One Year in YYC

Exactly one year ago, I arrived in Calgary.

I can hardly believe I’ve been here for a whole year. It really does feel like I just got here and I still tell people I’m new to town. I guess it’s true what The Magnetic Fields say: “Days go by too slowly and the years go by too fast.”

It hasn’t always been an easy transition, there were roadblocks, wrenches thrown in the mix, and some hard time blues. But, as I look back and reflect, It has no doubt been worth it.

What has happened:

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(+)  Classes, 1 year down! 
I finished up the first year of my masters with a 4.0 and some confidence in myself. For me, I thought the assignments, course load, etc was pretty easy. Which was surprising. Going forward into my second year, I am expecting some more difficulties as the courses get more specialized and my practicum gets more intense.

 

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(-)  Depression
My depression resurfaced for a bit in the past year and it was difficult to get a hold of. It resurfaced for a variety of reasons which I think are fairly average- feeling alone, feeling stressed, shitty relationship, shitty people in general, regretting the move, regretting the choice of school, etc. After losing about 30 lbs from stress and being unable to eat because of anxiety, my absolute best friend in the whole world stepped in. She encouraged me to get to the doctor and gave me some easy ways to tell the doc what was happening. That was a lifesaver for me and the moment things really started to turn around. That was about 5-6 months ago.

IMG_9945IMG_7542IMG_9161(+) New friends
I’ve made a bunch of new friends, which is strange for me. I’ve always found it difficult to make friends. But somehow, in the last 6 months, I’ve got a solid squad and they are all amazing people. I have beer friends, I have vinyl/audio friends, I have music show friends, I have bitch about school friends, brunch friends. I’m lucky to have such cool, supportive people in my life who actually like having me around and want me around.

 

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(-)  Obstacles
When I got here, nothing seemed to go right. I was denied EI, my apartment was a mess, my student loan took forever to come in. It was just one thing after another and it really frazzled me. I wish I had handled it better and it made me really negative about the move and the city. I felt like I had no one to lean on. But, I powered through as I always do on my own. Trying to not ask for help. However, some help did come in of its own accord and I’m grateful to those folks who decided to swoop in.

IMG_9683(+) Getting Back to the Things I Love
In the last six months, I have really enjoyed diving into the Calgary (& area) music scene. I saw some of the best concerts/shows I’ve ever been to in this time- Joel Plaskett in Canmore, New Bomb Turks at Dickens, Bob Log III at the Palamino, By Divine Right at the Ship, and Stars in Banff. Not to mention getting out to Bengough for Gateway Festival once again only to fall in love with Mo Kenney’s music. I’ve been to so many more shows, but these are the standouts.

 

IMG_7813(+)  Career
When I got to Calgary, I had zero jobs. Now… I have three! (1) I’m currently working for the City of Calgary as a social researcher. It’s just a summer term, but has it ever been a lifesaver as far as finances go. (2) My practicum supervisor asked me to stay on until next summer to complete my project. The project ends up with me having an academic article published. (3) I’ve become a sought after dog/house sitter. I started doing this for my brother’s girlfriend who has referred me to others, and I also gather clients just by chatting about my adventures in dogsitting. This income pretty much sustained me during the school year. I love dogs and I get to stay in fancy houses usually… it’s perfect.

IMG_8948My practicum supervisor sent me to Montreal for a conference that I usually would go to if I was working at the time. I got to see all my lovely young professional friends and hear about all the great things they are doing. I love those people and wish we got to see each other more often, maybe one day we will work together more closely.

When I got to Calgary, I had to come to the realization that no one knew who I was like they did in Winnipeg. It was humbling. But, I was determined to get my name out there. I made a significant cold call to a PhD in the faculty and sent her my CV. She instantly recommended me for 3 scholarships (one of which I won), made connections in the sector for me, and offered me a TA position (which I was unable to accept).

 

IMG_9480So… things have been looking up… WAY up over the last 6 months or so. I no longer hate Calgary. I actually kind of like it and I keep discovering new things and places that make it a bit more interesting. I do that through the help of a few people and a lot of curiosity. No more just sitting around watching Netflix and going to the SAME places over and over again! Change has been a good thing and there has been way more changes than I could have predicted. I thought my life would look a certain way when I got here, but it looked nothing like what I was hoping for. But, where I am right now is pretty excellent.

 

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5 Things Learned in the First 3 Months of Grad School

In September, I began my first year in grad school. For me, the experience has been extra hectic having moved far away from my home, leaving my awesome job and friends. Then, just  things that have gone sideways in order to make my life harder than it needs to be.

