A Tiny Life Hack

Some days I just wake up in a dark place, and I can’t get out of it. I look out at the ocean and don’t give a fuck that it’s there, and then I beat myself up for not appreciating this amazing place I live. I know I should appreciate it, but my brain just can’t get on board.

“What if you started your days with a positive affirmation?” my therapist asked. “I say a little prayer every morning before I wake up to set the tone for my day.”

I’ve been saying “thank you for giving me another day” every day since I wake up, and so far it’s been a helpful way to start my day.

“And what do you do when you first wake up?” she asked…knowing my answer.

“I, um, roll over and check Instagram…” I replied sheepishly. “But! I’ve been taking an Instagram break!” (At the time, it had been a whole 24 hours.)

“Well, no wonder you’re starting your day with all these negative feelings—think of all you’re consuming from the moment you wake up, immediately comparing yourself to others’ workouts, travel, whatever.”

If you’re anything like me, it’s probably become a reflex at this point to check Instagram or other social media in moments of boredom, and/or first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

I’ve been signed out of my Instagram all week other than for a little while today, and I’ve found a really healthy replacement for myself.

While I was trying to think of affirmations, I downloaded Gabby Bernstein’s Miracles Now card app, based on her Miracles Now book. The app (which isn’t free, it’s $4.99, boo) has 62 different affirmations. (The cards are also available in a physical form if that’s more your jam.)

Now, when I want to check Instagram, I look on the app instead to get an affirmation, which feels much better than refreshing Instagram looking for that elusive hit of dopamine.

As I said, part of the reason I’m chilling it on Instagram is to stop the comparison game. As soon as I downloaded the app, this is the FIRST affirmation I saw. Hi, Universe, I hear you.

(Another Instagram strategy is to only follow accounts that are positive/good for your mental health. I have unfollowed most people I was following from my dog’s Instagram and am now following positivity and positive psychology accounts, so that if I *do* feel like scrolling, I’m seeing good stuff.)

I’m certainly not off the ‘gram for good, but as I’m focusing on school and what fills me up (writing, not scrolling), this feels good right now.

Any little life hacks that have helped you lately?

First Week of Grad School!

notebooks are ban.do and I am obsessed.

(No, I am not going to be recapping every week for the next 80 weeks, I just wanted to write about my first impressions. But do let me know if there’s anything in particular you want to know!)

In November 2017, I signed up to receive information from NYU’s School of Social Work. I’d been casually thinking about it for a few years, but losing my mom and getting laid off within a few months of each other gave me the push to start thinking more seriously about making a total career change.

It would be two years of trying to make freelancing work in the midst of severe depression to realize I wanted and needed a career change. Doing social media for clients and writing listicles made me money, but I felt like I was just throwing content into an abyss. The writing I’ve done here and elsewhere that connects with people and helps me and them feel less alone is what feeds my heart, but as my depression has gotten better I’ve had less to say. (I have joked that feeling stable is overrated, as far as writing is concerned.) But any time I get a message or comment from someone else in pain, I want to go deeper in sitting with them through their pain.

And I am fascinated by the mental health system—learning about disorders (I’m so excited that I now have my own DSM-5), learning about different therapy modalities and why and how they work, and just learning about what makes us all tick. I became obsessed with all of this selfishly, to help myself feel better, but I want to share this information with others to help them feel better. I want to help them navigate the system. Just tonight, a friend said her husband was struggling with finding a therapist, getting on medication, etc, and she wanted to know if I could talk to him. OF COURSE. I want to help people find the resources that will help them feel better.

And so I am beginning the road to becoming a therapist. I am terrified and excited all at once…which my therapist said is totally normal. “I’d be more worried if you weren’t feeling that way,” she said.

