Notes from the Management

Regrounding myself with languages, and: in which I ask for a little bit more of your patience

I’ve been traveling the past few weeks, and it was both more draining than I hoped and with less internet access than I wanted — which is why posts here have been even scarcer than usual, and why I’m a bit later than intended with the language buddy match-ups. Apologies for that; your patience is appreciated! I’m just worn out right now and trying to remedy that.

I didn’t study much while on the road, and in fact, I was using a language I haven’t studied for a long time. It was really pleasing how so much of it came back to me, but it did make my German fade. And it started to feel strange, and more than a bit perfunctory, to do things like pay serious attention to the daily news emails from German (and French) newspapers or watch vlogs.

Since I got back into town a few days ago, I’ve been scrambling to find something to remind me who I am (odd, and disappointing: oftentimes when I travel, I feel that it reminds me even more of who I am), to find something that feels comforting, reassuring.

This weekend I went for a run; I’m not really a runner but have been trying to do more of that this summer, which was interrupted while I was out of town. It felt good to get back to that, and aerobic activity seems to be somewhat effective for me in distracting anxiety. Then I painted my nails, because that’s something small and relatively easy to do that’s nice for myself.

I also tried to linger more over my news emails, to remind myself what it is to try seriously to parse news articles. I’ve been reading a few pages of a book or a magazine in German before I go to bed — nothing super-challenging, just something light to ease myself back into things.

I have to try to remember, to reawaken, the satisfaction of doing these things on a daily basis, in a mindful fashion. It goes without saying that this will help my German, but I’m also hoping it will help bring me back to myself and give me more of a sense of stability. Because I’ve been studying German for a while now (just under two years), and studying languages for much longer than that.

I’m rattled from coming back into town (and having to go back to work, boo), but also because I only moved house a week beforehand. I don’t quite remember the tentative new routines I started in this flat, not to mention I keep saying, “But where did I put my nice tea? And where on earth is that notebook I wanted to scribble lists in?”

So yes. Recentering myself, somehow. I’m going to try to be really nice to myself, really patient, really kind and forgiving. There are a couple of life things that are provoking extreme anxiety at the moment (apart from the general post-trip/return-to-work anxiety!) and I just… need to take care of myself.

I’m going to try to do more of the fun things with languages at the moment, too: I think my news emails are important, and I like reading them (except sometimes when the news is super-grim and I end up seeing five articles about the same mass shooting or whatever). But other things can be more fun, more engaging: I need to catch up on my vlogs — fluffy food haul or clothing haul or makeup videos seem right up my alley at the moment — and I could spend more time poking around German Instagram (I really like getting the bite-sized bits of German in people’s captions when I take a moment to check my feed on a tube platform or while I’m waiting on line somewhere).

The realization that snapping more fully back into language study mode would feel grounding to me is a bit astonishing. It makes me feel like I’m really a serious language person, somehow. Which is hilarious (that I’d need that kind of validation, and would get it from this), but hey, I’ll take it.

Anyway — all that to say, I have to remember that I need to be patient with myself and my various health issues (physical and mental, both of which have needed some attention in the wake of my return). And I ask for your patience, too — I’m going to try hard to get to the language buddy stuff this weekend. And I’m going to try hard not to get an anxious block around doing anything at all with it!

So, stay tuned, everyone!

Last call for language buddy sign-ups!

Just a quick reminder about signing up for language buddies! As I said previously, I’d like to start matching people up in August.

I should note that I’m currently traveling, and it’s been a bit more hectic and mentally draining than I thought — so I might not end up doing the matches until closer to mid-August. We have almost twenty people signed up already, though, which is super exciting! Please do fill out the form if you’re interested at all!

Sign up for language buddies! And why things are a little hectic around here

This is rather a long, personal post (ha, haven’t had one of those in a while!) — the most important thing is in the first two paragraphs below, about language buddies. Props to anyone who makes it through all the rest of it!

I’m really excited that so many other people are interested in my language buddy idea! Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and linkdropping and retweeting. There’s a really great post with some more thoughts about this idea — do check it out!

I’ve put together a really basic Google Form. If you’re interested in getting a language buddy, please sign up! And please share the link! How about people can sign up through the end of July? This would give people time to think about it (and to even find out about it!), especially as this is a time of year when lots of people might be traveling. After that, people can keep signing up if they want, and I’ll match them as I can, but it would be much easier (for me/you) to sign up before August.