Before starting school, I was really nervous. I was worried I wasn’t smart enough, didn’t have the experience required, wasn’t passionate enough. I felt like a fraud and it was only a matter of time before someone would find out. However, things are much different that I expected them to be.

So, here we are… 5 things I learned in the first 3 months of grad school.

There is no reason to be scared
The selection process is rigourous and they only select the best into my program. I received my acceptance letter the first week of January, I’ve been told that means I was one of the top picks, since I wasn’t expecting it until May or so. I’m occupying a seat because I’m good at what I do and I’m passionate. I didn’t lie on my application even a little bit, so I should feel confident that I belong there.

The course work is not as difficult as you might expect. But, it could be because I am a different person that I was six years ago when I graduated with my last degree.

What you did before matters, but also doesn’t matter
I say this because you bring your experience and knowledge to the class and can draw upon it to apply theory, assist with learning, and figure out exactly what you want (or don’t want) to do after this degree.

I also say it doesn’t matter because (at least for me), you’re not doing that anymore. I was kind of a “big deal” in the grassroots affordable housing movement in Winnipeg. I was an expert on something and people knew that. People talked about me and came to me for comments. BUT… they don’t anymore. It has been an adjustment for me and definitely a blow to the ego. But, you have to move on and continue forging your career and name, it’s just how it is. And if you’re lucky, that work you did before will catapult you into awesome things :)

The importance of networking
If you’re like me, you don’t fit into the tiny box of what your school wants you to be. This is frustrating and discouraging at times. If your immediate circle of faculty members do not offer you what you need in order to grow and meet your goals… GO OUTSIDE! I’ve connected with a prof who aligns well with my values and goals. She has been wonderful in connecting me to people in the community who can work with me and teach me what I need to know. She has also offered some other potential opportunities that sound promising.

Networking makes for a unique and rich experience. It’s also good for your career. Learn how to do it, then do it. Be professional. Get business cards. Shake hands. Attend presentations. Send cold emails. Ask people for coffee.

Create an excellent work space
I do not have a good work space in my home. My house is very dark and my desk is too small for how I want to use it; up until recently I didn’t even have a proper chair. So, I was doing all my work in my oversized comfy chair with big, flat arms… actually quite handy for working on a laptop. But, not ideal.

I’ve taken to working in our faculty’s student lounge. It is open late and everyone leaves at 5pm. I have access to a fridge, microwave, kettle, sink, giant tables and comfy benches! I couldn’t ask for much more. I spend a lot of time there… I mean A LOT OF TIME.

You’re going to feel like crap, no matter what…
You’re going to have doubts. You’re going to fear failure. You’re going to be hard on yourself and compare your life to others.

If you moved, you’re going to regret it at times. If you have a relationship, you’re going to neglect it. If you have a cat, he will end up hating you periodically… but then forget about it because (let’s face it) he’s a cat. Your apartment is going to get gross… and I mean like really gross. You’ll lack sleep and be jittery from too much caffeine.

If you’re in my position, you’re going to be broke and fight off your depression everyday. You’re also feel incredibly socially awkward talking to your peers (how do I be human, I forget). School work distractions are quite helpful in glossing over these things.

It’s just a fact of grad school life…

BUT!
You’ll also make some good friends you can commiserate with and give you advice. You’ll drink a lot of beer. You’ll also eat too many cookies because your classmates are nice people. You’ll get inspired. You’ll learn. You’ll try new things. You’ll have QUESTIONS and discuss the answers with brilliant people.

BUT!
Best of all, if you’re like me, you’ll build on your skills and…

You’ll change the fucking world.

News about the Imposter Syndrome

Good news- I feel a lot less depressed lately.

Less than good news- I feel very beat down in some aspects of my life.

I was speaking to a friend very briefly today about how I feel I’m not measuring up. How every time I think I’ve done something exceptional, it seems to come back to me as having actually done a stupid thing or the wrong thing instead.

And these thoughts got me thinking about the Imposter Syndrome.

“a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.”

I’ve always said to myself and to other people with similar feelings “fake it til you make it, because no one else knows what they’re doing either.” But the latter part of that saying is the hardest to believe. Why does everyone seem to know more or be better at things? Why do I, and others with the same feelings, feel like we’re not measuring up all the time? I don’t believe it’s that we are not measuring up, but we are exaggerating everyone else’s success. Not to mention others are also exaggerating their own success to impress.

