self-care

In which I’m on a podcast and fail to make resolutions

Hello, dear readers! It’s been a while.

I keep discovering things about recovering from surgery, and one of them is: everything just takes more time and more energy. Even when it doesn’t feel onerous at the time. Even though I’m at the point where I’m basically back at work as normal, and I now have energy to go out and see friends, go to concerts, etc.

Some things have to go, it turns out, and for quite a while it’s been things like this blog — and often, doing more intense study, for which I am trying to forgive myself! Though I am proud that I’ve managed to keep up some language study every day, from the day of surgery (Duolingo in the morning before heading to the hospital, flicking through news emails while lying on the hospital bed waiting to be discharged!) onwards. That’s not nothing!

I do have a bit of exciting news: I was recently a guest on the Creative Language Learning podcast! Not to talk about language learning per se, but to discuss the title Mx., which is the title I’ve chosen as a genderqueer person. Many thanks to Kerstin for interviewing me, and to Kerstin and Lindsay both for giving me time on their show and having such thoughtful conversation about this topic! It’s a good episode in general; do check it out: Podcast Episode 28: What You Are is What You Say (Language and Identity).

It’s the time of year where I want to make all kinds of plans and start all kinds of projects, but… this year it feels a little bit vague: I want to do something, but can’t quite settle on what. I should probably make some SMART language-learning goals, like pass the B2 exam in German or read the first two Harry Potter books in German (I own them and would like to read them and declutter them!), but… I’m afraid to commit! Anyone else having this problem? Have you set any new year’s resolutions about languages? I love reading posts about this, so point me at yours!

Last but not least: if you are celebrating holidays at this time of year, I hope they are good ones, full of cheer and love and generally nice things. And if you’re not celebrating, I hope you have cheer and love and nice things too!

See you in 2016!

Small steps and self-compassion: a pre-surgery linkdrop

Remember in my last post I mentioned I’d be having surgery sometime this fall? It wasn’t scheduled to take place for a couple of months, but now it’s happening very suddenly, due to me getting a cancellation slot. It’s a good job I already started thinking about how to occupy myself while recovering. I won’t have time to organize my bookmarks and all that kind of stuff that I wanted to do beforehand, but I do have a shiny new tablet, and I guess I’ll make do!

Let this serve as official notice that posting here will probably be even more sporadic than usual while I’m recovering. In the meantime, have some links that feel timely (even though in actual fact, I’ve been meaning to post some of these for months…):

  • Follow Through, Don’t Give Up! over at the Language Pond has a lot of smart things to say that feel particularly relevant at the moment. The struggle to figure out if I really need to take time to rest, or if that’s depression talking me out of things because that’s what depression does (it’s a lying jerk), is a constant in my life. It’s also difficult to be kind to myself when I do need to chill out, to have the honesty and compassion to even acknowledge a need to rest.
  • 24 Unusual Ways To Learn a Language Every Hour from BRAVE Learning. I like the idea of sticking these into Evernote and then pasting in links relevant to what I’m studying: another project I probably won’t end up doing, to be honest, but I’m sure it would be really handy! In the meantime I can at least use these as prompts.
  • 5 Ways to Fit in 5 Minutes of Language Practice from Language in Bloom. I especially like the suggestions to conjugate verbs and to write down words you recognize from a short podcast.
  • Language Learning Goals Derailed? 8 Simple Steps to Getting Back on Track from Language Hero. Setting yourself a target time for language study every day and then halving it is a really good idea; it reminds me of what blogs like Zen Habits always say about starting so small you can’t fail.
  • Set D.U.M.B. Goals – Motivation March – Part 3 from Language Surfer (I almost typoed “Language Surgery” — guess we know what’s on my mind! What would a Language Surgery blog be like, anyway?!). This is so important! I appreciate the reminder that SMART goals aren’t always appropriate — say, when one is recovering from surgery and isn’t on top form, cough cough — and that moving forward with “DUMB” goals is still moving forward.

