Author Archive | Chelsea R.

The Internship Diaries #4 – Perfect Landing

Image by Alper Çuğun, Flickr

Image by Alper Çuğun, Flickr

Well, as you might have noticed, summer has come to an end and school is back in session. Time for the craziness to begin again. In fact, I’ve already been so busy that I haven’t had time to write this post until now.

Now that I’ve been away from it for a week or so, I can say that I genuinely miss my internship. Office life, yes, the work, yes, but mostly the people. I was heartbroken that I would have to say goodbye to these people who, without knowing it, made the second most difficult summer of my life bearable. At the beginning of summer, I had just received some bad news, and I felt like I had to start my entire life over again. Now, somehow I’m a completely new person, with new interests and skills and friends and confidence, and I would be remiss if I didn’t give some credit for that to the place where I spent the majority of my time.

It was so gratifying to see the projects that I’d been working on for so long completed – I got to see a PDF of the designed version of the manuscript I’d been working on, and apart from one glaring misstep on the part of the graphic designer, it looked amazing. I can’t wait to get a copy to show off. Both of the videos that I filmed were released, and you can watch the one that I starred in, about bullying, social anxiety, and depression, here. It was decided that I would contribute to the blog I edited myself, as a writer this time.

I started out wobbly – like I was pushed off a cliff and I wasn’t sure if I was going to survive or not. But not only did I make it to the ground safely, it was a perfect landing. During my last week at the office, I was offered a part-time position with the organization, doing what I had already been doing but mainly from home, and for money. Of course, it doesn’t pay well, and the details are still hazy, but I was blown away.

I guess if I had to pick one thing that I hope readers take away from this series, it would be this – believe in yourself. Like really believe in yourself; even if you think that you’re the exception to every rule out there, and people just don’t get you, and your life just sucks. Believe in yourself. I was never the girl who got the guy, or anything else she wanted for that matter, and over time I’ve learned to expect failure or mediocrity at best. I’ve gotten better at encouraging myself to try things anyway, and do what makes me happy, but I don’t expect these things to be successful. Expecting success seemed arrogant and ridiculous. But maybe it’s not. Understand that there’s always the possibility of failure for everyone, and that no matter what there will always be challenges, but ultimately, expect success. It just might happen. That’s what I’ve learned.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following my little journey, and I encourage you to follow me on twitter @chelsearrr, where I post far more frequently than I should!

How Mental Health Affected Me In University

Image by Gebbe, Flickr

Image by Gebbe, Flickr

 
 
Being isolated in high school translated to me not having a lot of typical social experiences that most teenagers have. I had never been to a real party and I’d never been exposed to alcohol or drugs. That was fine with me, but when I got to university, my ‘uncoolness’ followed me. Everyone wanted to party, and I legitimately did not know how, and I was so anxious and uncomfortable that I couldn’t just give it a shot. In my first year I went to Brock University, which is known for its parties, and I felt miserable and left out.

I am not joking when I say that I did not speak to anyone all year. No one. I hid in my room, I avoided the girl who shared a bathroom with me, and I sat alone in classes. At Brock, every class has a seminar attached to it, and I had a bad habit of not going to them. Luckily, I was still able to transfer to the University of Toronto, where I should have been all along, but I had the same problem there. Needless to say, I could have done better, and my GPA is suffering now as a result of my isolation in those early years.

I’ve been making great progress, but I had a setback this year – I had a major depressive episode in the winter where I was suicidal for a time, and I wasn’t feeling up to doing all of my school work, or much of anything at all, really. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to complete an assignment that I found very challenging, as I felt that I had been pushed to my breaking point already, so I went to the school’s health clinic. The doctor gladly gave me a form so that I could get an extension, and he recommended that I see a psychiatrist as well. I had been on the waitlist for one, but he ensured that I was given a higher priority and I was able to see someone within a week. It’s a good thing that he did – the psychiatrist prescribed me medication, something that I had been avoiding for years even though it had been recommended before. I didn’t think that it would help at all, but it turned out to be my saving grace, and I am doing much better now. I dropped the course that I was struggling in, but I did well in all my others.

I’ve been getting better and better at finding ways to be engaged in classes, even if it isn’t always by talking, and my grades have been reflecting that. I found that I made a significant improvement in my third year, when class sizes shrank to at least half of what they were before. Now, I try to find classes that I think will be small and unintimidating.

