23 Things I’ve Learned in 23 Years 

By Claire Golden

This is my last post for PSU Chronicles, and I’m going to miss being a blogger here. But since I’m not a student anymore, I couldn’t stay around forever. My life has changed so much since I started at PSU. I’ve been diagnosed with and treated for OCD, had my gallbladder removed, made some friends, lost other friends, came out as bi, got engaged to the love of my life (whom I met while working at PSU’s Learning Center), got a degree, and got a book published. But I’ve also cried in many PSU bathrooms, failed homework assignments, had an existential crisis (or three) and wondered what on earth I was doing. 

A lot of the things I learned in college weren’t academic, and I think they’re the most valuable lessons I took away from my time at PSU. So I thought I would share the top 23 things I have learned in my 23 years on this good ole planet. (I forgot how old I was and had to ask my fiancé to confirm.)

1.     Say “I love you” to people more often.

2.     Every bad moment will pass.

3.     Learn to be okay with good enough.

4.     If you wait for something to be perfect, you will be waiting forever, so go after your dreams.

5.     Don’t procrastinate things on your bucket list, because life is unpredictable.

6.     Take care of your body — go to the doctor when you need to!

7.     Do the things you want with your hair, it grows back! (I am rocking a DIY pixie cut at the moment.)

8.     Approach things with a sense of humor and learn to laugh at yourself, kindly.

9.     Reach out to people you think are cool, because you might just make a new friend.

10.  Learn new things just to experience being a beginner again! (I am working on my third language, German, as well as how to read tarot cards.)

11.  Do things that you’re bad at if you like doing them: draw, sing, dance, write.

12.  Be generous with your compliments, because you never know what they will mean to someone.

13.  It’s okay to ask questions, big or small. And it’s okay if you sound silly while asking them.

14.  Just because your parents or family do things one way doesn’t mean you have to do things that way. This applies to little things like loading the dishwasher and to big things like religion. 

15.  Waste time with the people you love, because that’s not actually wasted time.

16.  If you can, live somewhere you love, because every day will feel like a vacation. (Shoutout to Portland, from a former Midwesterner.)

17.  It’s okay to be childish…collect stuffed animals, read Middle Grade or Young Adult books, color a picture.

18.  Don’t be normal just for the sake of being normal, but also don’t be weird just to “stand out.” Find your happy medium.

19.  If you get excited about the little things, then life will become much more exciting: a great glass of ice water, a spinny door, a really shiny pigeon.

20.   Write down your feelings to help make sense of them.

21.  Send letters to people you love — it’s fun to have a pen pal and it will make both of your days to get mail.

22.  Reading books helps me escape, but also makes me a more empathetic person as I learn about new things.

23.  Probably the most important thing of all that I’ve learned: It’s okay not to know the answer. 

Bonus tip: Hugging a fluffy animal makes everything better.

5 Tips For Living It Up in a Tiny Living Space

By Claire Golden

If you live in downtown Portland, you probably know the struggle: Housing is so expensive around here that a lot of us are crammed into a tiny living space. Lots of college students live in a dorm room, which is not exactly known for its spaciousness. In my own case, my fiancé and I share one small attic room, with my office wedged into one corner. But I’m quite content in this space, because I have everything that I need. Here are my tips for making a small living space yours.

1. Decorate: The first thing I did in my “office” was decorate the walls. You can hang things up with tape or sticky wall hooks so as not to anger your landlord by putting holes in the walls. I’m not picky about what goes up on the wall. It doesn’t have to be an “art print” to go on my Wall of Art. Right now I have a picture of my chicken, my enamel pin collection on a pin banner, a pigeon ornament, an embroidered cat, a John Green quote poster, and the parking pass from the place where my fiancé proposed to me. These things have nothing in common with each other except that they all make me smile.

