Nailing Stress

By Erika Nelson

“I actually used to be a nail tech … not that you can tell.” I force a laugh and brandish my bitten stubs. I admit it — I’m a nail biter. Gross and unattractive in the best of times, it’s a literal life-and-death habit in Corona times — a danger to not only myself by introducing new microbes to my system, but to other people as well. Each bite transfers germs from my mouth to what I touch. I don’t bite in public, sanitize regularly and thoroughly scrub my fingers with soap and water before leaving and after returning to my apartment. But when I’m at home, in front of my laptop … I find my fingers floating to my lips.  

I’ve mostly been able to kick this habit. I say “mostly,” because no matter what methods I use to quit, I always come back to the form of tension-relief that borders on self-cannibalistic. If there’s a pervading collective emotion in the world today — it’s stress. Stress from isolation. Stress from economic turmoil and job insecurity. Stress from systemic injustice. Stress from having to “keep calm and carry on” with our regular lives, as if all of this is normal, when things are as abnormal as they’ve ever been. When I spoke with a PSU employee earlier this week, he summed up what I, and a lot of other people, are feeling: “a kind of stress I’ve never known.” We’re all bobbing along with the bumps and dips of the new-case graphs; paddling however we know how while the water continues to rise. 

Stress. So much stress. Meditation apps abound. #selfcare tips feature prominently across social media. The CDC even has a page on ways to deal with stress during the pandemic. I’ve tried pretty much everything I can to translate an unsanitary, destructive coping mechanism to something constructive that involves minimal microbe transfer … but gratitude journals and deep breathing never seem to be as instantly satisfying as shredding the tips of my fingernails with my teeth. 

The only thing that seems to work to curb the compulsive nibbling is engaging in what I used to do for a living — doing nails — but on myself. The process of meticulously applying polish is soothing, and forces me to slow down and exercise hand-eye coordination. Carefully placing polka dots and painting tiny flowers on my nails is just what I need to distract my thoughts — even for a few minutes — from everything else. When I’m done, I can’t bear to chip my painstaking work by biting!

Decorating (and maintaining) my nails has been helpful at chipping (haha) away at stress. Stress always comes back … but in the moments that I’m picking a color, filing, putting brush to nail … stress is on vacation. There are myriad reasons why I decided to ditch being a nail technician to go back to school — that’s a post for another day — but I still adore everything to do with it. There are many ways to de-escalate stress: for some people it’s yoga, video games or screaming into pillows. Some people are taking this time in quarantine to experiment with new hobbies or re-discover old ones. Thank goodness for my stockpile of polishes to get me through another day without mangling my own fingers.

Growing Pains: Turning Discomfort into Change

By Erika Nelson

This summer, I’m taking my senior Capstone, Grantwriting for Shelter Pets. Our community partner is Furry Friends, a no-kill cat shelter in Vancouver. Our mission this term is to draft the proposals that will compel donors to fund important shelter projects, such as medical care and a new kitty condo.

Before I signed up, I thought this would be a lighthearted, fun experience. I love animals, have a passion for animal rescue and love writing. It seemed like a no-brainer. I assumed that upsetting images and facts would be present in the coursework — after all, animal welfare is an emotionally fraught topic. What I didn’t anticipate was the extent of the information. To help us understand the real-life implications of the work we’re doing, a book and corresponding documentary about the history of animal shelters and the no-kill movement were assigned. These materials were difficult to get through — images of shaking, pacing animals in cages; upsetting statistics (millions of shelter pets are euthanized every year); graphic descriptions of euthanasia that turned my stomach and brought tears to my eyes.  

My discomfort in the first weeks of the Capstone made me question my involvement, and I thought maybe I should have signed up for a different Capstone altogether. However, I began to wonder: why is discomfort bad? Why do we avoid it, and seek out situations that avoid discomfort instead of facing it head-on? After all, change stems from discomfort in the first place. Just as we must face the discomfort of noticing and calling out oppressive institutions, we must push through to change things for the better — to harness that emotion and translate it into concrete actions. 

For example: no one becomes a veterinarian because they don’t have compassion and empathy for animals. Yet veterinarians regularly see sick, injured, neglected, or abused animals, and continue to do their jobs. Discomfort is a regular part of the profession, yet people find their calling in veterinary medicine. While vets no doubt are affected emotionally, the opportunities to improve animals’ health outweighs the discomfort from seeing suffering animals. 

It’s tempting to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the important issues in the world. Sure, you could purposely only sign up for innocuous courses with benign subject matter and tune out everything upsetting. Yet college is an opportunity to grow, and growth comes with growing pains. Knowledge and awareness of the injustices and difficulties of the world is a springboard to change. Ignorance is NOT bliss — ignorance only perpetuates the status quo, whatever it may be. 

The hard truth is that many aspects of life are inherently uncomfortable. This is inescapable. Instead of avoiding the negative emotions that come up in this Capstone, I’m choosing to embrace them. I’m challenging myself to persevere through discomfort to help these shelter cats, and I’m looking forward to documenting what I learn and how I grow along the way.

