Author Archives: Theodora Blanchfield

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…

Casa Tara New Years Yoga Retreat

I went on a New Years yoga retreat last week, and this was the view I had to suffer from the yoga room.

And this view from the pool. Guys, it was, like, really hard.

I’ve traveled for the past three New Years, and I was on my own this year and couldn’t decide what to do/if I’d do anything. In early December, I decided that I did want a short getaway between Christmas and starting school. (I start this Thursday, eeeeep!)

My criteria: had to be within the budget I’d put aside for a trip, really wanted it to be outside of the US, and I wanted it to be a relatively quick flight.

This New Years yoga retreat at Casa Tara Retreat, with Ingrid Yang, fit all of my criteria. Casa Tara is in Baja California in Mexico — on the east coast. It was an easy two-hour flight from LAX…but I kind of flew into the wrong airport. La Paz is closer to Casa Tara, in the La Ventana area, but the Cabo airport had better prices. Oh, but it was also a 2.5-hour drive. (Maybe don’t text your friends your location with “I’m in a cab alone in Mexico” without giving them context.)

I podcasted last year about depression trying to hitch a ride on vacation with you. It suuuuucks. You know how lucky you are, but your brain doesn’t register that or the majesty of any of the places you’re seeing. You’re looking out through foggy glasses.

The morning I was leaving, I did.not.want.to.go. The idea of packing and getting myself to the airport felt insurmountable. I was in a dark place. I wanted to do nothing but sit on my couch, but I knew I’d regret that. Still, I was afraid of still feeling really depressed on vacation. I called my supportive cousin and just hearing her voice helped the clouds in my head part a bit.

The structure of the retreat was this: morning vinyasa, breakfast, free time, meditation, lunch, free time, yin or restorative yoga, dinner. I ADORE Ingrid. She’s also a doctor, so she’s really freaking smart, and not spouting out bogus claims like twists will detox you. She also knows that it is one VERTEBRA at a time, not one VERTEBRAE at a time. In short, she commits none of my yoga pet peeves. And she’s also hilarious. 11/10 would Ingrid again. If you’re in the San Diego area, look her up and take her classes/workshops.

As for skill level, it felt just right. I have a pretty regular practice these days, but also I am a runner, so I will never be super bendy. I worried it was going to be one of those retreats, but I was about average in terms of what I could do.

I am queen of (unnecessarily) filling my days and my calendar, so I really wanted to use the rest of the time to do absolutely nothing. In my opinion, some trips are for vegging and some are for exploring. We did intention-setting every morning and set intentions for both the year and the decade. I kept finding myself writing “to be more open-hearted.” I primarily meant that romantically, but also in sharing myself with friends and in online spaces. In the past year, I have wildly vacillated between being open-hearted and entirely retreating. Maybe that’s normal. (I started writing hormonal? and also yeah probably.)

I spent most of the down time either hanging out in the hot tub with the other retreat guests or reading. (I have recently become hooked on thrillers after reading Verity. Some other recent faves: The Wives, The Silent Patient.)

Yoga, food, downtime, sunshine—the retreat was exactly what I wanted and needed.

lilly pulitzer gizelle maxi dress

Perhaps most importantly, though, I got to wear my fave dress ever.

I had accidentally booked my flight for the day after the retreat ended, so I had an extra day in Cabo. I didn’t do much research, and apparently I booked myself at an all-inclusive. All day drinking and music was not the vibe I was going for after a yoga retreat. My first day, I just laid and read by the pool.

The next day, I was feeling pretty depressed again and tempted to just lay in bed/lay by the pool, but once again, I knew I’d feel better if I got out a bit. Well, I did some quick googling and found The Arch, a natural rock formation shaped like an arch.

But BY FAR, the highlight of the trip is several locals telling me my Spanish was good. I was really proud of that. I was a Spanish minor, and I’m always so pleasantly surprised how much comes back to me.

Lowlight? My flight down was two hours. I couldn’t get a direct flight back, and I had an hour flight to Guadalajara followed by a three-and-a-half hour flight from GDL to LAX. OK fine, annoying, but whatever.

Because of Volaris’ rules, I had to check my bag—a carryon. At the Cabo airport, I had such a sinking feeling about checking it. We landed around midnight at LAX, and I waited until after 1 for my luggage before someone came over to have me fill out an incident report. That was Thursday night, and I just got my luggage back today, Monday. I’m so happy I got it back, though. I was really missing my makeup.

What about you? Team explore on vacay or veg on vacay?