spend time talking about Little Women and Little House on the Prairie. Last week when spending time with a classmate outside of class, I talked about summer camp and my love for community and it really brightened up my whole day. When things are hard, it feels so good to remind myself why I’m in Boston and why I chose Simmons and what I want to do and where I’m going in life. That’s why I write this blog, and why I share things about my life on social media because it reminds me of the good things in life and it lets me share them with others.
These are things both little and big that I’m thankful for. I’m glad that I have things to be thankful for and I’m glad that I get to head home to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. As always, I’d love to hear from you. What are you thankful for as this holiday season starts?