Interestingly enough, impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women. Of course,  I’m not going to call myself “high-achieving” because I don’t see myself that way… and that’s probably a bit of that Imposter talking. But why, as women, are we constantly second guessing our success and intelligence? Is it because women are still earning 70-80% less than what men earn? Or is it because affirmative action is practiced and we aren’t completely sure if we were the best candidate for the job?

Case in point, when I have to do public speaking I always feel like a blithering idiot. I get so nervous! But when I hear the recording or watch the video of me speaking, it does not sound the way I thought it sounded when the words were spewing out in what I thought was a jumbled mess! I get compliments from people who were listening/watching and I just assume they are being overly nice and trying to make me feel better.

I don’t have any answers on how you can feel less like a failure in life. But, when you start getting those feelings take a minute to step outside of your head and really take a look at yourself and your perceived failures. Also, remember that many of the people you may be comparing yourself to could be “in the middle of their story” while you’re “only at beginning of your story”. I often find I’m comparing myself to people 10 years older than me because we are colleagues or I respect them, their intelligence, and what they do. That’s really not fair to me when they’ve had an extra decade to gather knowledge and have learning experiences.

If all else fails, listen to April Ludgate.

Anyone else feel like an imposter sometimes? 

What to do/say when your friend has depression…

A few weeks ago I wrote What NOT to do/say when your friend has depression and it has become one of my most read blog posts in that time. I hope that these posts are helping to guide some of you readers who have friends dealing with depression. As a disclaimer, these things might not work for everyone. But, I have found them to be particularly helpful to me.

Here is the followup post that I promised all about what to do and say when your friend has depression.

1. Call them, make plans with them, drop by their house, take them out
A common trait of those with depression is withdrawal from friends/family. They lose interest in activities. They spend a lot of time alone. Instead of letting them stew in their sorrow, get them out of the house! Call them up and make some plans to get coffee together. If they refuse? Go to them. Knock on the door with take-out coffee and a couple fancy doughnuts. Touching base with your friend is like pulling them out of that deep well and bringing them back to reality. It is probably one of the most effective tactics in helping your friend.

2. Help them with little tasks that may seem overwhelming to them
When I’m in a low place, I have a hard time keeping my apartment clean. Dishes pile up, cat hair tumbleweeds blow across the floor- it all seems very overwhelming to have to tackle on my own. I recently had a friend spend a couple days with me on a flight layover in Winnipeg. We spent a day cleaning and organizing my apartment together. We even rearranged my furniture for the new year. Such a tiny favour with HUGE impact. Immediately, it made life seem a little easier and took that burden off my shoulders. So, help your friend with their laundry because they likely have no clean underwear left and the trip up and down the stairs to the laundry room is just a task they don’t have the energy to do at the moment.
(If only I ever experienced mania)

3. Ask questions, brainstorm solutions
Listening is a big part of being a good friend. But, don’t just listen- ask questions and work together to find solutions to how your friend can feel better. Ask things like “what have you done in the past to feel better”, from there you open doors into how they can feel better again. They might forget how they’ve climbed out of their hole in the past, I’ve found my memory to be not great when I’m in a low. Ask them if they know what their triggers are- stress, a fight with family, a break-up, diet change, maybe it’s a vitamin deficiency, who knows. Ask questions and remind them of past times where they felt good or events where they enjoyed themselves. See if you can figure out some ways together to make those feelings come back.

4. When they say something like “don’t worry about it”, you should worry about it.
So, your friend mentions needing to ask you something or needing to talk about something… but, you’re about to head out the door to grab some groceries. Your friend won’t want to be an imposition or a nuisance, so they’ll say “oh, okay. Don’t worry about it. I’ll catch you later.” At this point, you should pick up the phone and call them. Make sure everything is okay. Groceries can wait until tomorrow. Tonight, you eat canned soup and toaster leavin’s and listen to your friend.

5. Let them know they are good enough and that they are loved.
When you’re depressed, your mind tells you lies. It tells you that you’re a bad person who doesn’t deserve love or friends. It tells you you’re ugly and dumb and that’s why you’re alone. Tell your friend they are loved- by you, by family, by cowokers. Let them know they are good enough to be your friend, to be a friend to many. Your friend might not always believe you, but that’s okay. Hug them, rub their back lightly- sometimes touch tells someone a lot more than words every will.

