2020 Has Been Absolutely Bat Shit Crazy So Far, Thanks For Asking

It has been far, far too long since I’ve written for this blog. I miss it, honestly. It was such a nice sounding board for the thoughts that piqued my attention. (Fun fact: I’ve probably only published about 50% of the drafts I’ve started writing for this blog. The other 50% are ideas that I thought were worth writing until I started writing them. Then I changed my mind. Haha!)

It’s been such a whirlwind of a year – for the world and for me personally. There was so much going on that I just didn’t have the time, energy, or mental fortitude to write about it. But!! I’ve been keeping a checklist of ideas that have crossed my mind that I want to throw up on this blog and my new goal is to write one post per week, Starting with this one. At the top of that checklist is a recap of my year so far. It’s been fucking crazy.

So I guess I’ll begin a little bit before the start of the year. Late December, 2019. I found out my then-partner was cheating on me. This was particularly devastating to me for 2 reasons: 1) We were very serious. We had met each other’s families, talked about marriage, co-parented dogs, and planned to move in together. 2) His response upon my confronting him was to gaslight me, calling me crazy and telling me I was overreacting and had no idea why I was so angry. I didn’t even get closure when the relationship ended. He couldn’t even own up to anything.

I was a wreck. It was around New Year’s that my ex-partner has persuaded me into giving him another chance. I started 2020 in tears, fighting with him over something stupid. We had a lot of underlying problems in our relationship, you see, and now they were all coming out.

For the better part of January, we tried to make it work. We even went to couple therapy. But, many, many buckets of tears later, it became clear there was no coming back (or moving forward – whichever phrase you prefer. Despite their having objectively opposite denotations, they amusingly are synonymous in this instance!) from this. I ended (really ended, this time) our relationship in late January.

I immediately launched into surrounding myself with people, both new and familiar, to help me cope with the pain of loss. I have such fond memories of Harry Potter movie nights at my friends’ place during this time. I also started seeing a therapist. She’s been fantastic.

In the midst of this, I still had to be a PhD student. It was the Spring Semester of my 2nd year and I was TAing a class and taking two courses myself. To be quite honest, I have never felt so detached from the classes I was taking – at least, not all of them, at the same time. The course I TA’ed was very much the same story. Detachment. There was one noteworthy point during the semester when I was having some problems with a student, but learned some great pedagogical lessons from the process. (I now think quite highly of this student.)

But my most important task – the sole thing I had the energy for that semester – was my Master’s thesis. It’s difficult for me to understate how difficult it was for me to slog through this project. Every single aspect of it – from assembling my committee to choosing a topic to trying to churn out a working draft to meeting with my advisor – was its own struggle. After crying to my advisor about it (yes, literally) I came to grips with the necessity of lowering my standards. With everything going on in my personal life, I just didn’t have the energy to make this paper good. I was aiming for passable. And I got that. My thesis was unanimously approved, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t leave more to be desired. Nonetheless, I did it. I defended (via Zoom) in early April.

During my spring break in March I went to go visit my sister in Hawai’i. I flew out just barely before real concern had started to set in about COVID. For the most part, we spent it working in cafes. Her spring break was the week after mine and she still had classes, and I had my Master’s thesis to work on. But it was so nice to spend time with her there – regardless of what we did. It was during my stay in Hawai’i that people had really started to panic about COVID. On one of my last days there, I received notice from my university that Spring Break would be extended another week so they could make decisions about how to proceed.

The shift to quarantine and social distancing was…hard. I lost motivation, had trouble focusing, regularly slept an average of 16 hours a day, and stopped working out. And I did basically zero work aside from my MA Thesis. (Not that I wasn’t already doing basically zero work on account of dealing with the aforementioned breakup and emotional abuse.) In fact, I’ve only just (“just” being early July) turned in my final term paper for one of my classes. The paper for my other class has yet to be completed. I’m about halfway done with it right now.

I was pretty depressed during the first couple months of quarantine. Not like mood-depressed, but action-depressed. I just…didn’t really do anything.