Crafting in Quarantine: “Quaranzines”

By Erika Nelson

Whether in mandatory or self-imposed isolation, people are turning to hobbies like arts and crafts to keep themselves occupied.  One fun project having a moment on social media is zine-making: The hashtag #quaranzine has over 5,000 hits on Instagram.

Merriam-Webster defines a zine as “a noncommercial often homemade or online publication usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter.” There is no right or wrong way to make a zine — it can be handmade or digital; thrown together or carefully planned. Zines can be anything you want — a mini-book of self-published poetry, a political manifesto, your own comic book…the possibilities are only limited by your imagination and materials available. 

I made two different zines using this paper-folding tutorial. One is called This is Your Life Now, and I used acrylic paint and magazine clippings to create a tongue-in-cheek manual for embracing the new normal. 

I included a spread featuring things I do in quarantine, such as sleep, play games… 

…and fantasize about being productive. 

My second zine was a parody of Time magazine: The cover features an image of more innocent times — a crowded beach — and the headline, “There will be no summer (and probably no autumn).” 

Of  course, I had to include fake advertisements. 

I encourage everyone to try making their own quaranzines! Arts and crafts do more than just fill free hours — they can be therapeutic during scary and uncertain times, and sharing your art on social media can help foster community in a time of isolation. So grab some art supplies, fire up the publishing software, or simply use a paper and pen — let’s do some quarantine crafting!

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.

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.

Out of Oven, Out of Mind

by Beth Royston

A lot of us have a lot more time on our hands recently, and I’ve been getting back to my baking wishlist. I’ve always loved baking and have watched The Great British Baking Show on Netflix more times than I can count, but took a bit of an unenthusiastic break while I was in a series of apartments (with the exception of a frantic stint of weekly sourdough) so small the fridge couldn’t fully open without hitting the oven. Thankfully, my partner and I moved to a bigger living space with an actual kitchen, and I had no excuses anymore, right? Apparently not. I’d forgotten that baking can take a lot of time, and I didn’t exactly want to be in the kitchen for an extra couple hours after coming home from a six-hour day at PSU and having to make dinner and do homework. It became an occasional, wistful thing. 

However, the opportunities have come up a lot more and I worked with my partner to make a list of all the things I wanted to make. Nothing too crazy, like the recipe for the galaxy mirror glaze cake I saw once (I would feel a little guilty for presenting my stuck-at-home roommates with a huge cake) but small, enjoyable things, like scones and tarts and light pies. It’s been a small part of my week that I can savor in the following days, and adds a sense of formal normalcy to meals. There’s a slice of apple tart to have afterwards, just like there was before all of this happened. I remembered how much I love baking, especially when I get to be creative with pie crust decorations or figuring out how to make something there’s no recipe for. I once developed a recipe for savory, cheese-and-herb creme puffs, and I remember it fondly. It’s a nice distraction, too. I also realized that I’ve never had a key lime pie, so that’s on the list. Hopefully my household forgives me for continually churning out desserts.

Making Do

By Erika Nelson

Recently, I wrote about my experiences under lockdown in student housing. Although being alone in quarantine was weighing on my mental health, I said that crashing with family or friends in Southern Oregon was not an ideal option for me. Since that post, I tried really hard to make the best of my situation —  I went through every coping skill I could think of: working out, journaling, playing computer games, texting friends and family, virtual therapy, throwing myself into homework — but I cracked. Living alone became too much to bear—so when the opportunity to fly down to Medford arose about a week ago, I took advantage of it, and set out for the Rogue Valley by way of a very, very lonely PDX.

I thought a lot about whether I would divulge that I fled Portland — I’d made such a big deal about staying put and weathering the lockdown on my own. Surely I can just pretend to still be in the dorms? Who would know the difference? Do I want people to think I’m weak? Besides being embarrassing to admit I broke down, I had traveled when not absolutely necessary, and still feel rather of ashamed about that. But I ultimately decided to be vulnerable in these vulnerable times, and share my experience.

The truth is, it’s ok to be overwhelmed, and it’s ok to make do with the resources you have. Like making do with frozen vegetables instead of fresh ones to avoid a trip to the grocery store, we are all making do in other ways with the resources available to us — mentally, physically, socially. It’s ok to break. It’s ok to be strong one week and a sobbing mess the next — because these are uncertain, scary times. 

I’m making do with what I have, and I am filled with so much gratitude that I have support available to me. I was lucky to get that flight to Medford. I’m lucky to have a family to take me in. I’m lucky that I went through the gauntlet of air travel without bringing disease into my home (well, as far as I know. I really hope that my next post isn’t written from a family member’s hospital bedside.) 

Many students are still alone on campus, and don’t have any other option but to stay. I feel guilty leaving them behind. Part of me feels like I should be there in solidarity. Another part feels justified that I did what I had to do to take care of myself. Maybe those opposing feelings aren’t mutually exclusive. 

To those who are struggling under the weight of lockdown, whether in isolation or not, here are some resources that might help:

PSU Student Resources: https://www.pdx.edu/unst/student-resources

Multnomah County Crisis Hotline: 503-988-4888.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

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.

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.