Bookworm bloggin’: Never Ending by Martyn Bedford

One of the most significantly time consuming “tasks” in my life is reading. I’ve had a love of reading since I was about eleven years old, the age at which I began spending hours laying in bed reading multiple novels in a single day. While I no longer have the free time to enjoy full days spent in bed with my books, I do still spend quite a few hours each week with my nose stuck in a book.

My obsession with books began with the “Series of Unfortunate Events” collection and has since grown to include a much more diverse mix of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry works.

Most recently I read a book entitled “Never Ending” by Martyn Bedford which explores concepts such as grief, trauma, family dysfunction, and courage.

never-ending-us-196x294In a nutshell, the main Character, Shiv, is sent to an inpatient treatment facility to confront the death of her younger brother and the role that she played in the accident which killed him.

I don’t want to give away too much about the actual plot of the book, especially since I think that you should read it yourself, but I want to talk about the themes in the book because I think that there is a lot that can be learned from the experiences of Shiv throughout the story.

Dealing with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a difficult task, especially when the sufferer feels as though they are to blame for the trauma. For me, this story really allowed me to take a closer look at the impact that trauma can have on the thought processes of an individual without it triggering any distressing flashbacks or PTSD symptoms. I have not personally experienced the kind of loss that Shiv goes through so I was able to look at trauma from the outsider-looking-in perspective which is usually relatively difficult seeing as how I myself survived a traumatic experience.

I really liked how this book portrays the recovery process as being raw, painful, and incredibly difficult. The reader really gets to see the inside of Shiv’s mind and understand what she is feeling and thinking. In my experience not many books are able to do this accurately so I think that readers could learn a lot from this. More specifically, if you have experienced a trauma and want your friends and/or family to understand more about what you’re going through, perhaps reading this book could help them understand just how difficult it can be to overcome PTSD. Alternatively, if you have a friend or family member who has been struggling through the recovery process, perhaps reading this book might give you some insights into how you can be a supportive person for them or even just give you a better idea of what they might be going through.

With that being said, everyone who experiences a trauma will have unique circumstances and they will face unique struggles in their recovery journey. It’s important not to pigeon hole someone into one “type” of recovery. No two people are exactly the same so it makes sense that each and every individual will go through their own unique coping strategies. This book can certainly be a tool to help people understand PTSD, but it should not be the be-all-end-all in terms of defining what is and is not acceptable behavior for someone recovering from a traumatic experience.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book and I felt connected to Shiv in a way that I don’t often connect with fictional characters in books. If you’re an avid reader looking for a new book or someone who is interested in learning more about trauma I would definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book from your local bookstore (or order it online…whichever works)!

xo
Ayla

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How to survive the grad school waiting game

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It’s that time of year! Grad schools are finally releasing their admissions decisions and prospective students all over the world are obsessively refreshing their internet browsers hoping that today will be the day that they will know their admissions decision (…just as they’ve been doing for the past two months or so). As someone who applied for grad school in the fall, I had also been playing the waiting game alongside my fellow grad school prospects until a few weeks ago when I finally heard back from my top choice school: accepted!

Now that I’ve secured my spot in my dream school, my brain has been able to go back to thinking about other things. Prior to receiving my admission decision I had spent the majority of my time thinking about grad school and playing over all of the possible outcomes in my mind. With that being said, there were a few things that helped me tolerate the excruciatingly long wait. If you’re still waiting this list might help you make it through the next few days/weeks of the unknown.

Stop refreshing your browsers

I know what you’re thinking. Ayla, that is impossible; it’s never going to happen. However, I would just like to point out how irrational this process really is. Most schools will either email you or send you a letter in the mail which means that realistically there is no need for you to spend your days glued to your computer refreshing your application status.

