The Saga of How I’m Taking the Summer Off (Part Two)

Reason Two: Because I Can

When my mom separated from my abusive father, it was just her and me and our cat. She had a part-time job and though she searched for a full-time job, she couldn’t find one. As for me, I was fifteen and didn’t work because I was so involved with school and took a whole bunch of extra classes and piano lessons. Not to mention the stress in having to be involved in my parents’ divorce as a mature minor and having to provide evidence for the court to help my mom get things like a restraining order, sole occupancy of the family home, and sole custody of me.

Sometimes I was embarrassed that I didn’t have a “real job” like some of the other kids in my class, but my mom always told me “Focusing on school is your job.” She always stressed that my education was important, and that I was smart, and that I would do wonderful things. And that just because I wasn’t being paid for it didn’t mean it wasn’t hard work.

But obviously, we can’t just live off of her one part-time job, so we relied on things like BC Housing and my father’s child support to get by, which provided for me while I was in high school. And that was enough to get us by, until the end of the eleventh grade, when my mom got a hand injury at work and her boss fired her while she was on her medical leave, then she pulled out her RRSPs for us to live off of.

By the time I graduated high school, we were living off her RRSPs and her credit cards and that BC Housing and child support became exponentially more important. I did want to go to post-secondary–I’d wanted to become a psychologist since I was fifteen– but my original plan was to take a year off school to work and save up money for school like my friends were doing, as I didn’t want to get into debt and let’s face it, I wanted a break from school, but when I graduated and became a legal adult, we were no longer eligible to receive BC Housing or child support. Unless I enrolled in full-time studies at a university, in which case I would still be considered a dependent and therefore be eligible.

So come September, I was enrolled in full-time courses, even though I didn’t feel ready after a rough grad year involving a stalker and friends who took his side or “stayed neutral” instead of supporting me, because my mom told me, “If you don’t go to school, we will be homeless.” And she was right.

And that is what has gone through my head every semester since: “I must do this, or else we will be homeless. I must take care of my family.” My student loans didn’t just pay for school; I often used them to help make ends meet. And that’s how I wound up $18, 000 in debt with student loans and considering declaring bankruptcy at twenty-two, because I was forced into being breadwinner of my family even though I didn’t have the means to be that.

And sometimes I think that is why I have an anxiety disorder: not directly from my father’s abuse, but from living in poverty for so long, and having to “do this, or else”. And then the “prove this, prove that” nature of the paperwork involved in student loans and such. And these regulations about how many credits I must take and what grades I must get and the fear of whether I will be denied funding if I have an “unsuccessful semester”.

(An “unsuccessful semester” is termed as a semester in which you fail one or more of your classes. It’s a catch-22 situation for me, because I risk being denied funding if I have an unsuccessful semester, but if I try to minimize the chances of me having an unsuccessful semester and failing classes by taking a lower course load [one class less], I also risk being denied funding for taking too low a course load.)

Technically, I was allowed to have summers off, but I was required to be in full-time studies for the other two semesters, which meant if a course had a reputation for being really tough, I would slot that in for summer because that’s the only time of year I can take just one course. So I didn’t consider the summer as a semester I could take off, making me a year-round student who only got a couple weeks between semesters off of school. (And that’s what last summer was: Psych Stats, unfortunately required for my degree to progress.)

And this summer, I was going to take another course that is needed to progress in my degree, Research Methods. I’ve heard it’s a very heavy course load and have been advised by others who’ve taken it “Don’t take any other classes with it.” Despite the lecture hours being double that of a regular course (which results in double the studying), it still only counts for the credits of a regular course, meaning that I can’t do it on its own during the fall or winter semesters, meaning that I would risk an “unsuccessful semester”.

And when I found out the only class times available were during my work hours, I literally screamed, I was so frustrated and scared of how I was going to get my degree done when I can’t take third year courses until I take this one stupid course that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with these other courses, and scared of whether we’d have enough money to live on because I can’t have an unsuccessful semester but I can’t have a part-time course load either.

Well, I took that as a sign that I should take the summer off because clearly I am not well and decided I’ll find a way to deal with the consequences later or maybe rework my course planning for my degree.

Anyway, after that long tangent, I can explain to you why I am able to take time off of school: my mom has finally gotten a full-time job. For the first time in seven years, we are not totally at the mercy of BC Housing and my father. We still need it, as living is far more expensive now than it was decades ago and I can’t work a second job while in school, if my anxiety will even let me work a second job at all, but it’s not the kind of desperate situation it once was. I can actually see an end in sight and that’s why for the first time since I started post-secondary that I’ve actually seen summers off as an option.

