The Scamp Takes a Snow Day

Snow has fallen on the city. It happens, but usually it doesn’t stick. For the last couple of days it has been like living in a snow globe. Snow is still a novelty to me, so I have been braving the lack of double glazing and leaving the curtains open so I can see the snow as it falls. I even bundled up and took a wander through the woods to look for snowmen and try to pet as many pups in sweaters as I could (Unfortunately, I only got to pet one beautiful Doberman, but I did lots of colourful sweaters and lots of snowy paws and noses).

I also went for the walk so I wouldn’t send angry emails to people who are questioning my ability to do my job and my knowledge of the subject material. I don’t have my new visa yet, and I am not looking to get fired right now.

The walk in the fresh air helped…a little. Until I got another email questioning my skills. I was polite, but there was some rage screaming into a pillow that reads ‘I fucking hate people’.

I am tired. We are all tired. A year of the pandemic and the lockdowns, isolation, ever changing rules and inability to hug people really has taken a tole on my mental health. I am grouchy about everything. All the time. I was even annoyed at the fact that dogs were well behaved on their walks so I couldn’t pet them. I hate that people on the path where I walk can’t respect social distancing. I’m grouchy that my masters student is having a hard time with recruiting participants for their research because the pandemic means no paper surveys. I hate that I am questioned on my ability to do my job, and I hate that I have to bite my tongue and be a good little minion even though it goes against good practice.

I have decided that tomorrow I am going to take a snow day. I have one meeting and then I am going to turn off my email and work on some things for me. I have a paper that I want to write based on my PhD, and since scholarship is technically part of my job remit, I am still working. But I am not taking any bullshit. It will be a bullshit free zone after the meeting. I get to pick the structure of the paper, it will be written the way I want, and it is something that is going to advance my career and make me feel better.

I may even go out and build a snowman.

Mental health days are important. Looking after yourself is important. Acknowledging your feelings is important. Not sending angry emails full of cuss words to your boss is important. Putting aside your feelings of what is right to keep the peace over trivial matters is important. Having a good support system is important.

Rage screaming into a pillow will make you feel better. So will a walk in the snow.

The Scamp Finishes the List

Oops…it is the 3rd of January. I meant to finish the list on the first, but gin happened and then I decided that I needed to purge everything in my closets and hoover under my bed. It is raining/snowing and very icy inside my poorly heated flat, so I am already starting off the year a bit more lazy than I intended….but I’m not mad at it. Whilst thinking about the list, I decided that the first thing on my list for this year was to be nicer to myself. I have been struggling for the last few years with maintaining my motivation and follow-through. The PhD took a lot out of me and 2020 was not actually the year of my rebirth into a beautiful butterfly, but there is a lot of 2021 left.

So, my list for 2021 is as follows:

  1. Try and do the 20 things on the list from 2020. I am not as concerned about being able to cross everything off, but they are things that I would like to do. I especially want to keep paying down my student loan and finally get my UK driving license (an automatic one, because lord knows I do not want to take the test a 4th time!). I want to be able to travel beyond my neighborhood, but if it can be out of the country, that will be a bonus. I already have my eye on a few tropical hideouts and I am hoping the summer will be safe enough to go back to adventures.
  2. Find a form of exercising that I like, and can do easily from my living room if lockdown doesn’t end until after Easter (which is how long I am thinking I will be stuck inside). I am going to really try to stick with yoga because that is really something that I enjoy, but I also need something else to help me expend some energy on the days that I feel cagey and restless. I really want to take up cycling and I recently saw an exercise bike that has a desk which means I could ride miles in my flat and maybe get some work done at the same time….I just don’t want to fork over £400 for one.
  3. I am not going to buy any new clothes or pairs of shoes unless absolutely necessary. I have plenty of clothes and dresses and way more than enough shoes. There is no reason for me to spend money right now on things that I don’t need. This will also help me have some extra money to put towards the driving lessons and the student loans.
  4. In line with number 3, I am going to wear all of my clothes and shoes at least once this year. I’m not really going anywhere, and I don’t usually wear shoes when I am home, but I can put them on for a bit in the morning to get into work mode. The weather means that if I venter outside then I am going to be wearing boots or my running shoes until Spring, but the my white shoes will look nice inside.
  5. Cultivate a new hobby. I am thinking that I need to learn to cook. I am not bad at tacos and making pasta, but I am so out of practice and have been so lazy that I don’t know if I could cook anything else. I didn’t lose any weight last year which depresses me to no end, but if I learned how to cook, then I could make better food choices.
  6. Adopt a pet. Enough said.
  7. Be a better friend. I have been so lonely and depressed about being lonely during the pandemic that I haven’t always checked in with my friends. I used to think that you needed a lot of friends around you to be a good friend, but if this pandemic has taught me anything, it is that all you really need are a few good friends to keep you sane. I’ve also been able to connect with old friends in new ways which makes me happy. I want to be better at checking in with those people when I am feeling down or when I am feeling stuck, because one of them might be feeling the same.
  8. Organize my workday. I have a lot on my plate and have not been spending my time wisely as of late. It is hard to do whilst working from home, but I am about to take over running the GTA trainings for the university, so in order to do that and teach and manage a MEd student, I am going to have to be better about scheduling my time and sticking to that schedule….including adding in exercise into my day so I am not tempted to just brush it off for the couch cushion with my butt imprint and really bad reality TV. I am pretty sure I have watched all the bad reality TV on Netflix and Amazon. That is a lot of time that could have been spent working better and being productive.

