The Mental Illness Tag

Good morning! May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And guess what? I’ve found A TAG that I think is just perfect for kicking off a discussion of mental health and mental illness. Btw, I stole this from BG @ Getting Through Anxiety!

Creating conversations about these subjects is very important to me, so I hope you find that reading this post is just as helpful as writing it has been for me. Now let’s go!

What mental illness do you have? 

I have anxiety, depression, and OCD.

When were you diagnosed?

I don’t remember exact dates, but I started seeing my old psychiatrist early in the summer of 2016, so it would have been sometime around then. Wow, that’s much more recent than I realized… still less than two years ago!

Who knows about it? 

I’m pretty open about my mental health because I believe that decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illnesses helps increase a sense of community among us all. So… a lot of people in my life know.

Tbh it would probably be easier to name the ones who don’t know than those who do? I haven’t really talked to any of my grandparents about it because I don’t want them to worry. Honestly, I’m not particularly close to most of my relatives, so I guess not many of them know either.

Otherwise, though, I write about it a lot, support others through conversations both IRL and online, and more. I certainly don’t hide it.

Do you receive treatment for it?

Yeah! Since the summer of 2016, I’ve been on one antidepressant or another, trying to find something that works. For a long time I was on escitalopram and did all right, but I’ve since switched to venlafaxine and that seems to work even better. Although it’s mainly thought of as an antidepressant, it also helps with anxiety and OCD which is THE BEST.

I go to group therapy once a week during school semesters and occasionally meet one-on-one with the therapist who leads it if I’m really struggling. Happily, though, that happens less and less often!

Has your mental illness stopped you from doing anything? 

I’ve turned down a lot of opportunities due to feeling too worried or exhausted to go, which is unfortunate. I go through periods where all I want to do is sleep forever or where my sleep schedule is turned completely upside down. It’s also very difficult to focus on… well, on most days, if I’m being honest. I’m trying very hard to be more “present” in my own life, rather than retreating into my head full of worries.

Is there anything in particular that has helped you? 

Medication. The “happy pill” is a myth: Antidepressants don’t instantaneously cure you, but they do give you that kick in the butt that you need to start doing things, which hopefully results in feeling a little more motivated to tackle the strategies for recovery you learn in therapy.

Group therapy has also been immensely helpful. I was a bit nervous about it at first, but now I know how good it feels to find others who are going through the same things. Plus, it’s not nearly as dramatic + serious as pop culture portrays it… we have inside jokes and love each other a lot. In general, making friends who also have mental health issues has been great because we’re there to congratulate each other on successes and support each other through hard times.

What does it feel like to have your mental illness?

Anxiety feels… jittery. I feel like I’m always forgetting something. I’m trying to figure out if I’m blowing something out of proportion. I feel slightly out of the loop when people talk about feeling at peace because relaxation does not come naturally to me!

Depression feels like a foggy mind that just won’t clear… and legs that feel shaky or weak from hunger, since I sometimes forget to feed myself. I definitely have more good days now than I did a few years ago, but there are still times when I panic and wonder if there’s even any point to life since I feel like I’ll never stop being sad. I’ve lost the motivation and sometimes even the love for some of my favorite activities.

OCD is much trickier to describe. I guess it feels like… when you have a project due and the deadline keeps getting closer and closer, but you can’t seem to make yourself do anything because you’re paralyzed by doubt. It’s like being caught in an endless loop. It’s exhausting. Sometimes it makes me want to scream.

What is a common misconception about your mental health issue?

People seem to think that telling me “it’s all in your head!” or “oh, just stop worrying!” will magically make my anxiety go away??? I know some of my anxieties are irrational, but that doesn’t make my condition any less real. Plus, actively trying to not think about something often means you wind up thinking of nothing but. (Trust me, I know. THANKS, OCD.)

There’s a misconception that depression can be cured with yoga and sunlight and long walks alone. All of those things can help, but they’re not instant fix-its and it can be difficult for severely depressed people to drag themselves outside or onto a yoga mat to begin with.

