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We Want to Hear Your Stories

We Want to Hear Your Stories

Hey students! Do you have any stories about living with a wellness challenge that you’d like to share with an audience of students nationally? 

Real Campus is looking for original content about student life for their new community platform, re:tell

re:tell is a digital magazine for students like you to share personal stories, and to break down the walls of shame and stigma that keep people from living their best lives.

We’re looking for honest, heartfelt written pieces that reflect the diversity of student experiences. Struggle and success, resistance and resilience, grief and growth⁠⁠—⁠⁠ it’s all welcome. 

The focus will be on mental health, but we welcome stories about coming to terms with and working through any kind of wellness challenge physical, emotional, social, spiritual, or otherwise. 

If you would like your submission to be considered for our first round of stories, send it to us at hello@realcampus.ca by midnight on November 11th, 2019. Submission guidelines and details follow. 

Submission Guidelines: 

  • You must be enrolled at a post-secondary institution or have recently attended one
  • Submissions should be 500 to 1000 words 
  • Content must be about your life as a student and must use respectful and inclusive language 
  • Submissions must include a title 
  • Submissions (and titles) may be subject to edits or modifications by our editorial team 
  • You may request to have your submission shared anonymously. If this is the case, please indicate this in your submission. 

How do I submit? 

  • Send an email to hello@realcampus.ca with the following: 
    • Your first and last name: 
    • Would you like to have your name published when your piece is shared? (Yes or No):  
    • The school you attend: 
    • Any social media handles you want to publish with the submission: 
      • Instagram: 
      • Twitter: 
      • Other: 
    • RE:TELL SUBMISSION as the subject line
    • Your written submission – please copy and paste it into the body of the email and not as an attachment. Attachments always complicate things! 

Any submissions that do not follow these guidelines will not be considered for publication.  

And then what? 

Our team will confirm the receipt of your submission. We’ll then review your submissions and select those for publication by the end of November. Successful submissions will be published weekly. You will be notified if your submission is published. 

What should I write about? 

  • Tell us the most challenging part of starting post-secondary studies 
  • Tell us how have had to evolve during your time as a student 
  • Tell us how you maintain your mental health through busy semesters, exams, summers off, etc.
  • Tell us what resources have helped you get through 
  • Tell us about dating as a student or about getting through a breakup
  • Tell us about being far from home or finally finding home
  • Tell us about living with your family while studying 
  • Tell us about going back as a mature student

Thank you! We can’t wait to hear your stories. 

Back-to-School Lessons from Cookie Monster

Back-to-School Lessons from Cookie Monster

As we get into the thick of the new school year, if you’re anything like me, you’re pretty bummed about it. Maybe it’s just the chill in the air that spoils my mood, but I sense a change of pace and attitude in folks at this time of year as everybody buckles down post-summer. I already feel nostalgic about those joyful, sunny days when the sun was still shining at 9 pm. Come back, August! 

 

‘Tis the Season to Own Your Shit.

For me, Fall is a season of self-reckoning. I think that’s the effect of two decades worth of spending it transitioning back to school. As a kid, your life is structured for you into a pattern where for two months you can stop and smell the roses while they’re in bloom, and then you’re thrown right back into school’s rhythms of responsibility, filling agendas with homework again, and sitting quietly in a chair doing what you’re told. 

That transition was never easy for me. It always took a few weeks of inattention before I could tune in. Instead, I’d stare out the window at the vacant playground while the teacher taught. I’d watch the pathetic seagulls squawk and wrestle over the best trash from morning recess. It all felt sad. 

Eventually, I’d tire of wallowing and come to accept and even enjoy school. But to this day, and even in the few years before I went back to school, in late-August a cloud of dread floats in.

Now that I’m back to being a student, my pattern so far has been to let all this dread and anxiety for the new school year turn into unreasonable expectations of myself. A very bossy part of me sees being back as a mature student as a second chance to finally be perfect in every way. This part of me speaks in commandments, like so: 

       Thou shalt read every word assigned in your course syllabus on time!

       Thou shalt not have any fun between Sunday evenings and Friday afternoons for 8 straight months!

       Thou shalt be perfect in every way or consider yourself a failure!”

No surprise I dread school every year. Bossy-me sets up these rules that I don’t really want to follow, and I make no plans to manage the difficulty of making change happen, and I expect myself to simply stop—cold-turkey—that laidback summer lifestyle I’ve been enjoying for months. How am I supposed to succeed? 

The truth is, I can’t. It’s a setup. It keeps me in a cycle, in the middle of a perpetual wrestling match with myself. I feel like the head of a 90s sitcom actor, while the tiny devil on my left shoulder and the tiny angel on my right bicker back-and-forth about what’s best for me. Shut up already! 

