Now Is Not The Time For Silence

Version 2 By: Anna Sobczyk

Had you asked me a year ago what my last blog for PSU Chronicles would be about, I would’ve said my upcoming graduation. Instead, the recent protests and riots against police brutality and racism that have rocked our nation have completely occupied my mind and heart. 

When I moved to Portland from Idaho, my eyes were opened to my privilege and the many racial injustices embedded in the criminal justice system. I have spent my years here listening and learning as much as I can. In those same years, I also allowed the fear of saying the wrong thing strangle me into silence. Once I realized my silence enables an oppressive system, I felt even more shame. A broken system can only find true long-term reformation if we fight for change in the system and within ourselves.

I have witnessed many who speak, “Well, in my experience…” in an attempt to use their personal reality to disregard the experiences of communities with identities different from them. In order to change, we need to let go of defensive tendencies that manifest themselves in phrases like “not all cops are bad” or “All Lives Matter.” Defending the reputation of good cops is not the priority, focus, or issue; police brutality is. Black Lives Matter because as a white person, I will never understand what it feels like to fear death by the very hands put in place to protect me. 

Just to feel anger, horror, and outrage at the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others is no longer enough. As the protests and riots unfolded, I thought to myself that “this time feels different.” But why? Perhaps, for the first time, I understood that in order to help make any difference that I can’t simply feel outraged or listen and learn from afar; I must join the discussion. We all must so that when our nation finally undergoes the changes it needs, no individual will allow it to fail again.

Feeling Helpless in a Time of Great Need

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

One of the cornerstones of my job as a Resident Academic Mentor —programming—came to a complete standstill with COVID-19. Throughout the term, I normally put on programs that promote holistic wellness in order to achieve academic success. With its absence, I honestly feel like the rewarding aspect of my job has been ripped away. All of us in Housing have lost the in-person connection to residents and we miss providing them the support of programming. I continue to live on campus, and my residents know I’m still here because I send out weekly emails, but I feel more like a ghost in their inbox than anything else.

It  is hard to know how to support my residents and other students during these times. This has been echoed by my teammates and other student leaders. PSU students are experiencing financial, mental health, academic, and other hardships that are all unique. I’m not qualified to provide specialized help in those areas.  I have to refer students out to online counseling services with SHAC and virtual appointments with the Financial Wellness Center. I hold zero sway with unaccommodating and unsupportive professors. All I can do is listen and offer resources, and it makes me feel useless.

My position as a Resident Academic Mentor gave me a sense of purpose in the past. I built a community at PSU through this role and really found my place on campus. I enjoyed helping people and feel privileged to have heard so many life stories. Now, with the pandemic, I feel like I’m just going through the motions of my work. In the halls I strove to build connection, I have never felt so disconnected. Throughout this term, I’ve struggled to find meaning in my work when I am so utterly powerless to change my residents’ situations.

Infectious Mononucleosis: An Absolute Nightmare

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

This past Winter was the hardest term of my college career. I was sick from day one, and I perpetually seemed to be battling some type of cold. Being so sick so often was not normal for me at all, and deep down I felt like there was an underlying reason for it. In January, I went to SHAC three times in one week. Over the course of the term, I was tested for strep and had my blood drawn three times. I was tested for thyroid antibodies, deficiencies, and inflammatory markers. All of my blood work was normal. In fact, my CBC (Complete Blood Count) never even indicated I was battling an infection.

In January, I was also tested for mono and it was negative. Infectious mononucleosis (mono) is a common viral infection with no cure other than rest and time. It’s known for causing a fever, an enlarged spleen, and swollen lymph nodes. The recovery period often includes debilitating fatigue and weakness that lingers for weeks. It’s practically unheard of for a monospot test to be negative after 1-2 weeks of being symptomatic, and when I was tested I’d been exhibiting symptoms for three full weeks.

I had felt how weak and exhausted I was; I knew something was wrong. Without a diagnosis for what I was experiencing though, I didn’t feel valid in expressing my concerns and I didn’t want to come across as dramatic. In March, I was still sick and I decided to visit SHAC yet again. This was right when SHAC started COVID-19 precautions, but I had never worried that I was actually sick with the coronavirus. 

When the doctor asked about my symptoms, I caught myself saying, “Well I’m still staying as active as I was before I was sick.” But that wasn’t really the truth. When I swam, I could barely move my arms through the water. I was so weak that I could barely squat the 45-pound bar and was winded after three reps. If I didn’t nap once a day, I would feel the consequences of it in my energy levels the following day. For a couple weeks in February, my lymph nodes were so swollen that at one point, it hurt if something brushed my neck. I shared this with my doctor, and it may have been the information that convinced them I really should be tested for mono again.