This isn’t a list to be crossed off, but something to keep me going this year if I am stuck inside for the rest of the year. I might have to break my rule of no spending money on things I really don’t need to buy self tanner though because I am so pale I look like I have been living underground for a year. The bags under my eyes are way too noticeable. I just got smaller glasses, but I am going to have exchange them for a larger pair to cover them raccoon eyes!

I’m leaving the list from last year here just to remind me of some of things that I would like to do in the next year. It can’t hurt to have things to do when I am wallowing about being stuck inside.

  1. Visit 3 new countries
  2. Present at an academic conference
  3. Solo author a paper
  4. Lose the 20lbs I gained in the last year due to bad choices and stress
  5. Do yoga at least twice a week
  6. Write at least one new post a week that has nothing to do with work
  7. Make a dent in my student loan
  8. Finally get my UK driving license
  9. Participate in No Screen Sunday and stay off my phone and all social media on Sundays (starting today because I have not done it at all this month)
  10. Keep the toxic people from returning to my bubble
  11. Ride in a hot air balloon
  12. Go camping
  13. Celebrate passing my viva
  14. Improve my Spanish proficiency
  15. Meal prep to help balance my diet (and to help with number 4)
  16. Get on an academic committee
  17. Officially change my name on all my documents without crying
  18. Go a full 48 hours without being negative
  19. Don’t cancel plans with friends once I’ve made them (especially not the day of)
  20. Finally get my artwork from California to Scotland (although not through FedEx)

The Scamp is Restless

Day 400, 615 of lockdown and I have lost the plot. I’m tired of being inside, tired of having my holidays cancelled and tired of only having myself for company. I am lucky that people video chat, call and even stand outside my window so I can make some human connection.

I miss my friends. I miss hugging people. I actually sorta miss my commute to Glasgow….okay, not really that last one. I do not miss being tired at night or up so early in the morning.

I’m feeling so restless that I spend a good amount of time looking for new places to live. I’ve been in my current flat for almost 5 years. This is the longest I have lived anywhere since I was 18 years old. That and the lack of actually being able to travel has made me really itchy and anxious to move. The problem is, I’ve really fit myself into this place. I compare everything I look at to this place in terms of space, location and safety…and not much compares for what I am paying.

But I am tired of living in a shabby place. I keep it clean, but the furniture (minus the bed and mattress) is at least 6 or 8 years old. The bathroom is out of date. The toilet leaks, the bathtub is sad and everything is just a depressing shade of beige (I’ve been hearing for 5 years that it is going to get redone, but it hasn’t happened). The electrical in this place is possibly illegal and of dubious safety and my washer is temperamental on the best of days. Right now, with 50 mph winds, my curtains are blowing in both rooms and I can feel the breeze (both windows are closed and locked, but are single glazed and need some work). None of these things really bothered me until I was forced to spend 23 hours a day here.

Which makes me want to move. I want something new, something fresh, managed by people who are interested in caring for their property and the furniture. I want something bigger. Something I am not embarrassed by. If you have ever tried to find a new place to live during lockdown, let me tell you, it is about as easy as trying to read a book in language you don’t speak while you are blindfolded in the dark.

