Stuck in the Middle

Do you ever feel like you’re going about your day, being productive in your work, but feeling like you’re…off? That the work you’re doing isn’t engaging you like you think it should? That if you weren’t required to do a certain task, you’d be off doing something completely different?

Because that’s where I’m at right now. And it’s a place that I have to be in, unfortunately, and I know I’m not alone in that. I think anybody in their educational career have at least one (or probably many) time(s) where you’re asking, “What is the point? I’m not interested in this. This doesn’t feel relevant to me.”

Whether it’s taking a required math class you despise, applying for a job you know you wouldn’t like, or scheduling a yearly doctor’s appointment when your health is a-okay, there are those moments where we look at the grand scheme of our lives and wonder why all of these seemingly minute details, ones that seem to not serve you, really matter. Shouldn’t we be using our precious time and energy always trying to better ourselves, fuel our passions, and make the most of what we have and are? That’s certainly the message drilled into our heads: no moment is guaranteed. Life is precious. You only live once.

Here’s my current example. I am in the midst of my second to last semester of my undergraduate career. The only classes I have left to graduate are those that are required for my Mass Communication major. As my mind has changed to recenter my focus on what I truly love and feel passionate about, I have felt very drained from taking classes about social research, writing for digital and broadcast media, and media law and ethics. Especially when I have a religion class that resonates with me so much more, going from that to all of my other classes is no comparison. I sit in the classroom just thinking, “This is so minuscule. How truly productive is this? I could be doing -insert other things here- instead.”

When you struggle to find that purpose in the seemingly dull, tiresome tasks, they just become even more strenuous. Our perspectives turn those tasks into mountains to climb every day, continually becoming steeper. If we can’t find a purpose, then it’s virtually impossible to find a motivation.

It’s easy to say, just find the reason you’re doing it in the first place and then you’ll be set, but if only life were that easy. Rarely can we just snap ourselves into a new head space and suddenly see the world with fresh eyes. Especially in the mundane tasks, classes and responsibilities, the reason you might see in going or doing what you need to do, doesn’t necessarily change your attitude toward it. Sure, you’re paying to be in class and you need to take these classes to graduate, but in the present moment? Fifty minutes is dragging on for what feels like hours.

So instead of taking a robotic approach to switching motivation on and off, be gentle and gradual with yourself. Practice mindfulness in becoming aware of your body, position and circumstances, putting more thought into what you’re doing instead of daydreaming about other “more exciting” things. Even just a single reason to go, even if that is to see a friend or silently criticize the relevance of a topic (which, in my case, has been my go-to reason), can ease you into a different perspective.

Cliche, I know, but we are truly so blessed, so when in doubt, find gratitude in whatever you’re dreading because chances are, there are people vying for such an opportunity. Like the ability to receive an education. Or have access to certain resources. Or just any little luxuries that we don’t think about when we’re finding every little detail to complain about.

Because maybe yes, right now, this less enjoyable task isn’t of end-all importance. But in the grand scheme, if it fits into your goals, then it’s a necessary step to take. I have the goal of graduating from college with solid grades in three years, and by taking the classes I am now, I will be able to achieve that. Even if I look back and cannot remember a single detail of what was discussed in those classes, I can be proud knowing that I did it, despite my reservations about it at the time. Same goes for graduating high school, or taking care of mental health, or going through eating disorder recovery.

Everything is intentional. Sometimes it isn’t very obvious. Heck, it can be downright frustrating and defeating thinking you might be wasting your time on something. Accept your current emotions, but know that you’re in the right place at the right time. There’s a purpose, obvious or not, for everything. The lesson you learn from it might not be listed on the syllabus. And at the end of the day, be proud of how far you’ve come, where you are right now, and where you’re going.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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Piling Up

It’s that time of the semester when the initial classes of getting in routine pass and the real work sets in. Unfortunately, every class seems to decide the same exact day to kick it into high-gear and throw every task out at once.

Even with a slightly lighter schedule than I’ve had in previous seasons, last week I had a weak moment of feeling defeated. Already so drained of energy before everything even started. Knowing the responsibilities that lie ahead and all of life’s current circumstances, I felt that sudden urge to drop everything and seek refuge, a quiet day or week to not think about anything.

‘Tis the life of a college student, or really any student or person. We all have those moments when we feel like we’re at our breaking point, even if we know deep down that we’re fully capable of managing it all.

The earth just keeps turning, and we just keep waking up every morning and doing what we need to, even if the day prior we were practically in the fetal position and wanting nothing of it. Sure, it seems like we just “toughen up” and make things happen, but what really is the nudge that oils the machine to maintain a smooth operation?

I don’t use the machine analogy for kicks. I do think we do expect ourselves to constantly be to the task, and I honestly feel guilty if I’m not. Especially with all the health stuff going on with me, it’s been difficult to be fully there in every single aspect of my life, and that alone can make me panic.

But everybody can reach that point, for any reason. It’s human. It’s normal. And that’s okay, and we shouldn’t feel guilty for that. It’s like keeping a secret everyone already knows. It’s okay to need rest, even if that means specifically scheduling it into your day. It’s okay to say no if you need a breather.

