Life, Positives

Life goes on, even in a pandemic… Recent accomplishments and updates

Though I’ve been cooped up at home since mid-March, life hasn’t stopped! I’ve made some “accomplishments” posts in the past (Dec 2019, Aug. 2019, Dec 2018, etc) but this one will include some negative things that have happened, too, because they are important life updates. I’ll do the negative ones first so that it’ll end on a happy note.

  • I’m doing school online from home this fall, and I’m pretty sad about that. I miss my friends, and I miss seeing them in person. I feel lonely. Zoom and FaceTime don’t always cut it.
  • I’ve had some bad experiences with my health that were kinda re-traumatizing. My mental health has gotten worse as a result, and I have new symptoms. (but things are getting better at the moment!) I’ve also discovered the term “medical trauma,” meaning trauma as a result of medical things like surgery or being in the hospital. This explains why I’m still struggling with the things that happened in the hospital after I was in a bad car accident 6 years ago, even though I’ve talked about the accident itself extensively in therapy (through Prolonged Exposure). Here are some resources I found on medical trauma: info, good article, story. If you know of any others, I’d love to see them.
  • I was supposed to kinda be doing an internship this summer, and I…kinda didn’t… 😦 I’m not totally sure how it happened. I guess I was busy dealing with my health. That took up a lot of time and energy. And I felt a lot of shame for not knowing things, so I didn’t ask for help, so I was stuck and procrastinating hard. I feel very ashamed of how I acted and the fact that I just didn’t do the work. I had an opportunity and I blew it. I also feel guilty, angry at myself, and sad.
  • I’m not going to try to list all the bad things because that doesn’t feel like a useful thing to do. These are the main ones, I think. Now, on to the positives! 🙂

I have gotten better at talking. For a while I was feeling insecure about how I talk, and I was having trouble communicating what I meant in a clear way. I felt like my main experience having real conversations (not small talk) was in therapy places. I think I’m fairly good at using “I” statements and validating people, but I don’t have as much experience talking in academic or professional settings, and I want to get better at this. The past few months, I’ve been part of a book club with my friends where we also talk about politics, the news, and controversial/sensitive topics. I feel like I can have a real conversation now, even about tricky topics. I can acknowledge when I don’t know enough about something. I can say why I think something and how I came to that conclusion. I can participate in a group discussion without needing to be called on, and without interrupting, or on the flip side, staying silent. I can disagree with people without it becoming an argument. My family did not teach me how to do this; if people disagree in my family, it’s always an argument. I am proud of the progress I have made with this, and I feel better about my abilities.

I’ve also gotten better at sending emails. I started sending the weekly email for my sustainability club when there was no one else to send it, and I’ve gotten so much better at it. It also doesn’t stress me out anymore at all. It’s just something that needs to be done. Sometimes I even look forward to it, and I write it ahead of time and use the schedule-send feature.

I’ve gotten better at singing. I was so insecure about my singing for so long. My brother is a “good singer” and has been in a cappella and chorus groups in school. He generally criticizes me when I sing for being off-key. But it turns out that, like many things, singing is a skill that I can improve at if I practice. So, I need to sing “badly” for a bit in order to get the experience I need to improve. Also, people don’t magically know how to sing songs just after listening to them (at least not most people, I’m guessing). People practice hitting the notes and transitioning between the notes for a long time before they’re able to sing it like it sounds in the song. I just needed some practice. My sister and I are putting on a musical we’ve created from a combination of two other musicals, and I’ve gotten a lot of practice singing for that. Singing is really fun, and I’m really glad I get to be in a musical. 🙂

I have also been in two Zoom musicals! One thing I wanted to do in college was be in a musical again, since I was in a musical my senior year of high school and loved it. With school online, I thought I wouldn’t get to fulfill that dream, but I’ve had the opportunity to be in these two musicals with a new club that formed when schools went online. It’s pretty cool!

My relationship with my brother is improving. We are closer now. We get along, joke around, and sometimes have meaningful conversations!

I took a summer class and gained a new perspective on animals and their behavior.

I’m reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and it’s amazing, and has similarly changed my perspective on trees. Forests create clouds and are the main reason why rain can fall inland, far from bodies of water! Pine groves make the air around them germ-free! Trees can care for their young and help out sick trees by sending sugar through their roots! Trees can warn each other about attacks from pests! I highly recommend this book. It’s so cool.

