Starting Line Advice

by Beth Royston

Somehow, almost four years of college have passed. I’m about to graduate in the spring. I was recently thinking back on my entire college experience and how the pandemic changed so many expectations I held about how it would go. I thought about what had gone the way I’d expected, and what hadn’t at all. For anyone that might be about to embark on their own college journey, I’ve compiled my tips on staying afloat into a list, with the hopes that it might help soothe your worries about what those next four (or more!) years will look like.

Figure out your own rules

College is vastly different from high school in a lot of amazing ways. You’re much more on your own, which is really freeing — but can also be really intimidating. To succeed, it really helped me to nail down exactly how I liked to study, how early in the morning I could bear to go to class, and when and where I liked doing my homework. Those provided parameters for scheduling classes and figuring out when I was going to get things done. Abiding by my own rules made it a lot easier to feel productive. Personally, I became a better student because I could actually take classes I was interested in, and also because I was allowed to make more decisions about how I wanted to learn.

Stay flexible.

I’m happy to say that I generally don’t have any regrets in life, except doing some pretty cringey things in middle school. But seriously, staying flexible has helped me ride the highs and lows of college life. I’m type A to the point that I have the next ten years of my life generally figured out. However, life has a funny way of not going the way you plan it to, and this includes college. Hello, pandemic! While it’s okay to mourn changed plans and grieve missed opportunities, the best thing you can do is make the best of what you have. Keep to your goals, but be open to how you get to the end changing, as long as you get there. 

Try new things.

I’m a naturally extroverted person, but it was still nerve-wracking to do some of the things I did that were outside of my comfort zone. Even if I didn’t end up liking that club or left the event early, I still could say I tried it! I made some great connections and hilarious memories by just being open if something seemed even remotely interesting to me.

Talk to your advisor early and often.

I talk to my advisor at least once a term. It helped me feel comforted that I was on track to graduate. I would seriously recommend checking in with your advisor at least once a term, and early — before it’s too late and you can’t get in to ask them your registration questions. They are also usually able to connect you to resources on campus that you may need, and give some career advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advocate for yourself. This also extends to asking for help when you need it. There are so many resources on campus to help you succeed, take advantage of them! 

My college experience was definitely not what I thought it would be. To be transparent, there were a lot of things that I wished I could try that I never got to, and being sick nearly all junior year made me feel like I was missing out on a lot. And then, of course, the pandemic caused my entire senior year to be online, and I felt like I was missing out on even more. I was looking forward to so much, and have been grieving that loss. However, I couldn’t control any of that. I remember the happy memories I made in college — the friends I met, the food I ate, the countless hours spent at the farmer’s market with my partner. I do count myself lucky because I want to attend Portland State for graduate school, and that will be three more years at the campus I love so much. Above all, I’m a very different student now than I was in high school, and I feel like I succeeded by advocating for myself and staying flexible throughout these years. I hope that these tips help if you’re just about to start Portland State, or elsewhere — and welcome to college.

Learning to be Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

by Beth Royston

2020 was taxing for everyone, but I felt like I had a double helping of misfortune. Not only was there the pandemic to contend with, but I had a disastrous trip abroad last year, and have been dealing with the symptoms of PTSD ever since. I already have a lot to worry about — myself staying safe, my friends and family staying safe, trying to keep my motivation up for school during this time. However, recently I’ve had to confront an uncomfortable realization that I simply don’t know how the next few years of my life will look.

I’ve always been a planner, and had certainly made plans for those years. I applied for grad school earlier this year, and have had that intention for a while. However, with the pandemic, I wasn’t able to get some of the extra experience that I wanted in preparation for my graduate program. I applied feeling less secure than I wanted. I’m currently trying to sort out how I feel about the prospect of going to grad school if the program will be online. And what happens if I don’t even get in? I’d find a job and I’m sure I’d adjust, but it’s more about the thought of what I desperately want to happen not happening — the pandemic not ending, and not getting into my dream program. I also got engaged to my partner of five years a month ago, and as sweet as that’s been, the both of us have been worried and uncertain, unable to really begin planning anything solid for our wedding. As it may be evident, I’ve spent a lot of time spiraling. 

