We Work Best When We Are Whole and Healthy

by Caitlin (CJ) Jones

Each October we celebrate Careers in Students Affairs Month. Countless professionals plan programs and host sessions to spur top leaders into considering the path so many of us chose. Then we move into November, an overall tough month. We are nearing the end of the semester: faculty are preparing for finals, staff are intentionally connecting to those with various post-midterm alerts, undergraduate students are anxiously awaiting a break and second year graduate students are nervously preparing for the upcoming job search. Continue reading

Finding Another Option

by Kristen Abell

I was barely thirteen the first time I considered suicide as a solution to my problems. I remember feeling as though there wasn’t another way out – that I couldn’t possibly deal with the pain and hurt and confusion another day. I remember multiple times standing in the street in front of my house – to be fair, a street that was not terribly busy, but I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and at least that way maybe I couldn’t be totally responsible for it.

Within a few years, I had planned and unplanned my death several times. I’m sure I didn’t know the limits of pain as a teenager, but it certainly felt like I did, and it wore me out. Multiple times I was just certain that I could not go on, that death certainly had to be easier than what I was currently facing.

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by Clare Cady


TO: Present Clare Cady

FROM: Past Clare
RE: Rules of bipolar depression
DATE: July 5, 2016


It has come to our attention through several channels that you are starting this week dealing with a bout of bipolar depression. We are deeply sorry for this and hope that you are able to move through it in a healthy and comfortable fashion. As a result, we would like to remind you of the basic rules you created in a time when you were not feeling so low. Please adhere to these rules as closely as you can in order to ensure you do not experience the negative side effects of depression. We know that the direct effects are bad enough.

  1. Admit that you are depressed and that you are not in control of your feelings. Denying it or calling it something else is not helpful or healthy. You will take better care of yourself if you admit that there is a problem and you are powerless over it. If it works for millions of addicts out there, it can also work for you.
  2. You are not required to go to work, but you cannot stay in bed all day. We understand that you may have to take a sick day or two – after all, bipolar IS an illness. This is completely normal and understandable. However, it is not acceptable for you to stay in your bed with your computer watching Netflix for the entire day. Get out of bed. You can watch Netflix on the couch.
  3. You must tell at least one person you are depressed. We don’t care who, we just care that you tell someone so that at least one person knows that you are dealing with it. The best option (if it is available to you) is to just tell your supervisor when you call in to work. Friends, family, even complete strangers are all acceptable. We do recommend someone who knows you but are willing to concede that sometimes you just want to keep this private. We know that the act of telling someone is cathartic for you – even if you cannot recall that at this time.
  4. You must eat three meals. You do not have to cook, clean, organize, shop for groceries, or even leave the apartment; BUT you have to eat. If you can, eat healthy things. We understand that you may not be able to do this. If you cannot, we prefer that you eat junk rather than not eating at all.
  5. You must exercise. This is loosely interpreted but does not include sitting on the couch all day watching Netflix. On the worst days it COULD include doing situps and leg lifts on the floor next to the couch while watching Netflix. This is entirely acceptable.
  6. NO major life decisions. No, you cannot quit your job, end your relationship, buy a house, get a tattoo, drive to Chile, go bear hunting, or set out to run a marathon without training. Right now you are not in control of your emotions, and decisions should be put on hold until further notice. We recognize that some of the examples given are more likely to be associated with your mania. We included them here because manic Clare is even more likely to make rash decisions than depressed Clare is. All interventions are good interventions in this case, and thus we have included these notes on this rule today because it applies to mania as well. Please note that while it may seem like these kinds of decisions may make you feel better, you will still be depressed afterward because you are not in control of this (see rule number one).
  7. Be kind to yourself. Examples of this can include: taking a bath, getting a massage, making a (small) purchase of something you wanted, sitting in the sun, calling a friend (you may or may not disclose your depression – either is fine), eating truffles (please avoid eating the whole box, but if you do we will not judge), or going to the shelter to pet puppies (you may NOT adopt one however). It is also OK to do things that are not active but simply tell yourself kind things, or avoid telling yourself unkind things. Do things that you know make you happy, even if today they do not.