With that being said, I am also guilty of this. Speaking from experience I spent the months of January and February checking my online application status 2-3 times per day (sometimes more) and looking back I realize how pointless this was. Realistically I knew that admissions decisions wouldn’t go out until mid-march at the earliest so refreshing my browser was a waste of time and energy, not to mention the fact that it fueled my anxiety about admissions!

Stay off grad forums such as gradcafe

I know that it can be tempting to seek out the support of people who are in a similar situation of waiting for admissions decisions; however, spending hours reading through pages and pages of people talking about their own self-doubt (or conversely, how strong they believe their application is) can make you doubt your own application even more than you might already.  Staying away from these forums will save you the trouble of having another page to obsessively refresh while also helping you maintain some semblance of sanity over the course of the waiting game.

Start a new hobby

One of the most important things you can do to make the waiting game easier is to find a hobby to help you pass the time and keep your mind busy. This could be anything from learning a new musical instrument, reading a mountain of books, or starting your own blog! It doesn’t really matter which hobby you choose (as long as it is safe and legal), what matters is that you keep yourself busy and occupy your mind with things that are completely unrelated to graduate school.

Set aside designated “grad school worry time”

While it is not healthy to spend all of your time worrying about grad school admissions, it also isn’t realistic to expect yourself to just forget about it altogether. Instead, it is better to strike a balance between the two. For me this meant setting aside specific times during which I allowed myself to research things like the cost of tuition, living arrangements, and other practical things that need to be considered when you could be heading off to grad school.

With this being said, this worry time should not involve refreshing your browser or reading through forums on gradcafe. As noted above, these behaviors will not help you but there is a very likely possibility that they could harm your mental health in the process. Steer clear of these activities during your worry time!

Similarly, you do not want to give yourself too much time to do the worrying. This designated worry time should be kept to no more than one hour at a time and no more than one or two sessions per week. Otherwise you will just be slipping back into constant worrying rather than designated worrying.

Go out and socialize

One of the best ways to distract yourself from the stress and anxiety of the waiting game is to go out and spend time with your friends and family. This could be something as casual as going for a walk or grabbing a coffee with a friend or something more formal such as a dinner date or a weekend away (if you can afford it). Getting away from your house/apartment/room for even a few hours can help you focus on things outside of the world of grad school admissions. Look outside your window! The world is still turning! Go and enjoy the day rather than spending it sitting in front of your computer wallowing in the despair of another day without answers.

Volunteer/get involved in your community

Perhaps one of the most effective distractions for me over the past few months was my volunteer work. I had originally started volunteering in my community in order to improve my chances of getting in to grad school, but it quickly became a helpful distraction for me. Volunteering with a pediatric group gave me a chance to appreciate the small things in every day and also gave me a break from all of my worries. When I was volunteering I was responsible for the safety of the children who attend the support group which means I had a lot of other things to think about aside from grad school…at least for a few hours.

Come up with a plan B, C, D, E…you get the picture

If you’re anything like me, you might be one of those people who hopes for the best but plans for the worst. When it comes to grad school, anything could happen. Depending on your program, the competition can be fierce! Having a backup plan (or five) can help you remind yourself that you will be okay even if you do not get into your top choice school. Maybe you could take a year off to earn some extra money. Maybe you could look into online programs that would prepare you for the same career path. Maybe you could apply to a few extra safety schools to fall back on in case you don’t get in to your dream school. Keep your options open! I know that I felt as though a rejection letter might actually be the end of my existence, but it’s important to recognize that you will be okay whether you get in to grad school or not. Having a plan B, C, or D might help you stay calm during the waiting game because you will have an action plan for even the worst case scenario (even if that scenario is highly unlikely).

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These are all of the tips that I have for now. I hope that some of you find it helpful! I know that the waiting game is a painful process and even as I write this now I know that I would have ignored most of these tips if I’d read this post three weeks ago. But hopefully those of you who are still waiting will find comfort or peace of mind from some of these tips!

Good luck to everyone who is still waiting and congratulations to everyone who has already received offers of admission!