When Mom started her new job, I looked in the bathroom mirror with tears in my eyes, thinking, “You did it. You kept a roof over your head and food on the table. You’ve provided for your family. And now, finally, you can rest. You are no longer responsible. You can take a break now.” There are no words to describe the relief of having that burden lifted off my shoulders. I did it.

This blog post was really hard for me to write. It’s so heavy and dense. My face felt like it was on fire the whole time I wrote that because I was so stressed out. Sometimes I got all shaky and my heart would just pound. Why? Because:

a) My mom taught me not to talk about finances, not because she considered it crass, but because she thought if my words got back to the wrong people, we would somehow be punished and be refused money from organizations like BC Housing and then we wouldn’t have anywhere to live.

b) All the legalities behind things like BC Housing, FMEP, and other organizations are so bloody convoluted I’m not sure if I really did them or the stress of being dependent on them justice. I often feel like this system is set up in a way that makes it so people like me can’t do anything right (which probably warrants its own post).

But that is the best explanation I can give at present, so I’ll have to be content with that.

So, after that, talking about my obsessive, Type-A, be-the-best-of-the-best perfectionism demons feels like… well, really light and upbeat. So stay tuned for Part Three!

 

About That Radio Silence…

So, it’s been over two months since I lasted posted anything on the blog. I meant to post some more stuff sooner. But life got in the way.

I got the flu twice in one month, which means I was either a) moaning and groaning in pain and throwing up wondering if I had appendicitis and if I ought to go to the hospital and hoping I’m not dying or b) having a movie marathon. Being sick, naturally I had a backlog of homework. I missed class, studied the heck out of my midterms, got an A+ on the first one then a C on the other, which led to a nervous breakdown because arghh, I don’t get Cs! Which led to more homework to catch up on.

And then there were a bunch of random, necessary errands to do, and psychologist appointments, then budgeting to make sure I have money for the next semester, and still trying to prove to certain organizations that I am in fact disabled… And then we got snowed in, so naturally I had another movie marathon. And then there were lab reports and more crippling anxiety over the impending midterm and just things not going according to plan.

So, yeah.

Which brings me to the subject of how often to expect posts from me.

I’m a busy person. A few months ago, I was talking with a friend over hot chocolate and she said “You have such an interesting life”. And the reason my life is so interesting is because it is in constant motion. I have a job. I have school. I have nieces and nephews to babysit, family and friends to visit, bills to pay, music to write, books to read, a body to exercise, a cat to cuddle… And then I usually have a nervous meltdown/ existential crisis every week or two, which requires a lot of alone time and self-care in order to function again.

Basically, I’m an introvert with an extraverted life and it exhausts me.

So, this blog isn’t the highest on my list of priorities. I still want to blog, but I can’t go compromising in the other areas of my life to do it. I’d love to say “Oh yeah, I’ll totally post twice a week” but I’d be making a promise that I can’t keep. Sometimes I’ll post lots, other times nothing at all. I’ll post when I’m able and that’s the best I can do.

I also won’t be on social media like Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. I don’t consider myself to be tech-savvy and don’t want to manage multiple websites and accounts, plus I know that whenever I go on those platforms, it eats up all my time and I end my day thinking “Ugh, what a waste. Did I accomplish anything today?”

(Though I got Pinterest… There goes my time management skills.)

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Sarah Anderson understands me. (Seriously, Sarah’s Scribbles: Look it up.)

 

But there’s more to it than just the feelings of unproductivity. It’s the negativity I often find on the Internet. Because of that negativity, I sometimes will have to step back from the blog and all the Interneting that goes into it to keep myself sane. Posting and looking for relevant information to put in my post requires a lot of time and emotional energy from me and if I’m lacking in either of those areas, I have to put some distance there to care for myself.

Because, as Sarah Anderson so aptly sums up in her comic, Internet comment threads often look like this:

 

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So, I hope that clarifies past, present, and future radio silence from me on the blog.

In a while, crocodile.

Why Style and Substance?

I’m not really sure how to blog. The articles I read on blogging (an attempt to familiarize myself with it) say I should pick a theme and stick with it. Me picking one theme and sticking with it is unlikely. I don’t think in themes. I don’t think in ideas that are isolated from each other. I think in ideas that connect… idea networks.

So instead of blogging about one aspect of life, I will just blog about my life in general. Life as a student, life as someone who is mentally disordered and striving for health, life as a musician, life as a philosopher, life as a writer, life as a feminist, life as a Christian, and life as a lover of music, food, movies, books, fashion and lingerie. Basically, it’ll be one half fashion blog, one half everything else blog.

“So, why Style and Substance?” you might wonder.

Short answer: I am both style and substance. Many people are.

Long answer: According to dictionary.com (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/frivolous?s=t), “frivolous” means 1) characterized by a lack of seriousness or sense 2) self-indulgently carefree; unconcerned about or lacking any serious purpose 3) (of a person) given to trifling or undue levity 4) of little or no weight, worth, or importance; not worthy of serious notice.

In the somewhat conservative Christian community (and likely the secular community as well) I grew up in, and am still very much involved in, fashion is the epitome of frivolous. I mean, you’re expected to look presentable and people will compliment you when you “look nice”, but you’re not supposed to actually care. Looking good is supposed to be effortless, not premeditated. If you actually put your time and effort into your looks, you’re being shallow and selfish because you’re neglecting your spirit and your mind and other people while you’re focusing on how you look. Or something.

In other words, if you have style, it’s because you don’t have substance. The two simply cannot coexist in one being. (Fallacy of the false dilemma, anyone?)

 

So, I am a person who does care about improving myself on the inside. I’m passionate about learning and about people. I major in psychology and minor in philosophy, which is fairly academic. I’m determined to get a Master’s and to be the first in my family to get a PhD and make them so proud. I love to read when I have the time, and I write music (usually when I don’t have the time. Exam crunch is great for inspiration). Maybe one day I’ll do research. Maybe one day I’ll have my own practice. Maybe I’ll finish the sheet music of my masterpiece and have it performed on the stage of the Orpheum theatre in Vancouver.

But I care about fashion. I am an intensely creative being and fashion is one form of expressing that. I care about how I look, and how I think I look influences how I feel. If I don’t feel I’m looking my best, I wind up not doing my best work. It distracts me. For some time, I felt that (still do, sometimes) this was a deficiency on my part. Shouldn’t I be able to just ignore how I look entirely and just focus on my work or school? What’s wrong with me? Why do I even care?

Writing this, I’m just realizing that I’ve actually internalized a lot more guilt and shame than I thought I did. Huh, and I thought I’d made it through relatively unscathed.

Anyway, these messages that I got from the overall community, messages that were never actually spoken about me or in front of me but still got through to me nonetheless through books and other literature and media, resulted in a conflict for me. I got the impression that an interest in fashion and being intellectual were mutually exclusive and I could not be both. (For the record, it wasn’t friends and family who put this idea into my head. It’s the wider culture that did that.)

However, a couple years ago, I stumbled across the bra blogging community. For the first time, I saw people who reconciled these two seemingly unreconcilable traits. They were interested in fashion and lingerie, but drew it into the intellectual realm. They talked about feminism and modesty doctrine and rape culture and current events and even philosophy and politics and economics and religion. They expanded my mind farther than any book ever has and helped me become a better person.

And that’s one reason why I decided to blog: because I want to be able to dialogue with these amazing people. I want to join the conversation. I want to have a voice, to give back to a community that has helped me develop as a person.

The other reason for blogging is therapeutic: personal expression of things I generally don’t get to acknowledge or talk about in day-to-day life and a way for me to organize my thoughts into a coherent filing system as opposed to them being a chaotic mess (welcome to life with GAD). The counsellor(s) I’ve been speaking to think blogging could be a good way to release pent-up energy of which I have an abundance. I seem to be a bit repressed.

Anyway, back to the bit on organization. I find that for me, I need things organized outside of me before they are organized inside of me. I must organize my surroundings in a way that makes sense to me. So, as I work the kinks out of this whole running a blog thing, you might see some changes in the organization of the blog as I figure out ways to make it make more sense to me.

Now, a bit more on upcoming blog posts. I’ll posts a few more introductory posts just to set the foundation for the blog, then maybe start with some fashion and lingerie posts, then some stuff on self-care and I’ll later continue to branch out as I see fit. Not that much in my life ever goes according to plan, but we’ll see what happens.

EDIT (April 23, 2017): So, the blog went through a name change. Instead of Style and Substance, it will now be called the Intersection of Everything. Why? Because Style and Substance didn’t feel right. It’s good for a fashion blog, but I’m not exclusively a fashion blogger. My posts so far are turning out to be on different subjects.

