Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Why I'm Not a Survivor.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to my counselor about what we've euphemistically termed the "crummy days," the period in which I first experienced the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and they seemed to assault me with breathtaking ferocity.  These conversations always leave me feeling numb, vulnerable, and raw.  After our chat, my counselor asked, "Are you a survivor?" I responded with a resounding yes without thinking.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about her question, and now I wish that I could change my answer.  No, I'm not a survivor, and it's unsettling to think of myself as one.  I associate survivors with people who had a traumatic experience—people who survived terrible accidents or natural disasters, cancer patients who are in remission, people who escaped a life-or-death situation.  These people came out on the other side, and some were completely cured.  

With mental illness, though, there isn't a cure.  There isn't a moment where I'll come out on the other side, where I'll wake up in the morning knowing that my crisis was a one time deal, and it will never happen again.  Perhaps a full-blown crisis will not occur again, but I can expect small crises and occasional symptoms in the future.  Sometimes, that seems lousy, and I feel frustrated knowing that my life is forever altered.  It's not exactly comforting that this mental illness and I will always be chums, two peas-in-a-pod, wedded until death do us part.

So, if I'm not a survivor, then what am I?  I'm a bit too generous and prefer to think of myself as a fighter, a trier, or a charming gladiator—someone who is constantly engaged in this lifetime struggle.  Most of the time, my life is good, happy, and ordinary.  But when the small crises come, it's so much easier to approach these times from the perspective of a fighter, someone who recognizes that while these tough spots are inevitable, life will resume happily and beautifully shortly after.

And from the perspective of a fighter, it is helpful for me to remember that I wield some power and possess a degree of control over my illness.  I am the agent of the treatments for my health.  I utilize the resources and supports available to me, I thank God for the magic meds that I take, and I surround myself with people who destigmatize mental illness and help me feel grateful to be me.  I try to take active control over the things that I can control.  And when I do this, the desire for "normalcy" tends to dissipate.  Instead of including mental illness within the rubric of normalcy, I feel far more interested in understanding the disabled mind and in reimagining my identity as someone who is differently abled and astonishingly awesome.

I am glad that there are survivors and that people come out on the other side.  But I am also glad that I am not a survivor because I am consistently in awe of how much I learn and grow during this lifelong battle.  Society seems to perpetuate this desire for the end goal, the final state of being, or the ultimate result.  But I think there is glory in reaching, too.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Happy World Teachers' Day!

Guess what? Today is a good day... a great day, in fact.  Today is World Teachers' Day.  I think that I've always been grateful for my teachers, but my gratitude was magnified a million times when I started teaching.

Teaching is one of the most challenging jobs ever.  I take my work home with me—there's grading, and lesson planning, and reading, and answering students' frantic emails.  I hold my breath and say many fervent prayers as I pass back C papers to my students.  I feel frustrated when I invest a lot of time in a new lesson plan, only for it to completely and utterly flop in class.  I've learned the hard way that I shouldn't abbreviate analysis on students' work because they get papers back with anal. written all over the margins.  

But teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs ever.  I get to interact with students who are eager to learn, fun to be around, and interesting to talk to.  I am in an environment where learning is reciprocal—I learn so much from my students.  I see students cultivating growth mindsets, as they are willing to experiment with writing and challenge themselves.  My best success story was when my student finished the class with a B-, and he was absolutely thrilled.  He was joyful because he worked so hard, he learned so much, and he realized that "writing didn't stink that bad." 

Now that I am a teacher and plan on teaching for a while, my appreciation for my own teachers is enormous.  I am thankful for my elementary school teachers who put up with a dramatic, tragic-helmet-head kid.  I am thankful for my AP English teacher in high school who sparked my passion for classic literature and made me watch a terrible version of The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford.  I am thankful for my seminary teachers who were up at the crack of dawn to teach scripture to bleary-eyed, grumpy teenagers.  I am thankful for Kate Frost, my English professor at ASU who excited students about discussing literature, who inspired me to teach, and who got the ball rolling for my thesis on "The Yellow Wallpaper."  I am thankful for my teachers at the Tempe Institute who changed my life and did so much more than just strengthen my testimony.  I am thankful for Meanie Jerkins, my dad's office neighbor, who invited me over for lunch, just so I could hash out my writing ideas with her.  I am thankful for my professors at BYU who are brilliant and have elevated my writing to such a level that even my dad says, "Whoa, that's good" when he reads my work.  