Xo

Ayla

Just a little therapeutic art…

imageYesterday was a bittersweet day for me. It was my last day of working at the job that I’ve grown to love over the past 10 months. While I had the option to renew my contract for another term starting in the summer, I know without a doubt that I want to start school again in the fall to complete my Master’s degree and pursue my dream job working with people who struggle with mental health issues.

Despite the fact that I am currently feeling really optimistic about my future and excited about school, I was feeling pretty lonely and sad when I got home from my last day of work last night. So, I made a conscious decision to do something that I would enjoy rather than allowing myself to crawl into bed and wallow in my sadness.

I decided to bake some brownies for my brother and his fiance while watching the newest episode of Grey’s Anatomy. After those two tasks were complete I was feeling a bit better and I also felt a bit inspired. As a result, I decided to finally get around to painting the canvas that I’d been picturing in my mind for so long. I put on some good music and spent the evening painting.

If I’m honest, visual arts have never been my strong suit. I am good at writing and playing musical instruments, but I have never been anything more than sub-par when it comes to painting, drawing, sculpting, or any other visually artistic activity. However, I am pleased with how this turned out. While it is a fairly simplistic painting to create (not much detail) I am incredibly happy with how it turned out and I love how the background colours remind me of my favorite time of day: sunset.

Do any of you like to be artistic when you’re feeling down? Feel free to share some of your creations in the comments below! I would love to see/hear/read them! (blog posts count!)

xo

Ayla

Dear people who like to dictate how I should feel

86c68916622acfaedccc15747fb1ce91We’ve all been there: we’re working towards a goal, whether it’s exercising more, improving our grades, or trying to kick-start a new business, and there is always someone who believes that they know how to “help” you improve your efforts.

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend in people giving me feedback particularly when it comes to my recovery process. People will tell me what I should feel, what I shouldn’t feel, and (my personal favorite) that I should just stop an emotion right in it’s tracks. “Just stop feeling so anxious”. “Just stop worrying so much”. “Just focus on the positives and your whole perspective will change”. “You’re just too pessimistic”. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard one of these statements or some variation of it I would be able to pay my way through grad school without any debt! Wouldn’t that be nice? But of course, there is no monetary gain in these statements. The only thing I gain is a sense of failure. These statements serve to reinforce the idea that I am not enough. I am not strong enough, tough enough, smart enough, calm enough, wise enough, “enough” enough.

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But then something changed…

I recently came across a TEDtalk by Brene Brown and instantly became a total fan girl. Since then I have acquired one of her books entitled “Daring Greatly” and I have spent hours watching her TEDtalk videos, investigating her research, and finding compelling and relatable quotes from her books.

One such quote states “if you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback”.

This quote really struck me. I had to read it a few times before the meaning of it really sunk in, but then I had an “aha” moment. Who cares what people think you should or should not feel? Who cares if your parents think you should “just stop worrying”? Who cares if your friends think you’re “just too pessimistic”? YOU are the only one who has a right to comment on your recovery and/or how you feel. The opinions of others don’t matter.

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The realization that the only opinion of my recovery that matters is my own felt so empowering. I am in control of my recovery. I am allowed to feel how I feel and take my recovery process one step at a time as slowly as I need to in order to make the most of the process. I am allowed to slip up from time to time. I am allowed to feel angry. I am allowed to feel sad. I am allowed to feel happy. I am allowed to feel all of that and more all at once! Nobody can tell me how I should or should not feel. My emotions are mine. My experiences are mine. My life is mine.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you are doing it wrong if you have a bad day in your recovery process. There are going to be roadblocks and slip ups and “failures”. Recovery is not perfect. Nothing is perfect. So don’t expect perfection and don’t let others expect it either!

YOU are in the arena fighting the battle. You don’t have to listen to the feedback of the people on the sidelines. Just fight your fight the best you can. Your best is all you can ask of yourself.

xo

Ayla

The surest way to demean the suffering of an individual is to turn them into a statistic.