2. Double down on storage: Storage is key in a small space, and I take great delight in my miniature drawers from Target, which hold my school supplies, makeup, and knicknacks. I am also probably the target customer for IKEA’s Raskog cart, which is a three-shelved storage cart on wheels. I have two of them, one for yarn and one for stuffed alpacas, and they are a lifesaver when it comes to storage.

3. Try journaling for frustration: Journaling is a great way to create something beautiful on paper. You can go for a basic journal or go all out with art journaling — there’s lots of inspiration on Pinterest and Instagram. Journaling is also an excellent way to cope with frustration and process your emotions…and you can do so in a pretty way.

4. Go online: When  get fed up with not having enough space to express myself,  I turn to online platforms. Then, when I can’t control something in my physical space, I can make my online space a haven. My blog and Instagram are my creative outlets and ways to connect with people. I find happiness in curating them exactly the way I want.

5. Let go of the unimportant: Above all, the most important thing I’ve learned about living in a small space is not to hold onto things that don’t make me happy. There’s no reason to keep something you don’t want to keep (except, perhaps, those tax papers…) that will only clutter up your space. My favorite book on organizing is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, in which she advises only keeping things that “spark joy.” This is the rule that I live by when it comes to my living quarters. Because of this, everything that I have makes me happy when I look at it, and it’s enough to make a small living space feel exactly the right size.

Five Common Misconceptions About Homeschoolers

by Claire Golden

You belong at PSU no matter what your educational background is, traditionally-schooled and homeschooled students alike. I’m a proud homeschool graduate, and today I’d like to share five common misconceptions that I have encountered through the years. (Plus, a picture of me with one of my classmates.)

Misconception #1: Homeschoolers are smarter than other students. 

Nope, just because somebody is homeschooled doesn’t tell you how smart they are. Homeschoolers have a reputation for being nerds, and while that’s true of some of us, it’s not true for all of us. 

Misconception #2: Homeschoolers are dumber than other students.

Same here — you can’t tell someone’s intelligence just by looking at where they went to school. I often got teased for not being super in-the-loop about current events. But I was always like this, even when I went to traditional school, and it doesn’t mean I’m not smart. I just find other topics more interesting. 

Misconception #3: All homeschoolers are taught by their parents.

It depends on the household! People assume that because I speak French, my parents are French. But my parents don’t speak a word of the language (except buzzwords like “croissant” and “oui”). I learned through online classes without my parents ever getting involved other than to pay my tuition. It also did not work for me to learn math from my parents; we all got too frustrated. So I took online classes for that, too. However, some homeschooled kids do learn from their parents, so it all depends what family you’re looking at.

Misconception #4: Homeschoolers don’t interact with other children.

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t a particularly social child (nor am I a social adult). If I didn’t have to leave the house, I wouldn’t. But that says more about me as a person than it does about homeschoolers as a group. We often attend co-ops to take classes or are involved with clubs and societies where we meet other kids. (You’re looking at a former homeschool chess club member here. Yes, I’m cool.) We aren’t locked in our house for eight hours a day, five days a week. We go out and about, run errands, and learn out in the real world. We have plenty of social interaction. There’s just as much variance in levels of introvert and extrovert among homeschoolers as there is in any other population group.

Misconception #5: Homeschoolers have it easier than traditionally-schooled kids.

I sure do hear this one a lot. Luckily, COVID has made it easy to debunk this particular idea. Just because you’re doing something at home doesn’t make it less hard — in fact, doesn’t it seem harder to work from home sometimes than it is working in the office? There are so many more distractions. The vast majority of homeschoolers are hard workers. If they have it easier in one way, it usually balances out in another. For instance, I didn’t take chemistry in high school, but it’s because I was spending my time doing college-level French class instead. My history knowledge is sparse, but I’ve been writing novels since I was 15. I didn’t have it easier than kids in regular high school. I just had it different.

The biggest thing homeschooling has taught me is that everywhere can be your classroom, and that you can learn something from everybody. That’s a lesson I’m grateful for and that I continue to use every day. 