Finally, people think OCD is cute. Quirky. Trendy. It’s not. It’s hell. I would do anything to get rid of it. It’s very difficult to treat. One of many, many reasons I’ve chosen to never have children is that I don’t want to risk passing on that gene to my kids. (Even if I adopted, I’d be worried that my OCD would make me too distracted to be a good parent.)

What do you find the most difficult to deal with? 

My OCD, for sure. Anxiety and depression are no walk in the park, either, but in all my twenty-one years of life I’ve never once felt that I had the OCD under control. The jokes and misunderstandings (or even outright refusals to understand!) make it even worse. I’m grateful for the support and companionship I receive for my anxiety and depression, but my OCD still leaves me feeling so lonely.

Is there anything else you’d like to say? 

Listen to the mentally ill. It isn’t always easy for us to describe what our lives are like, but we do try. Don’t talk over us. Give us autonomy.

Also, know that mental health isn’t just for mentally ill people. Everyone could benefit from practicing self care, setting reasonable + achievable goals, et cetera. You’re in possession of the only brain you’ll ever have. Treat it well.

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I’m not going to tag people because this tag is so personal and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable! If you wanna do it, though, you should definitely feel free – and please send me the link to your blog post because I’d love to check it out!

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The Perfect World Tag

Hey there! I’m back again with another tag found on YouTube. Today’s is all about imagining what your ideal circumstances would be! So, um, basically daydreaming? I’m here for that. I am SO here for that.

You can find more information about this tag here.

Enjoy!

I’d sleep…

A solid eight hours every night – no ifs, ands, or buts. I would wake up actually feeling refreshed and I’d never have an antidepressant-induced nightmare again!

I’d never…

Please, don’t let me be mentally ill anymore. Full stop.

I’d wear…

Pretty dresses would be nice. So would suits tailored to fit people as tiny as me. But in the end, what I want more than anything is a pair of jeans that accommodates both the size of my hips and the length of my legs. Right now, anything that works with my hips is guaranteed to be a good four or six inches too long in the leg region, so I have to cuff the bottoms. I mean, that’s no big deal since that’s in style at the moment anyway, but it sure would be great to put on something that fits as is without having to put any extra effort in.

My hair…

I wish my hair grew faster because aaaa I love wearing it short but I ALSO love when it’s long enough to put up into pretty hairstyles! Is having hair that grows as fast as Harry Potter’s too much to ask for?

My kids…

Would be nonexistent! My parents will be getting grandcats, #sorrynotsorry.

My house…

I’d love a little place, a tiny two-story box. I’ll fill it with bookshelves and succulents and comfy chairs. White with blue shutters or blue with black shutters would be lovely. Also, I’ve always wanted a house with dormers, so let’s make that happen.

If I ever want to afford one, though, I’ll have to stop eating so much avocado toast.

My car…

I don’t foresee myself owning one any time soon, tbh. (How’s that for millennial realism?) But this is supposed to be a tag about my perfect world, after all, so… how about a VW Bug? They’re freakin adorable.

I’d live…

I don’t think I’d like living in the hustle and bustle of a big city, but I don’t want to live out in the middle of nowhere either. I would love to be close enough to walk into town for groceries, library books, dinners out, and the like.

I’d prefer not to continue living in the US. Ireland is beautiful and I’d love to return someday. Australia or New Zealand would be interesting choices, but I’m really not sure how quickly I’d adjust to the flip in seasons.

I’d eat…

I’m neither allergic to anything nor a picky eater, so I don’t actually have any specific foods in mind here. More than anything, I want more patience for cooking! I love to make my own food and generally find it relaxing, but I can also be easily frustrated when something doesn’t go right. I’ll eat anything – I just want the physical process of cooking to be 100% relaxing 100% of the time!

My significant other…

Eeeeeeeee can’t wait to have a gosh dang wIFE! I hope she’s a writer like me, although I’d be happy as long as she was involved in some sort of creative pursuit. I definitely see myself meeting* her through some type of writerly or artsy activity. Looking forward to smooching her cute face all the time oh god I’m such a lesbian…

*Or maybe I’ve already met her??? Now there’s a thought for you.

-~-

I’m tagging:

And as always, feel free to participate whether or not I tagged you. (Or ignore this tag, if you so choose.)