And of course, I am thankful for my mom and dad, who are the ultimate teachers (besides Jesus).  They have taught me for 22 years, and I am shocked that they haven't permanently glued a dunce cap on my head.  Some of their instructive practices are unorthodox (thank you, Mom, for abruptly slamming on the brakes when we didn't wear our seat belts, and thank you, Dad, for teaching me that a stop sign really means slight-tap-on-pedal).  But my parents' teachings have always been aligned in the Gospel, and they have always stemmed from the love they have for their children.  They're great, and when they read my heartfelt post, they'll be extra nice to me this weekend.  

So, thank you, teachers!  And extra blessings for you... for putting up with the craziest student ever.  

(I showed this video in class, today, for my lesson about rhetorical strategies.  It feels appropriate for this post!)

Sunday, July 31, 2016


I've been spoiled.  I vacationed with my mom and dad in California for about a week—just me and my parents!  To be sure, I wasn't entirely burdensome.  I offered to pay for our meals on several occasions, only to be turned down.  I played the role of navigator when my dad found that even his trusty 2015 atlas couldn't guide him through California's labyrinth.  I provided the music playlists, which featured an equal number of Dad's favorites and Mom's favorites.  We heard quite a bit of James Taylor and Pat Benatar.

But anyway, here's the lowdown on our trip.  The pictures speak for themselves, of course.


Where we ate:

Pier Market, Pier 39 in San Francisco: I consider myself a soup-in-a-bread-bowl aficionado.  Thus, I was pleased to find that Pier Market's famous clam chowder in a sourdough was fresh, flavorful, and hearty.  I even ate some of my mom's calamari, which I normally find disgusting. 

Dim Sum, Chinatown in San Francisco: I actually can't remember what the place was called, but the food was delicious.  Some of the dishes tasted just like they did when I was a little kid, and some tasted better.  A man at the table next to us ordered chicken feet—they still looked horrible. 
My absolute favorite dish is the white bun. 

During the drive:

Much of our drive was quite a bit depressing.  The landscape was dry, brown, and dusty.  We passed a lot of towns that were abandoned or nearly so.  We even passed a town's sign that read: ClOSED—BEAT IT. (Okay, that was funny.)

We passed this sign.  Gobbi is my unfortunate childhood nickname.  I feel sorry for the street. 

A shoe tree that seems too absurd to be real.  

Where we visited:

Mammoth Lake, California.  We found a secluded spot with a perfect view of the lake and the mountains.  The colors of the sky and the water were beautiful.

Yosemite, California.  This was my first time going to Yosemite.  Although the national park was insanely crowded, and half of China seemed to be there, the sites were undeniably some of the most breathtaking I've ever seen.

San Francisco, California.  Apparently, I visited San Francisco when I was a kid, but I don't remember anything.  This trip was really fun, and like Yosemite, it was crowded.  It's a good thing my dad was driving in the city because I would have crashed and died.  California drivers seem much more... aggressive.  We visited Pier 39, Golden Gate Park, Ghirardelli Square, and Chinatown.  I think I was most excited for but shocked by Chinatown.  I didn't expect it to be so crowded and smelly and dirty and strange.  But their food is good. 

Gorgeous view from Lombard Street.  I can't imagine why the city thought this curvy street of death was a good idea.

Love this picture of the bridge peaking through the fog. 

 Golden Gate National Cemetery, California.  This is the largest cemetery I've seen in my life.  The worker said that there were well over 100,000 people buried here, all who fought in a war at one point.  My dad learned that his grandfather was buried here, so we paid a visit.

 Redwood National Forest, CA.  This was my favorite place.  When I walked into areas of the forest where the tree trunks were wider than my car, and branches towered above my head, it felt almost sacred and sublime.  The forest was peaceful, quiet, and I wish I could build a wigwam and live there.

Massive massive tree trunk!

 Lassen Volcanic National Park, California.  This park was breathtaking, too.  We learned about the history of the land, volcanic eruptions, and we saw several huge rocks that were flung during eruptions.

<3 <3 <3 

One of my favorite pictures at Lake Helen. 