The Rule of Three

By Claire Golden

It’s no secret to anybody who knows me, even in passing, that I don’t like change. Whether it’s something big like moving, or something small like not having Thai food for dinner as planned, change feels disruptive and sudden to me. This is exacerbated by severe anxiety, which is notoriously triggered by disruptions to routine.

However, change is unavoidable, and it isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a change for the better. If I hadn’t come to Portland State University, I never would have seen Little Cow Pigeon. (Yes, I will take any opportunity to use a picture of Little Cow Pigeon.) If I hadn’t started working at my new job, I never would have met my fiancé. Starting therapy was terrifying, but it changed my life for the better. Life doesn’t stay the same forever, whether or not you want it to, so I’ve had to learn coping mechanisms. One of the most useful techniques is what I call the Rule of Three.

I developed this rule during college, when I had to change classes every term. It was difficult getting used to a new classroom, subject and teacher every ten weeks when it felt like I had just gotten used to the last term. However, I always ended up settling in and feeling more comfortable…it just took me a couple of weeks. So I learned to give it three weeks before deciding the class was a lost cause.

Sometimes the change is smaller — a restaurant I was planning on going to for lunch is unexpectedly closed. This used to ruin my day. But there’s always an alternative, and sometimes that ends up being just as good as the original plan. I learned to pause and take three minutes to process my disappointment and consider the new options. That’s usually all it takes to I feel a lot better about things.

Same thing if someone asks me out of the blue if I want to go on an outing with them — say, a hike in the park or a trip to a food cart. My initial reaction is always to say “no.” I started wondering why that was, because I’m not a negative person. In fact, I’m generally rather optimistic. I figured out it was my anxiety getting in the way, because anxiety does not like spontaneity. Now I ask the person to give me a few minutes to think about it. More often than not, after I have three minutes to consider the question, I end up wanting to go out after all.

What if the change is massive? I moved twice during my childhood — I’m originally from Michigan — before moving to Ohio and then to Oregon. Those were huge changes. In this case, the rule of three had to be three months. That was how long it took me to adjust to my new home, city, neighborhood and friends. 

The Rule of Three has worked well for me when it comes to adjusting to change. Perhaps it will be useful for you, as well, if you also struggle with new things. I’m always trying to remember that just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s bad. It might be scary at first, but more often than not, it’s a change for the better. And that gives me the courage to power through.

My Favorite Books So Far This Year

By Claire Golden

One of the pastimes that’s gotten me through quarantine is reading. Although I’ve always loved books, sometimes I need them more desperately than ever, and the past year of COVID-19 quarantine is a prime example of that. Since I can’t go anywhere until I’m fully vaccinated, I’ve been reading books to escape my attic room and go on adventures with the characters. 

I enjoy a variety of genres, but what I really want from a book is to be completely immersed in a different world. I want books that will take me somewhere else for a few hours. So I’ve compiled a list of the top five books that have captivated me the most this year.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

This book is a recent release. It’s a Young Adult fantasy novel about a group of girls who are cast out from society because of the color of their blood, but they are training to be warriors who can take back their world from the oppressive patriarchy. The phrase “girl power” is overused and makes me roll my eyes, but that’s the sentiment of this book. The worldbuilding swept me up, and the characters are multifaceted and vibrant. This is a book I couldn’t put down and I would highly recommend to anyone looking for action-packed feminist literature, whether or not you typically read YA.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

This YA fantasy trilogy is far from new — it was published in 2013 — but it’s being turned into a Netflix series, and I always prefer to read the book before I watch the adaptation. I expected this to be a generic YA fantasy, but boy was I wrong. It isn’t afraid to go dark, but the story ultimately has a hopeful ending. I read this trilogy while I was recovering from surgery and it thoroughly distracted me from my pain. Now I can’t wait to watch the series!