OK, here’s the personal bit. This is where I have to ask you for patience in getting this up and running. I’m moving house in a little over a week (oh the heaving of panic in my chest just writing that!), and then shortly after that I’m going on holiday (which should be relaxing but I suspect won’t be, partly because I’m going with some of my family…). I’d kind of hoped this wouldn’t matter, in terms of at least getting this started: how many spoons does it take to throw together a quick Google Form, post the link, and ask people to sign up, right? And then I could worry about matching people later…

My optimism also stems from the past few months, where I’ve had an uptick in mental health. There have been days (weeks, even) where I’ve been pretty excited to get up in the morning and see what the day brings. Seeing spring and now summer unfold over London has really lifted my spirits. The flowers, the trees blooming — magnolias especially — everything coming alive again, the farmer’s markets transforming from withered apples and the same root vegetables to green and fresh things, the days getting longer: I’m really loving it, this year. (Maybe because last year I genuinely didn’t think I’d see these seasons again?)

A few other things going on have also helped me move forward in terms of depression and anxiety. So this year has felt a lot brighter. I started dreaming again, you know? Things I wanted to do with this blog, places I wanted to travel, projects I wanted to start.

With this stronger mindset, I’ve been handling the stress of moving relatively well. But this morning I was sharply reminded that, yes, I’m still ill, yes, I still do have depression and anxiety and it can still fell me. As soon as I woke up, I was hit by a wave of fear and ache and sadness; I jolted awake super-early because that’s what my body does when I’m not doing well. And I knew I needed more sleep but I was too freaked out to relax enough to get it, and too freaked out to get up and do anything that might distract me enough to calm down a little. So I just huddled in bed, miserable, for a few hours.

Screw anybody who gets sniffy about people using their smartphones in bed, by the way: I broadcast my distress on social media (and got support from my friends), I looked at distracting photos on Instagram, and I did about three times as much meditation as I do daily, in an effort to chill even a little.

(I struggled with meditation for a long time, and I still do, I absolutely still do, but having the app Headspace to guide me once I’ve selected a specific program — for anxiety, creativity, stress, etc. — helps with the resistance and the paralysis induced by trying to decide what meditation to do. Headspace isn’t free, but you get a short free trial; I periodically get some vouchers too — some of them might be expired by now, but if someone wants one, let me know.

And for language-learning, I’ve recently been poking at the 7Mind German meditation app. I find the voice incredibly soothing even when I can’t understand every single word…)

Anyway: all that to say, hello, universe, I have received your message! I understand! I was foolish to imagine that I could move forward with a lot of stuff now when I’m moving house, which is incredibly stressful for people even without depression.

And I want to be clear: I’m not moving because I want to. I love my flat (despite a few quirks). I love how much light it gets, how I can hear foxes screaming in winter and often encounter them on walks back from the tube (London has tons of foxes! I’m worried that I won’t see any near my new flat though), the trees nearby, the location, how cozy and safe it often feels for me, how it’s enough space for me, how it’s sheltered me and helped keep me alive for the past few years.

So why am I moving, then? Because London rents are skyrocketing, and in my neighborhood in particular; it’s become incredibly trendy and gentrified. The estate agent is raising the rent £150 a month. That’s not something I can manage.

So yes, apart from the ordinary stress of finding someplace new to live and decluttering and packing and doing tons of change of address forms, there’s the plain fact that I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave this neighborhood and my flat. Eventually, sure, but I’ve long said that I didn’t want to move from this flat until I was ready to actually move out of London (which I’m not).

Anyway: blah blah sob story, I’m far from the only person this has happened to, poor me, tiny violins, whatever.

At the same time I guess it’s time to acknowledge to myself that, despite a lot of progress in stabilizing my mental health this year, I’m still pretty vulnerable at high-stress times like this. It’s humbling to be brought down so quickly from “stressed and anxious but functioning” to “why does it even matter anyway, if I make it through this, my stupid little life” and “I can’t bear this, I don’t want to be alive anymore.” It’s so tiresome and scarily familiar. I’m fighting, but, you know, I didn’t think I’d be here again so easily.

So: please please be patient with me. I do want to set up this language buddy thing! Please stand by, and I’ll do my best. But it might not be until late August or even later. I’m sorry for those of you waiting! Let’s hope that me saying things will be slow somehow miraculously results in the opposite happening…

And please wish me luck with my move!

I’m in illustrious company! And also now on Twitter!

I was really pleased and honored (that makes it sound calmer than in reality!) to be included in Stephanie’s roundup of Language Blogs That Tell a Story over at To Be Fluent. Thank you, Stephanie! It makes me really happy that people are finding this blog useful and interesting. Her post has tons of fantastic language bloggers in it, not just the usual suspects — do check it out!