And a few more general links:

Well! There’s a bunch of good reading for you all, if you haven’t already seen those posts, or at least a reminder of the content if you have (I certainly need reminders of these things!). And I think that’s all for me for a bit — we shall see! Maybe in a week or two I can post an update on language study while on painkillers, exhausted, generally out of it. And if not, well, maybe something when I’m past that fuzzy stage.

Having this surgery sooner rather than later is better healthwise, of course, but I admit I’m also relieved because it might mean (depending on how recovery goes) that I won’t have to miss any German classes this fall! And also, one of my longest-running Skype conversation exchange partners is coming to London in a few months. His visit was timed exactly with my old surgery date, so I was bummed that I probably wouldn’t get to hang out, but now it should be fine. Hooray!

Anyway! Be well, everyone. Take care of yourselves, be kind to yourself, and drop me any links you think might be interesting or useful to read from my convalescent bed!

The language learner’s guide to recovery from surgery (or my guide, at least!)

How are the language buddies going? I sent out the matches a week or so ago (and tweeted but neglected to post here — sorry!). I hope they’re going all right, but if you’ve had no response or something else has happened, let me know here (or via email: compassionatelanguageblog at gmail) and I’ll see if there’s something I can do. For myself, it’s been really helpful to have someone to write to in German regularly; writing is my weak point and I know the only way to get over it is to do it more. And yet I so rarely do…

In other news: I’m finally starting to feel a tiny bit more relaxed and grounded in my new flat. Good. Summer is slipping away and I need to have a good stable base for myself before winter. I don’t think I have Seasonal Affective Disorder per se, but I definitely find darkness and cold and winter really challenging.

I especially need to set myself up well in terms of making self-care and coziness and good stuff easy or automatic, because I am likely to be having fairly major surgery in a couple of months (maybe sooner, if there’s a cancellation and I can go in with little notice). I’ll probably have four to six weeks off work, maybe longer, and several months where I need to be careful with myself and ease back into things (I suspect I may not be able to do yoga for about six months, which is pretty upsetting to me, but so be it).

Because I’ll be easily fatigued and very limited, certainly at first, in what I can do and how much I can make it to the outside world, I’ll need to set myself up with a lot of distractions. Fortunately, there are many lovely language-learning distractions out there! A whole internet full!

I bookmark tons of things (I use Pinboard, by the way, which I really like), but my tags aren’t as clear as they could be. I’ve got tons of things tagged “German,” but haven’t been as good at subdividing them, or doing so consistently.

So! Pre-surgery prep work #1: going through my bookmarks and making a tag specifically for things I think will be good to watch or listen to or look at while recovering from surgery. It needs to be easy, so I can just click without too much thinking or trying to remember where I put a link, and without too much decision paralysis.

This list of stuff could include:

  • TV shows.
  • Vlogs. I need to subscribe to more of them on YouTube! Especially vegans posting fluffy food hauls or makeup reviews. But I also like stuff like Die Klugscheisserin, and I also currently have little experience with vlogs in French, so if you have any recs, let me know! I’m not a gamer, but sometimes I think Let’s Plays are amusing — there seem to be lots in German that I can follow, but the French ones I’ve seen generally have unclear vocals that are hard to parse.
  • Things I’ve been meaning to look up on German Wikipedia. Unlike lots of the internet, I rarely fall down Wikipedia rabbit holes — I look up things and mostly stick to what I actually came to the site to read about somehow!
  • Podcasts/radio shows on specific topics of interest. I found a German podcast about productivity techniques the other day — I wonder if I bookmarked it…
  • Sites like Gute Frage with lots of random short texts from people. I wish Ask MetaFilter was available in German.
  • Tags on Instagram or Flickr, etc. that lead to happy-making photos likely to have good captions to read as well.
  • More German Twitter accounts to follow, maybe — I follow a ton of politicians and bloggers, but there’s always room for more good ones.
  • Any other suggestions?

I’ll be sure to put my backlog of German magazines neatly near my bed, as well as some manga translated into German.

I should also leave myself a note that it’s okay to just poke at these resources and let the language wash over me, and if my focus isn’t laser-sharp and I can’t understand as much as I might normally, that’s okay! Because my job will be to rest and recover. As tempting as it is to consider all that time off work as time I could really power ahead with German, it’s probably not going to work that way.