Where did this new name come from? Well, I was talking to my counsellor about how I’ve got all these plans and ideas for the future but it’s kind of overwhelming and I have no clue what’s up next for me because there’s all these different options and I can only pick one, and I said “I’m at the intersection of everything.” Counsellor thought it was an interesting turn of phrase and then Bingo! I have a fitting title for the blog. And bonus! No one else has the name yet!

Greetings, 2017! Please Don’t Destroy Me

This isn’t what I originally planned on my first blog post being, but I felt like I ought to start this off from a place of honesty about me and my life or else I wouldn’t be true to what I want this blog to become.

This past year has been one of toil, turmoil, and conflict and I am kind of a mess. In summary, this is what the past year has looked like for me:

I have went from living as an only child to having my three siblings back in my life, plus four nieces and nephews who were previously unaware of my existence, after six years of estrangement. Long story, but let it suffice to say it had everything to do with The Divorce From Hell and reconciling with these people has been excruciating.

I went from being unemployed and having basically no job experience to joining the work force part-time. Having my own income is great, as is the work environment, but though my work schedule is stable, it’s difficult for me to adapt to arranging all my activities around my work schedule. The time of day when I would normally be doing schoolwork, the time of day that I am the most awake, is now when I work. And I’m not sure how to fit in all that I need to do. And it requires People Skills and People Energy. I don’t have an abundance of those.

I went from being (quote unquote) “fine” to leaving school on a medical leave and getting diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) with Depressive Symptoms. Of course, I was anxious to begin with so when it comes to being diagnosed with GAD, my feelings were “Took you long enough”, if I’m being really honest.

I went from a full-time university student to a university dropout on a medical leave to now returning to school with a reduced course load as a student with a registered disability. Let’s hope I make it through the semester this time ’round.

I went from having unwavering confidence in my intelligence to worrying that I’m somehow getting stupider.

I went from being single, which I’ve always been, to being in a long-term romantic relationship, to breaking up, to getting back together again. It’s different from what they show you in books and movies.

I’ve survived another year of life below the poverty line.

I’m twenty-two now, which was the age at which I’d planned to finish my BA but instead I’m now only halfway through that degree. Thanks, GAD.

I went from not exercising at all to exercising regularly.

My bestest friend moved away. And after almost nineteen years of friendship, my best friend and I had our very first fight. It was quickly resolved, but still.

I’ve watched my friends and siblings grow up, get boyfriends, get engaged, get married, have babies, get new jobs, switch majors, graduate post-secondary, move homes, and it’s funny and strange seeing them go through all these life changes, seemingly in the blink of an eye, and all of a sudden, it’s their second wedding anniversary, or their seventh.

I’ve grappled with my beliefs on every level, and have come up with more questions than answers.

I’ve struggled with guilt and shame, which seem to have replaced the righteous rage I used to have whenever I saw injustice in the world.

I’m really having trouble integrating all these new experiences into a coherent, whole “me”.

And now, after many months of what I consider to be signs telling me to use my voice, I’m going from being voiceless to starting my own blog. After months of contemplating it and putting it off and of trying it then quitting, I’m finally doing it. Even though it kind of scares me.

I’m a bit nervous about starting a blog. I recently realized that I am very much a writer, but it’s different than some of my other passions. Example: my music. That is a passion of mine. I am a musician. I am a composer. I am comfortable writing music and associating my name with it. But with writing, I don’t feel comfortable associating my real name with it. I feel vulnerable and unprotected. My words are a much more secret part of me and I tend to guard them very carefully.

I worried that this might wind up becoming a project I obsess over and ugh, I already have a lot going on in my life, but blog or no blog, it’ll be a hell of a year, I can feel it, so might as well scratch something off my bucket list while I’m at it, seeing as my music is not going anywhere and my degree is not going anywhere for a long while.

I’m also worried that blogging will let my perfectionism and people-pleasing demons out to play and wreak havoc on me. But I’m hoping that I will grow stronger through this and that I will become the person I’m meant to be and be able to do some good in the world in some way.

I’m in a bizarre limbo state of mind. I’m weary of change, yet I crave more of it. I’m exhausted yet restless. I alternate between being almost ready to face the coming year and being petrified of whether or not I can handle what will come next. I’m trying to conquer my fear. I’m sick of it dictating what I do or do not do with my life. If I want to accomplish anything of worth, I must get rid of this fear.

But despite all this fear, I’m still going through with this. Why? Because I’ve tried being truly honest with people about difficult subjects this past year and it’s actually been rather rewarding and others seem to find my openness inspiring so I’m hoping to replicate that here. I’m hoping that by seeing my confronting my fear, you will one day have the strength and courage to conquer yours.

So… Welcome.