Self-care for graduate students (and faculty)

Stony Brook

Today I came across Alfreda James‘s wonderful piece at Inside Higher Ed on “self-care essentials for graduate students.” I really enjoyed the piece for two reasons. First, a lot of her piece applies to faculty members as well as graduate students. Second, Alfreda was a classmate of mine in graduate school. She is currently assistant director for graduate students and postdocs at the career center at Stony Brook University.

Here is a taste:

Self-care means recognizing the people around us who impede progress, hoard resources and cause physical and emotional exhaustion. Here are a few characters and characteristics within the graduate student community we need to avoid and/or immunize ourselves against:

  • The 24-hour critic: the person who attends every conference/Zoom meeting to hijack conversations with unrelated questions or what-ifs from another field;
  • Permanently agitated 10th-year ABD (all but degree): usually a man who switches advisers frequently and is supported by a long-suffering partner because funding is long gone; and
  • Superhero: the individual who serves on every committee because everything is important.

The 24-Hour Critic. The 24-hour critic can be either a peer or faculty member who will always find more nuance, more research and more evidence for you as a graduate student to produce. He removes all the oxygen from seminar rooms with multiple questions crossing the time and space continuum. He stifles ideas but later uses the research he dismissed. Protect yourself with early identification of the 24-hour critic’s toxic behavior, and then confer with others on ways to limit impact. If you have a scheduled meeting with him, plan to have an ally interrupt the encounter to pause his flow of words. The 24-hour critic thrives by consuming large amounts of your time.

Read the entire piece here.

Back in the Zoo: My Struggle with Anxiety

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I took this photo at a protest in Kalamazoo following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes honestly about mental health in the midst of our current moment. —JF

On Monday, I logged into my computer for my first virtual counseling appointment with Desert Streams Christian Counseling. Many don’t know this about me, but I have struggled with anxiety for the past couple years. It’s by no means constant or dangerously severe, but it hits me every once in a while–especially in seasons of unexpected change or hardship. Because of my anxiety, I worry more than most. Sometimes I worry about specific things–like school, COVID-19, the people I love, or the uncertainty of the future–but other times, there’s just a general sense of unease that settles in the pit of my stomach.

Perhaps you have felt a similar  sense of unease over the past few weeks. Despite reports of the curve flattening, COVID-19 cases continue to rise. The reopening of businesses and restaurants across the nation brings joy to some and anxiety to others who fear it’s still too soon for the country to reopen. More Americans are still plagued with job loss and economic hardship caused by the pandemic. I won’t deny that life is hard right now. Whether or not you struggle with anxiety like I do, it’s not hard to find things to be stressed about in our current moment. Yet the recent murder of George Floyd–and the tumultuous events that followed–reminds us that these sources of worry pale in comparison with the constant hatred, anxiety, and injustice that has weighed on the shoulders of black Americans for the past 400 years.

Because I struggle with anxiety, I am no stranger to fear. Yet because I am a white, straight, middle-class, Evangelical Christian woman, there are many anxieties from which I am spared. I am spared from  the multi-generational trauma experienced by African Americans whose ancestors were forced into chattel slavery, grandparents were lynched or parents were burdened by Jim-Crow era segregation. I don’t have to fret about people judging me because of my race, or thinking less of me because of the color of my skin. When my Dad drives to work, I don’t have to worry about him getting pulled over just because he looks suspicious. If my brother throws on a hoodie and walks to 7-Eleven at night to buy some skittles, I can know with virtual certainty he won’t be attacked. When my boyfriend goes for a run in the middle of the day, I don’t fear that he’ll get chased down and shot.

I’m not trying to belittle my own anxiety, or that experienced by others. Mental health struggles are serious and real, especially in times like these. Yet I know that for every obsessive thought and irrational worry that makes its way into my mind, there are real, ever-present sources of fear and anxiety for America’s black community. 

When injustice seems to have the upper hand and righteousness seems so far out of our reach, let us remember to listen–especially to those who are different from us. When fear is ever-present, let us remember that the creator of the universe is a God of love, peace, and justice.

To quote my professor, Dr. James LaGrand, who I exchanged emails with last week:

“Even this week, God is God. God loves justice; in fact he’s the author of justice. And it is with perfect justice and peace and shalom that his story will end for his people and his whole creation. It’s hard to wait for this. But it is coming.”

Rich: “We’re Relying on Trump to Care About Our Lives”

Corona

Last week, New York governor Andrew Cuomo asked mental health professionals to volunteer their services during this coronavirus crisis. In today’s press conference, the governor announced that 6000 mental health professionals have signed-up to offer free services to those in need.  Every state in the country should be doing this.

Perhaps I missed it, but I have yet to hear Donald Trump address the question of mental health. As Frank Rich recently argued in his column at The New York Times, Trump seems incapable of this kind of empathy. Here is a taste of his piece “We’re Relying on Trump to Care About Our Lives.” A taste:

During Sunday evening’s briefing, when he was supposed to be comforting Americans on the precipice of financial ruin, he instead lamented the billions of dollars he had supposedly forgone to be president. Our self-glorifying “wartime president” morphed into a self-pitying Daddy Warbucks.

“I think it’s very hard for rich people to run for office,” he said. “It’s far more costly. It’s a very tough thing. Now, with all of that being said, I’m so glad I’ve done it. Because, you know, there are a lot rich people around. I’ve got a lot of rich friends, but they can’t help and they can’t do what I’ve done, in terms of helping this country.” I’m glad he’s glad. Scratch that. I’m dumbfounded.

It has been observed, accurately, that he’s exactly the wrong leader for this crisis because he has thinned the ranks of responsible professionals in government, because he has hollowed out relevant departments and agencies, because he devalues science, because he degrades information and because he parted ways with credibility years ago.

But it’s worse than that. He’s facing judgment calls that require an emotional depth and a moral finesse that simply don’t exist in him. America is relying on him, of all presidents, to care as much about vital signs as about dollar signs.

He did that when he asked the nation to stand still for 15 days, but can he continue to do it? I’d have doubts if the economy were merely the biggest of many bragging points for him, if it were just a major part of his political profile.

Read the entire piece here.

Bruce Springsteen Talks Mental Health and Depression

Bruce on Broad

If you are a Bruce Springsteen fan, or someone who is interested in mental health struggles, I encourage you to read Michael Hainey’s piece at Esquire: “Beneath the Surface of Bruce Springsteen.”  Hainey got Springsteen to talk about some of his personal demons in a way that goes beyond what he wrote in his memoir Born to Run.  A taste:

Springsteen sighs. “I would go back to DNA. If you grow up in a household where people are refusing to take responsibility for their lives, chances are you’re gonna refuse. You’re gonna see yourself as a professional victim. And once that’s locked into you, it takes a lotta self-awareness, a lotta work to come out from under it. I’m shocked at the number of people that I know who fall into this category. And it has nothing to do with whether you’re successful or not. It’s just your baggage. So that’s important to communicate to your children: They have to take responsibility for who they are, their actions, what they do. They’ve got to own their lives.”

Is there, I ask, a code that you live by?

“I’ve never tried to articulate it, to be honest. The qualities that my mother has are ones that I’ve tried to foster in myself. So what do I say? Kindness, a certain kind of gentleness that’s girded by strength. Thoughtfulness, which is very difficult for a narcissist like myself to deliver on a daily basis. I’ve had to get around my own self-involvement, which is one of the natural characteristics of the artist. If I had to say something, I’d say, ‘I’m steadfast, honest, and true.’ ”

Read the entire piece here.