Unfortunately, all I can do is wait. I must wait and see if I get into my program, I must wait and see what happens with the pandemic that affects all of us. I even must wait and see how other factors in my life come into play to decide when to get married. It’s a lot of uncomfortable uncertainty, my very weakness. My armor is planning and doing the best I can to make my dreams and plans come true. The best I can do is plan for different scenarios and try to stay flexible.

While 2020 was the hardest year of my life, I’ve also undergone a lot of personal growth. I don’t think I will ever entirely be the type of person that can just sit back and be extremely flexible with change, but I’ve come a long way in realizing that sometimes no matter how much you plan things, they will still go wrong. I had that exact experience with my trip abroad. Everything was planned out to the smallest detail, but fortune was not in my favor regarding a dish I chose to eat at a restaurant that made me very ill and culminated in my hospitalization. I’d planned for some general stomach upset when adjusting to a new cuisine, but nothing to that level. You can either fight that or take a deep breath and adjust. I’ve definitely been grieving for the experiences I feel like I’ve missed out on, and trying to put that energy into what I’m looking forward to later in my life. However, sometimes I fail to be optimistic, and simply feel really sad and worried about how adrift I feel. None of my plans are anchoring me. 

It’s an effort every day to try to coach myself on not adding on additional worries about things that I can’t control. It’s something I struggle with a lot because of my personality, but I’m really proud of how far I’ve come. I’m glad that I’ve been able to adjust in a positive way because of everything that’s happened, and come out a stronger, better, more resilient person, even if I don’t necessarily feel that way all the time. 

22 And So Much To Do

By: Adair Bingham

A few weeks ago I turned 22. Turning 22 has been the reason for a lot of self-reflection and critical thinking lately, especially regarding the passage of time. Four years ago I was “celebrating” my birthday in my English class, surrounded by people I haven’t seen or heard from since. One year later, I was celebrating by eating in the university cafeteria with my sister. And two years after that, I was celebrating at home for the first time in three years. 

The passage of time is a difficult concept to swallow, especially as I age during this pandemic’s lockdown. Sometimes I still feel like an oblivious teenager and other times I feel like a hardened old man who’s seen it all. Recently, one thing that’s given me much strife has been my interests. I’m a self-proclaimed cartoonist and animation is one of my biggest interests, but I can’t help but feel that I’m “too old” to be invested in them these days. Although I know that there’s no age limit on interests or fun, there’s always going to be this nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that I’m “too old for this”. Like my unyielding imposter syndrome, this is something that haunts my thoughts more often than not, even though these things have played a substantial role in my life for years. Sometimes it feels as if everything I enjoy or partake in is heavily criticized by literally everything and everyone, especially as I’ve gotten older, and I often feel pressured into finding a more mature hobby.

To try to beat these pestering thoughts, I’m often reminding myself that “I’m only 22” and that I have all the time in the world to enjoy these things, and hopefully make a career out of them. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no age limit on passions and I should really be embracing my avocations, rather than trying to hide them all the time. The only thing that I’ve learned in doing so is that my interests and hobbies make me who I am, and, to put it bluntly, I’m absolutely miserable without them. Interests and hobbies don’t magically disappear as you age, and, like yourself, they need to be nurtured and cared for, too. There’s no need to self-sabotage your happiness to appease others just because they may not entirely understand something you enjoy.

One of the most important things that I’ve learned since entering my 20s is that, sometimes, the smallest things really are the most important. My love for animation was sparked at a young age and hasn’t dwindled since, and it certainly isn’t leaving anytime soon. So, rather than being ashamed of the things I love, I’m instead using them to inspire me to pursue my path and shape my future on my own terms and nobody else’s. These were things that widely influenced me as a youngster and I would ferociously argue that they inspire me more now as an adult. With so much left to do and as I find my footing in the world, I can’t fathom doing it without my passions guiding me along the way.

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?

Have You Ever Tried Embroidery?

by Beth Royston

While I’ve had more time to bake during quarantine — something I’ve always loved to do — I finally tried something new with soapmaking — something I wanted to try for a long time. However, a new goal of mine was to pick a new hobby to try that had only appeared on my radar recently. For me, this was embroidery.

