All posts tagged: mental health

Butterfly at the Museum of Natural History. Photo Credit: Jess Silfa

On (Necessary) Self Care

When I was six years old, I started seeing a therapist. There were many reasons why I was in Doctor Davis’ care—an overactive imagination, inappropriate concern for World War III, existential dread—but the majority of our sessions revolved around relaxation. He and I played this game where we would try to relax as much as possible, calling out the names of the body parts as we felt them loosen and unwind: my neck is now relaxed, my shoulders are now relaxed, now my arms. I would never get past my knees before blurting out something like, “What if Russia invades us?” And then to lighten the mood: “Do you know how hard it is to learn Russian?” Twenty-five years later I still have trouble getting myself to relax (and surprisingly I’m still worried about Russia). I didn’t change who I was when I entered the MFA. My life didn’t get magically amazing; my insecurities didn’t disappear; my neurochemistry didn’t become more typical. But that’s me. The truth is even if you’re not mentally ill, grad school is …

On Balancing Your “MFA Life” with Your Personal Life (Or At Least Trying To Do So)

I’ve been meaning to write a post about my second year for a few months now. The delay hasn’t come from a lack of ideas, but in part from the difficulty of deciding what I should say, what would be the most useful. The other factor, of course, is that my workload has been significantly heavier this year than it was my first year. I’m taking three classes (“Hypoxic Workshop” again, “Uses of History,” and “The Personal Essay”), whereas most second year MFA students at Alabama take only two (I don’t regret my decision, but….). I’m also teaching two classes (English 101: Freshman Composition), which takes up far more time and mental energy than my position as a TA for a lecture class last year. Because I have so much to do, it often feels like time spent “working” should be spent on reading and researching and writing for classes and lesson planning and grading and responding to students’ e-mails, and any time beyond that should be spent actively unwinding, socializing or watching TV or …

On Those Blue Feelings

It’s been a gray day, not cold compared to the Midwest or the East Coast but chilly for Tuscaloosa, with the temperature in the mid-40s. And the truth is that it’s been a hard few weeks. Writing-wise, things are fine. My fiction workshop went well and I’ve recently had a couple pieces picked up by literary journals. I’ve planned out the stories I want to complete this semester and I’ve started the very earliest of brainstorms for my next novel. But I’ve been lonely, and I want to talk about that loneliness. I think it’s important, because we’re not just writers. We’re human beings, and sometimes we have hard feelings, and it can be even harder to talk about them. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about why sometimes I cherish my alone time and sometimes I don’t at all, and I’ve been interested in why the alone time I had in Los Angeles didn’t feel nearly as lonely as the alone time I have here. There’s a practical concern here too, since I’m a …

Something Beautiful: Mental Health and the MFA

What do we talk about when we talk about depression and writing? It’s hard to begin, not least because the pairing of these topics can feel almost overly familiar. They’re a classic combo, really—a sort of burger and fries, peanut butter and jelly, Lennon and McCartney of the literary world. From The Bell Jar to Darkness Visible, writers writing about depression has become practically a trope. It’s archetypal: the tortured writer loopy at his desk, popping pills and chugging whiskey. But ultimately, my story isn’t about an archetype. It’s about me, and as my struggle with mental illness collides with my MFA experience, there is no well-trod trajectory for what will happen next. I’m just weeks away from starting my graduate program at Temple University, and I’m doing so while grappling with severe depressive symptoms. Think hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, excessive fatigue, and spontaneous tears. These are pieces of who I am right now, and, like it or not, they’re probably coming with me when I hit the North Philadelphia pavement next month. I’ll be teaching …