-~-

What would have to change for YOUR world to be perfect? I’d love to know; we can compare notes!

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Progress, Not Perfection | Adventures In Journaling

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to start journaling in 2018. I’ve accumulated a ton of notebooks, both plain and pretty, over the years, but very few of them had seen any use.

So far, I’ve been successful at this resolution and try to journal a little bit every day – or at least a few times a week when my life is crazy busy.

I’m trying to reframe my mindset from “What if I mess up this page?” to “What if I never used this notebook at all?”

Every year, I get better and better at letting myself enjoy the small pleasures in life: Wearing my nice dresses. Making that slightly expensive tea because it’s my favorite and I want some. You get the idea. I don’t want to overindulge, but the more time that goes by the less “saving it for a rainy day” makes sense to me.

Because sometimes that chance never comes. A rainy day comes and you say, “No, not this rainy day. It must be a more special one.” And that’s how you end up with people who die without ever having used their good china.

I’m not trying to be morbid. I certainly hope I don’t die anytime soon lmao! But what’s the point in letting all those notebooks sit, abandoned, in a box or desk drawer? If I’m not gonna use them, then I should at least give them to someone else who will.

I’m still worried about “messing up.” Maybe less so now that I’ve actually started journaling regularly, but that feeling is still somewhat there. It won’t disappear – let alone lessen – unless I keep going, though.

Sometimes I do mess up a page. My handwriting isn’t the greatest. I have a very poor sense of spacing, too, so sometimes my letters are huge on one side of the page and then tiny on the other as I panic and try to cram them all in.

But that’s OK. Progress, not perfection. I’d rather have the satisfaction of looking at a completed page and knowing I did my best than the guilt of looking at a blank page and remembering all the times I promised I’d start creating but never followed through.

Take my quote journal, for instance. It’s a little notebook with blank white pages, so I first paint a page with watercolors and then write a favorite, long-ish quote of mine with black marker. It isn’t a flawless project by any means; sometimes my handwriting is wonky or the paint and marker bleed through. And I used to feel bad about that!

But then it dawned on me that aesthetics were never the point here. I started this journal because I wanted a place to keep all my favorite lengthy quotes about life and love and books and all sorts of other things. It had nothing to do with making it look pretty. The whole point was to write down those quotes so I can look back at all those words from Neil Gaiman and Oscar Wilde and oh so many others I admire when I need advice or inspiration.

I still scream internally every time a letter turns out lopsided or a line of text angles upward. I won’t give up, though. For now, I just remind myself over and over that it’s about the experience, not the product. I’ll never learn to relax and enjoy making art if I’m tense + worried about making mistakes. And I’ll never get any better at making art if I don’t keep practicing, pushing onward no matter how many mistakes I make.

Progress, not perfection.

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The Happy Tag

Happy Tuesday! Today I bring you a tag all about HAPPINESS, lovingly stolen from whimsywriter3 @ Rambling Writer. This tag is so good-spirited I couldn’t pass it up. What better way to celebrate the sunny days and warm weather of May in the northern hemisphere?

I sincerely hope that reading this post makes you just as happy as writing it made me!

books that make me happy.

  • The Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy
  • A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Dramarama by E. Lockhart
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements
  • Matilda, The BFG, and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka
  • Everyone’s A Aliebn When Ur A Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun
  • There’s A Girl In My Hammerlock by Jerry Spinelli
  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
  • The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

films that make me happy.

  • Miss Congeniality
  • A New Hope
  • Babe
  • Imagine Me & You
  • Carol
  • The Little Prince
  • Muppets In Space
  • Moana
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Wonder Woman
  • The Princess Bride

songs that make me happy.

  • “Tiny Dancer” – Elton John
  • “Wildflowers” – Tom Petty
  • “Send Me On My Way” – Rusted Root
  • “Single Ladies” – Beyoncé
  • “Girls Like Girls” – Hayley Kiyoko
  • “Palace” – Hayley Kiyoko
  • “Womanizer” – Britney Spears
  • “Castle On The Hill” – Ed Sheeran
  • “Tenerife Sea”- Ed Sheeran
  • “Photograph” – Ed Sheeran
  • “Shut Up and Dance” – WALK THE MOON
  • “Good As Hell” – Lizzo

I’ve made a Spotify playlist of these tunes; you can find it here!

words that make me happy.

