Running Out of Spoons

Untitled design-3 By Claire Golden

About two years ago, I got sick and doctors couldn’t figure out why. Suddenly my world shrunk to the size of my house. Getting through my college classes was a monumental effort when I had absolutely no energy. Some days I couldn’t leave the house because I was too sick to my stomach. Other days I would fall asleep on a bench between classes because I was just so exhausted, while walking up the stairs left me doubled-over waiting for my heart rate to get back to normal. I would make it through the day only to go home and fall asleep at 9 PM. 

It was around that time that I encountered an article by Christine Miserandino called “The Spoon Theory” that describes her experience living with chronic illness. Being a “spoonie” means you only have a certain amount of spoons, which represent both mental and physical energy, a day. It was the perfect metaphor for my experience. Getting a diagnosis and feeling better has been a long process and I’m still not at 100%. But I’ve learned some coping mechanisms…including bringing books with me to the hospital for comfort.

IMG_4236

The most important thing I’ve learned is knowing when to take a break. Some days I didn’t have the energy to study as hard as I wanted to…and that’s okay. Pushing yourself to the breaking point doesn’t help anybody. I learned to ask for help when I needed it, whether from my family or friends. I also talked to my professors about my health issues, all of whom were extremely sympathetic. Don’t forget that the Disability Resource Center can provide accommodations, too.

The biggest thing I learned is that my health is more important than grades. It’s hard to study when you’re curled up on the bathroom floor, even when you have a final exam the next day. I work hard in school, and it’s important to me, but sometimes you have to give yourself a break. It’s hard to keep going when it feels like your body is working against you. But I try to take it one day at a time. There’s no shame in taking it slowly if you need to. Remember, you aren’t the only #spoonie here at PSU.

Tips for Trouble-Free Transit Travel

Untitled design-3 By Claire Golden

One of the main reasons I chose PSU is because I could live at home and commute to college. I didn’t want to live away from my family for that long, and the dorms were too expensive, so commuting was the perfect solution. After three and a half years of taking the bus, I’m far from a master of public transportation, but I’m much more comfortable with it than I was when I started. And I have some tips to share with anybody in the same shoes.

The best tool you can have as a commuter is a good bag. My backpack has held up through my entire college career, and I suspect it will keep going for many more years. As cool as messenger bags look, they’re terrible on your back. For me, nothing can take the place of a reliable backpack. Mine has side pockets to store my water bottle.

44 glamour shot

TriMet is a great way of getting around Portland. They recently started a low-income fare program. If you’re a broke college student like me, you just might be eligible. You get to ride the bus, Max, and streetcar for half the price, which has been a lifesaver for me. (Don’t forget you can ride the streetcar for free with your PSU student ID!) The TriMet transit tracking app is useful for knowing when your bus will show up, which means you can time your commute so you don’t have to wait outside for so long.

If you’re going to be walking around after dark, it’s important to have a light – you can clip it to your backpack for easy access. You also may want to consider self-defense, whether that’s taking a class or getting some pepper spray. For safety reasons, I always make sure somebody knows where I am and when I plan to be home. I encourage you to make a safety plan, too. 

Another thing I like having in my backpack is my Kindle, which I use to read ebooks while I commute. It’s amazing how much reading you can get done that way. Or you can listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or your favorite music. It makes the commute go by much faster. Now I look forward to my bus rides…they’re a fun part of my day.

Be Your Own Valentine

Untitled design-3 By Claire Golden

I used to feel really down in the dumps this time of year, with the onslaught of Valentine’s Day advertising. It felt more like Singles’ Awareness Day rather than a celebration of love. It took many years for me to realize there was a better approach I could take. Instead of feeling sad about not being in a relationship, I could appreciate the types of love that I did have in my life. And one absolutely essential aspect is self-love.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2ac5

The term self-love has been floating around social media for several years now, and it can be hard to figure out exactly what it means. Self-care looks different for everybody. But for me, it’s treating myself with the same kindness I give to other people. It’s easy to be harder on yourself than you are on other people. For instance, I often catch myself thinking I’m a failure if I do badly on a homework assignment. But I would never say that to somebody else…so why would I say it to myself?

Somebody once gave me the advice that whenever I was feeling particularly critical of myself, I should write a list of five things I like about myself. It was really challenging at first to write this list. It felt forced and narcissistic. The point of this exercise isn’t to become pompous and self-congratulatory…it’s to acknowledge your good qualities and appreciate yourself as a person. I found it most effective to focus on non-physical qualities, because those are the most meaningful to me. Do you have a good sense of humor? Do you work hard? What do you like about yourself? 

Acknowledging these qualities made me conscious of what version of myself I want to be. I encourage you to give it a try, because you deserve to be appreciated as much as anybody else.

Grieving, Grades and Goodbyes

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

The day before a big midterm exam last term, my pet chicken Harriet died. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but I didn’t think it would be that day… and anyway, how can you prepare for loss? You can’t. It hit me like a tidal wave that I would never get to pet her silky feathers again, or eat one of her eggs, or snuggle into her fluff. Everybody processes grief in different ways, and for me, I went into shock. 