I hate this feeling. I hate feeling restless, I hate not being able to really go outside, and I really hate not being able to travel. These feelings are all being compounded by my favourite place in the world: Napier.

After all of the fun with Napier while I was trying to work on the PhD, being screwed over waiting for the viva date, the horrible viva, and then rewriting an entire PhD in six months, I have yet to hear whether I have passed or not. One of my examiners is over a month late in reading my work, so no graduation for me….at least not for now.

This waiting, this limbo has kept me from enjoying anything. There is a chance they will reject my new work and I don’t get a PhD. There is a chance that they give me another 6 months of corrections, and there is a chance that they finally see that the first thing I published was a piece of shit written at the direction of someone who has no business supervising students on PhDs. To say that I am angry is an understatement. This feeling is keeping me from feeling motivation to do my job, to write some articles for publication, and do really do anything that I thought I would be doing at this point post PhD. I have weight that is not being lost, sleep that is not restful, and an attitude that is not positive.

I don’t like this feeling. I want to be happy. I want to do yoga. I want to write for fun. I want things that I’ve worked hard for to be recognized. I’d like a permanent contract at work and a promotion so I can make my loan payments, not have to pay heaps of money every 6 months for a visa and the uncertainty of this temporary contracts.

The one thing about this is that the weather is getting better, it is lighter later which means I can go for walks and avoid most people, and there are baby animals everywhere! The swans have had a successful batch of babies (7 little swanletts bopping around) and today’s walk was 2 different set of mini quacks learning to dive for food. There is nothing better than seeing little fluffy baby ducks learning to be ducks.

9 weeks down. 5 weeks to go.

Some of you better start preparing for the massive hugs you are about to get….you’ve been warned.

The Scamp Needs Reassurance

I’ve already failed at the 20 things I want to do in 2020. I only managed one post last week instead of two. This puts me in a bad mood. I can’t keep to a simple plan.

Same with the diet right now. I’m terrified of what will happen if I step on a scale right now. I’m frustrated that I cannot resist falling into old bad habits.

I am feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders.

My PhD edits are due in a little over a month. At the moment I only have two chapters that are done. I spent three weeks in California and was able to write four chapters. I have feedback on two waiting for my attention. I have one chapter that needs to be written.

I am running out of time.

Last week I had a meeting with my supervisor about the feedback on my chapters. The feedback was good. It is constructive, it is detailed. It will hopefully get me on track to pass. When I told my supervisor that I was worried that I would not pass the corrections, instead of telling me that I would be okay and that I would pass, she told me that she cannot guarantee that I will pass. She did not want to give me any false promises and it was out of our hands. During the same conversation, she said if I pass the corrections then she has carried me through the PhD and deserves to be the one who hoods me at graduation.

Now, I want to qualify this. While I do feel a little undervalued and very much abandoned by my supervisors, I do love Joan. She has carried me through the process because I have given up. I spent four years being mucked about and because of that I almost failed. They told me the whole time they were not worried about me during the viva and no one expected me to have to rewrite the thesis. She is the only one who is helping me the corrections, the only one who was there on viva day and is really the only one who stood up for me during the process. I want her to be the one to give me my hood. I also know that she doesn’t want to lie to me, especially given what I went through in the viva, so I do appreciate that she is being honest with me.

But let me tell you how my brain works.

It does not work with a lack of reassurance that I will be successful if I make the corrections. It then immediately fixates on the fact that if I mess this up I don’t get the PhD. If I don’t have the PhD, then I am no longer eligible for my job. If I lose the job, I lose the visa. If I lose the visa, I get deported. If I go back to California, I will have no job, massive student loans and nowhere to live.

Then I have the constant barrage of questions about when I graduate when I’ll be done, why haven’t I finished. Not to mention the recrimination of not answering emails fast enough, not responding to things I cannot emotionally handle, and for not driving all over the state of California at Christmas to see people who really haven’t made that much effort to be my friend and support me.

I’ve just about had it. I cannot work without a little reassurance, without a little support, and right now, I am not getting it. I’m not exactly making it easy for people, but I do not want to have to do so much work to be supported. I also don’t want to hear everything is going to be okay, or that I am smart enough or that I know what I need to do. I need a hug. I need someone to take my debit card away so I can’t buy crap food to eat. I need someone to text me just to say hi how are you.