Year End Reflections

higlight1. My Career
Many things happened in the way of work this past year. I coauthored a paper with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, I made an appearance in a documentary about Winnipeg rooming houses, I spoke about my work at a community forum, a film festival, and again for several government officials. I traveled to Edmonton for a conference where I learned, networked, and promoted my own work with others working in the housing & homelessness sector. As a result of that networking, I’ve been asked to present a webinar on rooming houses as an essential form of affordable housing , I was nominated for a Golden Carrot Award for my work ensuring food security of low income tenants in West Broadway. Things are rolling along well in this aspect of my life and hopefully continues to do so.

2. Grad School
I submitted my application to study for a Masters of Social Work at the University of Calgary. I made the decision to make a life change and finally go through with it. I won’t hear until around April, which doesn’t give me much time to tie up loose ends and make a big move.

3. San Francisco
I took a trip to San Francisco, somewhere that has been on my list for awhile now. I went with a friend and I don’t usually travel with another person, but it was nice to be able to share a great experience with someone I care about. Of course it could have been a longer trip, but I’ll take what I can get. Time to start planning where I’ll be off to in 2015.

disapintment1. The last of my good friends left Winnipeg
In the last couple years, all of my closest friends have moved to other provinces. It’s been really hard to lose everyone close to you when you don’t have much family at all or many close relationships. I’ve always been one to advocate for quality friends over quantity, but it has kind of come to kick me these days. It’s hard to stay in touch when people are diving into their careers or having babies; and I’ve definitely seen a deterioration in at least one of my friendships.

2. A break up of sorts and all that follows
I had been in a long-distance relationship of sorts which came to an end this summer. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it has been incredibly difficult for me to process and figure out where to go from here. Do you remain friends with an ex, do you go no-contact and just try to forget the whole thing? I’m still in a place where I don’t know what’s to come in the future and it drives me absolutely insane. It has also been a major factor in my next disappointment below.

3. Hitting as close to rock bottom as I care to get
In 2014, I came out about suffering from “a severe case of major depressive disorder” after struggling silently for many years. I told a few friends and a couple coworkers so they could understand my actions, but it didn’t really help me at all and those who wanted to help didn’t know how. The last half of 2014 became so unbearable for me that the thoughts and feelings I was having about myself and life around me just weren’t normal anymore.

major focus1. Art & Creating
I spent a lot of time in 2014 making. I’ve always been the creative type and it really showed in 2014. I took up crocheting in late 2013 and really got into this past year. I made hats and scarves, mitts and trivets, placemats and blankets. I painted a lot in 2014 and I began making polymer clay brooches and necklaces.

2. Being Depressed
Sounds strange, but a lot of my energy went into being depressed. I thought if I just rode it out and watched a lot of Netflix, drank a lot of vodka, and hid out from the world… it would all go away and I would feel normal again. That didn’t happen and I wasted a good six months or more doing that.

grateful1. Twitter
If not for Twitter I would probably never make any friends ever. It has become a really great place to discuss things like politics, social issues, craft beer, and other everyday stuff. I’ve said these things before and I’ll continue to say them, “some of the smartest people I know are on Twitter” and “most new people I meet are through Twitter.”

2. Bob’s Burgers
I discovered this television show this year and you might wonder, “why the hell would you be grateful for a cartoon?!?” Well, let me tell you… this show made me laugh so hard I would cry and gasp for air sometimes. It was a really nice reprieve from my usual deadpan, expressionless self. Bob, Linda, Tina, Gene, and Louise reminded me I was still a living, breathing person under all that.

3. Family
I’ve never been one of those people who are in love with their family. I actually have a pretty poor relationship with every member of my family and I chocked it up to past events and bad communication and poor nurturing. I realized this year that it was ME creating the negative relationships and my family didn’t necessarily see it the same way as I did. I opened myself up a small bit to the possibility of strengthening my relationships with them. I began talking to my brother more than we ever have. I continue to see my mom pretty regularly. And the biggest step of all, I had breakfast with my father- someone I haven’t seen in close to a decade and haven’t shared a meal with in probably about 12+ years.

road ahead1. Be Healthy
This is all encompassing- mental, physical, financial, spiritual. I’m determined to feel good in 2015.

2. Create More
I want to continue to do what I love and make things, create art. But, I also want to dabble in other art forms like writing, wood working, photography, and even cooking.

3. Be Brave
Travel often. Take a leap. Invest in something risky. Take chances. I think 2015 is going to be full of scary changes and I’m going to have to be strong and brave to take the year on and survive it. Today, I feel like I am ready for that challenge!

xoxo
Jovan

What NOT to do/say when your friend has depression…

It’s no secret that I have depression, or as the doctor calls it “a severe case of major depressive disorder”. It is just as fun as it sounds. I’ve been in a particularly low spot for a few weeks now and it has become pretty clear that no one- friends, family, coworkers, significant others, knows how to treat you when you are suffering and no one seems to quite understands what you’re going through.