It's hard to tell in the picture, but this was a hot, boiling mud pot/spring.  It reeked of sulphur, and it was creepy.  Monsters go swimming in there. 
Virginia City, Nevada. I was excited to visit this town because I used to watch Bonanza, but this place was crude, forgettable, ugly, and gross.  But we were there, so...there.

What we watched:

I can also say that I provided some evening entertainment for my family.  After a long day of walking in cities and national parks, we watched Downton Abbey at our hotel before we went to bed.  


Again, the pictures speak better of the trip than I can.  I suppose there's nothing left to say but THANK YOU Mom and Dad for letting me crash yet another one of your vacations! You can expect it again ;) 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Popsicle in July.

I told my friend from AZ that I was tired of the heat.  I feel like a popsicle that's perpetually melting, and all of my juicy goodness is dripping away.  I should have known better than to complain, especially after experiencing Phoenix heat.  My friend explained how she left raw cookie dough in her car while she went to work.  When she finished her shift, there were baked cookies on her dashboard.

Despite the heat, this month has been busy, emotional, crazy, but fun.

We actually kicked off July on a bittersweet note.  Brigham recently left for his mission in Quito, Equador.  He is currently learning Spanish in the Mexico City MTC.  For a while, I didn't even like it when people talked about Brigham.  I felt like a crater had been blasted into my heart.  I miss him so much, and I am proud of the example he is setting for our family.

Our 4th of July started with a bang, of course.  We had three nights of fireworks in a row.  We went to Provo to see the fireworks that accompanied the Stadium of Fire show.  We also watched Manti's fireworks on Temple Hill.  On my favorite night, our dear neighbors put on a show for the block.  My neighbor joked that I should write about how the box tipped over, fireworks came flying at us, and they broke a window.  Needless to say, it wasn't our neighbor's fault, and it was the most exhilarating night of my life.  As everyone was screaming and running away, I thought I could hear my mom muttering, "Made in China. Of course."

I went fishing with my dad.  We found a new fishing hole that's up Ephraim Canyon, but until he got his truck, he was unable to get the steep, sandy terrain.  This fishing hole is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  The weather is perfect, the air smells delicious, and tall, colorful trees surround the spot.  The fishing is great, too.  After experimenting with a couple different baits, we constantly got bites and left with our limit of four fishes, each.

Can't get over how amazing that view is.
On July 11th, I had the pleasure of getting my wisdom teeth removed.  I didn't even know I had wisdom teeth until I went to the dentist a couple months ago.  The surgery went quite well, and I vowed that I would leave the office with dignity.  But against my previous wishes, my mom recorded me in my drunken stupor.  Apparently, I managed to conduct a symphony, I said a bad word and apologized for it, and I talked about my research and philosophy.  And to top off the ordeal, my dad showed the video to his colleagues at work.

I've made a lot of progress on my thesis.  The process is just slow.  I have a great thesis chair who has been helping me with every step.  Whenever I send him my work, he says that my claim still needs sharpening.  And even when I feel like I have sharpened my claim so that I've fashioned a weapon, he asks that I sharpen even more (see my favorite memes below: my motivation vs. my reality). I've been thinking about my roles as a student and a teacher.  When I read my students' work, I am able to determine if their thesis requires narrowing immediately.  But the beauty of my program is that I still have learning to do, and when I have a hard time seeing how my thesis can possibly be narrowed down, I have great teachers and mentors who help me.  I tell my parents constantly—I have learned more in one full year of grad school than in all of my years getting my undergraduate degree.

Last on July's forecast: Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite, San Francisco, Redwood National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Great Basin National Park.  

I cannot wait to share stories and pictures after our trip!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

ALL Manner of Creeping Things.

Lately I've been feeling extremely paranoid and spastic.  For those of you who know me well, this is, of course, not unusual behavior for me.  But anyway, it all started on a sunny Tuesday morning at about 6:45am.  I woke up, and there was a black spider on my chest (my breast to be specific).  I hate spiders.  I screamed bloody murder, threw off my shirt in a frenzy, and ran to the kitchen.  When I felt composed enough to take care of the spider (20 minutes later), it was gone.  Thus, I haven't slept in my room for about a month because somewhere... there is a little demon that lurks.

