My Path to College

by Beth Royston

I’m in my senior year at PSU and looking back on my idea of the college experience as a senior in high school was very different than how it turned out. I learned a valuable lesson — as much as you can work towards your hopes and dreams, be flexible to the definition of those hopes and dreams changing. 

Initially, I wanted a traditional freshman college experience — going to university after I graduated high school, living in the dorms, the whole nine yards. But my reality began to shift for a few reasons, namely financial. It wouldn’t be possible for me to attend as an out-of-state student, even though PSU’s out-of-state tuition was less than residential schools in my area. I was crushed, but there did remain a thin beam of hope that I could still make things work. 

I knew that above it all, I wanted to live in Oregon — so I moved. I lived with extended family here for a while, and then found some roommates for a place of my own, working a variety of beloved jobs here and there. During this time period I realized that even though I didn’t want to be set back again, attending PCC would make my life a lot easier financially. I also would qualify for resident tuition at both schools due to my year working. 

I finally landed at PSU as a junior last fall, three years after graduating high school. My partner and I both had experience living in small apartments, and reverting to dorm life was a little hard for us to imagine. We like ample space to cook and enough room to fit two desktop computers — to say the least. So we decided to continue in off-campus route. We absolutely love our neighborhood in southwest Portland, it has many great restaurants and a gorgeous riverfront park across the street. There’s space to garden and it’s generally quiet. 

But I won’t pretend that I don’t think about what my life would be like if things were different. I didn’t live in the dorms, or have my four years at PSU. Did I miss out on something? The thing is, I can’t know that. I do know that I made great memories at PCC, live comfortably and happily, and am at PSU now. Hopefully for graduate school, too! I’m grateful for my choices in the past, because I was thinking of myself in the future. There are definitely pros and cons to any route to college, and I’ve faced unique struggles due to the path I took. At the end of the day, I’m just overjoyed to be here, even though the path to get here looked different than what I imagined. I learned instead of resisting change, to go with the flow, as long as I knew I would get there in the end. 

Summer Woes

by Beth Royston

While I am eagerly awaiting finals to be finished, I’m not exactly looking forward to summertime either. I’m a student that chooses to take a break over the summer and not take any classes, and work to save up as much as I can for expenses throughout the year. I usually approach summer with mixed feelings. I enjoy the break from classes, but I also miss them! However, I think this year will be different, and not in a good way.

I really despised the summers during high school — it’s an easy recipe for my depression to fester, sitting at home with not much of a structure and things to do. Now, my life is a lot busier, with a side business to run, a garden to take care of, novel chapters to write. However, there’s a looming possibility I won’t be able to go anywhere or see friends often — something else that echoes high school — and I’m worried about my mental health. While I’m happy to have a break from classes, as all-online learning has not agreed with me, I’m worried about the lack of deadlines. 

I appreciate that PSU has been asking for student input on what fall term will look like. I’m really hoping that classes are ideally split between online and in-person, which is the type of schedule I prefer anyway. If things are due to be all online again, I think I’m going to have to avoid taking the full course load I usually do, as I’m not confident my grades will be able to stick with another entirely online term. Thankfully, I have some leeway in my graduation plan where I can take less classes now and more later. 

A lot of friends and family I’ve been talking to have also been struggling with their mental health during this time, and worrying about their future when they are forced to perform as usual during these incredibly stressful circumstances. I’m also a planner, so I like looking forward to the future. However, when times are uncertain, it’s not easy to plan for things five months from now, because it’s impossible to tell if they’ll be open. I appreciate the opportunity to still be able to take classes and work on my degree during this time, but I feel my resolve and determination slowly slipping through my fingers.

Through Sickness and Health

by Beth Royston

My partner and I will celebrate our five-year anniversary in early July. Last year, we took a trip to the coast after realizing he’d never been, and visited a lovely aquarium, which was very nostalgic. One of our first dates was at an aquarium — that first date was on our one year anniversary, after he’d flown out from Ohio to California to see me. It was a beautiful trip, and I can’t help but feel tinged with sadness this year. We’d hoped to do something similar, but my health makes it uncertain if we’ll be able to complete another drive to the coast. However, I’m grateful I even get to think about that at all. 