And then George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement exploded onto the streets and the media. I feel like that was what woke me up. The monotonous days of quarantine had thrown me into a stupor and this finally made me feel something again. I was angry. And I started signing petitions and sharing articles and – probably most significantly for me – speaking up to my family.

The older generation of my extended family are total brainwashed Trump supporters. Like, Obama-lied-about-being-a-natural-born-citizen-and-global-warming-is-fake kind of Trump supporters. With BLM at the forefront of everyone’s minds, politics was inevitable. The family group chat got heated. I honestly think this is the most anger and tension that’s ever been outwardly expressed between us.

As much as I tried to be a black ally – to focus on the Black Lives Matter movement and put a spotlight on black liberation without centering the narrative on me – these conversations with my family were personal for me because their sociopolitical views directly affected me too. At least in discussions with my family, it was difficult for me to completely separate the Black Lives Matter movement and my own feelings towards the subject. I was angry all the time. At certain points, I was even driven to tears.

I realized this wasn’t sustainable for me – let alone healthy. I needed to focus on something else. A change of pace. A change of scenery. A change of people. Eventually I came to a point where I just knew that going back home to be with my nuclear family was the right move for me. All of my siblings had left their respective universities (they’re all in college) to come stay with my parents already and I wanted to be there with them too. I flew back to California in mid-June and stayed with my parents for three weeks.

Being home was good for my heart. I got to spend time with my siblings and cook with my mom and see some friends, reunite with my childhood dog, and eat at a handful of the restaurants I’d missed so much (takeout, of course). My mom’s garden is flourishing (literally the envy of all my plant-parent friends) and my dad is slowly but surely making progress on remodeling our front yard. It’s looking good!

Throughout my stay with my family I did a lot of work on myself. I was still regularly meeting with my therapist (through video chat) and being around my family brought up a lot of emotions she helped me start sorting through. I’m actively and successfully working to improve my relationship with my mom. I wish I could say the same about my dad, but he’s a lot more stubborn and unreasonable. I flew back to the east coast just a bit after the 4th of July.

Unprecedentedly, I’ve been doing super great since I got back. I’m keeping my space clean, building my savings, consistently working out, staying on top of my work, and keeping the procrastination to a minimum. Like, I’m doing really good right now in pretty much every aspect of my life. Sure, the world is still a chaotic mess and I’m worried about the upcoming school year, COVID, and the November election, but everything I can control is controlled. And that’s really all I can ask for.

One of my quarantine goals now that everything is more manageable for me is to start writing for fun again (hence, this blog post). I have so many thoughts that have been half-baked or bottled up and I can’t wait to dive into them and share them here.

The Bad Days

Yesterday I was feeling really, really shitty. My mental and emotional state was at a solid -5. Anyways, like I’ve said before, part of my intention in keeping this blog is to honestly document the experiences I have during grad school. So, here’s a transcription of what I wrote in my journal yesternight, as unpolished and raw as it gets:

I woke up at noon with unbearable feelings of depression and anxiety. Actually, I woke up at 8. I was too unmotivated to do anything so I drifted in and out of sleep until noon. Eventually I forced myself out of bed because I had office hours at 2 and class at 4.

I was pretty productive between those hours. No one came to my office hours and I managed to finish up a post for this blog on the ethics of body modification and made some progress on planning my MA thesis. Finally a bit before 4 I dragged myself away from my laptop and headed to class. It was impossible for me to focus. I ended up skipping out halfway through because I was just feeling so terrible and tired. I got home and slept some more.

I finally dragged myself out of bed at 8 pm. Usually when I’m feeling really depressed, doing things helps. I did the dishes and cleaned my room. Then I did laundry. (And folded/put it away right after!) I went for a run, then showered and got ready for bed. Then I lit a candle and did some meditative yoga. I used a guided meditation focused on depression and self-soothing.

Now it’s midnight. I feel a little better. Still shitty, but proud that I was able to engage in these healthy forms of self-care.