I need people to stop comparing their suffering to mine. I know that eventually, I will be okay and that there are a lot of people who are struggling a lot more than I am with a lot more difficult issues. Logically I know this. But I am tired and my brain does not work logically right now. I will be so happy when this PhD process is over and I can move on.

I saw a tweet the other day about whether or not a PhD was worth it. The woman who write felt like it wasn’t. Now that I have almost completed 2, I am starting to wonder if what she thinks is true.

I felt like I needed to put this out in the world so that I might be able to find the motivation to keep going.

But the next post. That one is going to be writing for fun….if I can remember what fun is.

The Scamp and Mental Health Awareness Week

As social media gears up to celebrate mental health awareness week (14-20th of May) in the UK, I am gearing up for the onslaught of cliche inspirational posts that make me want to bang my head against the wall. This year the focus of the week is on stress and whether or not we are coping well.

I can already tell you that I am not coping well. Anyone who has ever undertaken a PhD will tell you that the end of the write-up is no picnic.

I saw a post the other day that said, “You are not your mental illness”.  Maybe you aren’t your mental illness, but I am very much mine….and I don’t think I am alone in that thought.

I am sad more than I am happy. I struggle with crippling self-doubt. I find it hard to leave my flat for days at a time because I am worried about the what people see when they look at me. I’m anxious about my future and often find sleep elusive. I cry out of frustration when I can’t do things well the first time. I constantly feel like the universe is shitting on my head while a little black rain cloud follows me around. I am extremely hard on myself and the people around me, and they often bare the brunt of my moods and feelings.

But, just as I am my illness, I am part of my treatment. I take my medication every day. I see my therapist every two weeks. I do yoga and practice mindfulness to slow down the negative thoughts and racing heartbeat. I wear bright colours and crazy prints so that people focus on my clothes and not my face. I work hard

I watch a lot of baby animal videos.

I’m one of the lucky ones though. I can afford to get my meds, afford to get help and have a really great support system.

Today is American Mother’s Day, and I called my biggest supporter to wish her a good day. I haven’t seen her in 6 months, and haven’t even really been able to Facetime with her in the last couple of weeks. She still checks in every day, tells me it is going to be okay and reminds me that there is a lot of good that comes from working hard and occasionally asking for help.

She also funds some of my adventures.

So, for mental health awareness week, I am going to embrace my mental health challenges and continue to work towards learning how to keep my depression and anxiety from running my life. It is a process. Last week was a really great week for me. Everything went my way and was smooth sailing. The two weeks before that were stressful and draining. It’s a balance that I am still learning to navigate. I don’t often get it right, but I have a therapist and a clear plan of action to help manage the bad days.

 

If you are struggling in the UK, here is a helpful site to get help:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help

If you are struggling in the US, you can find help here:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/finding-help

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 14

Today I taught myself how to sew. Turns out, it really isn’t that hard.

Well, threading the needle was a bit of a challenge, but once I got my hands working properly, and all the knots in place, it was not the scary undertaking I thought it would be. half an hour and three buttons later, my jacket is wearable again.

I am counting today as a success.

The challenge for the week is to discuss something in my life that is stressful. It might as well have been a challenge for me to write about something that is not stressing me out. I’m so good with stress, that most of the time I don’t even realize that I am stressed. To be honest, the one thing that is stressing me out the most right now is my mental health. I’m not managing it well right now, and because of that, I am worried about everything from my relationship, my friendships, and my work. While I’ve been working with my depression for awhile, lately I have been having a hard time making the good stretches last.

This stresses me out because I know that I have a problem, but I can’t seem to come out on top of it. People are always telling me that happiness is a choice, and that I can wake up everyday and choose to be happy. Unfortunately for me, it just doesn’t work that way. I know that I have a good life, I know that ‘on paper’ I have no reason to be depressed, but I am all the same. What stresses me out is the never-ending cycle. I know what I need to do to be healthy, I know what I should avoid doing and saying, but lately, I can’t seem to help myself. I feel like I am writing about the dark and twisty every week, and feel like when I get a handle on it, I then fall back into my negative thoughts.

If I could put half the energy into my work that I do to the dark and twisty, I would have an amazing paper right now.