I’m going to Antioch University, which is conveniently only 15 minutes away from me. (And I’m now on my second therapist who went there, and the ketamine therapist went there too.) I loved what I heard at the first information session—that their program is incredibly introspective and that they are focused on training great therapists, not just book-smart ones. The biggest thing, though, that stuck with me is how important it is to them to be progressive since, in some ways, psychology defines what’s normal in our culture. For example, I’ve already learned that being gay was considered a psychiatric disorder until 1973. (This American Life did a really interesting episode on this.) Therefore, it’s so important to be inclusive as to not further pathologize or “other” people due to an out-of-touch definition of what’s “normal.”

My Classes

Psychodynamic Theories: Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic theories and therapies are the foundation of psychotherapy as a field, and Freud is the father of all of this. While traditional psychoanalysis (the old-school couch facing away from the therapist, going to therapy 5x/a week) is not as popular any more, it influenced many of the theories that are used today. (And what’s a psychology degree without some Freud?!) Of my three classes, this is the most dry one, but it’s an important one.

Society and the Individual: This is, without a doubt, the most powerful class that I am taking—and I’ve heard that it’s one of the best classes at Antioch. Basically, it looks at how we fit into society—and how the different communities that we’re a part of influence us.

As a white, privileged, cisgendered, heterosexual woman, I have so much to learn about confronting my own privileges and learning more about what it’s like to be of another race, class, sexuality, etc. One of the books we’re reading is called The Working Poor: Invisible in America. It focuses on the working class in poverty in our country and the systemic forces that keep them down. It is a heart-breaking and eye-opening read.

One of our assignments is writing a cultural autobiography—so, how did our social forces and communities make us who we are today?

Assessment of Psychopathology: This was the one I was most excited about going into it. I’m realizing now that was partially to understand myself better—when I’ve been diagnosed with disorders in the past, what goes into that? Why are psychiatric evaluations structured the way they are? Why do the questioners ask the questions they do?

I really want to learn more about the most common disorders I’ll probably see in my future work—anxiety, depression, bipolar—to understand how they may manifest in others, outside of my own experiences.

We’re currently working on learning more about those evaluations and mental status exams. A lot of this class is watching training videos of therapists with clients (mostly actors.) One of the first videos I had to watch was a therapist doing an eval in a psych ward with a suicidal patient. I’ve been in exactly that situation, so it was incredibly triggering—and right now, a lot of this material about these evaluations is really triggering to me. I’m so thankful to be in therapy throughout school to be able to process this. My therapist reminds me of how I am doing so much better, how I am not in that situation any more…and that some of my schoolwork and my future work will be triggering. She reminds me that, in class, if I am feeling triggered, I can always get up for a minute and get some fresh air, and to do deep breathing, etc.

I say three main classes, because I’m kind of taking two other classes.

One is a class on graduate-level writing (and how to do papers in APA style). There’s no papers or reading, so that’s why I kinda consider it a side class.

AND ALSO! I’m going to JAPAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!! with school in March for a class on mindfulness and mental health in Japan, so we have a few meetings before we go, but not every week, and most of the work isn’t until we get back and have a big paper.

Time Management

I’m still working as I do the program—at least for now, until I start seeing clients in training. I’m lucky to have a really flexible schedule through freelancing so that I can make my own hours. I recognize I have a lot less to juggle than most, but still, I’m learning how to make it work in my own life. Right now for me, that looks like time-blocking my calendar out each day with what I have to do for work and school and attempting as best I can to have some days where I just do work and some days where I just do schoolwork. My three classes are all in one day, Thursday, from 10-6:30, so by the end of the day, I AM FRIED. I’m still a little drained on Fridays, so I’m trying to keep them on the easier side, but that means working on the weekends, which I don’t mind. I was really happy that by this Wednesday afternoon, I was done with all of my schoolwork and hadn’t left it all for the day or two before class. Aiming to feel that way as often as I can.

Two kinda unrelated questions:

  1. Any grad school tips?!
  2. Although my depression is leaps and bounds better, still have some fatigue and fogginess. I’m changing my diet and going to get my thyroid tested and talking to my doc about maybe getting off one of my meds but curious if anyone here has had any luck getting rid of brain fog…