It’s so stupid that my life is going great on paper and yet I still feel this way. I’m ahead on my reading assignments and coursework, ahead on my MA thesis planning, I’m exercising regularly, and my space is clean and orderly. But I spent most of my day in bed, and I only ate one meal today and I’m not even hungry. I just feel numb and sad. I hope I feel better tomorrow. This is the worst day I’ve had in a while.

I called my boyfriend after I wrote this and we talked for a while. Just hearing his voice and feeling his presence made me feel a lot better, and I was able to fall asleep relatively quickly. This morning I woke up feeling okay. Today was loads better.

A Check-in: The Beginning of Year 2

3 weeks in. So far, so good – great, actually! I’m not really sure where to start, so I guess I’ll just go in order.

I spent the summer living with my partner in Santa Barbara, California. I really missed that place, and getting to spend so much time there was healing. Living in my favorite city with my favorite person did a lot to undo all of the mental and emotional stress I felt throughout my first year, and ultimately I think this recovery set a really solid foundation for the start of my second year.

I moved back to the east coast for the start of the school year after the first week of August. My dog, Luna, stayed with my partner in California with my partner, so I moved alone. My lease ended on my old apartment and I moved into a new place with one of the people in my department. She’s incredible, and she’s got the sweetest boys (a dog and a cat). She’s big into home decor and customization, so she’s got rugs and pictures and plants everywhere. It’s a complete 180 from my old place, and I feel so much more at home here. I think living with her has also been good for my mental health in general; she’s a great roommate, really cheery, and nice to spend time with. (She’s also the one who deals with the cockroaches – an endeavor I had to undertake by myself when I lived alone.)

The diversity workshop I had been planning and co-organizing for the better part of a year took place a week before classes started. We had a great group of participants and we received great feedback! This being the first time we’ve organized it, it was really really rewarding to hear good things from them. Despite how much stress and work went into putting this workshop, I’m really excited to build on what I’ve learned this time around and move forward!

I increased my dosage for antidepressants. I started taking them about 7 months ago and stumbled around a bit trying to figure out kind/brand worked best for me. I saw some small but definite changes back then but now that I’ve settled on a particular brand, I was able to increase my dose about two weeks ago. The effects have definitely been noticeable! My anxiety can still be pretty bad at times, but it’s less debilitating overall. Most significantly, my depression is comparatively non-existent! I can get up to work, get myself out of the house, keep my space clean, go to the gym, enjoy the company of other people, and keep generally good spirits throughout the week! It’s an incredible feeling – even more so because it’s been consistent. I’m very, very pleased about how I’m responding to these meds.

I’ve been working out consistently and it’s done a lot to help with my perception of my health and body. Because of my eating disorder the way I’ve viewed my body has always been a bit warped and toxic, but whenever I’m working out consistently I experience less anxiety about it – even if the physical changes aren’t too noticeable. I try to do yoga most mornings, run 3x a week, lift 3x a week, and have one day off to rest and recover. I’m really proud of myself keeping this schedule up; I think a lot of it has to do with increased motivation from my antidepressants working really well.

I starting teaching! (TAing, technically.) It’s an intro to moral theory course and I have two discussion sections every week. Being the only person in my cohort having never taught before, I was pretty nervous my first week. But I’ve really come to enjoy it! It’s incredibly rewarding, and so nice to see my students engage in class discussion. I’ve had several students tell me that what I’m doing is really helpful in their understanding of the material and it really encourages me to be the best teacher I can be. My undergrad Intro to Ethics TA was who ultimately got me interested in pursuing philosophy, and I hope I can impart some of that passion onto my students now that I’m in that role.

Overall, I’ve been keeping on top of my work. My time management and prioritization skills have gotten way better since I was a first year and I feel very much on top of things. I haven’t yet felt overwhelmed about my workload and I’m completing all my reading assignments on time. One thing I’m particularly proud of so far this year is my participation in classroom discussions. I had trouble with this last year because of anxiety and impostor syndrome and just fear/timidness in general, but this year I feel like I’m doing a lot better in getting over that and convincing myself that I have valuable things to contribute.