I should also update my Anki decks with important words from the last few months of conversation exchange, oops. That would entail me actually going back to Anki seriously; I’ve had a real block about it for months.

I’m also going to look into finally getting a tablet; I suspect that will be a lot easier to manage, especially in the first few days post-surgery, than my laptop. I know there are a lot of buyer’s guides online, but if anyone has any particular recs (or un-recommendations!), especially regarding language stuff, I’d appreciate hearing them. I’m not tied to any one operating system (I have a Mac but an Android phone), I don’t need it to be the fanciest thing ever but probably want something more than the most basic model, I am not a gamer so don’t need that kind of capability but do want something that will look good and run well when playing videos or Skyping or whatever.

I do intend to keep up with my conversation exchanges via Skype, once I can focus enough to carry on a conversation! That should also help me feel less isolated. (And honestly I’m hoping after a couple of weeks I might feel okay enough to travel very carefully and gingerly to German class…)

Anyway! I’m really itching to get this surgery over and done with: the uncertainty about dates and the waiting is bothering me more than the actual operation or recovery. I mean, I’m nervous about being in pain and being limited in what I can do for months particularly when winter is rolling in. But I know this surgery is the right thing to do and I’ve been trying to get the NHS to agree for over a year. I just want to be sorted already! I guess coming up with a list of fluffy vlogs and other stuff to watch while I’m recovering is my version of pre-surgery broodiness (apparently some people clean the house, etc. instead! Ha! Not me!).

No doubt I’ll post again before I go into surgery, but it helps me to get this sort of thinking out there. And if people are around in London in late autumn and maybe want to go for a cup of tea or something similarly restrained, depending on how my recovery goes, that might be a nice idea!

What else should I do to keep going with some easy, joyful, engaging language learning while I’m recovering? Have any of you had to prepare for intensive time resting/hanging out in bed or mostly at home while you deal with health work? Any tips, relating to languages or not?

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!

Postcrossing, conversation exchange, and the joy of human connection

Do you all know about Postcrossing? It’s a website where you sign up to send postcards to random people around the world (and then receive some in return, of course!). Over the year or so that I’ve been a member, it’s become a valued tool in my self-care arsenal.

There’s something really life-affirming about sending mail to a stranger. I may not have anything at all in common with them; if we met in person, perhaps we’d even get into an argument over politics or something. But we send each other cards anyway. We wish each other well. Maybe we try to find the perfect postcard based on their profile or we buy pretty stamps or stickers. That little human connection, based on nothing more than signing up for the same website, somehow feels quite profound.

Of course, if I get someone who speaks a language I’m studying or have studied, it can be fun to write to them in that language. But the overwhelming pleasure for me is in the connection to people (that, and some of the truly amazing postcards I’ve received).

Sometimes doing conversation exchange feels like that too. A couple of the people I speak with seem to have things in common with me; with others, we mostly stick to safe, sanitized topics (still perfectly useful for language-learning, of course). But the bottom line is, we’re both trying to learn a language, we’re both putting in the time to speak to each other of our own volition, and we’re both wishing each other success and good luck. And we’re both helping each other to do that.

Okay, sure, each side of a conversation exchange has a vested interest in the other person feeling that it’s gone well, so that the exchange can continue. But still, it’s got a bit of that Postcrossing feel for me, that simple goodwill towards another person, just because.

Like I’ve said before, with mental illness, connections to other people may feel impossible or absent. Or they may feel like a burden or a danger (I’m a drain, I harm everyone that gets close to me, etc.). A postcard from a stranger, or a few minutes speaking to someone who maybe is or isn’t a stranger (to one degree or another), can provide some uncomplicated connection. And a reminder that, despite depression, I can still feel interested in things, I can still have small bright moments in my life, I still deserve other people’s good thoughts. The power of that can’t be overestimated!