I still haven’t really made any friends, only acquaintances, but I’ve gotten more involved with my school’s community through a student group that I lead. I discovered my passion for mental health awareness, and I became president of a group called Active Minds at UofT that is dedicated to just that. Even when I can’t find many other things about school to motivate me, planning events never fails to inspire me and push me to do better in all areas of my life.

Not everyone is going to go through something like this, and I hope that you don’t. But if you find yourself struggling with anything at all, please reach out to the adults and professionals around you. There were times when I felt like doing this was weak – I should be able to get As on everything, no matter what, without anybody’s help. If someone gave me an extension or any kind of help, then I obviously wasn’t smart enough, and it meant nothing. This is not true. Asking for help is brave.

When you ask for help, you’re making yourself vulnerable. I was afraid of being judged, or even simply being told ‘no’. And it’s true that there were some people, even those who were very close to me, who refused to help and distanced themselves from me during my time of need, for whatever reason. But there were still people who did help, like the teachers and counselors and doctors that I’ve mentioned. Some of my friends were great too – when I was at my worst they kept me company and guided me towards whatever I was supposed to be doing next, knowing that to be alone with no routine would probably be the worst thing for me. It is so much better to try than to just drown, thinking that no one will jump in to save you. Even if you’re convinced that you will, what’s the worst thing that could happen if you reach out? Maybe something good will happen. Just maybe. And some day, your future self will thank you.

How Mental Health Affected Me In High School

Image by Henry Shi, Flickr

Image by Henry Shi, Flickr

 
When I was in high school I was a straight-A student. I was the kind of girl who got upset if she got a B. I remember complaining to my friends that I only had 93% in Geography when I thought I had 95% in the ninth grade. One of my friends gasped, feigning horror. “OH MY GOD, YOU ONLY HAVE A 93?! GUYS, CHELSEA ONLY HAS A 93,” he yelled sarcastically. Looking back now, I can see how lucky I was, but back then I felt like my grades were the only thing I had going for me. I was the smart one. That’s what I was known for. And then I became known for something else.

At 16, the vast majority of my friends shut me out for reasons that I can’t quite explain. I started dating one of the guys in our group, they all hated it and wanted us to break up – we did (a few times – they were not exactly conducive to romance) – and then just like that, all my friends were gone.

I didn’t like school already – although I was good at it, I had social anxiety (I didn’t know it at the time) and I couldn’t talk to anyone outside of my little group of friends from elementary school. Now that they were gone, it felt like my social anxiety had gone straight from 0 to 100 – I felt like everyone was always staring, whispering behind my back and judging me, because half the time they actually were. If I didn’t like school before, I hated it now. I had to sit through classes with my former friends, and though I moved seats to get away from them, I could still hear them talking about me at times. I had to watch them talk about all their exciting plans that I wasn’t a part of, at a louder volume than necessary because they were kind of obnoxious, just in general.

It was hard for me to focus in classes with people who hated my guts sitting a few feet away from me. I saw the school counsellor, who was very helpful – it was nice to have someone to talk to. But that didn’t change my reality, and by the end of grade 12 I might have failed without assistance from my counsellor and teachers. I had wanted to go to the University of Toronto, but I felt so scared of everything now, like the city would eat me alive. I ended up going to Brock University because it felt like the safer choice, but it was not for me.

Even my graduation wasn’t what I thought it would be. A lot of kids who have a hard time in high school have a fantastic time at graduation because they’re so happy to be out of there, but I had the opposite experience. I was the type of girl who dreamed about prom – I used to make sketches of what I wanted my dream dress to look like, and true to form I spent $1000 on a ballgown (maybe not the wisest decision, but it was the only thing I could do for myself). And it was a nice night; one of my best friends that I still had from out of town came down just to take me, so I didn’t have to go alone. But I didn’t get to ride in a limo and take beautiful pictures and go to an after party with everybody else. I wanted it to be the best day of my teenage life and I still felt excluded. Someone always had to remind me: You do not belong here. You are not good enough.

Still, I thought that things would get better in university. They had to. That was how it always went – the loser in high school gets super hot and then goes on to be crazy successful and everybody’s boss, a la Elle Woods (except with popularity instead of brains). It was a chance to start over – no one there knew who I was, and I never had to tell them. Unfortunately, I would be disappointed yet again.

Stay tuned.