Like I said, so far, so good! 🙂

Ramblings of an Angry Atheist

Last week in one of my seminars we were assigned to read “If God Is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?” by Elizabeth Anderson. The other day I came across a New York Times article discussing the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops – a surprisingly common practice which has long since been covered up by the church. These events have prompted a few thoughts regarding Catholicism to swirl around in my mind as of late.

First is the different ways in which certain groups of people come to reject Catholicism. What I have noticed is that those from marginalized groups tend to reject Catholicism on the basis of some personal, internal conflict whereas those who are not from marginalized groups tend to reject it on some externally principled, epistemological ground. To illustrate this point, here is a conversation I had with someone sometime at the beginning of this school year, several months ago:

Me: They were playing Gospel music in the store. It made me really uncomfortable.

Friend: I’m not religious or anything but it wouldn’t make me uncomfortable.

Me: Well the music makes me uncomfortable because it suggests a heavy presence of religious people, which I don’t like.

Friend: Well I mean…yeah, it’s bad to believe in something that doesn’t exist, but–

Me: Oh, that’s not why it’s bad to me. It’s bad because people who are extremely religious tend to have certain sociopolitical views which are bad. Oftentimes these views are misogynistic or homophobic or otherwise dangerous to me personally.

My friend, who (big surprise) is a straight, white male, objects to religion on the basis of it being epistemically irresponsible: It’s bad to believe in something for which there exists no evidence. I, on the other hand, reject to religion (specifically, Catholicism, which is the only religion I have sufficient experience with to even be making these sorts of claims), because of the effects Catholicism and Catholic movements have had on my personal life. As a straight, white male it is easy to miss the sociopolitical effects of a Catholic influence: taking an anti-choice stance and denying women rights to their own body, active campaign against gay marriage, a culture of slut-shaming women and forcing standards of modesty and purity upon them – all things that I, a queer woman of color, have very directly felt the impact of. I think this contrast of reasons for rejecting Catholicism is really important, and often overlooked or unrecognized.

The second thing I have been thinking about, which is very intimately related to the first point, is whether my attitude towards Catholicism is warranted. I’m an atheist. And a pretty ardent one at that. When asked my opinions on religious matters I voice them without restraint, sometimes offending believers with my harsh words. I also have an aversion to Catholics. It’s not a very deep one, nor does it prevent me from interacting and connecting with them on meaningful levels, but I could never become best friends with or date someone who was Catholic. I used to wonder whether these actions and attitudes of mine were permissible. I have since come to the conclusion that they are. Here’s why:

I was abused, physically and emotionally, by my parents in the name of Catholicism. (I was raised Catholic. I’m part of the first generation in my family to be born here in the U.S. My parents, uncles, and aunts immigrated here from one of the most Catholic countries in the world, and they brought those traditions with them when they came here.) I won’t go into details, but suffice to say my home and family life was pretty terrible as a child, due in large part to religion. This is personal for me.

Furthermore, as mentioned before, Catholics are responsible for pushing lots of dangerous sociopolitical ideals that harm me directly – most notably, those which are homophobic, misogynistic, and otherwise oppressive to women and queer people. And these attitudes often find their basis in Scripture: They act this way in part because they think this is what God wants. Depending on your interpretation of the Bible, they’re not wrong.

And finally, zooming out, it’s astounding how much abuse, violence, and chaos has been caused by the church throughout history: genocide, sexual abuse of nuns and children, subjugation and forced conversion of native peoples, wars, and so much more. Historically, I’m not sure there’s any institution out there that can match – or even come close to – the sheer amount of human rights violations committed by the Church.