So, here is a list of things to NOT DO and NOT SAY to your loved one who is battling depression.


1.  DO NOT tell them to try a home remedy or do some self-care activities.

Nothing is a quick fix in this sense. Going to a yoga class or running on the treadmill will not snap your friend out of it. A hot bath is also bullshit, as are essential oils and the like. None of these things will cure my depression and will only push me further away from seeking support or asking for help from you since you obviously do not understand or care to understand what I am going through.


2.  DO NOT spout off inspirational quotes.

“You’re only as happy as you make your mind up to be.”
“Don’t let your struggle become your identity.”

“Be kind to yourself.”

Incredibly unhelpful. Once again it demonstrates your complete lack of ability to empathize with your friend and their situation.


3.  DO NOT relate everything back to yourself.

“Oh, you think you’ve got it bad? Well, let me tell you…”
“I had depression once, it was awful.”
I think you’re trying to demonstrate you understand the way I feel, but this just comes off as ignoring the issue I’ve brought up to you, changing the subject, and refocusing the attention on yourself. For me personally, I just end up listening to other people’s problems and pushing mine back into the little box where they live. It’s kind of my job to listen to problems and help solve them, so why not do it for you too? Well, because you’re supposed to be the one trying to help me.


4.  DO NOT tell them you’re there for them, then not be there for them.

Depression can by scary for other people. It’s confusing and you may not be sure how to help your friend feel better. But, if your friend is reaching out to you for help, it means they don’t know what to do anymore. They’re struggling and trying to keep their head above the figurative water or they will drown. The worst thing you could do is say you’ll be there for them, but then not be there when they need you. Yes, you’ve got your own life and maybe your own problems to deal with… but your friend has decided you were a safe person to confide in, someone they trusted to help them carry their little, but oh so heavy, box of depression. Someone they could use as their beacon in the storm. Now they are lost at sea, searching for your light- but it isn’t there and their boat may just sink.


5.  DO NOT shrug off suicidal ideation as insignificant.

Always take suicidal ideation or thoughts of suicide as serious. This displays a disturbed thought process that should be dealt with swiftly. As the friend of someone who may be thinking of suicide, do not expect those thought to resolve themselves.

 

If you enjoyed this post, I will be doing a follow-up aptly titled “What to do/say when your friend has depression” in the coming weeks. Please look out for it!

I’ve lost my boot-straps, can I borrow yours?

I know this will be one more post in a sea of news stories and articles on depression and mental illness. But, with the untimely death of Robin Williams and with what I have been going through personally, I feel like it is the right moment to write something.

Let’s take a closer look at this bitch…

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Depression- a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, feelings and sense of well-being.

That description is so abstract. There is no way an non-afflicted person can imagine what depression feels like by reading that. Which is probably why you get so many people talking about “snapping out of it” or something, something boot-straps. Which as we know, does nothing for the sufferer. I’ve lost my boot-straps, what the hell are boot-straps?!?

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Depression skews your reality. It whispers lies to you which you have no choice but to believe. You become so consumed with the ideas of not being enough, not being lovable, or having no value to the world at all. Everyone around you knows these things to be untrue, but you’re living in two different realities.

I’ve been in a pretty low, dark place over the last… I’m not even sure how long it has been, but it feels like forever. I’ve honestly forgotten how it feels to feel true happiness or joy. There are days which are better than others. Days where I smile and get my work done and don’t feel so awful. But there are also some days that are really bad. Days where it is hard to get out of bed, hard to be productive. You can’t name a single good thing about yourself and you convince yourself to understand why there is no love in your life.

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Those who are struggling with these feelings, we carry it around with us all day, every day. It is always present. We learn to hide it, close the doors while we are crying, have our go-to excuses for missing out on work or social events.

I’ve done the medication. I’ve done the self-help. I’ve done yoga and acupuncture. I’ve been to counsellors, psychologists, doctors, and psychiatrists. But, I’m in the same spot where I started.

Life has been going on like this for some time now. It’s hard to imagine an end to this bad trip and getting back to my true self. A self that I’m not sure I would recognize if I saw her on the street. A self I remember as smiling, positive, and optimistic about the world and her future.

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When will I feel better? Does anyone ever feel better? Does recovery from depression exist? I don’t know, but I’ll continue on this road and maybe, somehow, I will come upon an exit and be capable of making the turn-off.