On the plus side, I have started my adventure to cross another thing off my list of 30 things to do before I turn 30. I have found a series of yoga classes that will help me with scorpion pose. I really wish that I had picked an easier pose. My neck and back hate me right now. I’m glad that I have a whole lot of time between now and my 30th birthday.

The Scamp Unloads a Burden

I’ve been pretending I’m fine for months, thinking that if I pretended I wasn’t depressed again, it would go away. I said I was fine so many times that I created, and then destroyed a relationship I had no business being in. I said I fine so many times that I eventually was consumed by the word and didn’t know how to say I was unhappy, or that I needed help beyond what anyone I love could objectively give me.

I’m an avid freshly presser. I love reading what people have to say on subjects I am interested in (and one day secretly hope to grace the page). Today I came across a blog that perfectly captured how I feel (You can find the owner of the words that so perfectly capture what I am sure many people struggling with depression feel here: http://blackdogrunner.wordpress.com/)

BDR writes:

When you’re in the clutches of depression, it requires an enormous amount of energy. Many a day I’ve gone to work, said nothing except a couple of ‘fine thank yous’ , and come home utterly exhausted. Which has a knock-on effect on my ability to do it all over again the next day.

But there’s another problem – a more insidious problem – with lying. Every time you tell someone you are ‘fine’ – when you’re not – you buy into the belief that it’s not acceptable to be depressed. In other words, the act of concealing your true mood, sends a subconscious message that it needs concealing, that it’s something to be ashamed of.

I’m exhausted. I spent so much time anxiously worried about the state of my relationship, or how busy I was, or how behind I fell with school work, that I could literally crawl in bed and sleep for days. In fact, I would like nothing more than to pull the covers over my head and not resurface until all of these feelings have passed.

I saw a therapist on campus…..I didn’t like her (I have since made a new appointment with a different person in hopes of finding a better fit).

I have three jobs and no insurance, so I didn’t look for an affordable option.

I have phoned it in at work and school, and not many people would have ever known something was wrong until last week when I lost control of my tear ducts and cried in oddest of places.

My self-worth at this moment is severely lacking. It is the one thing that I need to work on figuring out. It is one of the reasons I jumped into a relationship, it is one of the reasons I hide behind school, and it is one of the things I am constantly reminded of, but am somehow unable to see.

Today was my lucky day in class though. I got two cards from two of my favorite cohort members. One was a great note thanking me for being me, and listing qualities that she enjoyed about me. She has been doing this every week for the different members of our group, and mine just so happened to come at a time when I needed a reminder to look at all the good about myself.

The second card came from a woman that I love. he is one of the bravest, warmest, and inspired people I have ever met. She has a passion for people that is beyond anything I can hope to have, and she constantly reminds me what it means to fully invest in your dreams. She was a strong comforting shoulder for me last week, and the card she gave me tonight will be one I keep close for a good long while.

It says:

It isn’t always easy to make changes, but there’s no better advice than this: just do your best. Make sure you stay strong enough to move ahead, because there are some wonderful rewards waiting for you.

It won’t all make sense right away, but I promise you; over the course of time, answers will come, decisions will prove to be the right ones, and the path will be easier to see. Here are some things you can do that will help see you through….

You can have hope. Because it works wonders for those who have it. You can be optimistic. Because people who expect things to turn out for the best often set the stage to receive a beautiful result. You can put things into perspective. Because some things are important and others are definitely not.

You can remember that beyond the clouds, the sun is still shining. You can meet each challenge and give it all you’ve got.

You can count your blessings. You can be inspired to climb your ladders and have some nice long conversations with your wishing stars. You can be strong and patient. You can be gentle and wise.

And you can believe in happy endings. Because you are the author if the story of your life.

                                                                                                Douglas Pagels

I’m going to look to the strong and patient, gentle and wise parts to get me through.

As per my usual, I have been way too emotionally open and honest about being a hot mess. This blog was supposed to be my adventures in Scotland, and then my adventures in the doctoral program. It has become my outlet for all of the thoughts and feelings that I can’t seem to voice in my everyday life. I don’t hide behind the anonymity that the blogosphere offers since I post the link to my Facebook, and I am sure one day I will cringe about all of the things I have put out into the world, but right now, in this moment, I feel a little bit better about getting this off my chest.