Screen Shot 2020-01-27 at 12.39.33 PM

From the moment the vet took Harriet away to put her to sleep, my emotions disappeared. I was looking at the world through a veil of apathy. It took a few days before I could start to process that she was gone. The last thing in the world I wanted to think about was a midterm. To make things even worse, I had planned today as my study day, but there was no way I could study in this mental space.

The only thing I could do was keep going, so I did. I dragged myself out of bed the next day feeling absolutely empty, sat down in my classroom, and wrote my way through the midterm. The only way I made it through was with the support of my friends and family. When I told them about Harriet, they were sympathetic and kind, offering me hugs and somebody to talk to. I made it through the day, and the next, and somehow I was still going. 

IMG_1438

It’s been almost three months without Harriet, and it still hurts. I miss her every day, and that pain will never completely go away. But I’m still here. I will always love her, which is how I can keep her memory alive. And you know what? I got a good grade on that midterm. It feels like Harriet was watching out for me.

Five Online Resources to Help You Sail Through PSU

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

College homework is no joke. When you get hit with your first five-page essay with an annotated bibliography, you may feel like curling up in a blanket and imitating a burrito for the next four years. But I’m here to tell you that not only are college assignments survivable, they don’t have to take forever! These are five sources I wish I had known about when I started college.

turned-on-silver-imac-with-might-mouse-and-keyboard-930530

  1. Canva.com is an amazing resource for creating infographics, resumés, cover letters, and many more graphic design elements. It’s easy to use and looks fantastic.

  2. To pair with the above website, Pexels.com is a great place to find public domain stock images. (It’s what I used for the image in this post.)

  3. Gutenberg.com is perfect for the English majors out there. It houses thousands of public domain ebooks that you can download for free to read either on your computer or ereader.

  4. And if you prefer audiobooks, then LibriVox.com is perfect for you, because you can find free audiobooks of thousands of classic novels, all read by volunteers. Great to play during your commute or while exercising.

  5. If citing sources is the bane of your existence, you might like EasyBib.com as much as I do. It’s a great resource to help you avoid plagiarism and cite correctly.

Like it or not, being a human blanket burrito will not earn you a degree. But hopefully these resources will prove as helpful to you as they were to me. Now if only I could go back in time and tell my younger self about them.

The Other Side of the Tutoring Table

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Today marks my 10th week of working in the PSU Learning Center, and I can say without hesitation that it’s the best job I’ve ever had. If you haven’t heard of the Learning Center, check it out! It’s a free service for PSU students and offers academic coaching and tutoring in nearly all subjects. You can visit on the second floor of the library…and be sure to come say hi if you do!

unnamed

Photo copyright The Learning Center. Psst…I’m on the left!

When I was in College Algebra, my required math course, I pretty much lived in the Learning Center. See, I’m a French major…which means I’m good with languages, but not-so-good with numbers. I became familiar with the student side of the tutoring table (and it saved my grade!) It was a completely different experience being the tutor, but one that I find extremely enjoyable and fulfilling.

Being the French tutor has allowed me to help other students learn this amazing language. I’ve gotten to help with verb conjugation, adjective agreement, conversation practice, and more…all of which has improved my own knowledge of the subject. If I don’t know the answer to a question, then the student and I get to learn together. It brings me immense happiness when the lightbulb goes on for somebody, or the way I explain a concept helps them understand it.

Tutoring can seem scary if you’re unfamiliar with it. But trust me, tutors are nothing more than fellow students who want to help you learn. There’s nothing scary about me, an overexcited French nerd. So come by the Learning Center and say bonjour, or guten tag, or whatever your greeting of choice may be. We’ll be happy to welcome you!

What I’ve Learned From 10 Years of French Classes

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Learning a new language is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I started taking French in sixth grade, which makes this my 11th year of studying it. But I’ve learned way more than just how to conjugate verbs. Studying it has made me more empathetic to people from different cultures and who don’t speak English as their first language.

When you start a new language, the first thing you realize is just how much there is to learn. Although this can be intimidating, it’s pretty cool to think about all the stuff you’re about to discover. Still, it’s made me much more humble by helping me realize how little I know in the grand scheme of things. America doesn’t value multilingualism the same way other countries do, which is a shame because speaking another language increases a person’s worldview so much. 

blur-cartography-close-up-concept-408503

When I was a teenager, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Canoe Island French Camp, a French immersion summer camp in the San Juan Islands. Several years later, I spent a summer working there as a program assistant, and those were the best summers of my life. We kayaked, swam, sang campfire songs in French, fell asleep while watching meteor showers, and feasted on French food. I even learned to like le fromage bleu. It was une opportunité merveilleuse to put my French to use in real life.

Learning a second language actually helped me appreciate my first language more. When I’m struggling to express a thought in French, it’s a relief to later be speaking English and easily say what I’m thinking without a struggle. It’s given me a much greater appreciation and respect for people learning English as a second language. Learning a language isn’t easy, and it’s important to be patient and kind.

The French language has also taught me to appreciate that English doesn’t have a subjunctive tense. If you don’t know what le subjonctif is…consider yourself lucky. French has a lot of verb tenses.