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.

Becoming Friends with my Inner Critic

“Inner critic” has been known to mean lots of different things, but my therapist and I use it to refer to that voice inside my head that always has something negative to say – whether it be about my academic performance, my personal relationships, my body image, or something else. We both agree that I have quite the aggressive inner critic, and we’ve been talking a lot about how I can better manage it.

The problem, as she so insightfully put it, is that my inner critic has been the source of a lot of my success. I wouldn’t have gotten my black belt, run marathons, won debate competitions, graduated college summa cum laude, or been accepted to some of the best philosophy PhD programs had I not pushed myself further than most others did. My high standards have always been what sets me apart – and I’m proud of the ways in which they do. Silencing or ignoring my inner critic just doesn’t seem like an attractive option to me.

But I do realize that in the long run having such a vocal and fierce inner critic is harmful to my health and wellbeing, so the solution we’ve (i.e. my therapist and I) have come up with is, rather than trying to rid myself of that vicious voice in my head, to become friends with it. To acknowledge what it’s saying and be able to have a conversation with it. I’m still struggling to find that middle ground, but it’s a start.

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! 🙂

1 Down, 5 To Go. (Revisited)

After I turned in my last term paper of the school year I made a promise to myself: No reading philosophy. No writing philosophy. One week.

Now that I’ve had a chance to step back a bit and recover from the hell that is term paper season, here’s a more positive reflection of my first year of grad school.

First and foremost I want to express how incredibly lucky and thankful I am to find myself among such a spectacular group of grad students. More so than simply being intelligent, passionate, and talented (and believe me – they are), they’re incredibly kind and caring.

During my first few weeks I received messages from several women in the department asking me out for coffee or breakfast just to get to know me one-on-one and ask about how I was adjusting. One of the senior students (who has just graduated this spring) reached out to have lunch with me and chat just because we had similar areas of interest. She then sent me her dissertation bibliography as recommended reading. When I expressed to one of my colleagues that I was struggling and had just started taking antidepressants he was incredibly open to sharing his own experiences with them and offered his time if I ever needed someone to talk to. The women in my cohort were a constant source of encouragement and warmth. There are countless other times I can point to where I felt like people went out of their way to reach out to me and make sure I was doing okay, and for that I’m forever grateful.

I am also incredibly grateful to have had such a fantastic first-year mentor. I know from talking with other graduate students (both in my own department and in others) that sometimes professors aren’t always the best mentors, so I braced myself for that just in case. But my mentor went above and beyond: he reached out to meet with me several times over the school year just to check in, offered thoughtful advice on both academic and personal matters (for example, the two-body problem), helped me with a fellowship application by reading over my personal essays (twice), and never took more than a day to answer my emails – whatever they were about.

Aside from all the support I received from my colleagues and mentors, one thing I have really welcomed as a graduate student is the new capacity I have to make change and carry out projects I’m passionate about.

I serve as a chapter representative for MAP (Minorities and Philosophy) and am one of the primary organizers of a workshop aimed at diversifying the philosophy graduate student body. Getting to play such a huge role in MAP and this workshop means so much to me as a minority in the field and certainly something I would not have been able to do as an undergrad. I love the newfound influence and power I have as a graduate student and I fully intend to use it to further goals which I think are worthwhile.

Lastly, as difficult and trying as my first year has been, I am now only more sure that this is what I want to do. Being immersed in the university environment, surrounded by fellow academics, making a living by studying what I love… This is the life I want. Over and over again I’ve made huge sacrifices – childhood dreams of becoming a lawyer, relationships, proximity to my friends and family – in pursuit of a PhD in Philosophy and a place in academia. I used to wonder if I was making a big mistake throwing so much away. Now, after a year of doing this, I know I made the right decision. I will always choose this. Cheesy as it sounds, this is where I belong. This is what I’m meant to do.

1 Down, 5 To Go.

Yesterday I submitted my final term paper for the semester, which means my first year of grad school has officially come to a close.

I’m not really quite sure what to say. I wish I could say that I’ve become right at home in my new department, dove headfirst into all my classes, impressed all my professors with insightful comments during class, and produced work I was proud of. But in all honestly, none of that is true. When I look back on this year, what stands out the most is all the bad stuff.

I’ve struggled to find people in my department who I can form close relationships with. There are a handful of people I’m comfortable hanging out with, asking advice from, and even talking about my personal problems with, but they don’t feel like close, natural friendships. I still feel like I can’t completely drop the “friendly and professional” act.

As far as classes go, there were three that I genuinely enjoyed. I couldn’t get into any of the rest. I skipped the readings, often didn’t contribute to discussions, and really had to rack my brain just to find something to write about when term paper season came around. There were a few moments where I was proud of the work I turned in, but more often than not it was me struggling to meet the length requirements and breathing a sigh of relief when it was over with.

I’ve been told the first year of grad school is one of the hardest, and the reason they push us so hard is because it forces our skills to develop significantly in a short period of time, but to be honest I just…don’t really feel like I’ve improved all that much. Oftentimes I just feel way out of my league and like I still need to prove (both to myself and to my colleagues) that I deserve my spot in this program.

I know some part of this can be chalked up to the stress involved with moving clear across the country to a brand new place and leaving all my friends and family behind, and some more is just impostor syndrome, but a very real chunk of it is just…me genuinely not doing so great.

Don’t get me wrong – my first year didn’t go terribly. I passed all my classes, got involved in outreach and projects I’m passionate about, and met some amazing people. But I know I can do better. I refuse to believe that grad school is always going to feel this shitty.