As a result of the renewed Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve learned a lot more about racism today and in the past, anti-racism, police and criminal justice, housing inequalities, etc. I’ve also thought a lot about my own privileges and gotten better at accepting them. I read Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime (I read the version adapted for young readers), and it was really useful for understanding apartheid in South Africa and making comparisons to the US. It’s all told through stories, which made it easy for me to read. There are some descriptions of violence, injury, abuse, and of course lots of injustice, so be aware if you read it.

And yes, I am reading again! I haven’t read much in recent years because of eye problems, concentration problems, and because I’m often triggered by what I read. But I feel like I can read again! Wow! 🙂 Reading the short stories with my friends has been good and helpful, too.

I got accepted to grad school?!? My school has a program where current students can apply to the masters program at the school. It’s an easier method of applying and getting in (basically everyone who meets a certain GPA cut-off gets in), so I feel like I got in “through the back door,” which makes me feel invalid, but it’s still real and great that I’m accepted! Before, I wasn’t planning on going to grad school, but because they lowered the GPA cut-off (so that I made the new cut-off) because of the pandemic, and because it may be hard to get a job after graduation with the current economy/unemployment rate/job market, it’s looking like I probably will go to grad school. So this is a change in my life plans, but it’s not a bad change. I’m also more interested in using mechanical engineering (my major) for bio-medical things… the pandemic has shown me that there is a need for mechanical engineers to design medical devices. So now I’m imagining different careers for myself. These aren’t bad changes, but they are major changes to what I imagine the next few years of my life will look like.

I had a trauma anniversary that wasn’t awful for the first time! 🙂

I am developing a better understanding of my body. (note: this paragraph includes talk of bodily functions) I had severe abdominal pain earlier this summer (severe enough that I couldn’t stand for more than 10 seconds because it was so painful). After a stressful and frustrating process of getting seen by a doctor and getting things figured out, I had a CT scan, which showed a large ovarian cyst. It was surprising to me that there was actually something physically, visibly wrong inside of me. In the past, doctors have dismissed various pains as a result of my ~anxiety~. But this time, there was actually a clear explanation why I felt pain. It hurt when I peed because there was a physical mass pushing against my bladder. The idea that pain is caused by something being wrong in my body is new to me, and very validating. The CT scan also showed that I had several benign renal (kidney) cysts. Is that what’s hurting randomly in that part of my body?? Are there actual explanations for the things I’m feeling?? I’ve also looked at some diagrams of internal organs. In the past, I avoided looking at things like that because it upset and triggered me. But I’m okay with it now. I am learning where different organs are. My intestines are really long and snake all over! When I feel my intestine-area gurgling and moving around, it is actually moving things through my intestine! My pain happens for a reason. There are specific, physical things going on in my body that cause the pain.

I reconnected with a friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in a year. It feels really good to have that relationship back. 🙂

I can still improve on things and make progress on things that are important to me, even though I’m at home almost all the time. My daily life looks different, but I’m still doing stuff and working towards my long-term goals. I can still have fulfilling experiences, new experiences, and happy times. 🙂

Coping Skills, Positives

Structure! Today’s Accomplishments and Tomorrow’s Goals

This is a thing that helps me to add some structure to my days and life when I’m lost and kinda depressed.

I’ve been using these Today’s Accomplishments / Tomorrow’s Goals sheets recently, and they’ve been helpful. I recently moved out of my college dorm and am back at home with my family. Online classes haven’t started yet, so I don’t have much to do, and I can’t go anywhere or see people. So, filling out these sheets at the end of the day has been helping me to stay focused and do things. Doing things makes me feel better. Waking up to a plan for the day makes me want to get out of bed.

 

Today Tomorrow checklist
Today’s Accomplishments Tomorrow’s Goals

 

On the left side, I write what I accomplished that day! It’s often “little” things and big things: ate breakfast, called my friend, took a shower, emailed my doctor, unpacked my clothes. If something was especially hard, like getting out of bed or eating a meal, I’ll make sure to write that down and give myself credit for it, too. 🙂

Then I can also write some good things about the day at the bottom! “I’m grateful for my friend calling me, I’m proud of figuring out how to do therapy over Zoom, I saw beauty in the sunset, I am responsible, prepared, and caring.”