This has been the toughest year of my life with my health scares, but the steadfast presence throughout it all has been my partner. We spent every hour of the day together for a week in a tiny hotel room, and then a hospital room, while I was the sickest I’ve ever been. He saw me at my worst and took such good care of me any way he could while we were both terrified and alone on the other side of the world. One of the most vivid memories I have, among the fear and despair, was feeling overwhelmed with how in love and grateful I felt to him. I had always been sure he was the person I wanted to spend my life with, but this was beyond certainty — an assurance that no matter what happened, he’d be there.

 I’ve been grateful that we’re quarantining together. We both value our individual space, and sometimes, that can be difficult to get when my roommates also need the downstairs area. Tensions and worries are high. While my health struggles have improved, they’re certainly not over, and we frequently have to navigate the ups and downs that this new reality requires. It’s caused us to take a look at our relationship, what we both need and how we communicate. Thankfully, we’re going through it stronger than ever. I wouldn’t choose to be stuck inside with anyone else, and we make it a priority to do things together and talk frequently about how we’re both doing. No matter what we decide to do to celebrate our anniversary this year, I’m glad that we have each other.

Out of Oven, Out of Mind

by Beth Royston

A lot of us have a lot more time on our hands recently, and I’ve been getting back to my baking wishlist. I’ve always loved baking and have watched The Great British Baking Show on Netflix more times than I can count, but took a bit of an unenthusiastic break while I was in a series of apartments (with the exception of a frantic stint of weekly sourdough) so small the fridge couldn’t fully open without hitting the oven. Thankfully, my partner and I moved to a bigger living space with an actual kitchen, and I had no excuses anymore, right? Apparently not. I’d forgotten that baking can take a lot of time, and I didn’t exactly want to be in the kitchen for an extra couple hours after coming home from a six-hour day at PSU and having to make dinner and do homework. It became an occasional, wistful thing. 

However, the opportunities have come up a lot more and I worked with my partner to make a list of all the things I wanted to make. Nothing too crazy, like the recipe for the galaxy mirror glaze cake I saw once (I would feel a little guilty for presenting my stuck-at-home roommates with a huge cake) but small, enjoyable things, like scones and tarts and light pies. It’s been a small part of my week that I can savor in the following days, and adds a sense of formal normalcy to meals. There’s a slice of apple tart to have afterwards, just like there was before all of this happened. I remembered how much I love baking, especially when I get to be creative with pie crust decorations or figuring out how to make something there’s no recipe for. I once developed a recipe for savory, cheese-and-herb creme puffs, and I remember it fondly. It’s a nice distraction, too. I also realized that I’ve never had a key lime pie, so that’s on the list. Hopefully my household forgives me for continually churning out desserts.

Lots of Lather

by Beth Royston

I’ve always enjoyed hands-on hobbies, like sewing, ceramics and gardening — to name a few. Soapmaking always seemed really interesting and one of those things that you don’t really think about how it’s made! I made the switch a few years ago to bar soap only. Most of the time I buy locally from other small-business creators. I have sensitive skin and have found that my skin is a lot happier when using these kinds of cleansers! I was worried about my workload and thinking about maybe starting over the summer; but as we all know, our current worldwide situation grants some of us a lot of time at home. I decided to jump into it, and my journey has been exciting, hot to the touch and rewarding.

There are a few different methods of making soap, all tuned to different levels of skill, preference for final design, colors and more. I decided to go with one method called cold-process after some deliberation on what I wanted my creations to look like. The downside of cold process, I would say, is that you have to wait about a month before being able to use your soap, as it needs time to “cure.” However, I appreciate the designs I’m able to do, and it’s kind of exciting to have to wait. I’ve been making several batches with a variety of different colors and scents, causing my house to smell very different every day! My favorite so far has to be the first batch I ever made, tomato leaf scented. It’s such a specific scent, but I was elated to find the candle and soap supplier I was purchasing from had it! It smells exactly like being outside on a summer day and smelling your tomato plants. Most batches have gone well, however, I’ve had a couple that went not so great. Sometimes, the fragrance you use can cause the mixture to seize, or turn to a solid in a matter of seconds. It’s still safe to use after cure and workable, but it can make it hard to get definition in your final design, and is a little cumbersome to use! Sometimes suppliers warn you ahead of time to expect this, sometimes you find out the hard way depending on the temperatures of your ingredients.

Overall, I’ve had a blast trying out my new hobby, and am really excited to share the final result with friends and family. And, of course, to have a lifetime supply of soap to myself. It’s made me want to try other hobbies that share a supplier, like candlemaking! I’m trying to pace myself for the moment, but the possibilities seem endless.

