I did not intend for this last post on emerging scholars to be about self-care; however, after my own recent struggles, I feel it important to discuss ways in which scholars—emerging or entrenched—can take care of their mental and physical health when life gets in the way. October freak-out is over, but there still remains a residue of pain, struggle, and fragmentation. Normally, I refuse to allow my outside life to negatively affect my academic life. However, this fall, Life got in the way.
During this semester, I have experienced extreme highs of enlightenment, friendship, and community. However, I have also experienced severe lows with depression, loss, guilt, and shame seemingly etched on my skin and inscribed into my psyche. Somehow within this semester Life got in the way. So what does one DO when life gets in the way?
Sure I could give some standard advice about making sure you talk to someone or find a way to take your mind off the whole mess. However, I want to offer something new. I want to offer a story:
I entered a History and Theory of Rhetoric class and all I wanted was to NOT read Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, the Rhodes scholars, etc. But I read them because I had to, because they matter—still, even though I don’t want them to. But when I began to look at Indigenous Rhetorics as a practice, I noticed that it calls us not to think about the thing, but to do the damn thang. So I began to wonder by what means emerging scholars take care of themselves when life gets in the way.
This is a story about pain, shame, and guilt and how one Black body found a way to deal. Sometimes, I just can’t with Life. The only thing I do well is the academy. My Life, it falls apart. Recently, a Life event so depressed me and consumed me with shame and guilt, I thought I would never recover. But there were 6 weeks left in the semester.
Life CANNOT get in the way.
What is to be done when you feel nothing can be done?
Through this struggle I realized I had a process of doing that led to my recovery: talk about it, think about it, hear advice about it, and then dance on it. All of these acts are acts of doing and making the doing creates the making and the making, in turn, replenishes that which could not be replenished. These are things I had to do when Life got in the way. These are things I had to make when Life got in the way. And these are the things that made me whole when Life got in the way. I do not pretend that these measures I have mentioned can help every scholar who needs to deal when Life gets in the way. However, I do suggest that it is in the doing and the making—the habits and hobbies we choose—that can help us heal:
When Life gets in the way.
How many of you knew that mental health awareness week was this month? My guess is not many of you. Unlike other health issues that receive more attention, such as breast cancer and heart disease, mental health issues often get pushed under the rug because of their stigma.
There is something wrong with this picture. How are we to understand mental illness and disorders and actively promote treatment and support for those affected by them? This is where writing comes in.
We’ve all read books for school (or for fun, if you’re a book nerd like me) that feature mentally ill characters. You and your peers might consider the authors of these books “crazy.” While this is certainly not the right way to label people struggling with mental illness, it may make you wonder why so many writers seem to struggle with depression and other related disorders.
Turns out, you’re not the only person who may think so. Recent studies have suggested a connection between mental health disorders and writers. Many successful and influential writers have dealt with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental disorders throughout their lives. Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf all battled mental illness. These are the authors of books you’ve read in your English classes throughout the years. These authors are brilliant. These authors demonstrate the power of the written word in coping with mental illness.
How can you apply therapeutic writing to your own life? I’m not suggesting you write a novel as a coping skill, but journal writing is an excellent way to cope with emotions. It’s helped me immensely over the years. Here’s how to get started:
- Scribble. Your journal might look like a two-year-old got ahold of it, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re getting all your emotions out on paper without inhibition. I know that when I am most upset, my journal entries are barely legible.
- Record your symptoms and treatment. Not only can this be therapeutic, it also serves as a great way to keep track of your mood, medication side effects, and possible triggers that could be causing certain symptoms. Being blatantly honest about the emotions and struggles you encounter sometimes helps you sort out your thoughts and feelings. Plus it serves as a great way to track the trends in your behavior and identify ways to cope with situations as you encounter them in the future.
- You don’t have to write every day. I always start out trying to write an entry every day, but it only stresses me out when I don’t follow my own rule. If you want to write every day, go for it, but you’re not obligated to. Write whenever inspiration strikes. Write whenever you’re feeling at your worst. Write whenever your head is overflowing with emotions and you just have to get them all out.
Journaling is a great coping mechanism for sorting through emotional issues, but be sure to also check out the resources that the MSU Counseling Center offers if you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness. Visit http://www.counseling.msu.edu/ for more information.