Being overly stressed can be a blessing in disguise. It can feel like that slap in the face to bring you back to reality instead of routine. You can then truly evaluate your priorities and make time for what matters to you most. And if what you’re doing is only what is most important, there’s always time for it. When we add in the extra responsibilities and get caught up with certain people or situations that fluster us, that’s when the stress is real.

There’s a difference between productive stress and negative stress. Productive stress comes from experiences that test our limits, that may scare us or intimidate us in the moment, but we ultimately know we will learn and grow from them. Negative stress is the extra junk that rattles us, makes us on edge or completely exhausts us. It drains us of life and ourselves. 

We cannot function fully without replenishing that lost energy because let’s face it, the negative stress is inevitable. So take the time for self-care. Surround yourself with the energy and people and ideas that remind you of your humanity, your spirit. We’re not those robots; our new battery is not one on a shelf, but one from rest and time.

So if you too are in a stressful period, student or not, healthy or not, devote your time and energy to your priorities first, starting with your well-being and branching out from there. I wish I was an expert just so I wouldn’t have to be in a constant juggling act, but if it gives me inspiration now for others, then at least it will be worth it.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Vegan and Depressed?

Let food be thy medicine. You are what you eat. Yes, our diets are powerful. But as much as we’d like to think we know about choosing veganism, we still make assumptions.

I do completely believe that choosing to be plant-based is one of the best choices you can make for yourself, your health, and the health of the world. Even saying that statement feels like a dramatic declaration of immediate success in all aspects of life. As if changing a part of our daily routines will make a tremendous difference.

Which it will, to a certain extent. The sheer fact that you’re eating more fruits and vegetables and less (or no) meat or dairy already makes a huge difference. You’re consuming more vitamins and minerals, fiber, the good stuff that your body needs to thrive. Vegans, especially those who come from a conventional American diet that wasn’t too nutrient dense to begin with, note seeing improved well-being, in sleep and energy, in maintaining a healthy weight, in mental clarity, you name it.

While I do think plant-based foods are very healing, I have noticed during my time in the vegan community (mostly online since I maybe know of two or three other vegans in real life) that misconceptions float around. That we put so much belief into veganism to point that we neglect other diets and options available for our health.

And from the title, I do tie it back to mental health, but this applies for even physical health. Yes, documentaries like Forks Over Knives tote how a whole foods plant-based diet has cured people of heart disease, diabetes and more, we shouldn’t forget the value of science and medicine.

That stereotype of vegans being all hippies living in vans does come to mind here even though really anybody can fall into alternative medicine and pseudoscience. Let me put out there, I am all for natural proven methods of wellness, but I don’t think they should entirely replace traditional medicine, going to a licensed practitioner, and getting a prescription when you need it.

From my many hours of research of all things vegan, I have come across many different people who have said that through veganism, they no longer have symptoms of mental illness, especially anxiety and depression. But we have to be critical when we read these things. These are completely different people, bodies, environments and circumstances. What makes you say what works for them would work for you?

Mental illness can easily be worsened or triggered from consuming certain foods, so sometimes all you need is to exercise and eat a balanced diet to feel better. The endorphins released from physical activity and the nutrients found in plant-based foods can all help balance your body and mind. I’d call that more of self-care and following a healthy lifestyle rather than becoming a full-on vegan.

Now a healthy lifestyle might help in some respects, if your mental illness is more than situational and chronic in nature, just say you’re becoming vegan will not help you. Maybe in a placebo way it would, but not long-term. Especially if your vegan diet is relying upon the vegan substitutes and processed foods. You cannot discount the value of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or therapy and counseling. You cannot blame veganism for “not working” and giving up on the lifestyle because it didn’t allow you to never need to see a doctor ever again.

Ultimately, if you want to become vegan, your intentions should come from beyond your personal gains. They should be rooted in making a positive impact on the world, saving animals and the environment. The health benefits are just a bonus. But your diet alone should not replace modern medicine. If we have the luxury of managing chronic symptoms of illness so we can live to our fullest potentials, why would we not choose that for ourselves?

As with anything, it’s about balance. If you want to experiment with certain “super foods” or supplements, go to a chiropractor or acupuncturist, be my guest. But don’t discount the significant progress made in the medical field. We have the power of vaccines that have already eradicating many diseases from our planet. We have put in so much research into understanding diseases and what might cause them. It’s amazing how far we’ve come from trying to balance the four humors in our bodies and throwing the mentally ill into the most inhumane institutions.

So yes, you can be vegan and still depressed. Vegan and still fatigued. Vegan and still requiring a flu shot every year. You cannot approach your health from one angle. If you truly want to take care of yourself, you have to use all of the resources at your disposal, especially the ones that are scientifically proven to work. Of course I am no medical expert. I’m not here telling you how to live your life. I’m here to be a realistic voice for those interested in veganism hoping for full-on miracles. Veganism itself can only do so much. You need to make the choice to take charge and be serious about your health. You deserve it.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie