Showing Solidarity From Home

IMG_7345 By Claire Golden

Life has been overwhelming lately, to say the least. It seems like I go from a news article about the COVID-19 pandemic to a coverage of protests in Portland. More than anything, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of helplessness. I want to help the Black Lives Matter cause. But how can I do that from home?

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graphic from blacklivesmatter.com

For anyone else who feels this way, I’ve rounded up a short list of ways that you can help from home. Although the protests are necessary, it’s also dangerous to congregate in public when coronavirus is still spreading. Luckily, you can still support the cause from the safety of your own home.

If you’re a white person like me, you can educate yourself and other white people. This could mean having difficult conversations with your family members who may not be very aware of what’s going on. You could share helpful articles on your social media. What’s important is doing the work to become informed. 

You can donate to organizations like Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd Memorial Fund. Every little bit helps. Many of us are unemployed college students, which means we aren’t exactly showered with money, but if everyone donated the price of a Starbucks drink, it would add up. 

I’ve been making a concerted effort to support black artists, authors, and creators. A book that helped me learn a lot is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which is a young adult novel about a girl standing up against police brutality. I read it from the library a couple of years ago, but I finally bought a copy because it’s such an important book.

There are many ways to show your support even if you aren’t on the front lines, and I encourage you to do so. Together, we can make a difference.

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.

Staying Social During Quarantine

IMG_7345 By Claire Golden

Today, May 13, marks 58 days by my count of the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. That’s a long time to go without hanging out in person with other people. I’ve seen a movement toward calling it “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” to emphasize that while people need to physically stay apart, they can still connect in other ways. Humans are social creatures and it’s important to stay connected.

One of the ways I’ve been keeping in touch with my friends is through our weekly Dungeons & Dragons sessions. We all hop on Google Hangouts and play D&D for a few hours on Sunday nights. It’s great to catch up with them as well as getting the escape that role-playing games (RPGs) offer. We played a really fun RPG called “Honey Heist” where you’re trying to infiltrate a honey convention, but everyone is a bear. It made everybody laugh and was a good time, so I highly recommend this if you want to try out a RPG.

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Another fun thing you can do with your friends is hold a Netflix watch party, where everyone starts the movie at the same time and chats throughout. You could also play video games online, or hop on the Animal Crossing bandwagon. We held a PowerPoint party where everybody gave an informal presentation of something that interests them, which was an entertaining way to spend an evening. Topics varied from the history of World War I to Frodo and Sam’s relationship in The Lord of the Rings. It was fun to learn about my friends’ interests.

Since I’m currently away from my family, I make sure to stay in touch with them. Usually this involves texting them silly pictures I find on the Internet. We also FaceTime every two weeks or so. Phone calls are wonderful, but seeing their faces does me a lot of good…even if my dog is pretty confused when she sees my face on the computer.

Whatever you choose to do, I encourage you to take the initiative to set up a hangout with your friends. It’s important to keep physically distancing, but don’t let friendships fade just because you’re physically apart.

Tips for Remote Learning from a Former Homeschooler

Untitled design-3 By Claire Golden

How are you all doing with the adjustment to remote learning? As we start our fifth week of the most unusual spring term in memory, I know a lot of us are having a difficult time. I find myself more grateful than ever for my homeschool education, which means that I’m used to learning like this. Here are some tips I’ve learned from seven years of homeschooling that I find helpful for remote learning.

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1. Dedicate a space to your studying. 

It’s nice to do homework in your bed once in a while, but I find that having a tidy desk does wonders for my mental state. Sitting down at my desk helps put me in “study mode.”

2. Keep an assignment planner.

I keep this planner on the aforementioned desk. I have four spaces for the four days of the week (Monday-Thursday) I have classes, and I write what’s due in each space, crossing it out when I’m done. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when everything is just floating around in your head. Writing it down on paper is a good way to get it out of your head and onto the page.