  • Lugubrious
  • Effervescent
  • Enthrall
  • Dismal
  • Ojalá
  • Lachesism

foods that make me happy.

  • Quesadillas
  • Thai red curry
  • Pretzels (hard or soft)
  • Oreos and anything flavored like them
  • Buttered popcorn
  • Cheesecake
  • Waffles
  • Falafel
  • Blueberry-hibiscus tea
  • Fresh peaches
  • Kiwis
  • Jambalaya

scents that make me happy.

  • Pine trees
  • Old books
  • Coffee
  • Newly-mown grass
  • Damp earth
  • Maple syrup

miscellany that make me happy.

  • Clean bedsheets
  • The clack of a typewriter’s keys
  • That startled little chirp cats make when you wake them up
  • Strings of Christmas lights
  • Thunderstorms
  • Homemade birthday cards

-~-

I’m tagging:

And as always, feel free to participate whether or not I tagged you. (Or ignore this tag, if you so choose.)

-~-

What do you need to be truly happy?

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My Antidepressants Make Me A Better Writer

“I find that stability is good for my creativity.”

– Ellen Forney, author

I know my antidepressants are working because I’m writing as much as I used to.

Reading, too. Consuming books like mad.

But it’s writing I want to focus on, since that’s where I first noticed this effect. I’ve been writing all these years, but not with nearly the same amount of passion and intensity as I am now.

I’m writing more these days, too. Fiction and blogging and stuff for school assignments. I expect that if I were to experiment with poetry, as I did last spring for my Literary Retelling & Impersonation course, the same thing would happen.

It’s exciting. It’s a little scary, too, since it hasn’t happened in so long.

Since, as I said, I’ve been writing all these years despite depression and anxiety and everything else, my writing has naturally improved. But I don’t think it quite reached the sheer volume of writing I produced when I was… what? fourteen? Somewhere around there. I fell into a deep depression around age sixteen, which definitely stunted my growth as a writer in the second half of high school and into college.

I kept at it anyway, determined. And, well, let’s face it – sometimes because I was required to do so. There’s nothing like 40% of my grade hanging over my head to make me write a fifteen-page, meticulously-researched essay even when all I want to do is curl up and disappear!

So, yeah, my writing did improve over the past few years, simply because I never stopped. Buuuuut writing more – not merely writing, but writing A LOT – also helps. And until late last year, I wasn’t doing any of that.

I kind of wish I had pushed myself harder during high school and the first few years of college. But I can’t do anything about that now, because I don’t have a time machine. Unfortunately. (Or maybe it’s for the best? IDK if I really wanna go back in time and see my cringy teenage self.)

So I’ve been trying to make peace with reality and focus on doing the best I can right now. Forget that nonsense neurotypicals spout about medications dulling your creativity; if I didn’t have the increased energy the pills I take each day provide, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this. My world – and my mind – would still be just as gray, flat, and empty as they were in high school.

In Marbles, Ellen Forney’s graphic novel memoir of life with bipolar disorder, she spent years avoiding meds because she thought they would dull her creative spark. Eventually, however, she realized that depression doesn’t draw profound work out of you: If you have no energy anymore, you can’t exactly communicate what your sadness is like to the rest of the world, complete with crowds oohing and aahing at your genius.

My writing didn’t improve as much as it probably could’ve, but at least I kept going. Kept trying. I definitely don’t feel that depression is weighing me down and stopping so many ideas from being seen through to completion, so that’s something.

Whatever this feeling is, I like it.

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How Can I Motivate Myself To Rest? + What Self Care Habits Are Right For Me?

I followed the Facebook page QTPoC Mental Health – an offshoot of the wonderful website Rest for Resistance – many months ago in an attempt to stay informed about issues facing a community I want to be an ally too. So often, discussions of mental health focus on straight + cis + white people, throwing everyone else under the metaphorical bus.

I don’t interact with their posts other than to share them, since I don’t want to take up space in a place that’s not meant for me, but it has since become one of my favorite mental health-related pages on that site; everything posted there is amazing and spot-on.