 

“Be the Cookie Monster you wish to see in the world”

This year, I’m taking inspiration from Cookie Monster. 

To be clear, I haven’t decided to once and for all to say, “screw it, I give up!”, drop out and eat infinite cookies. Let me explain. About a month ago, I had a moment of clarity while belly-laughing with my six-year-old nephew. I showed him Youtube clips of Cookie Monster, whom I love passionately. Until then I hadn’t considered why. It occurred to me then that the little blue rascal is timeless, full of life lessons, and everybody seems to just get it without judgement. 

This seemed very important at the time. So important that later that night, instead of filling out my student loan application, I mulled over what it is about Cookie Monster that’s so great, so universally charming and so inherently worthy of love. I think it’s because Cookie Monster mirrors the little rascal in all of us. Cookie Monster shows us what the experience of desire is like. Everybody knows it deeply. Every human carries a cookie monster within them. 

The average Sesame Street viewers may be preschoolers learning for the first time that they don’t get to do whatever they want whenever they feel like it. But we keep learning that lesson our whole lives.

 

The Temptation of Cookie Monster

The way Cookie Monster is presented on Sesame Street is cute and innocent. I mean, despite an evident incapacity to self-regulate or to love anything other than the pleasure of a good cookie, everybody still loves Cookie Monster. 

If Cookie Monster was an adult human, the story would be a little more sinister. We don’t imagine a fuzzy blue puppet with googly eyes might have a traumatic past. We don’t worry that he’ll face the devastating effects of an all-cookie diet. We don’t witness the pain of having only a cookie to turn to. We don’t wonder if he has a family somewhere that he abandoned for a cheap, lousy cookie. We see an ageless puppet, in a sweet little world, protected from consequence. 

It’s certainly not the most authentic characterization but it does give us a safe space to see inner demons in a gentler, judgment-free light. For example, do you notice how every child and adult on Sesame Street welcomes Cookie Monster as a deserving member of their community? How often do you laugh with, sympathize, hug, or spend quality time with your cookie-monster-self in the way that those folks do theirs? I don’t. I tend to roll my eyes at mine, call it selfish, weak, careless, ugly, and I often blame it for holding me back from being awesome. 

Why do I do that? It’s pointless! Nothing I tell myself makes the proverbial cookies any less tempting. What if instead, I loved my internal cookie monster in the way the Sesame Street community love theirs? What if I accepted that part of me for what it is? If I appreciated that tenacity, that ability to be in the moment and to feel joy, that unabashed will to get every drop of good vibes out of life and share it, no matter the consequences? 

What if I didn’t constantly shame myself for my consumption habits and instead did a little bargaining, laughed with myself, listened, took a load off when I need it, and tried to understand what makes this part of me tick? Because—

 

Truth bomb: it ain’t really about cookies

Heck, beyond just how you treat the cookie monster in yourself, what if the next time you see your friend that’s stuck in a loop and just can’t seem to break out of it, or you see your sibling smoking again after trying to quit for the millionth time, you looked on them with the same degree of love and understanding that we all give Cookie Monster? What if we tried to see the innocence that exists at the start of it all? Life can be so hard and the cookies are aplenty. 

This semester I’m going to try my best not to shame myself for succumbing to the occasional “NOM! NOM! NOM!” session. When I do find myself partaking in some unscheduled indulgence, I’ll give my internal cookie monster’s fuzzy blue hair a tussle. I’ll say, “Alright little guy, that was a blast! Thanks for making sure I get to have some fun. Now it’s time to hit the books. We got this!”

 

______________

Seamus Ogden is a Care Coordinator with Real Campus and a mature student. He has a deep affection for Cookie Monster.

How to Grow Up

How to Grow Up

Here’s some wisdom from a 32-year-old on a second round as a university student:

It’s really hard.

Not exactly a revelation, I know, but hear me out. Completing assignments, keeping up with readings, and managing time – we all know how challenging this can be. What I want to highlight instead is that the hard work isn’t always the hardest part. For me, trying to figure out how to get to bed early enough, how to wake up and make it to class on time, how to keep my bedroom from looking like a junkyard, and how to resist daily temptations is really hard. While others seem to be worrying about making time for self-care between classes and work, I’m sprinting to class only to find I forgot my notebook. Sometimes it’s the stuff that is supposed to be simple that ends up being really— you guessed it— hard.

It can feel like there isn’t much sympathy out there for those of us who struggle with the day-to-day stuff. If someone hasn’t done laundry in two weeks, it’s easier for people to judge and label them lazy than it is to try to understand why they find it difficult. We’re all guilty of passing quick judgment – and this has its consequences. In my case, people often presume I’m either carefree or careless. A friend told me years back that it seemed like I have no passion. It felt awful to be seen that way. For a decade I almost believed that story about myself. I often felt like a let down, both to myself and to the world. I worried I’d never grow up to be someone I could respect. None of that was true.