On the right side, I write out what things I want to do the next day. Unpack the rest of my clothes, take vitamins, eat 3 good meals, go for a walk, do yoga, start homework for x class, plant pole beans, etc.

Then I say what, among those things, is my priority (e.g. unpacking and eating 3 good meals) and how these expectations look (are they reasonable? a stretch? do-able?). These steps are especially useful when I have lots of things to do and it’s just not possible to do it all. In that case, I can state what my priority is and plan which things I won’t do in advance, instead of realizing at the last minute that I can’t do everything and panicking.

I also write something that will be true no matter what happens (e.g. I’m at home). This gives me at least one thing to count on when I’m not sure what else I can rely on. And then I write what I’m looking forward to! 🙂 If I’m not looking forward to anything, then I try to go back and add something good to my to-do list. 🙂

I’ve been using these off and on since middle school (!) as I’ve needed them. I’ve improved them over the years, adding the positive parts to fill in at the bottoms. I find that they are good at getting me back on track.

If you are also cooped up in one place, out of school or a job, feeling unmotivated or depressed, or in many other situations, maybe this could help add structure and positive things! 🙂

You can open the pdf file here. I print them out double-sided and cut them up so that I can get four accomplishments/goals out of one piece of paper. (Today I am proud of figuring out how to add a pdf to wordpress haha because that’s something that I’ve been meaning to learn how to do for a while!)

Wishing everyone the best ❤

Life, Positives

I forgot we live in a universe

(Note: very brief mention of self-harm urges)

Today has been a rough day for a number of reasons that I don’t want to dwell on right now.

I wanted to hurt myself, but I decided I would look at my pros and cons list (pros and cons of hurting myself vs. using skills and not hurting myself) before I did anything in order to be sure that I was making the right decision. (This story is going somewhere, I promise, and it even has a happy ending!)

I didn’t know where I put my hard copy of my pros and cons list, so I went hunting through the photos on my phone in my “Lists” album, where I keep pictures of a lot of my go-to self care / skills info. Instead of finding it, I came across a picture of strategies I had a while ago for “reorienting yourself,” or grounding yourself.

img_5870
my list

It says:

Reorienting yourself

  • zoom out in time
  • zoom out in space
  • close your eyes and open htem
  • take stock of your limbs
  • how long until death? Is this an urgent, life-or-death problem?
  • what was happening before this?
  • look at a to-do list, planner, email, recent texts 

I was feeling dissociated, so I tried some of these. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I tried to really see everything around me. I counted how many limbs I have. I realized that I am not in imminent danger, and neither is anyone in my family. I reviewed what I did earlier in the day.

And, I zoomed out in space. I imagined myself where I am, in my room, and then I zoomed out… to our house… our town… neighboring towns… our state… this part of the country… North America… the globe… little earth… the moon… our solar system… our galaxy……

It was at this point that I wondered if the Milky Way is part of a cluster of galaxies. Are there other galaxies near by us? Do galaxies even cluster together??

So I followed my train of thought because it was positive and a good distraction, and it made me feel curious and interested (emotions I haven’t felt much recently).

I googled “is the milky way part of a cluster.” It turns out it is! It’s part of the Virgo Supercluster.

Hmmmm, cool!

Then I remembered that there was some youtube channel I couldn’t remember the name of that had a bunch of good astronomy videos I had liked. I wanted to find the channel, so I got my computer and dug through google drive to find the website that I had made for my high school astronomy class, thinking my website would help me find the youtube channel.

I looked through the website and was reminded of the cool things I learned in astronomy that year. I had pictures of the moon and of Jupiter and its four Galilean moons that we took right outside our high school one evening. I had essays I wrote about the more philosophical parts of astronomy. They were good to read.

I eventually found the part of my website where I linked to the youtube channel I was trying to find. Yay! I went to the channel, SciShow Space, and watched some videos.

One was about how the universe could be shaped like a torus (a donut). I had never really thought about the shape/topology of the universe before. I assumed it was spherical and infinite, I suppose. At the end of the video, the person talking said that if the universe were a torus, that you’d maybe be able to look out into the sky and see our galaxy, the Milky Way, but much younger — the way it was many years ago. You’d be able to wave to yourself.