I’ve seen embroidery hoops before, but never really connected the dots that this was something that I could try if I wanted to figure out how to get started. I spend a lot of time on Etsy, as that’s where I run my business, and after one craft kit was recommended to me I started looking at a lot of them. There were almost an overwhelming amount of options with really unique, cool patterns that I thought would look absolutely spectacular on my wall. Plus, I’d be supporting other small creators. I asked for a few embroidery kits for Christmas, and have to say, I’m hooked. When I was younger, I was very interested in sewing, and this was definitely reminiscent of the magic that was spending long hours crouched over painstakingly small stitches, eventually being able to triumphantly present your creation (and aching back). What can I say — if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. But I enjoy hobbies that make me feel like an old woman living on a homestead, and thus that fire inside me was reignited with embroidery. 

The kits I tried came with everything I needed — fabric with the pattern in water-soluble ink, a hoop, a needle, thread, and instructions. Even though they were rated for beginners, I sought some outside help on YouTube for some of the stitches that the brief directions didn’t really explain. It was so satisfying to feel myself get the hang of french knots and a stem stitch, working on something vividly colored and beautiful that I was able to hang on my wall. I’ve since ordered myself a few new kits, and allowed my mind to wander to what types of projects I could accomplish. Pillowcases, tea towels, even little flowers on the pockets of my favorite jeans. Thankfully, embroidery supplies are relatively inexpensive and easy to find, and if you happen to already have that stuff laying around, the PDF embroidery pattern availability on Etsy is as large as the premade kit availability. If anything, PDFs are easier to find. The most difficult part of these projects is choosing colors, especially ones that I’m doing without a pattern, like embroidering some leaves on my favorite hat. 

I’m thrilled to have picked up this new hobby, especially one that grants gorgeous art for around my house. I love to work on my projects while some Netflix is going in the background and a candle is lit. I’d definitely recommend it if you are looking for something new and relaxing to try!

Here are some photos of my beginning hoops. My next project will be two pillowcases!

Cautiously Optimistic

By: Adair Bingham

The year 2020 has come and gone. I think it’s safe to say that “good riddance” doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of what a horrid year it truly was. Going into 2021, I’m going to do my best to not jinx anything. Rather than establishing half-hearted resolutions and plans this early on in the game, I’m simply trying to take everything as it comes and hope for the best possible outcome, no matter what’s thrown my way. If anything, I can at least reassure myself that, “If I survived 2020, I can make it through another year.” 

Last year tore all of my foundations down and forced me to rethink all of my plans — plans that I had for 2020 and for the greater future. I’d been looking forward to attending conventions, possibly manning a booth at one of these said conventions, and the simple pleasure of enjoying my spring break. All of that was rudely interrupted.

So, this year, I am going to let life take the wheel and guide me as it sees fit. I need to make peace with the fact that it’s perfectly normal for things not to go according to plan. And that it’s perfectly OK to have no plan whatsoever. After all, as we’ve learned so well, things are always subject to change.

I have no intention nor desire to conjure up resolutions that will likely never see the light of day. One of my most silly resolutions was my desire to try and take on more academics. The desire for that dissolved quickly, especially as the pandemic hit. As such, I don’t intend to come up with any grand or even small resolutions this time around. Rather, the only thing that I hope to change is my perspective regarding my current circumstances. I’m set to graduate in roughly three months with my bachelor’s degree in psychology and I’m equally terrified and excited about what comes after. These three and a half years have come and gone exceptionally fast and I still can’t even begin to swallow the fact that my degree is within arm’s reach. In just a few short months, I’ll be a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Perhaps that’s all the change that I need for the new year.

If there’s any phrase that can sum up how I’ve decided to navigate these upcoming months, it’s “cautiously optimistic.” I’m hoping for the best until things go back to normal — or at least some semblance of normal. From small goals to big goals, I’d like to take everything lightly and not dive headfirst. No strict resolutions or half-baked goals — all I want for myself is an attitude adjustment and a healthy dose of optimism.

When You Just Can’t Stop Worrying

By Claire Golden

It’s normal to be nervous from time to time, and some anxiety can be helpful. For instance, if you’re nervous about giving a speech, those feelings can encourage you to prepare and practice. But there’s a difference between being anxious sometimes and having an anxiety disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 19% of adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder…almost one in five people! So what is the difference? And how can you tell if you’re one of the more than 40 million people who has one?