If there is one thing that I have learned about the impact of public perceptions of mental illness on the experience of individuals who suffer from such illnesses it is that statistics can do more harm than good. In fact, turning the suffering of an individual or group of individuals into a quantifiable value can serve to demean the suffering of those who are effected by the illness.

While statistics can serve to help researchers and the general public understand how common (or uncommon) an illness may be in a given population, it can also be extremely damaging, particularly when an illness is common. For example, when I see statistics which indicate that hundreds of thousands of people all over the world have eating disorders I feel as though my experiences with an eating disorder are insignificant. By looking at the issue as a segregated mass, society can forget that each and every one of those numbers represents a human being who is experiencing an unimaginable amount of suffering.

I see value in collecting data in order to understand how widespread an issue may be, particularly when this data is used in order to facilitate a solution to a problem. However, I believe that when we are talking about things like mental illnesses we should focus more on the experiences of the illnesses rather than the numbers. Sure, the sheer number of people who have an eating disorder might be eye opening to people who are not well educated on the illnesses, but would the symptoms of such illnesses not be more effective in communicating the suffering than the statistics? Wouldn’t people empathize more with the human experience of the illness than they would with a number?

I feel as though society has stripped me of my worth and assigned me a number. I am not me, I am just a number. Except that I’m not. I am not a statistic. I am so much more than a number. To sum up my suffering and my experiences by labeling me as one tiny minuscule part of a much much much larger whole is to ignore my suffering altogether.

With that being said, I’ve found that speaking the truth of my experiences has allowed me to free myself of the societal statistic to which I have been categorized. By blogging about my struggles and telling people my story I am able to educate and advocate on behalf of myself and others who have experienced similar circumstances. Speaking out about my illnesses has not only allowed me to fight the stigmatization of the illnesses, it has allowed me to break free of the statistical cage that I was trapped in before.

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I am not a number. I am a person.

xo

Ayla

 

Is perfection a reality or an unattainable abstraction? “Perfect” reflection #2

Isn’t it ironic that perfection is such an imperfect concept?

When asked the question “is perfection a reality or an unattainable abstraction?” my immediate reaction is to opt for the secondary answer: perfection is unattainable. However, is it possible that perfection could be both reality and unattainable/ abstract?

Perfection is abstract in the sense that the concept changes shape depending on the views and perspectives of each and every individual on the planet. Everyone has their own individual ideas about perfection, so how would it be possible for anyone to achieve such an unstable concept? Similarly, I believe that there is always room for improvement in everything that we do; therefore, perfection is not possible. If there is always something that can be done to improve, then nothing is ever exactly perfect. And that is okay.

Alternatively, perfection is also a reality. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Ayla, if nothing is ever perfect, then how is perfection real? Well, dearest reader, thank you for asking such an insightful question! The answer is quite simple: perfection is real in the sense that the idea of perfection exists in the minds of millions upon millions of people all over the world. The very thought of perfection brings the concept into being. In other words, perfection is real whether it is attainable or not. It exists in an intangible way and often manifests itself in damaging ways when individuals take risks to achieve such an evasive (un)reality.

I know it may seem odd, but I believe that it is possible for two seemingly opposite ideas/things to exist simultaneously. As a result, I believe that perfection is both real AND an unattainable abstraction.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think perfection is real? What about the  IDEA of perfection? And if the idea of the concept exists, does that not mean that the thing itself must exist as well?

Things are about to get philosophical in the comments, I can feel it! Let me know what you think!

xo

Ayla

Is the need for perfection self-imposed or is it caused by external forces? “Perfect” Reflection #1

About ten minutes ago I finished reading a book by Ellen Hopkins entitled “Perfect”. At the back of the book there are pages upon pages of reflection questions and discussion points. One such reflection question asks “is the need for perfection self-imposed or is it caused by external forces”?