The other day, one of their posts asked the question:

“Instead of motivating yourself to be productive, how can you motivate yourself to rest?”

Brb, printing that quote out and sticking it above my bed where it shall remain for ever and ever.

That single message seriously changed my thinking. I work hard… and it pays off. But I’m never satisfied, either. However productive I am, I always that I could have worked longer, harder, more. And that’s exhausting. I think I do it to prove myself. To make up for lost time. To stave off depression.

None of which are inherently bad things. They can become bad when taken to an extreme, though, and I feel myself careening ever closer toward that extreme.

Obviously, I’m going to come at QTPoC Mental Health’s question differently than someone who experiences oppression on more axes than I do would; for instance, I don’t have to contend with institutional racism from psychiatrists, psychologists, therapy groups, and the like that have the potential to interfere with my access to self care.

But I do think there is an overwhelming pressure from American/Western culture as a whole to go go go without ever stopping for breaks. You’re not supposed to rest. You’re supposed to be productive. And somewhere along the way, I bought into this wholesale. A fuckton of my self-worth is based on my productivity and it fluctuates according to how much I’ve gotten done lately!

I’ve said this (many times) before and I’ll say it again: Relaxation does not come easily or naturally to me. I’m all about to-do lists and planners and calendars. I love crossing tasks off when I’m finished with them!

I could use more practice when it comes to resting.

I build in time to get sh*t done by waking up early, using any spare time I have between classes or meetings, multitasking during meals, and more.

I don’t build in nearly enough time to relax. I don’t write it down in my planner.

Perhaps I should start doing that.

Immediately, I wondered, “What do I need to be well-rested?”

Does collapsing onto my bed after class and laughing at memes on my phone for five or ten or fifteen minutes qualify as relaxation? I don’t think so. And yet that’s one of my main restful activities.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of worrying about what “counts” as self care. We idealize it. Self care doesn’t have to mean taking a bath. It doesn’t have to mean a digital detox. It doesn’t have to mean making yourself a hot drink and curling up under a blanket with your pet.

But it can. It can – and should – be whatever it is that really nurtures you. If taking a bath doesn’t particularly do anything for your psyche, then so be it. If making yourself hot chocolate does, don’t feel ashamed to be practicing so-called “cliche” self care.

For me, part of figuring how out best to motivate myself to rest meant figuring out what activities work best for me.

Some people paint their nails in order to take some time for themselves. That doesn’t work for me. Painting my nails stresses me tf out because the end result looks like a monkey did it. (And I don’t like the feeling of something on top of my nails. It feels weird… I can’t explain it.)

So what does work best for me? What do I need to do in order to be well-rested?

Not to be all “smartphones are evil and the downfall of mankind,” but I feel so much better when I’ve been away from my phone for a bit. With it, I entrap myself. I spend way too much time checking this app and that message and those notifications, feeling distracted and disoriented and only marginally happy.

Being outdoors helps, too. I need to find more trails and other walking paths nearby, where I will be surrounded by trees and relative peace + quiet. Doesn’t have to be an intense hike, but it feels so satisfying to stretch my legs and take deep breaths of fresh air.

Reading helps. While writing is a therapeutic activity for me, it also stresses me out and requires me to spend most of my time in front of a screen, since I can type much faster than I can write.

I’m sure there are more pastimes that are good for me, but the last one that comes to mind right now is cooking/baking. I love the focus it requires. I love the repetition of actions. I love the sensory details, from the smell of chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven to the sight of a kiwi’s bright green and juicy inside.

No matter what, I need to make more of an effort to motivate myself to relax… but it isn’t helpful if the activities I claim are “self care” aren’t really helping me. Watching YouTube videos or DIYing a face mask from avocado are nice and all; I mean, I’m not necessarily going to stop doing them.

Sometimes, however, I need to set aside the digital devices I turn to out of habit + ignore the nagging thoughts that tell me my self care has to match the Instagram Aesthetique. At times, motivating myself to do such things is easier said than done.

But I won’t give up.