I’d warn, however, that certain methods of soapmaking, including cold process, involve toxic chemicals and can be dangerous. It may not be right for you if you don’t have proper ventilation in your space or can’t properly prep. However, if it sparks your interest, I’d definitely recommend it! There’s a lot you can do design and scent-wise with soapmaking, even if you’re just making a batch for yourself every few months. Have you begun any fun and interesting quarantine hobbies?

You can follow my soaping journey on Instagram @poppy_and_harper! 

Unexpected Calm

by Beth Royston

It’s safe to say I was worried about what was going to happen when the coronavirus finally hit Portland. I was extremely ill over winter break and for most of this term, and have been dealing with a lot of trauma about what happened to me. Some of those trauma symptoms were exacerbated by staying inside for long periods of time — and that’s what I was about to do as coronavirus continued to spread. 

I was unsure how my mental health would be impacted, especially with not being able to work as much as usual. I’m a productive person and getting things done is what makes me happy and fulfilled. Sometimes getting through a single two-day weekend at home was difficult, but I felt strongly about wanting to keep myself and others safe and therefore resigned to stay home. I had fought really hard to keep myself going to classes and work this term, battling physical and mental symptoms, and when I felt like I had finally reached a point of things being okay, I was about to be thrown into the fire I had spent so much time gently easing into.

Surprisingly, though, things have taken a turn for the better. I think I’ve been so occupied with keeping tabs on friends and family members and others affected by the coronavirus that I haven’t had time to worry about myself. A lot of my anxieties have faded, and I’ve had a lot to work on to keep myself busy. I usually prefer to take one or two online classes alongside one or two in-person classes, so I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with our new format. I definitely miss being on our beautiful campus, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to still attend classes. 

I’ve found that keeping a daily routine, eating healthy, trying to get outside for walks, and keeping busy has helped my mental health a lot. I’m looking forward to being on campus again, but I’m glad that I’m not putting myself or others at risk, and I’m thankful that my body seems to have decided to give me a break from my amplified anxiety. 

I’m very thankful that I am safe and healthy and all of my loved ones and friends are too. Continuing to hear about some of the things going on can be anxiety-inducing, but I try to watch how much I’m checking the news and reading stories and balance it out with things that I enjoy. Hopefully, things will be back to normal soon.

A Listening Ear

by Beth Royston

I knew that I wanted to squeeze in some more volunteer work this term, in order to feel as prepared as possible for my application to my graduate program in the fall. However, I was almost out of the house 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. already, and wasn’t sure if I would be able to make time to add another commitment on. I heard from a couple of my psychology professors that crisis counseling was a great way to break into psychology volunteering, but to be honest, I was a little intimidated by thinking of going to a center, taking calls, and essentially getting empathy exhaustion. Then, I’d have to go home at night and probably go to sleep right after, which I knew wouldn’t help me feel cheery. 

With a bit of research, I found I could actually apply for a volunteer position with a text line and take conversations on my laptop. I’ve only been doing it for a little over a month, but to be honest, I wish I had started much sooner. I really appreciate the ability to choose my schedule, and change it week to week. There’s also the ability to debrief with other counselors when hard conversations happen, and you receive constant support from your supervisor. 

It is tough though, especially when you can tell someone doesn’t feel better after talking with you, and there’s not much more you can do for them. My hardest conversations are with younger people that text in, and may have a harder time understanding that we can’t say or do certain things for them when they’re clearly in need. But I’m glad that I’m giving some of my time each week to volunteering and offering my trained and compassionate ears to people that really, really need it. 

I currently put in about four or five hours each week, shifting back and forth between splitting that up into two days and doing it all on Saturday. However, over spring break, I’ll probably be putting in a lot more time. 

It’s great practice for my future as a therapist to learn to leave it behind when I close my laptop and to learn that you can’t fix everything for someone, only be there for them to provide support, resources, and validation of what they’re going through. But that’s still pretty special, in my opinion. It can weigh on me sometimes, and it’s not for everyone, but I think I’ll probably be volunteering for a long time.

Go Thorns!

by Beth Royston

It’s February, which means my fingers twitch toward the bookmark in my web browser, wanting to carry out the urge to check it one more time, despite knowing  I’ll get an email anyway. I have to smile at myself — years ago, if I knew I’d be frothing at the mouth to get my hands on good seats for a soccer match, I would have denied it. 