When it’s not the most wonderful time of the year…

Hello everyone! I’m still here, this blog is still here, I’m just… busy. Some of that is with good stuff (studying languages! Going to concerts!). Some of that is… not. In this part of the world, it’s very dark and gray right now; the days are short, and at least here in London, I feel like we’ve been getting tons of rain. Plus, the holidays are really stressful for me, especially this year.

I refer to the spoon theory often on this blog (and in my daily life), but today I read about a fork metaphor for disability. It isn’t as intuitive for me as spoons, but the pertinent ideas are that sometimes you know that doing something would make you feel better, but you lack the energy/ability (forks) to do it, and that sometimes you do things and don’t get the forks anyway (an example for me would be that 99% of the time, doing yoga makes me feel at least a little better, so the few times when it actually makes my mood worse feels like such a failure and a betrayal!).

Sometimes I can’t tell when I’m giving myself permission to take a break because I genuinely need it and it will be restorative and it is a kind thing to do, and when it’s the depression telling me not to do something that will make me feel better (replenish my forks), because, as they say, depression lies.

All that to say: my fellow language-learners, especially you who are dealing with darkness (northern hemisphere-related or internal or both!), those of you who fear and dread the holidays as I do, hello. I hear you. I see you. Don’t beat yourself up for getting behind in your Anki repetitions or for cancelling conversation exchange meetups or for not hammering your way through a chapter of grammar that you wanted to.

If you only want to watch the same episode of a vlog in your target language over and over, or if you find comfort in listening to the same song in your target language over and over, or if all you can manage to do is browse Instagram looking at photos using tags in your target language (you guessed it)… then do that. Shift your study plan down to what you can manage, focus on what makes you feel calmer or cozy or safe. I think it’s important not to stop completely — I know from my own experiences with habits on Lift and elsewhere that restarting is sometimes harder than starting or continuing something — but I do think sometimes it just happens, and sometimes it might even be what you need to do.

For many people, this time of year is already difficult and guilt-inducing (why aren’t you happy, don’t you want to see your family/go to another holiday party, etc.). So lay off kicking yourself if you let your languages slide a little bit, all right? If you need to focus your energy on something else for self-care, then doing that will hopefully leave you in better shape to dive back later.

Seriously. Take care of yourselves, dear readers. Maybe we can make a bargain: I will try my darnedest to practice self-care in abundance if you will too. Does that sound like a plan? And we can meet back in January and figure out how to turn the studying back up again.

(And if anyone’s self-care strategies do involve learning languages, please comment and tell me about it! I did a few very short yoga videos in German this morning: that was nice, except the videos had some technical issues that made them hard to follow. I could look for other German yoga videos, except… you know. Spoons. And now also forks.)

(You can also comment and grump about the holidays or winter if you like, of course! Bonus if you can share some vocab for doing so in a language you’re studying.)

Being the person they think I am, redux

Insert generic apologies for being away from the blog (depression/winter darkness/physical illness/mice in the roof above my flat/you know how it goes). Hopefully I’ll be more on course to post again soon; I still have so many half-drafted posts and things I want to talk about!

But in the meantime, a quick anecdote — along the lines of being who my conversation partners think I am:

Today I had one of my regular Skype conversation exchanges. We spent some time discussing job interviews — both he and I happened to have two in the past week. (Mine were for positions in countries where my target languages would be useful, go me!) And I said something like, “Oh, maybe over the next year I can work harder on getting my French and German up, because it’d be really useful to be able to pass the B2 exam for both of them [in terms of being eligible for more jobs], but… that’s probably not going to happen.”

(Self-denigration as reflex: I feel like a lot of this stems from depression but also it’s me living in England, where people deprecate themselves as a matter of course.)

And he said, casual as anything, “Why not? Why wouldn’t that happen?” As if he had no reason to assume that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Of course he doesn’t know about how depression and anxiety grinds me down and keeps me from doing a tenth of what I like to imagine I might do otherwise. But, you know, we’ve been practicing my German together for probably six or eight months at this point — and he’s said a few times that he’s noticed great improvement.

So why not, right? Why can’t I be the person he thinks I am, that would be able to pass that B2 exam? Why can’t I act like that person?