Internship Diaries – Entry #3

Image by Moresheth, Flickr

Image by Moresheth, Flickr

 
Just joining in? Catch up with Entry #1 and Entry #2.

Office Relationships

No, I don’t mean THOSE kinds of relationships (though they’re not entirely excluded). All work environments have a set of relationship dynamics in play, and up until this summer, I had never had to deal with office dynamics, or what some might call ‘office politics’. As an unpaid student intern, I was preparing for the worst. If they treated me like I didn’t know anything, I could hardly blame them – I’m not even studying anything even remotely related to mental health.

However, by and large I am treated as an equal. Although the paid employees delegate tasks to me, they usually ask for my feedback and take it into consideration. My boss always wants me to come to meetings to participate and offer my thoughts, even though I am only here for one more month. Once, I couldn’t make a meeting, and she rescheduled it just so that I could attend.

Of course, in a teeny tiny organization like the one I work for, things like that are easy to do. When you work for a large corporation, it’s inevitable that some things will slip through the cracks. I’m lucky, to be sure, but I’m still a firm believer that everyone else can be this lucky too, unless your boss is truly evil. If you want to be treated more like an equal and gain more experience, ask. Just make sure that you have the time for the new responsibilities. Why wouldn’t your boss let you sit in on a meeting if you’ve already finished all of your other work for the day? And if you show that you’re eager to learn, it’s harder for a superior to treat you like you’re “just a student” who doesn’t know anything.

That doesn’t mean I don’t deal with my fair share of confusion, though. Some offices are full of lively relationships, where people are friends outside of work and go for lunch together and gossip at each others’ desks. These days you even hear about progressive companies instituting things like company retreats and putting recreational activities inside their offices and whatnot. Others are cold and clinical – people do their work and go home, only interacting for business purposes. Mine isn’t quite like that, but I would hardly call it overly friendly.

Everyone gets along quite well at the office. We collaborate on projects, and even when staff members disagree they always keep the discussion respectful and informed. We make small talk about our weekends and the weather. But that’s about where it ends. No one sees each other outside of work hours or shares too much with each other. This is all fine, but what if you want more?

Maybe it’s because I don’t have a packed social calendar, but sometimes I wish that some of us were friends. I really enjoy the company of the younger people in the office – I think they’re smart, funny, and just all around cool people. I would like to spend more time with them and get to know them better. Yet, my few attempts to do so generally fail. I don’t know how to “take things to the next level” without it being awkward. Most people would just say, “Hey, can I add you on Facebook?” But in an environment where no one initiates these kinds of things, it’s hard to feel like you’re not being super obvious and weird.

Unfortunately, this is a problem that I have not yet solved. So this is me asking YOU for advice – how would you make friends at work? How would you take it to the next level?

As usual you can tweet be with your thoughts (or anything else) @chelsearrr and I will see you next month for my last post!

The Internship Diaries – Entry #2

Image by Samuel Mann, Flickr

Image by Samuel Mann, Flickr

Just joining in? Read Entry #1 here.

I’ve been at my internship for nearly two months now! It feels like I just started yesterday, but when I think about everything I’ve accomplished and learned, and the new relationships I’ve formed, I realize just how long it’s been.

The common stereotype of the unpaid intern is someone who gets coffee and does other mindless tasks for their superiors. Sometimes I am asked to do things like that (never coffee though, that would be disastrous), but not too often. Usually I’m assisting with larger projects.

When I am asked to do menial tasks, I follow this tried and true advice:

When assigned a task, such as to make coffee, make the best damn coffee they’ve ever seen.

I don’t know why I keep using coffee as an example when this has literally never come up for me. I suppose the coffee itself is a stereotype! A better example – when I’m asked to enter data into spreadsheets, I do it faster (and more accurately) than anyone has ever done it before. And then I say, “What else can I do?” By getting this sort of thing out of the way, you not only impress people with your dedication, but it allows you to have the time to move on to other projects that might be of more interest to you. You’ll hear this all the time, but it is truly one of the only pieces of advice I can honestly say that everyone should always follow, no matter what the situation.

That said, the major projects that I get to work on are really exciting. My superiors are very dedicated to making sure that I get something out of this internship – real, valuable experience in which I’ve learned a variety of different skills. I could judge this just based on our first interview – I was asked what type of work I would like to be doing, and how it would fit into my academic and professional goals. So don’t feel like all internships are a waste of time because that’s all you’ll do! Chances are it won’t be. If you’re lucky enough to be able to choose where you work, look for employers with an attitude like this, and don’t be afraid to tell them exactly what you want. You’ll be nearly guaranteed an enriching experience.