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

For a change, here’s something that’s not a YA fantasy. (My family teases me about my love for YA fantasy, but we all have our favorite genres, right?) This novel won a Goodreads Choice Award and it sure does deserve it. It’s about a mom influencer who becomes obsessed with her daughter’s babysitter, a Black teen from the other side of town, after an incident where where the babysitter is accused of abducting the little girl she cares for. Emira, the babysitter, is a great character and extremely likable, while Alix is fun to root against. But the novel brings up important questions of “woke” culture, “mom bloggers,” and racial dynamics. 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

This author is one of my auto-buy authors; I will read absolutely anything she writes. And I think this novel is her best work yet! It’s a historical fiction about a Chinese-American teenager named Lily growing up in San Francisco and discovering that she’s lesbian when she falls in love with her friend, Kathleen. Together, they visit the Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar. I learned so much about 1950s San Francisco and what it was like to be LGBTQ+ back then, from an #ownvoices author who is also Chinese-American and lesbian. Lily felt real to me, and the novel was very moving in addition to just being a plain good read.

Among the Beasts & Briars by Ashley Poston

And one more YA fantasy to round out the list. This book reads like a fairytale, from its shorter length to the beautiful descriptions of castles and forests. Cerys escapes into the enchanted forest after a curse strikes her town and must survive with only a fox…who might also be magical…and her own wits. She is resourceful and spirited, and she has a fox companion that charmed me from the start. Although I have read enough YA fantasy to fill an entire bookshelf, this one still brought enough new material to the genre to keep me entertained. Also, serious cover love!

What books have kept you entertained during these long quarantine days?

What The COVID-19 Test Is Really Like

By Claire Golden

After scheduling an upcoming medical procedure, the doctor informed me that I would have to get tested for COVID-19 prior to going. My heart sank. I’ve never enjoyed going to the doctor. Well, nobody does, but for me it used to be a phobia that would lead to tears and panic attacks. I’ve come a long way and it doesn’t scare me like it used to, but I was far from enthused about being tested for COVID. I understood why they had to do it. But the nervous butterflies started up. In fact, I was more scared for the COVID test than I was for my upcoming surgery. Anxiety is a silly thing sometimes!

There are a few types of tests to see if you have COVID. One involves spitting in a tube, another involves twirling a swab just inside your nose. However, the one I would be getting — and the one I was scared of — is the nasopharyngeal swab, where a long, skinny Q-tip-looking thing is inserted far back into your nostril to get the back of your sinus. When I looked up a diagram of this, I thought, “Nope,” and proceeded to hyperventilate.

Well, I am here to share my experience with you and to inform you that it is not a bad experience at all. I know I’m not the only one who worries about this sort of thing, so please allow me to ease your mind a bit by reassuring you that it looks much worse than it actually is.

The whole test took less than 30 seconds. My partner drove me to the drive-through testing site. When we got there, I showed my photo ID and rolled down the window. The nurse explained what was going to happen and asked me to lean my head back against the headrest and relax. I’ll admit, when someone asks me to relax, it doesn’t exactly make me feel relaxed, but it does help to stay calm. On the count of three, the nurse stuck the swab into my right nostril and just…kept…going. It is a really strange feeling, but it doesn’t hurt much. You know the feeling when you really have to sneeze, how your nose kind of burns? That’s exactly what this felt like — a tickling sensation in the back of my nose. When the swab was removed, I coughed a few times, blew my nose and felt back to normal.

The test probably only took 5-10 seconds, and the anticipation was about 100 times worse than the actual thing…which is always how things go, in my experience. I found that closing my eyes, bringing a stuffed animal, and squeezing my partner’s hand helped keep me calm during the process. I am quite squeamish about any medical procedures involving the face, so if I can get through this, anybody can!

If you go on the Internet you can find a variety of COVID test horror stories about how awful it was. Although I’m not discounting anybody’s experience, it’s important to remember that people often exaggerate to make the story more interesting. For the vast majority of people, the test will be smooth, quick and easy. I worried more than was necessary, so if you’re about to be tested for COVID yourself, I hope this can help ease your mind.