We appreciate any level of cooperation you can muster regarding these rules in the coming days. Please know that we recognize that by having these rules at all we are inevitably setting you up for what you will consider some level of failure. We do not consider it so. Understand that while these are framed as rules, we see them more as guidelines for healthy navigation of bipolar depression, and that there may be days where you will be unable to engage in all seven. THIS IS ACCEPTABLE. Please note that if you are unable to adhere to rules one or two for three or more days you should call your therapist and discuss options for increasing your personal safety.

It is advisable to review this memorandum the moment that you believe that you are experiencing depression in order to ensure maximum impact. We also understand (as with everything in this memo) that this may not happen. If you have read this far we are in deep appreciation of you and want you to know that we love you. Lots of people do.


Past Clare

Clare Cady is a senior program officer of national college programs at Single Stop and the director and co-founder of the College and University Food Bank Alliance. She has a background in education and the nonprofit sector, and has worked both in student affairs and outside of the profession. Beyond her work, Clare is a backpacker, singer-songwriter, crossfitter, and t-rex enthusiast. Her belief in critical thought and questioning leads her to never accept the premise of the given question, and her dream is to one day snuggle a polar bear. Connect with Clare on Twitter @clarecady

My Trauma Informed Office Changed My Life (And My Work)

When we hear about all of the innovative and successful businesses out there focused on employee wellness with gyms, unstructured work days, and daycare we usually don’t think about student affairs. But, why not us? As I took a new job in a new state, wellness has been a cornerstone of my office which has significantly improved the quality of my work and the quality of my mental health.

I could talk about all the ways my previous employer failed and how I hated being there. I had a lot of flexibility in my job, a lot of autonomy, and low expectations but my pay was far too low, the hours way too long and irregular, and there was very little support and sense of a team. This is not the story I am here to tell but it certainly exemplifies being part of a trauma informed office.

My office works hard on an issue that is even harder. Sexual violence is at the forefront of media attention and we are one of the largest institutions in the country. What I do in my position could put us in significant national scrutiny or praise. I feel a lot of pressure every single day to create and improve in amazing ways. My bar is set at the highest it has ever been in my career and I couldn’t be happier. So, why am I so happy and thriving in this role when the pressure is so incredibly high? The secret is simple; my office understands and focuses on trauma and holistic wellness.

We believe that each individual is unique and our job is to serve people. This means we take every opportunity we can to learn about different cultures and populations, we listen to our students’ and each others’ stories, and we make a conscious effort to treat each person we encounter without prejudgment. This is something I felt in my first interview with this office. When I showed up to work for the first day, I found it a true value. For me, being able to talk about my female partner at work has made a world of difference in my work performance and overall happiness. We have even created our own bullying policy and value building on each others’ strengths to create a culture of acceptance and teamwork.

We also strive to learn about another kind of diversity, the diversity of trauma. My office is always striving to learn more about how trauma affects the brain and how people operate. It is a value that we not only understand trauma in our students but also in ourselves. We do a quarterly assessment of our secondary trauma in order to track peak times of the year and check our wellness. Even though this hasn’t been in effect long enough to make adjustments yet, it still creates a feeling that my office really cares about my well-being.

Another way we recognize secondary trauma and the draining nature of our work is having a wellness-focused culture. My supervisor really exemplifies this through trying a new work structure this summer. She recognized that we were all working late evenings and long days trying to thoroughly work student cases and get campaigns out and rolling so she decided to create the option to work 4 10 hour days instead of 5 8 hour days. This gives us the opportunity to take care of our personal lives and and cut down on the extra hours we would work just staying late. In addition, once per month we set aside about a 2-hour block of time to do a wellness activity together. This can be painting ceramics, going to yoga class, going for a walk and taking pictures, or playing with puppies.  This all is in addition to us checking in with each other when we know one of us is stressed, is going through a difficult time, or otherwise needs some extra support. We are encouraged to take care of ourselves, hydrate, eat, and get sleep. Knowing the office has my back both in work and reminding me to take care of myself has boosted my creativity and work output more than I could have imagined in a matter of weeks.