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There are five main types of anxiety disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Social Anxiety. I have a few of these myself and sometimes refer to this as my “alphabet soup” because of all the abbreviations. GAD is the most common and is usually what people mean when they talk about “having anxiety.” Put simply, in order to have GAD, you have an overwhelming sense of worry and being out of control most days for at least six months. This is extremely different from situational anxiety, like before a date or the first day of classes.

In my experience, the hard thing about anxiety is that there often isn’t anything concrete that you’re worried about. You’re just worried. Sometimes I’ll say to my boyfriend, “I’m nervous.” He’ll respond, “Do you know what you’re nervous about?” And I’ll say, “No, I don’t!” (Usually followed by a hug or him bringing me the cat to cuddle.) It’s frustrating, because if there was something specific that was worrying me, I could deal with that problem and the anxiety would go away. But I just feel like something bad is going to happen without knowing what. It’s like suspenseful music playing in a horror movie, where you know something is about to jump out at you.

The distinction between just being worried and actually having an anxiety disorder is one that our society doesn’t recognize, but is important to understand. People who don’t have a disorder, can find it hard to understand why an anxious person is so worried. They might want to fix the situation when there’s no concrete problem to fix. But it just doesn’t work that way..

If this resonates with you, consider contacting your doctor or make an appointment at SHAC to receive a diagnosis and discuss next steps and treatment. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve learned a lot in the course of understanding my own anxiety. In my next post, I’ll be sharing some coping techniques that have helped me immensely. I was diagnosed with GAD when I was six years old, so I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. I used to be too scared to tell people about it for fear of the stigma, but it’s become my mission to break down some of the walls around mental illness. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and whatever your brain may tell you, you’re not alone.

Trading a White Christmas for a Rainy One

By: Ragan Love

My favorite holiday is Christmas; I love baking, the snow, and the wonderful memories with my family. But this year my family and I decided that me staying here in Portland would be the safest choice for all of us. My family is very close and it’s been hard not being together during normal days, especially with the year we have had. 

In Colorado, I always had a white Christmas, it is something that I think is essential for Christmas to feel real. But, since I was staying in Portland, I had to prepare myself to wake up that morning and see wet pavement instead of a blanket of snow. And because I am considered a Christmas baby, I am also used to having snow on my birthday. It was weird for me to spend this entire week of Christmas, my birthday, and New Years without snow falling down. There are many traditions that looked different this year because I wasn’t with my family. 

Usually for Christmas my family goes out to find a new ornament for our tree and when we all find one, we have our decoration night. We drink eggnog, play Christmas music, and enjoy the tree and all of the decorations around the house. This year my family set up the tree without me and I had to send them my 2020 ornament. Luckily I had a mini tree so I still had the Christmas vibes in my home. My roommates also agreed to get matching stockings which helped make it feel like the Christmas season.

My family and I usually bake a bunch of sweets every year including different kinds of cookies, peanut butter balls, pie, and a cake for my birthday. But this year, we did the baking separately. I made pumpkin muffins and peanut butter balls and my dad made Christmas sugar cookies. On Christmas day we have a big Christmas dinner with potatoes, steak, and a bunch of vegetables. I enjoy Christmas dinner more than Thanksgiving because of how small we have usually kept it, usually just the three of us. 

This year, my dad made a nice dinner for him and my brother and I had the opportunity to have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner with my roommate. We had pork one day and street tacos the next. I spent the remainder of the day talking with my family on Facetime. We had breakfast together and opened the gifts we got for each other. My family got me some supplies to make pie at home. My dad and I cooked it together on the phone as if we were next to each other baking. It wasn’t like any other Christmas but we were able to make it special when we are 1,000 miles apart.

Expectations Unraveled

By Claire Golden

Last week I impatiently waited for the delivery truck to arrive. I’ve always been excited about getting things in the mail (it’s one of the things I can still enjoy even with lockdown), but this mail was particularly special…author copies of my debut novel were arriving! 