In Defense of Comfort Objects

By Claire Golden

There’s a scene in one of my favorite books, The Giver by Lois Lowry, that’s stuck with me. It’s a dystopian novel where every year children go through a different ritual for their age group. One year, they have to give up their “comfort object,” which is a stuffed animal they’ve had since they were born. The idea is that the children are now old enough that they shouldn’t have a stuffed animal anymore. This appalled me as a kid and continues to appall me today as a 23-year-old college graduate. See, I have more stuffed animals than ever and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Since The Giver is a dystopian novel, it’s showing a world that we shouldn’t aspire to. But in our own society, don’t we do exactly the same thing? I remember getting dolls and plushies from my friends on my birthday, only to start receiving clothes and makeup when we hit our teenage years. But I hadn’t stopped liking stuffed animals. It just wasn’t cool to do so anymore.

Maybe it’s thanks to my homeschool background that I managed to hold onto my stuffed animal collection rather than giving it away due to peer pressure. But I love my plush companions. They’re fluffy, soft, cheerful and comforting to cuddle with. I dream of meeting a kiwi bird in real life, but since that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, I got a plush version that I can hug. When my pet chicken died, I got a plush that looks just like her that I can hug when I really miss her. Some of my stuffed animals are over a decade old and hold lots of memories. I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

Since it isn’t socially acceptable to have stuffed animals in public, I brought plush keychains and pencil cases with me to create the illusion of what I thought was maturity. But the fact that I greet my stuffed animals when I come home has nothing to do with how functional of an adult I am. My stuffed pandas sit next to my desk while I work from home. I make my own doctor’s appointments…and then bring a fluffy alpaca to the hospital with me. (Pictured is Millicent the alpaca, first in a bonnet I made for her, and second, at my surgery consultation last week.) 

I’m learning to care less about what people think. But you know what? Whenever someone sees one of my plushies, they usually think it’s awesome. Often they want to give it a hug, and they tell me about their own stuffed animals at home. It’s like me embracing my own weirdness gives them the courage to reveal their own. Sometimes it even helps me make a new friend. Life is too short to hide something that makes you happy, especially when it’s this fluffy and cute.

Clean Room, Calm Mind

By Claire Golden

Like many college students and recent graduates, I live in a small space. This means that even a small mess can quickly become overwhelming because it takes up most of my living quarters. I am naturally a messy person, much to the chagrin of everyone who has lived with me. (Shoutout to my younger sister for putting up with the Yarn Blob when we shared a room!) However, over the years I have discovered that having a messy room has a negative impact on my mental health.

When I’m feeling depressed, I lose motivation. That leads me to set things on the nearest horizontal surface, whether that’s the nightstand, table, or floor. Then my room becomes a Depression Den (as the Internet likes to call it), which causes me to feel even more depressed, and the spiral continues. I suffered from Major Depressive Disorder a few years back. Fortunately, now I only deal with seasonal winter depression, but I’ve found that both conditions lead to the same result. When my room is littered with clothes (both dirty and clean), books, papers, and things everywhere, it doesn’t help my mind feel any less like a disaster.

It feels impossible to clean up a Depression Den, so sometimes you might have to ask for help. I lived with my parents during college and my mom would offer to keep me company while I cleaned. This prevented me from getting distracted with various knick-knacks and books and also gave me some moral support. Now that I live with my boyfriend, we put on a documentary and clean together. If cleaning your whole room feels like it will never happen, then choose one area to tidy — I always feel better when the floor is picked up. Or, set a timer for a manageable amount of time. Even five minutes of cleaning is better than nothing.

Ideally, I would take a few minutes every day to tidy up, but my mind just doesn’t work like that. So I tidy when I feel capable, and create impossibly tall stacks of books when I don’t. I’m far from perfect, and the state of my room reflects that. In the end, you have to do what works best for you. But I encourage you to set aside a few minutes to care for yourself by making your living space calmer. It might just help brighten your mood, too.