My major projects:

  • The Blog – I edit the blog that is featured on the organization’s website, featuring a rotating set of different contributors every day. I then promote the blog posts on social media, and I monitor the Facebook and Twitter feed during the day. I do a lot of other miscellaneous online stuff too – this week I got to design an email newsletter, which I’m sure will be a very useful skill for future jobs.
  • The Videos – I mentioned in my last post that I first worked with this non-profit on a video project. In the winter, they began to shoot a series of videos featuring different people talking about their experiences with mental illness. I was the subject of the first video. Now, I am finding subjects for future videos, interviewing them and shooting the videos, and editing them afterwards. All of this is completely new to me, and I think this is the project that I am learning the most from.
  • The Book – During my very first week, all I did for days straight was edit a manuscript for an updated edition of a book that the organization is putting out. This definitely utilized my strengths, but it was quite the project – all of the files were so disorganized and it took a while to make sense of everything. I also felt like I would go blind from staring at a jumble of words on a screen for so many hours on end. However, I think that it’s in good shape now, and I’m excited to move on to the next draft! I learned a lot from the minimal research that I did for the book as well. I hope I’m around long enough to see the finished product.

That’s it for now – I’ll be back next month with updates and more tips for you guys! In the meantime, you can follow me @chelsearrr on Twitter. I’m always ready to talk internships or anything mental health.

The Internship Diaries – Entry #1

Image by COD Newsroom, Flickr

Image by COD Newsroom, Flickr

My name is Chelsea – I’m a fifth year student at the University of Toronto, and I just got an internship! Yay, right? Well, I sure am excited about it, but there are others who aren’t so thrilled (and they make some good points).

I should specify that this internship is unpaid. There’s a lot of debate over whether or not unpaid internships should be legal, but I will say that in my case I believe it is justified. This is because I’m interning for a tiny non-profit that raises money for mental health research and creates awareness. They only have 3 employees. They likely can’t afford to pay me.

I’m going to be posting about my experience throughout the summer, because so many students end up in internships or want one, but it’s difficult to know what it will be like until you’re there. My particular situation may be a little unusual but I hope that it can still shed some light on what you can expect (or at the very least, entertain you)!

First, the basics:

How I Got The Job

  • I was contacted by the executive director to be filmed for a video project they were doing. She reached out to me because she read an article I published in our student paper (you can read it here). Although you should never do something just because you feel like it will “look good”, sometimes your extracurriculars really can get you noticed!
  • I did not apply for anything. In fact, the position wasn’t even advertised. I asked about potential opportunities. They asked for my resume, I had a meeting with them, and that was it! Even if you don’t see an open position, it never hurts to ask!
  • Although I haven’t yet graduated or study in the mental health field, I demonstrated good leadership skills and good ideas. Every time I interacted with them I was enthusiastic, and I wasn’t just putting it on – I really am passionate about the cause and the work they do.

Why I Wanted The Job

  • I am NOT expecting it to lead to a paying job. If it does, that would be the best thing that could ever happen to me, but it would be unrealistic to expect that. No matter where you’re interning, even if it’s for a massive company, don’t do it just because you want a job there. Do it because you enjoy the work and want the experience!
  • I had opportunities to take a full time paying job this summer (even if it was just retail). I did this instead because I am passionate about it. I can get a full time job when I graduate! My parents disagree and we’ve had numerous arguments over it, but at the end of the day, I can still support myself, and what matters most is what you want, not what your parents want.
  • Mental health awareness is very important to me because I struggle with mental health issues and so does someone close to me. That’s why I’m willing to go to the lengths that I do in order to work here. I work 7 days a week most weeks. Typically, my schedule is that I work Monday-Thursday at my internship, and then I’ll work Thursday night, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at my (paying) part-time job. I have to do this in order to be able to support myself.

I hope that this is helpful, and I’m looking forward to sharing more of my experiences with you this summer! I’ll be back next month with entry #2. If there’s anything you’d like me to cover, let me know! If you have any questions or want to talk, you can tweet me.

Follow Chelsea on Twitter, Tumblr, and WordPress.