I’ve also finally set up a Twitter account for this blog. I’ll be sure to tweet new posts and hopefully other interesting bits and pieces — I’m still finding my way around having more than one Twitter identity (any suggestions for free Android apps to manage multiple accounts would be appreciated). You can follow me or read my tweets in the sidebar of this blog or directly on Twitter at compassionlang (darn username length limits).

In which the Embarrassed Language Learner asks for help

Yay, I posted about study habits when I’m severely depressed, after having that half-drafted for weeks and then… being too depressed to finish it!

But here’s something else I want to say. It makes me feel embarrassed and arrogant, but I’m going to take a deep breath and try to push away the shame and say it anyway. I’ve been lucky so far, for the tender age of this blog, to already have a lovely group of readers, some of whom have left really supportive comments. I’d like to ask you all, if you know of anyone who’d be interested in my blog, especially if they could relate to it, to please send them the link!

Yes, I realize this just looks like naked groveling for attention/blog hits, and maybe someone will castigate me for that. But there are two reasons I’m asking. Firstly: one of the most terrible things for me, when depressed, is to feel alone. Physically, yes, but also emotionally, and also in terms of feeling like I am broken or limited or just wrong in ways that nobody else is. So knowing that there are other language-learners out there who maybe struggle with the same things I do would be helpful.

And something else that I find agonizing (to the point that this alone can plunge me into a fit of suicidal ideation) is the idea that I’m, well… useless. That I have nothing to contribute, that there is nothing meaningful in my life or that I can add to the world. When I am in a really bad depressive state (as I have been lately), I feel guilty for all the effort my friends put in to support me and try to help me through. It makes me feel like a net drain, because mostly I can’t do anything except try to hold myself together. So — and believe me, all this is excruciating to say out loud — to know that this blog is useful to someone would be a tiny tiny bulwark against feeling that way.

Thanks, everyone. For reading, and maybe commenting, and maybe pointing other people here. I’m going to post this and run for the hills, red-faced, now.

(Brief?) interruption of service

I know this is a terrible thing to admit to, especially on a new blog, but it may be some time before my next post. I’m on vacation — that was supposed to be the reason! — but I’ve had some seriously bad personal news; that combined with my usual brainweasels means I can’t keep posting right now. (Though who knows, maybe I’ll start a flurry of posts to distract myself…)

I hope my few readers will be patient and understanding. Take care.

We’re not looking for excuses

When I envisioned this blog, I intended it to be for people like me, who both study languages and have mental illness. These are the people I want to be talking with, the ones who feel subtly left out or denigrated in other language-learning spaces online because maybe we don’t have the energy, or focus, to study two hours a day after work. Or maybe we can’t do Skype conversation exchanges on days when our anxiety is super-high or we’ve been too depressed to get dressed and can’t bear the thought of other people seeing us. You get the drift.

Somewhat belatedly, it occurred to me that other people, people without mental illness, might find their way here too. Given previous experience with this online, I think it’s worth setting down some guidelines: I don’t want to deal with comments like, “Oh, you’re just babying yourself and having a pity party so you have an excuse to be lazy and not to become fluent!” I don’t want to be deluged with stories of someone who has depression and learned six languages in a year — spare me your inspiration porn (and yes, in the UK at least, mental illness can be considered a disability).

I’m not here for that. I’m not here to be judged, to have the validity of my lived experience dismissed or downplayed, to be cooed at to just think positive. I’m not here to hold anyone’s hand and give them a free Intro to Mental Illness course either. This is the internet. Welcome to Google.

That said, for future reference, Libba Bray’s Miles and Miles of No-Man’s Land is a description of living with depression that really resonates with me, and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in Depression Is Not Sadness (Again): those are not bad starting points!

What it boils down to is this: if you don’t have mental illness (or even if you do, but especially if you don’t), you are welcome to read and comment (respectfully! Like everyone else), but you don’t get to judge how hard someone is trying, the individual burden they’re carrying, or whether or not they really want to learn.

If you don’t have mental illness, please respect that these posts, and any conversations that may arise from them, are not aimed at you, and I do not want to center your experiences. I want to try to shape a space where the rest of us can talk through things.

I can’t speak for everyone with mental illness, of course; I can only speak from my own experience and my (potentially flawed) understanding of my friends’ experiences. Given that, though, I think it’s fairly reasonable to say this: we’re not looking for excuses to fail. We’re trying to construct our lives around what can be some really complicated constraints. We’re trying to save our lives. And sometimes learning another language can be intimately tied into that process (I definitely want to write about that in more detail in future posts!).

Haters, as they say, to the left.