There’s just so much for me to detest about Catholicism as a religion and as an institution. And the way I see Catholics is this: You are committed to the idea of an all-powerful God. Thus, you are committed to the idea that God could have stopped all these atrocities – especially the ones done in his name – but instead he did nothing. And you worship him. That doesn’t sit right with me, and I can’t ever bring myself to fully be okay with someone like that. How could you worship a God who actively allowed these terrible things to happen to me? And to the world?

I would never go so far as to start pointless fights about religion, but I’m not silent about my hatred of Catholicism. And while I respect believers as humans, I don’t respect the religion itself, and I can’t be bothered to make sure my criticisms of Catholicism come across in a respectful tone. I harbor so much hatred and resentment towards Catholicism, and justly so, I think, given my history with it and its history with the world.

I don’t view Catholicism as something that merits my respect. If the way I talk about the religion offends believers, then so be it.

Good (≠ Productive) Things

Great things I did today:

  • Woke up early (which is extra great because I’m slowly trying to shift from a 3 AM-11 AM schedule to a 10 PM-6 AM schedule. Today was 7:30! I’ve been hovering around 8 for the last week.)
  • Morning yoga
  • Caught the early bus to my class today (Usually because I’m Always Running Late I take the bus that drops me off just barely in time for class.)
  • The first problem set assignment for my logic class was returned and I got 10/10! 🙂
  • Felt completely comfortable giving a presentation and leading discussion in my seminar
  • Went to the gym (I feel like this is extra commendable because I walked there in the freezing, pouring rain.)
  • Didn’t forget to bring my reusable bags when I went grocery shopping

Tonight I plan to take a night off from philosophy and coursework and just do some housekeeping and relax 🙂

Today was a good day, and I’m extra happy about that because it wasn’t a good day in virtue of me being productive work-wise. I think it’s good for my mental health to separate “good” from “productive” – and honestly for the longest time those words were conceptually identical for me. It’s nice to know I’m capable of wrapping my head around the idea of them being different, especially right in the middle of the work week.

An Open Book

In an effort to make this blog as authentic a reflection of my grad school experience as possible, here is a very candid snapshot of my current state:

I am very depressed. My anxiety is really bad. I’ve skipped two days of working out in a row and replaced them with binge eating. I’ve gotten virtually no work done in the past few days. I have no motivation to go out with friends. I miss California. I feel terrible.

And tonight I cuddled with my dog, buried my face into her fur, and cried for 20 minutes.

Getting the Hang of Adulting

I’m currently writing this at 10:30 pm with a face mask on. This means: a) that I’ve finished all the things I wanted to do today before 10:30, and b) there is enough time between now and when I’m planning to go to bed such that I can relax for a bit and treat my skin – and this is a big, big deal!

In my first few weeks of grad school this would have never happened. I had no idea how to prioritize my to-do list and felt so hopelessly swamped with coursework that I didn’t even have time to do things like clean my apartment or workout or hang out with friends. As a result, I was doing nothing but schoolwork from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed. I wasn’t getting enough sleep; I wasn’t working effectively or efficiently; I wasn’t giving myself time to go out and relax and just be a fucking person instead of a grad student… It was driving me nuts. I was really miserable.

Fast forward about a month and a half and I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place, both in my work like and in my personal life.

I’m getting better at managing my time and my assignments. I’ve finally managed to internalize the idea of prioritizing: some readings I skim, some I annotate meticulously, and some I make sure to do before others (which is a huge break from undergrad because I always managed to get my work done on time no matter what order I did it in and I read everything). Now I’m actually getting things done ahead of time! (Also a huge break from undergrad – haha!) As for not-school, I’m working out on the regular, my apartment is clean and my laundry situation never gets quite so bad, and I feel like I’ve got a good group of friends – or at least colleagues that I enjoy spending time with.

Of course, there are still things I need to work on and I still feel homesick pretty much all the time, but overall I feel like my whole situation in general is much more manageable and I’m able to do the things I want to do. Cheers to improvement!

This will be the first post filed under the “Personal Updates” category. I think the name itself, coupled with the content of this post, makes it pretty clear what sorts of things you can expect to find in this category in the future.