That monospot test came back positive. After eight and a half weeks of going crazy trying to figure out what was happening to my body, I finally knew. In retrospect, everything made sense despite not having a classical case of mono. I realized how I had normalized my continual suffering because I didn’t want to seem like I was overreacting to “just a cold.” I had continued swimming, lifting, and playing Ultimate frisbee. In doing so, I had unwittingly caused myself to relapse again, and again, and again. I’d also put my spleen at risk of rupturing by engaging in a contact sport. I know my body better than anyone, but I let the fear of outside judgment stop me from listening to it. It’s important to remember that a textbook-perfect model is often used in diagnoses, but an actual textbook-perfect case is rare.

Now, I’m feeling nearly 100% recovered. Beyond a couple lingering symptoms, I’ve regained my strength and am back to my usual active self. I’m grateful I never had to move home to recover from mono (which is pretty common), and I continue to live on campus despite the ongoing pandemic. The whole experience has made me value my health more than ever.

A Self-Diagnosed Imposter

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

Easily self-diagnosable, imposter syndrome consists of chronic self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy despite finding professional success. As a woman majoring in math, I’ve definitely faced these feelings throughout my college career. Slowly, I’m realizing that the only person I still need to convince that I deserve to be in STEM is myself.

Throughout my life, I have placed constant pressure on myself to exceed expectations. Even when I’m successful, I question my ability and knowledge. Imposter syndrome makes it nearly impossible to be confident in my academic performance and makes me fear judgment from the rest of the world. A part of me feels like I must outperform my classmates to be taken seriously. I can’t just coast on being average because I anticipate that people will question why I chose to major in math. Maintaining a high GPA is more than just a point of pride for me; it is the only defense I have against someone wondering, “Should she really be a math major if she isn’t super good at it?” 

These feelings of inadequacy persist despite the fact that I have honestly had a positive experience as a woman in STEM here at PSU. I feel fortunate that my professors have never treated me differently from any other classmate—specifically my male counterparts. My professors have encouraged and supported me, and never once have they said or done anything to make me feel like I don’t belong in a math class. 

Everyone wants to feel accepted in their field of study and line of work. I have realized that I will always question whether I am accepted as long as I continue questioning my abilities. At the end of the day, I chose to major in math because I love the challenge and I am good at it. I’ve decided to adopt the attitude that if someone doesn’t think I’m smart enough for math—well, that’s their problem. 

Scared of SHAC?

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

Especially for those of us living on campus, the Center for Student Health and Counseling is an extremely convenient and reliable resource. Any student taking at least five credits is eligible for free SHAC office visits because we pay a Student Health Fee. Students can accomplish a lot with those free visits, such as get comprehensive STD screening, have blood drawn, and get referrals or prescriptions. Not to mention, SHAC also has Counseling Services that are covered by the Student Health Fee. 

Personally, I’ve gone to SHAC to be swabbed for strep and to obtain referrals to other physicians. For example, when I sprained my ankle I needed a referral for physical therapy from a doctor for my insurance to cover it. I had no problems getting the referral from a doctor at SHAC. My experience has been nothing but positive and professional, and I hope more PSU students can experience the support that I’ve had from SHAC.

However, when I ask other students if they have been to SHAC, I sense a lot of apprehension from them. I often hear questions about whether their private insurance will cover a visit or if the professionals employed there are actually any good. The staff is knowledgeable about private insurance providers and transparent about any copays or out-of-pocket expenses. As for the health providers, SHAC employs actual doctors, along with physician assistants, registered nurses, and nurse practitioners. You can be guaranteed that you’ll be seen by someone with an advanced medical degree. From what I’ve seen, the providers at SHAC just want PSU students to have a happy and healthy college experience.

Move Over Netflix, I’m Reading Again

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

After a long day of work, class, and homework, there’s nothing like coming home and pulling up Netflix. Without a doubt, mindlessly watching TV has been the number one way I decompress from an exhausting day. Lately, I’ve started to realize that TV isn’t necessarily the best way for me to quickly destress. 

I was the biggest book worm back in high school. I would devour dozens upon dozens of books each year. Since coming to PSU, I’ll read during breaks, but I stopped reading for enjoyment when a term is in session. Quite frankly, I just don’t want to use any brain function to relax. And yet, there’s something about reading that I inherently missed. 

This term, I’ve decided to quit Netflix (for the most part) and opt for a book instead. It’s been a challenging transition and hard to break up with Netflix. I’ll get annoyed and frustrated that I can only manage to read ten pages before starting to nod off before bed and think, “I’m never going to finish this book!” However, even just t ten pages of reading sends me to bed an hour earlier than watching Netflix. 

Since I started reading for fun again, I’ve noticed it fueling my creative outlets. I’m more rested because I go to bed earlier and at more consistent times. Picking back up this old habit has made me feel connected to a part of myself I’d lost for years. I still haven’t finished my first fun book of the term yet, but—ten pages at a time—I’ll get there.

