Balancing School, Anxiety and Activism in Tumultuous Times

 

shira-spring-headshot a short reflection by Shira Devorah, Women’s Center student staff member

This semester has only just begun, and I’m already feeling pretty anxious. Granted, I’m usually pretty anxious – but this feels different.

If you’ve been following the news recently, you may understand. For many marginalized groups, it’s hard to feel stable right now. While I’m privileged in many ways, integral parts of my identity are under attack right now.  I’m proud of being a queer Jewish woman, but these parts of who I am feel very vulnerable and exposed at the moment. My uncertainty is manifesting as physical sensations. There’s a constant tightness in the pit of my stomach, and it’s hard to focus on things outside of the instability surrounding me. This is a difficult moment in time, and I want to be doing something about it, but my mental illness flare-ups make me question my ability to do so. I want to help, but  I also have to take care of my anxiety.

Amidst the current chaos, it is also my last semester at UMBC. If I know myself at all, this means I may be more susceptible to anxiety attacks during this life change. School work is a balancing act for me, and while I’ve had a few shaky semesters, I care a lot about my education. Most of my anxiety is tied up in how well I do, and this is my last chance to (literally) make the grade. UMBC students are held to a high standard of excellence, and I want my last semester to reflect this. To meet my personal achievement goals, I have to put a lot of energy into my studies. This can be draining and difficult to juggle with clinical anxiety.

I’m sure I’m not alone – Many people, especially women, deal with anxiety.  I’ve talked to a bunch of friends who live with similar anxiety conditions. We’re all struggling to figure out how to contribute, how to be present for people and speak up. It can be really, really difficult- but I know it isn’t impossible. Continue reading

You Are Valid: Women Students with Mental Illness

Shira by Shira Devorah, student staff at the Women’s Center (she/her) 

Every student has their personal struggles that make being in college difficult – responsibilities and personal needs to attend to while also working towards a degree. Like many other students, I also face mental illness on top of every other responsibility.

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This is probably one of the more pleasant stock photos I found when searching for “mental illness.” Get on that, photo people….

I struggle with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and ADHD. These diagnoses do not define me, but they do tend to get in the way of my school day. Sometimes classes have to be skipped, assignments need to be pushed back and plans must be cancelled, all in the name of mental health.

beyonce flawless capture

Beyonce from her music video “Flawless,” which inspired the hashtag #wokeuplikethis (screen capture)

As a woman with depression, I can’t always look happy for the sake of making someone else feel good, as stereotypical female empathy demands of me. I will not seem ‘flawless’ because sometimes I can’t remember to eat, let alone put on lipstick. I cannot be around people for an extended period of time without being exhausted. I am no less woman than someone without depression, but I have to work harder to be accepted by a sexist world as worthy of the title “woman.” This pressure is made more difficult when you factor in the fact that I am a full time student. I am expected as a student to do my best and succeed while also fitting into the tiny box of “womanness.”

Society presents a very limited definition for what a woman is “supposed” to be and look like and these strict gender roles rarely fit the dynamic and complex individuals we are, but they are even more inadequate for people of color, LGBTQIA-identified people, and people with mental illness and/or disabilities. Women students who navigate life with a mental illness have to deal with often unachievable standards, including the expectation of “effortless perfection.”  Continue reading

Making My Body a Brave Space And a Safe Place

A post written by Women’s Center staff member, Daniel

This year’s Critical Social Justice Week’s theme is Brave Spaces and as the week quickly approaches, I’ve been thinking more and more about not only what a Brave Space is but what it means to be a Brave Space. The center has been implementing what we call Brave Space Guidelines as a way of creating a space that fosters learning, connecting, and understanding. There are some components of the Guidelines that are particularly salient to me as I start to consider my body and the relationship that I, and others, have to it– with the added challenge of navigating mental illness.

I have, and have always had, a complicated relationship with my body. Growing up as a fat girl and eventually coming out as trans has a way of messing with the way you see yourself and the way you regard your body. Add experiences with depersonalization and derealization to that and the simple task of being a body at all becomes nearly impossible. Becoming a safe place for myself has been a life-long challenge that I continue to struggle with. Feeling safe and secure in my own skin is a rare and wonderful feeling that I think a lot of us– mentally ill or not– have a hard time with. With all the images we see and all the expectations we have for how we’re supposed to look and move and be, being comfortable with one’s body is not easy. As I meet people with similar experiences to mine and I begin to exist in spaces that are purposeful in their missions, I find myself being encouraged to become not only a safe place but a Brave Space.

Recognize that your experiences, values, and perspectives are unique to you. Strive to learn about experiences other than your own, and seek permission to ask questions about other people’s experiences

Intent is important, but it does not trump impact. Recognize and own the impact of your words and actions. Also, practice forgiveness and generosity: remember that this is a space where we are all learning and growing.

Recognize and respect the range of emotions that you and others may experience...be thoughtful about how your emotions and behavior may impact others based on their experiences.

Recognizing the uniqueness and value of individual experiences has helped me see others as complex individuals who have stories and experiences that I can learn from. It helps me remember that trauma and mental illness looks different for everyone and allows me to be more open to these differences.

Intent over impact is incredibly important. While mental illness can be an explanation for behavior, it is never an excuse. The effects my actions have on others or the effects the actions of others have on me are valid and important and shouldn’t be dismissed because of mental illness.

Practicing forgiveness and generosity– for others and especially for myself– is the most difficult and most important lesson I am still struggling with. I am still learning and I will make mistakes. This does not make me a bad person nor does it decrease my value. Others will make mistakes and I need to acknowledge when they have made personal growth and change. People are inherently good and all people are capable of positive change.

Emotions can be difficult to deal with, especially when you’re constantly told that you’re overreacting or “just crazy.” The way I feel about something is true to me and important even if it is different from how someone else or even most people feel about it.

I can’t even begin to express how much these three guidelines have shaped the person I am now and the person I am still trying to be. Being a Brave Space for myself and for the people around me requires conscious effort and it’s not always easy, but it’s helped me be kinder to myself and others feel safer in my presence. I can trust my body to sustain and support me and it can trust me to be gentle and work towards positive change in return.