Having each others’ backs is just one part of allowing each of us to be vulnerable. I reflect back on my first month of work when in a weekly one on one with my supervisor she asked me, “Are there any triggers I need to know about or anything I can do to help support you?”. I was surprised and a little uncomfortable at first but then I recognized what an incredible gift she had given to me and to the office. I could share what I needed, without judgment and with support. She has since shared some of her triggers with me and it in turn has made our office feel more human, more kind, and made it easier for all of us to support her as well. At the end of the day we recognize the humanity in our work and the toll being student affairs professionals can take on each of us, with or without mental health challenges.

Moving from a place that I was afraid to share myself and felt not cared for to this amazingly aware and supportive office has allowed me to increase my innovation and productivity ten fold (look for big projects coming out of my office soon, that’s what I did in 3 months) and has significantly improved my mental health. I was depressed and having breakdowns and PTSD episodes at least weekly. I have since come out of my depression and maybe had two in episodes in the past 4 months. I couldn’t be more thankful for my office, my supervisor(s), and for the culture she has worked so hard to create for us. There are many ways to create an office culture of wellness and support, not just these. The important piece is that you value and create it in every way you can. The investment will pay you and your institution back infinitely.

Tiff Dyer works as the Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator at The Ohio State University and has been diagnosed with PTSD and generalized anxiety. They spend spare time finding new adventures, exploring the city, and playing with their amazing west highland terrier and ESA, Max. Tiff strives to change the world one moment at a time and believes that everyone has something to teach. Connect with Tiff on Twitter and Instagram, @tiffmdyer.

Committed: A Note to My Savior

by Sylvester Gaskin

Hey you,

I had a long day at work, and I’m glad you’re finally home. I’m happy you had a good day at work and you had fun at your new yoga class. You’re sitting on the couch, eating your dinner, and I can’t stop thinking about how you saved me. You’ve heard me talk about it many times, and you don’t believe me. But it’s true; you’ve saved my life more times than I can count. And I’m thankful.

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Time to Accept

by Carly Masiroff

medicine bottle with pills spilled out around it


This word keeps popping up in my life like one of those moles in the whack-a-mole arcade game. But why? What does it mean?

It’s no secret my mental health has never been on the straight and narrow. I try to hide it as much as possible and pretend my two friends, Anxiety and Depression, are not sitting on my shoulders at all times asking me to come out and play. But they are there. I’ve accepted they will always be a part of my life. But that doesn’t mean I have to accept their offer to play.

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by Lisa Latronica

If you’re like most people, you have a picture in your head of what treatment for mental illness looks like. Maybe that image is a counter full of pills. Maybe it’s lying on a couch talking to a doctor with a clipboard. Maybe you think of stark white walls and people in hospital beds. And successful treatment means you don’t need medication or a therapist any longer.

There’s a whole list of stereotypes when we think of mental health treatments, and just because we’re in higher education doesn’t mean that we don’t have assumptions, too. I’ve been in treatment for anxiety and depression for four years and for an eating disorder for almost a year, and even I fall victim to jumping to conclusions about my own treatment. Like a lot of people, I thought that once I started medication and talked to a therapist a few times, I would be magically better and back to “normal.”

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Finding Beauty in the Distortion of My Mind

by Carly Masiroff

This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive. And you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. – Perks of Being a Wallflower

I have always had an insatiable need to help others. When I saw a problem, I tried everything in my willpower to fix it, even if it ended up with unseen consequences. I needed to make others happy. I never knew why, I just knew I had to do it. To any ordinary person, even my closest friends and family, I seem to be tenaciously facing the world by day, while hiding a dark secret by night. Continue reading

A Secret 35 Years in the Making

by Paul Porter

I now understood that real secrets were lonely. They planted themselves inside of you and expanded, until you felt like that was all you were-a lonely little secret, isolated in your experiences.

Yvonne Woon

This post is dedicated to:

Kristen Abell, whose beautiful Pecha Kucha continues to inspire professionals in our field, and empowered me to write and share these thoughts: I admire you.

The allies of the mental health community—family and loved ones who help ease the feelings of pain, fear, frustration, and anxiety associated with mental illness: I salute you.

The 61.5 million Americans who experience some form of mental illness in a given year: I’m one of you.

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