As a graduate of a Communication undergraduate program I’ve spent 4 years of my life critically reflecting on the impact of media outlets on the development of morals, self-image, and various other aspects of the human psyche.

In my opinion, the need for perfection begins as something external, but over time it morphs into something inherent within ourselves. In other words, I believe that the external becomes internal; therefore, the answer to the question is not as cut and dry as some might suggest.

When we are born, we begin learning from our environments even as tiny infants. Throughout our young lives we learn from our parents/guardians, siblings, and peers, but we also learn from other sources such as television, books, and school. Essentially, we are socialized by external forces. These external factors contribute to the development of who we are as people. This has been extensively researched and demonstrated time and time again for decades.

It is important to note that internal factors such as genetics can predispose us to be more susceptible to perfectionistic qualities; however, without being socialized to pursue perfection, these genetic predispositions would not be triggered. As a result, I believe that perfection is a learned habit or behavior. Seeking perfection is something that is ingrained in the minds of children from even the earliest years of life.

We are taught that we should strive to be the best in school, sports, and many other aspects of life. Eventually, children learn that they must be the best that they can be at all times…or else. The threat of not being good enough is introduced to children at a young age, so it makes sense that over time we would learn to self-impose perfection on ourselves.

Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that we are socialized by external factors; everything that is internal is a direct result of something that was at one time external. So while perfection may become something that we impose upon ourselves later in life, it starts as something that we are socialized to attain, even if it is impossible to do so.

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What are your thoughts on this? Have any of you read “Perfect”? If not, I would recommend reading it!

xo

Ayla

Self-Injury Awareness Day

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March has finally arrived!! I’ve been waiting for what seems like ages for March to finally arrive for grad school admissions decisions, but today I’m writing about something entirely different.

March 1st is self-injury awareness day. As someone who is firmly on the road to recovery from self-harm, I believe that it is extremely important to raise awareness about the issue. For me, the biggest barrier to recovery was the stigmatization associated with the condition. I was so afraid to talk to anyone about my struggles and I feared that I would be locked away in a hospital if I told my doctor or psychologist about the issue.

Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to indirectly let my psychologist know about my struggle with self-injury when she asked me to complete an assessment for other issues which I had come to her about. One of the questions on the assessment asked whether I had ever engaged in self-injurious behavior and in a spur of the moment decision I indicated that I had. At my next session my psychologist asked me about this in hypothetical terms and explained that hypothetically if I was harming myself she would only have to report it if I was a serious risk to myself or others. Essentially, she was telling me that it was okay for me to be honest about it but that she understood the reasons that I would be hesitant to talk about it. This approach to talking about the issue hypothetically first gave me the chance to feel more comfortable talking about the issue which then gave me access to the resources that I needed to recover.

Today I am proud to say that I am 377 days free of self-harm. The road to recovery has been hard and there have been many close calls throughout the past year, but somehow I’ve managed to get through. With each and every passing day that I remain free of self-harm I become more and more certain of my ability to get through the challenges that life throws my way without resorting to injuring myself.

For anyone who is suffering and using self-injury as a way to cope, please know that there are better alternatives and there are people out there who can help you get through this and recover if you take that first step and reach out for help. For those of you who are trying to help someone who uses self-harm to cope please try to be patient and empathetic. Self-harm is an addiction whether you choose to believe it or not. Self-harm actually changes your brain chemistry to associate physical pain with stress relief. If you want to help someone who is injuring themselves do no shame them or get angry at them, it is not their fault. Instead, provide support in any way that you can and let them know that you are there for them when they are ready to seek help.

Obviously signing off with “happy self-injury awareness day!!” is a bit odd, but as someone who is in recovery I truly view this day as a reason to celebrate. Any day that encourages awareness of mental health issues and promotes support for those who are suffering is a good day in my opinion.

So with that in mind, happy self-injury awareness day!

Xo

Ayla