This was only the beginning.  When I sit on the couch and feel the slightest tingle, I leap away in Olympic fashion and look furiously for a spider.  One time, when I was dozing off (in the guest bedroom), I saw something black fall on the freshly laundered sheets.  I screamed again, only to find that a black hair elastic had exploded from my hair (which happens frustratingly often).  A few weekends ago, I was taking a shower when I felt something strange in my hair.  I pulled out a FAT black ant (which was just as disgusting as a spider).  By this time, I was thoroughly creeped and was willing to swallow a gallon of DDT if it kept things away from me.  

But it gets better.  God saw it fit to place flying fowls, insects, and all creeping things on our wonderful world.  And all of them have managed to terrorize me, so God must love me.

One afternoon, I came home from school to find something black hanging on the corner of my door.  It looked leathery and strange, and at first I thought it was a deformed slug.  But as I inched closer, I saw black fur.  I had my suspicions about this creature's identity, but to "say it... out loud" was to ask the unspeakable.  The landlord was working on the house across from mine and asked me how my day was.  He was really nice, so I asked him if he could identify the... thing on my door.  He readily agreed, shimmied his ladder on over to my place, looked up closely and said, ".... HOLY S**T, that's a BAT!"  Then he said, "Call your father," and promptly shimmied away.

After the bat fiasco, I noticed a replacement in that same corner of my house:
   Indeed... a bird's nest.  And the birds even left gifts for me all over my front door and lamp.  I wasn't sure if I could remove the nest because I couldn't see any eggs.  If there were eggs, I wouldn't have been able to remove the nest due to some bird, protection, wildlife, nature, Bambi preserve or something.  So, while I waited for my dad's help, the outside of my house was swarming with birds.  And I hate birds, too.  They flew right over my head, they screeched when I was close to the nest, and I'm convinced that they stared at me as they sat on my lamp.  I felt like this:

And perhaps the cake on top, I was not happy to notice an unexpected visitor, just three days ago.  It was really hot outside, and I have beautiful but hot skylights in my house.  So understandably, I wasn't exactly... entirely clothed.  I sat in my favorite chair reading a book when suddenly, I saw a leg resting on top of my beautiful but hot skylight.  I freaked out and ran in the different room and tried to figure out what was going on without being spotted (by then, I was decent).  It turns out, some construction workers were doing some maintenance, which required going on top of the house.  And as smokin' as I feel partially clothed, I really really really hope they didn't see me in my glory.

Oh, and for my friends who asked, my research and writing on a certain "creeping woman" is terrorizing me, too.  Cheers.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Domestic Travels & One Exotic Adventure.

I've returned to the blogosphere after a month and a half long hiatus.  I would like to say that I was on vacation, but in actuality, I've been getting my rear kicked in a class I'm taking.  Let's just say that I find Wordsworth irritating and his pal, Charles Lamb, absolutely snooze-worthy.  (For you Brit-lit lovers out there... if I've wounded your soul, I'm sorry).

I should not complain, though. My busy summer has been interspersed with fun trips with the family. The first and best was, of course, Disneyland with the whole family.  At first, I was worried about this trip.  I find that as I grow older, I turn snottier and like crowds of people less and less.  But, the magic of Disneyland made everything... perfect.  Here are the trip highlights:

- Theo loved tea cups and even started to spin the wheel
-  I was beating everyone in Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters until Brigham suddenly dominated
- Dad played the good sport and ran across the park to get fast passes
- During the parade, Kylie yelled at me, "Elsa is coming! ELSA IS COMING!!!"
- Indiana Jones was our first ride of the trip, and it's right next to the Dole Whip shack
- We loved walking through Radiator Springs; we just didn't get "cozy at the cone"
- Mom was reprimanding me for making her wait in an "airplane museum."  That is, of course, before she found out that Soarin' through California is the best ride ever.
- Dad seemed to really like Star Tours until I saw his face slacken as he experienced motion sickness.
- The "Paint the Night" parade and World of Color shows were, honestly, my favorite part of the trip
- Disneyland made me have a severe existential crisis.  It made me realize that I want to work there, and live there, and watch Disney movies there, and have babies there.  AND it made me ask the worst question of all: what the heck am I doing with my life?

That didn't go too well. 