Unraveled released on Dec. 14 from Gurt Dog Press (in ebook, paperback, and hardcover). I was a nervous and excited wreck all week. Anxiety can’t tell the difference between good and bad events, so I had a stomachache even though I was over-the-moon happy. I’ve poured hundreds of hours into this book over the last five years, and when I finally held the finished copy in my hands, I experienced a feeling I’ve never had before — a mix of happiness, shock and gratitude. So, what did I do?  I took my book child to the park for some pictures.

The book publishing journey hasn’t been quite like I pictured it. I didn’t anticipate all the waiting:  to get edits back, for a cover design, for the book to release. With the pandemic, things also look different. My book doesn’t get a release party and I can’t do a book signing in person. But I’ve learned from this experience that even when things don’t look like you expected, they can still be wonderful. My publisher held an online book tour, my online friends commented on every post with enthusiasm and support, and my extended family ordered copies from across the country. In short, I am a super lucky author, and even though release day was unusual because of the pandemic, it was still awesome.

Unraveled arrived in a world much different than the one in which I started writing. And that’s okay. I’m also a different person than I was when I started writing. The book contains a little piece of my soul, and because of that, it’s rather scary for it to be out in the world where everyone can read it. But it’s a good anxiety, because it helps me grow. If I plan to keep writing books, which I do, then I’d better get used to people reading my work! 

I’ve heard from LGBTQ+ teenagers who found the book encouraging, from people with OCD who were glad to see the mental illness portrayed in fantasy, and from people who just enjoyed reading it. Having people connect with my characters has been one of the best moments of my life, and nothing short of a dream that’s become reality. In the end, my expectations didn’t matter, because everything turned out better than I could ever have imagined.

More Than A Habit

By Claire Golden

Content warning for discussion of mental illness and skin-picking.

Did you bite your fingernails as a kid? Maybe you still bite them now, or maybe you grew out of it. For most people, it’s just a bad habit that they can stop with enough concentration that  doesn’t affect their  life in a significant way. But for a small percentage of the population, skin-picking is a big problem.

I’ve picked my fingernails and lips since I was a kid, only I never outgrew it. “Stop picking” was a constant refrain from my parents, who were just trying to stop me from injuring myself. I didn’t want to hurt myself; it simply felt impossible to stop. Like how you can’t stop yourself from scratching an itch, I couldn’t stop myself from doing the behavior. My grandma once took me for a manicure, which was painful on my tender fingertips, but the pretty nails didn’t last very long.

I picked my skin constantly, for hours a day, regularly wearing three or more Band-Aids at a time to cover up sensitive spots on my fingers. One day, when I was 14 years old, someone looked at my hands dotted with five bandages and asked, “Oh my gosh, what happened?” This was a wake-up moment for me because I honestly hadn’t realized this was out of the ordinary. My friend’s shock at my beat-up fingertips clued me into the fact that this wasn’t right.

When I was 18, I learned that this condition has a name: Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior, or BFRB. There are a multitude of BFRBs, and the TLC Foundation for BFRBs is a great resource to learn more. The most common is trichotillomania, or hair-pulling, which you may have heard of. Or you may not, because BFRBs aren’t very well-known. Too often they’re seen as just a bad habit that someone will grow out of. I was fortunate to attend a therapy group for people with BFRBs, and receive Habit Reversal Training therapy, which essentially focuses on recognizing the urge to pick and redirecting it to something else.

Now my work desk is laden with fidgets for me to play with instead of taking my stress out on my skin. You can’t cure a BFRB, you can only learn to live with it — but mine is much more under control than it was several years ago. Now I only have to use a Band-Aid a few times a month instead of several times a day, and I’ve learned to reach for Chapstick instead of picking at my lip. (Sort of. I’ll admit I’ve been picking while I write this, but perfection is unattainable.) 

If I can get one thing out of my experience with a BFRB, it would be to share the knowledge with others. If you, too, are a BFRB sufferer, please know that you aren’t alone and there’s nothing wrong with you. Your mind just works a little differently, and that’s okay! There are ways to cope and people who understand what you’re going through. I encourage you to learn more about this condition, whether or not you have it, because increasing awareness c helps people. And now, I’m off to apply some lip gloss so I stop picking.