I played sports as a kid, but organized events were another thing entirely. I also hated growing up in my California hometown, so I never felt any real pride for local sports teams. My mom is an avid soccer fan, but I didn’t often watch with her, instead preferring to preserve my own life force. Sometimes she would get so excited I feared she would squeeze all the air out of my lungs (Love you, Mom). 

However, since coming to Portland, I knew I should eventually take part in a Portland rite of passage — seeing a soccer match at Providence Park. Needless to say, I was hooked. I’ve now been to both Timbers and Thorns games, but I prefer the Thorns. It’s a really wholesome atmosphere — you can’t look anywhere in the arena without seeing a giant pride flag being waved vigorously, and the energy of the cheering crowd is infectious. Our team is good, too, and a lot of fun to watch. I feel represented and welcomed in the crowd, where the atmosphere is never murderous even in the face of a loss. I feel represented in the team, too. 

I’d recommend going to a match this spring when the Thorns start playing again. Maybe you’ll too join the ranks of fans who give in for an overpriced beverage and a scarf. It’s worth it for the experience, I promise.

I imagine much of my joy comes from feeling like I’m part of something, feeling pride in my home team and getting to watch these amazing, diverse women excel. I’m sure it would be dangerous for my mom and I to both go to a soccer match, we’d probably be cutting off each other’s circulation out of excitement, but we’ll probably do it anyway. 

New Beginnings

by Beth Royston

I’ve blossomed into a self-disciplined person who is nearly unrecognizable from my high school self. For a while during high school, I suffered from severe depression and social anxiety; I was very unmotivated to pursue college and a career, and felt hopeless about my life. I wasn’t that much of an outsider and had a lot of friends, but simultaneously felt like I didn’t fit in or belong. 

I remember when I began to unenthusiastically research schools, Portland State caught my eye immediately. Having always lived in a suburban area, the idea of being directly in the city was appealing, and the lush, green, forested surroundings sounded like a dream. I had been half-interested in psychology, but once I sat down and really started to evaluate what I’d want to study, it seemed instinctually right. A fire was lit under me when I took AP Psychology, and plans formed to make my dream more realistic by the day. I remember I was so anxious about getting accepted to PSU because I wasn’t confident about the grades on my application. I think I submitted too many letters of recommendation and didn’t sleep right at all while I was waiting. The morning I found out I was accepted, I cried. It felt like my ticket out of how awful I was constantly feeling and how out of place I felt, and my first real dreams were forming.

Now I’m a college junior, majoring in Psychology and “flourishing” is the perfect word to describe my college experience. I have a high GPA and, more importantly, a new take on life. While my mental illness struggles never really went away entirely, they drastically improved. I look at things differently and really enjoy the flexibility of college. I get to choose what I study, especially in my upper level years, and make my own schedule. The stress of finding my own apartment and paying bills turned out to be the kind of struggle that turned into grit. The responsibilities of my own adult life made me take on discipline and genuine care for my own education and future. College isn’t for everyone, but I was really transformed by the lifestyle change when I was having the hardest of times, and that’s definitely something to be grateful for.

Winter Wonderland

by Beth Royston

I’ve slipped in snow and plummeted headfirst into an icy road with cars coming, but I still can’t quite bring myself to adopt the same dread regarding snow that a lot of my friends have.

Growing up in California, snow was always a special treat requiring a several-hour drive up the closest mountain. It was magical and also one of the few times I was permitted to eat instant ramen, clustered around steaming cups with my cousins, our cheeks red from chill. I was already looking forward to Portland’s actual seasons instead of 365 straight days of heat, but I was gently warned not to have high hopes of snow. I moved here in September 2016, and that winter was one of the biggest snowfalls Portland had experienced in a while. I was nothing short of elated being able to walk out my front door and jump into a snowbank.

Snow also meant stress: being stuck downtown during rush hour after a shift at the restaurant I worked at, realizing it would cost several hundred dollars and take several hours to get an Uber, because the buses had stopped running. I eventually went home with a coworker for the night and the next morning one of her saint-like roommates volunteered to drive me home from North Portland to West Linn, cheerfully chatting with me as we skidded on ice and I feared for my life. It can mean missing work, which seems fun until you remember you’re a self-supporting student and your paycheck is kind of important, but I don’t think I’ll ever truly gripe about it.

When the first few flakes start to drift down, even if they don’t stick, snow holds a timeless kind of magic for me. I secretly hope for another absolute coating, but we’ll have to see.