New Term, New Goals

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

Going through pictures from this last term showed me that I have fallen out of touch with some friends. I consoled myself by thinking this hadn’t happened purposely, but more out of necessity with our busy schedules. I spent Fall term trying to find a new balance between my personal and academic life. My classes were harder than in previous years, and I was also keeping more active than ever.

I recognize now that I didn’t prioritize my social life as much as I had in the past. I tended to hang out with friends who were the most convenient travel-wise. This realization made me feel like a terrible person, especially since the friends I’d lost touch with are mainly those who had graduated. As someone who’s graduating this year, this is exactly the trap I want to avoid and I fear falling into it.

 My goal this term is to reconnect with those friends and focus on strengthening my outreach skills—even if it’s just a quick message to touch base. I’m definitely one to be easily wrapped up in school and my own busy life, but I realize more than ever the effort required to maintain important friendships even if they present new challenges for keeping in touch.

A Degree of Suffering

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

When I was a freshman, my pride in double majoring in math and quantitative economics held rank over my actual happiness. I didn’t go into college with the intention of double majoring, but quantitative economics and math overlapped so well I just thought, “Well, why not?” I was absolutely miserable, but I figured temporary misery was a solid trade for the salary I’d be making with my majors down the road. 

Halfway through my junior year, I had an epiphany: I hated economics with a burning passion. Math piqued my curiosity; economics did not. Math challenged me in a way I found rewarding, and economics was just boring. The more I thought about the future, the more I realized that I would hate my entire life if I pursued a career in economics.

Even with this realization, I still felt trapped by my freshman-year decision. I had poured over two years worth of time, energy, and tuition into two majors, and it would be wasteful to quit. My mind was going in circles, which prompted a phone call home to my parents. I had become so paralyzed by my pride that I had not considered a solution that my dad pointed out—minoring in Econ.

Sure, I wouldn’t be able to say I was double majoring anymore, but my suffering would be over. Plus, my previous coursework would not go to waste. Sometimes in moments of high stress, we need to seek out other perspectives because it’s too easy to get wrapped up in our own heads and lose sight of the bigger picture. I made the switch immediately, and it was hands down one of the best decisions I’ve made in college.

Some Advice? See Your Advisor

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

My primary goal at PSU has been to graduate in four years. Using PSU tools like the DARS report and Course Projection Guide, I meticulously created and followed a degree map for the better part of my first three years of school. I believed it to be so thorough that I never bothered to speak with my advisor in order to sort out anything I could have missed.

Last spring, I finally decided to visit with my math advisor because I needed to ask about the Honors thesis. The math department has different requirements surrounding the thesis project, and the little nuances had me confused. I entered the meeting thinking it would be around a five-minute clarifying chat, but it turned into a full half-hour of me reworking my entire senior year class schedule. Low and behold, in the three years I avoided my advisor, I had never learned about some fine print on the degree requirements involving an Honors student in math. Where I thought I only needed one more math sequence to be done, I actually needed to take two 400-level math sequences. 

Leaving my advising appointment, I felt the strangest mix of stress, frustration, and gratitude. I was upset that I didn’t have my whole college career mapped out correctly all along and stressed about my senior year, which would no longer be chill with an additional math sequence tacked on. Overwhelmingly, though, I was relieved and grateful that I saw my advisor before it was too late. Speaking from my experience, save yourself the future grief and meet with your advisor(s). Too many horror stories exist about seniors just missing their graduation requirements; I narrowly avoided being one of them. This week I applied for graduation in Spring 2020, and I am extremely lucky that I could.

Sick of Being Sick

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

Each term, I dread the day I’m going to catch whatever cold has been going around. College campus and the city are such germy environments that it feels inevitable. Classrooms, dorms, the gym, and public transit all compete to be the place you pick up a bug. I came to expect that I’d get sick around once per term and fall behind in classes. However, as time went on I didn’t want that to be my normal. 

I started looking into ways to boost my immune system naturally. Barely any research on herbal supplements exists and what does is all anecdotal. I’d dabbled with herbal supplements in the past with no success, so I wondered how people used them successfully.

After digging through the depths of the internet and talking to friends and extended friends I think I’ve finally cracked the code on how to prevent catching a cold. I used to take immune support supplements like elderberry syrup, oregano oil, and garlic just once when I started feeling sick. I learned I actually needed to take the herbal remedies every few hours for them to be effective—kind of like how you would an antibiotic. 

At the earliest onset of symptoms, I start taking elderberry syrup and oregano oil capsules 4-5 times a day. I eat cloves of garlic at night because I don’t want to walk around all day smelling like it. Unsavory as it is to most people, garlic is by far the cheapest and most effective method I’ve found. I believe in it so much that my friends will tell you I’m paid by the garlic commission. 

From one student to another, I know we all hate to get sick. No one has time for that. By no means am I a medical professional, and as a skeptic myself, I don’t like to base conclusions off of anecdotal evidence. But so far, I’ve only been sick once in 2019 (I write as I furiously knock on wood), and I felt compelled to share my method.