“Fake It Till You Make It”

By Claire Golden

One of the best pieces of advice my mom ever gave me occurred when I was worrying about something — my first day of college, driving a car for the first time — the exact situation doesn’t matter. I worried aloud to her that I didn’t feel ready. Her response? “Fake it till you make it.” This advice has helped me through many a scary event. 

I’ve pretty much never felt ready for something scary. When I went to my first day of college, I felt like a little kid pretending to be an adult. I felt that I wasn’t smart enough for college. Everyone would know that I was just a fraud. So I just faked it. I wanted to be perceived as a competent, friendly, smart person, so I did my best to act that way. I’m not saying to pretend to be somebody you’re not — I’m saying to act like you’re confident, and eventually you’ll start to feel that way.

Carrie Fisher put it much better than I ever could in this quote that I think about often.

Image Description: Quote from Carrie Fisher that says “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it, and eventually the confidence will follow.”

I’ve since learned that many other people felt this way, too. The truth is that most of us are just faking it, because most of us don’t know what we’re doing. We’re all figuring it out as we go along. So act as if, and the confidence will show up. Even if it’s just a tiny bit of confidence, and even if it takes a long time to show up, one day the scary thing will be a tiny bit less scary. 

If I had waited to be confident before I attempted something, I would still be waiting. So don’t wait. Do it even though you’re scared, and one day you will be less afraid.

The Banish-Anxiety Box

By Claire Golden

Admittedly, this title is an exaggeration, because I know of no way to banish anxiety completely. However, in my last post about anxiety disorders I promised to share one of my favorite techniques for coping with anxiety. So here it is!

Since anxiety tends to focus on either fretting over the past or worrying about the future, one of the best ways to cope is by grounding yourself in the present moment. To do this, it’s useful to engage your five senses. I put together a box with tools for each sense. When I’m anxious, I reach for this box and play with the things inside until I feel a little less on edge. It’s important to put these resources together ahead of time because it’s difficult to function in the moment. In the same way that you don’t wait to pack until five minutes before you leave for the airport, you shouldn’t wait unil the moment of an anxiety attack to put together your kit. It’s a great way to care for your future self and take a little bit of control back from anxiety.

My anxiety box is actually a drawer in my desk. It used to be a physical box that sat next to my computer. When I commuted daily to college, I had a small zippered pouch that I used instead of a large box and contained a miniature version of this kit. Below is a picture of a small box I use as well as some of my crochet, which helps me a lot with anxiety.

Sight

  • Pictures of cute animals and loved ones
  • Memes
  • “Satisfying” videos of slime or kinetic sand
  • Watch videos of relaxing things like ocean waves
  • Read a book
  • Make a wall of your favorite quotes that you find encouraging, so you can look at it when the world feels especially scary

Sound

  • Meditation or relaxation videos (YouTube has lots of relaxing ASMR videos)
  • Listen to music — and maybe dance to it
  • Listen to nature sounds (I love falling rain)
  • Draw or color something, paying attention to the sound of your writing

Smell

  • Lotion
  • Candles
  • Go seek out your favorite smell. For me, it’s cracking open a book — I love the papery smell.
  • Take a bath with some fancy bubbles or soap

Touch

  • Fidget toys (I love Tangles)
  • Craft such as crochet, knitting, embroidery, origami
  • Play-Doh or Silly Putty — my favorite is Dave’s Thinking Putty which is so fun to play with and comes in all sorts of awesome colors
  • Stress ball
  • Use a peel-off face mask or something else for self-care
  • Hug a family member, friend, pet, or stuffed animal (pictured is my dog, Maisie, who is always happy to oblige)
  • Give yourself a hand, foot, or shoulder massage complete with lotion – put a massage tool or small container of lotion in your box

Taste

  • Lollipops
  • Gum
  • Sour candy
  • Include a favorite recipe to bake your favorite treat —- this works for smell, too!
  • A warm cup of tea (peppermint helps calm me down)

I hope this list can be of some use to you like it has been for me. What is your go-to trick for stress relief? What would you add to this list?