My second mini trip was to Farmington, New Mexico, the glorious land of rocks, dirt, and dust. The drive there was actually quite fun.  I love red rock, but we saw gray rock, tan rock, and even turquoise rock.  I got to see my dad's family and my grandpa.  I haven't seen him for eight years, which reflected in our strained conversation.  He asked me two questions: "Do you still play the piano?" & "So how many boyfriends do you have?"  (Not really & zero).  One of my favorite parts of the trip was going to the Aztec Ruins National Monument.  I'm not really sure why they call it the "Aztec Ruins."  I'm pretty sure the Pueblo people lived there.  Even so, the ruins were pretty remarkable, and I've figured out where I could live if I ever become a hobo.

At that moment, a gust of wind conveniently blew under my shirt and made me look pregnant. 


Pretty amazing, yes?
And last, but certainly not least, I bathed in the waters of Fiji.  No really, let me explain.  I went for a quick run and got back to my house in Provo.  I tore a notice from my front door without reading it and slapped it on the kitchen counters as I ran for the shower.  The shower felt good, and I was right in the middle of lathering with shampoo when... the water, my water, shut off.  I was panicking because I had a meeting later that afternoon, and there were still suds in my hair.  So, I did the only thing I could think of—I wrapped a towel around me, ran to the fridge, and grabbed the Brita pitcher of water.  I poured the chilled water on top of my head, which was horrible. I'm still convinced that my neighbors could hear me shrieking.   But the pitcher of water wasn't enough, so I ran back to the fridge and stole two bottles of Fiji water that I stole from school.  I poured those over my head, too, and finally got all of the suds washed out.  When I got dressed and read the notice on my counter, I wanted to swear (and I might have).  It informed the neighborhood of a maintenance check that required turning off the water.

By the way, the waters of Fiji were not idyllic, nor were they refreshing.  They were cold, and agonizing.

Monday, April 18, 2016

21 Going on... 90.

I boast a humble 21 years of existence, but I think I possess an old soul.  I like traditional ways of thinking, I regard the trivialities of younger generations with a twinkle in my eye, and I like being around old people (my parents).  And people say that I act well beyond my age, to which I blush and modestly reply, "Oh, I could never equal your wisdom and grace."  And then they applaud my savvy response and decide to associate with me more often.  And then I feel like the mature, intriguing darling of my community.

And I like it.  

I feel more comfortable talking to "older" folks.  I find them interesting, funny, wise, and kind.  They give great advice, too.  After I win them over with my wide-eyed, charming smile look, I engage in their conversations and astonish them with my intellectual prowess.  My process kind of sounds like a seduction; I promise it's not.  Did I mention that humility is one of my finer virtues?

I take a breathtaking number of pills like older folks.  When I upped the dosage of lithium and was prescribed another pill to offset side effects, I decided to reward myself with a fancy, daily pill box to keep track of everything.  I told my mom that I wanted one.  She gave me a weird look, laughed at me, and said I was a dork.  On the contrary, I feel like a champion. 

I play old people games, too.  My mom and I geek out over Bananagrams.  We have tournaments and get scarily competitive.  We admire each other's ability to produce longer words.  We have our phones by our sides, so we can quickly use a dictionary to look up a word.  When my mom and I went on a cruise together, the younger folks were partying, dancing, hot-tubbing, and drinking.  My mom and I played Bananagrams in the Shakespeare Library and ate carbs.  
Some of my words are of...questionable content. 

But something happened, today, that made me feel stupid, juvenile, immature, and childish.  

I screwed up my taxes.  Apparently, today is the last day for taxes.  Apparently, I did something wrong with my paychecks and the W-1234-lmnop forms.  Apparently, the IRS could have busted down my front door to take me to jail.  Thankfully, my dad (one of my favorite old folks) came to the rescue.  He was, of course, the one to point out my tax knowledge inadequacies.  We went to visit a guy in Manti who could fix my mess.  I went back to his house later to pick up some documents and apologized for my stupidity.  And you know what he said? — "You know... the accountants who do the best in their graduate programs are English majors."

Hmmm... maybe after my masters, I'll go into accounting.  And then, once I can successfully do my own taxes, I be the greatest old person-soul-brain ever.  

The end. 

PROOF.  This photograph is, like, 50 years old.