3. Minimize distractions.

It’s easy to get distracted by family and pets. I wear a pair of headphones to signal when I can’t be interrupted. Turn on “do not disturb” mode on your computer and silence your phone. That YouTube video can wait until you’re ready to take a break.

4. Enjoy what remote learning has to offer.

It’s easy to see all the difficulties of remote learning, but what about the positives? You can go to school in your pajamas, snack whenever you want, and take naps in the middle of the day. In fact, I wrote this post with a cat curled up beside me (pictured).

It’s okay to embrace this weird time period while it lasts and enjoy the silver lining. Things will be back to normal someday. Until then, we’re in this together.

Lockdown in Student Housing

By Erika Nelson

In March, Housing and Residence life sent out a mass email encouraging those of us in student housing to move if feasible. By doing so, we’d be lowering the amount of interpersonal contact in the buildings, and therefore lowering the chance that COVID-19 could spread among us.  The result was a mass exodus of student residents. For the last few weeks of winter term and throughout spring break, students hauled boxes and furniture out of their apartments. Many people abandoned their belongings altogether — and common areas quickly became littered with discarded microwaves, bedding, and half-used bottles of hot sauce. At first, the refuse left behind was annoying. But then the custodial staff removed it all, taking along with them any items that residents used to socialize and bond, such as the puzzles left out on tables for everyone to work on. This served only as a stark reminder of the tenants’ absences.

There are some perks that come from living in an almost-empty building — solo elevator rides save time, and I have yet to have to wait for access to a washing machine. The sheer emptiness of the building is palpable — instead of hearing music and muffled conversations when walking down the halls, there is a conspicuous silence. Common areas are empty. There are no more University Success events in the lobby. Even though those of us who remain are still in our rooms, typing on our laptops and having Zoom classes, it’s hard to ignore that the absence of so many residents is a symptom of the larger changes in the world.

I don’t have family close by. I wasn’t lucky enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on how well you get along with your family) to be able to crash somewhere else while still remaining in Portland’s orbit. Sure, I could pay to rent a car and haul all my stuff back to Southern Oregon, and there’s no doubt that I miss my friends and family … but Portland is my home now. I’ve set up roots, and I’d rather try and stick out the pandemic locally rather than going through the added stress and expense of moving back and forth. 

There are times when I regret that decision. Being cooped up is weighing on me emotionally. I miss my loved ones. I miss socializing. I miss human touch. So many of the things that made me fall in love with the city, like restaurants and the county library, are closed for the foreseeable future. The truth is, no one knows how long this lockdown will last, and if things will ever go back to normal. Public officials are cautious about ending the stay-at-home order too soon. Not knowing a timeline and being able to count down days is disheartening. However, I have hope that we will all get through this and be stronger because of it. Even though the building is lonely, I know I’m not alone in feeling alone.

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! 

One Day at a Time

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Lately I’ve seen a trending idea that COVID-19 quarantine is an opportunity to create the world’s next masterpiece…like how Shakespeare wrote King Lear when he was in quarantine for the plague. It’s great if people take inspiration from this. But it just makes me feel depressed. It’s true that I have lots of time on my hands. But I don’t have the mental energy necessary to do anything, because I’m too anxious.

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(Here’s a little crochet version of the virus I made as a form of exposure therapy.)

I know I’m not alone in this. The pandemic is scary! We are living in unprecedented times, and it’s normal to be nervous. What’s important is not letting that anxiety completely take over. Easier said than done, I know, but I encourage you to take a deep breath. I’m here to tell you that whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone, and we’re going to make it through this together.

It’s OK if all you do is make it through the day. It’s OK if your big accomplishment for the day is taking a shower, or doing a little bit of homework. It’s OK if all you can do is plug along, because that’s how we’re going to get through this.

I’d like to share a quote that holds a lot of meaning for me. It’s from John Green’s book Turtles All the Way Down, about a young woman who lives with OCD. The quote is: “Your now is not your forever.” I’ve had this quote displayed on my wall for the past several years, and it’s more important now than ever. Now is scary. Now is uncertain. But it’s not going to last forever.

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.