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How To Have A Productive Summer

Every year at around this time, the first and foremost question in my mind is: “What should I do this summer?” There’s SO MUCH to do… and yet I have so much laziness in me, too, which is why a little advance thought + planning is never a bad idea. Each summer has given me the opportunity to gradually become better at figuring out what tf I want to do with these few short months of freedom from school. So I decided to write up this post in case anyone needs some help!

Enjoy!

1. Make a bucket list

I’ve done this every summer for the past few years and it has been oh so rewarding each time! The beauty of a bucket list is that it can include anything, really – whatever your little adventurous heart desires. Silly or serious. “Binge-watch American Gods” belongs on there just as much as “start learning Spanish” does and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise can fuck right off, honestly.

Check out my bucket list tag if you need more inspiration!

2. Read, read, read 

What better time than the summer to catch up on all those books you didn’t have time for during the school year? You can make a serious dent in your TBR list just by curling up on a porch swing or inside a treehouse with a good book for a few hours a day.

Check out The Ultimate Teen Book Guide by Daniel Hahn or Nancy Pearl’s series of Book Lust guides if you’re not sure where to start!

3. Write or journal

The first session of Camp NaNoWriMo took place in April, unfortunately, but you could always attempt round #2 in July! Or find some writing how-to guides at the library and go from there. Join or start a writing group. Get a penpal. Buy yourself a cute notebook – or engage in some fun DIY to make a plain one cuter – and write down all your hopes and dreams and worries. Search out publications, either online or print, that you could write for.

Pick up a copy of 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, if you’d like!

4. Start a blog or vlog

And if you abandon it at the end of the semester? So be it. I mean, ideally you would fall in love with the format and find a way to make time to continue this newfound hobby buuuut if not, people will understand. It’s a Summer Project™. A fling, if you will.

Read A Teen’s Guide to Creating Web Pages & Blogs by Benjamin and Peter Selfridge.

(It’s the book I turned to when I began blogging all those years ago, in 2010!)

5. Begin some kind of challenge + follow it through to its completion

Doesn’t necessarily have to be the ever-popular thirty-day challenge, but… I mean, they are popular for a reason. There are all sorts of themed challenges you could do: Seven-day photography challenge, bookish bingo, month-long flash fiction writing, thirty days of kindness. Or create your own! The sky’s the limit!

For this item, I can suggest no better place to start than Pinterest. Type “_____ challenge” and be amazed at what you find!

6. Explore your hometown or travel to nearby locations

I get it. Not all of us have lots of money, time, and/or access to transportation. But you can still make the most of your situation by exploring places close to home. Go for a hike at a local park. Have dinner at that restaurant that’s been around forever but that you’ve never been to. Sometimes just having someone else to do the exploring with makes all the difference.

Check out The Wander Society by Keri Smith for more ideas!

7. Teach yourself something new

You could always take a class… or you could learn a subject or skill all on your own! It’s what the library’s for, my dudes. You can find books there that will teach you just about anything.

Not putting a link here, either. Get your ass over to your local library and/or their website and search away.

8. Get a job (or volunteer)

I know, I know, this isn’t exactly fun, but… at the end of it you’ll have more money than you did before. That has to count for something, right? A job or volunteer position will fill your days faster than you know.

Browse VolunteerMatch.org or your local newspaper!

9. Prepare for the next school year

Now this could be fun or HELL, depending on your interests. The summer is a good time to get a head start on any reading lists you’ve already been given. You could also self-study a subject that you know will be difficult: By the time school starts up again, this will be your second time seeing the material, which should hopefully give you a leg up in class!

Here are some links you may find helpful:

And here’s a guide to starting a studyblr of your own, by emmastudies!

10. Clean your room

Every now and then, usually during either winter break or summer vacation, I like to spend two or three days deep-cleaning my room. It’s amazing how much stuff I accumulate even though I don’t spend very much time at home anymore! Take some time to go through EVERYTHING you own and decide what to keep, recycle, give away, or throw out. Particularly if you do still live at home, it helps you begin the new school year feeling refreshed since you have less clutter to deal with now.

Check out this basic cleaning infographic from Unfuck Your Habitat! (I recommend the rest of the site, too. Perfect for #adulting.)

-~-

Now go forth and have one hell of a wonderful + productive summer!

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