Mindboggling. The universe is so weird.

A supernova could explode in our direction at any time and obliterate not just us, but our planet, our sun, and our solar system. There are things out there that operate on such different scales than our lives normally revolve around.

I can’t believe I forgot we live in a universe. There is so much more that exists than just me and my family, than everywhere I’ve been in my life, than our entire planet… there is so much more.

So, yeah, wow, that sticky note was actually incredibly helpful. Zooming out in space was just what I needed to do. And looking through the “Lists” album on my phone was the thing that led me to that, so that was helpful, too.

It was also good because it rekindled interests I forgot I had. There were many years growing up where I wanted to be an astrophysicist. I used to think about the universe a lot.

It also made me think more about geometry, math, science. I love geometry so much. I think I’ve briefly mentioned on here that I’m in engineering school. I’ve loved math and science for as long as I can remember. Since I’ve been on winter break, I haven’t gotten to spend much time on those interests. I was actually really craving math homework recently.

Wow. It was really good to be reminded of all that — the things I love to do, the universe we live in, the awe and wonder and imagination.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.
This is what we see when we look at the darkest part of the sky — not dark at all, but filled with galaxies, billions of light years away. Source: “Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2014” from NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day website.



Did you forget that we live in a universe??

Have you ever been reminded out of the blue of (good) things you had forgotten?

Coping Skills, Positives

There are still good things even when you don’t see them

I’m on the train going to my family’s home for Thanksgiving and am noticing all the good things.

We rode past beautiful bays and beaches, over rivers emptying into the ocean, through forests of bare branches with sun streaming through.

A little girl, maybe 2 or 3, in a cute dress and white sweater walked down the aisle of the train while looking at a phone, like an adult, and bumped into someone. It was so cute. It made me smile, and the person across the aisle from me (the one the little girl bumped into) saw me smiling and smiled, too.

I texted a bunch of friends I haven’t spoken to in a while. Scrolling through my recent text messages, I can see people from middle school, high school, college, my summer program, and my family. All these nice friends! I’m so glad I have all these great people in my life, even if I don’t see them that often.

The guy sitting next to me apologized after being on the phone for a while (which didn’t bother me at all) and asked if I’d mind if he ate lunch. It was very nice to be treated so politely and considerately.

I’ve been thinking more about gratitude lately since it’s Thanksgiving time. This year I have been making a real effort to pay attention to the good things.

At the beginning of the new year, I saw a BuzzFeed post that mentioned keeping a calendar of good things, or something like that. I liked the idea, and I’ve been actually following through on it, for the most part. I have a calendar with nice pictures hanging on my wall, and each day I write down one good thing that happened in gold sharpie (or green sharpie more recently because my gold ran out).

I don’t put pressure on myself to decide on the best thing that happened that day; just one good thing is enough. Sometimes it’s a good dance class, or someone saying something nice about me, or a yummy dessert I ate, or laughing at something. Some days, or weeks, I forget to fill it out, but that’s okay.

I’ve also been keeping a gratitude journal, which I write in as part of my morning routine. I write in it somewhat infrequently, but when I do do it, it really starts my day off well.

I say all this because noticing, remembering, and focusing on these good things has actually been really helping me. I notice such a difference in myself when I do these things regularly. I’m more tuned in to all the good things going on throughout the day. I’m happier, more appreciative, more loving, and more relaxed.

Sometimes when I’m feeling hopeless and depressed, I challenge myself to think of five good things, right now. In that state of mind, it’s hard to think of good things. I tell myself that anything good is fine; it doesn’t have to be a big thing. Oh, look, that cloud is really nice. That leaf that just fell in front of me has pretty colors. I’m walking and able to use all four limbs. I have a therapist. My jacket is warm. That’s five right there.

I have a friend who sometimes talks very negatively about the world. I wish she knew that when everything looks awful, it’s the depression talking and not the way the world really is. There are good things in the world. I have been in that place where it looks like there aren’t. But that’s just because my emotions are clouding my vision.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t bad things, too. There are, and those are very real and very valid. But it’s not all bad.

There are so many good things in the world, in my life, in my present. Even when I don’t see them, they’re still there. I think that’s important to remember.