The First Round

With that mindset, completing my first degree somehow seemed like both a miracle and barely an accomplishment. I didn’t find the schoolwork very difficult. I loved learning, I made it to class, I paid attention, and for the most part, I got good grades. But I spent the majority of my six years as an undergrad (that’s right, six) procrastinating. I wish I could say I spent all my time partying and enjoying myself. Mostly I agonized about how much work I had to do instead of just doing it, or I beat myself up because I didn’t feel I was trying hard enough. I knew what I needed to do, I just couldn’t seem to do it. I always felt like I could do better, or like I never gave it all I had. At graduation I knew I was smart enough to be handed that degree but somehow I felt like I hadn’t earned it. Now upon reflection, I see I gave it everything I had at the time. I earned that degree Sinatra-style— I did it my way.

We rarely hear this sort of student story. Ever notice in the movies how college students always look like they’re having the greatest time of their lives? They’re winning trophies, getting laid, and going on spring break holidays. How do they make time to have all this fun? They’re never studying, working their asses off to afford tuition, or staying in because they can’t afford to party. The message is that our college years are supposed to be all fun all the time. I’ve done it twice now, and I call bullshit! If you can relate, you’re not alone. I’d say we’re the silent majority.

The Second Round

This time it’s different. The same simple stuff I found difficult ten years ago is still hard and it probably won’t ever be easy for me. I have grown though. I’ve slowly adopted some better life skills (so much more to go), a lot of patience with myself, and the pièce de résistance, I’ve developed a who-gives-a-shit swagger – a gift of confidence that seemed to arrive right around the time I turned 30. Much to my partner’s chagrin, my room is still a pig stye, and I still struggle to hand papers in on time. But my world isn’t collapsing around me. I’m imperfect, and that’s fine. There are a lot of us!

These days I juggle a job, classes and a co-op position. I never thought I’d be able to do that much at once. For the first time in my adult life, people say, “Wow! That must be so hard to manage!” about my life. The irony is, in a lot of ways, it used to be harder. It’s harder to wake up in the morning when you have three or four chapters to read on your own time, two assignments due in a week, and instead of doing any homework the night before, you smoked a joint with your roommate and stayed up watching cartoons. That is stressful. That life is never free from the anxiety of having too much shit to do. Now, waking up groggy to get to my co-op placement after a late night at work is easy in comparison. It would be even easier if I could just decide to go to bed earlier, but at least I have a better excuse for being late.

What’s Next?

Each of us struggles with different aspects of the transition into adulthood. Moving toward my mid-30s now, I realize that the development period is actually never finished. You never wake up to find you’re all done building yourself. But you do get better at it.

I wanted to write all this because I wish people had recognized and acknowledged ten years ago that even when I didn’t look like it, I really cared. To everyone living in that eternal awkward phase, I’m right there with you. I know you care. Keep at it and take all the time you need.

How To Eat Well When Your Wallet’s Empty

How To Eat Well When Your Wallet’s Empty

Look, education is expensive and the costs keep climbing.

Even with financial support or a part-time job, the reality for most of us is that being a full-time student also means being near broke. 

The stress that can come along with that is a strain on mental and physical health. It can affect mood, focus and memory, energy levels—  all very important variables in the equation of student success.

After lump-sum payments for rent and tuition, there can be little leftover with which to do that most essential thing— feed ourselves.  

It’s rarely talked about, but food insecurity has quietly become a serious student issue. Much more needs to be done to resolve it, but there is a lot happening already.

If you find yourself cutting out meals or putting nutrition on the back-burner because money is tight, there are options.

On Campus

Fact: postsecondary institutions can be complex to navigate.

If you’re not actively looking then you could miss out on some helpful resources. With a little scouting you might be surprised by what’s available. Many schools have on-campus food banks, and many offer part time employment for students with financial need, for example. If you’re not sure what’s out there, talk to an advisor or counsellor. Your tuition pays them to connect you with the right services.

At Home

Fact: that is far easier said than done.

It means less eating out, more time at home preparing food yourself, plus a little extra time and effort because— let’s face it— the cheaper foods usually need a little extra love.

That doesn’t have to be a bad thing! If I can share one recommendation here, folks, it is this: make friends with the unassuming lentil! That goes for beans, chickpeas, split peas, and anything else from the family known as pulses, too.

These nuggets of nutrients are versatile: they appear in cuisines the world over, they take on flavour from the spices, herbs, acids and sauces you surround them with, and add their own earthy depth and density to dishes. They’re great in soups, salads or sauces, pilafs, pulaos, or paellas. Best of all, they’re dang cheap for something so nutrient-rich! Best of all, protein-packed pulses are available anywhere, which means you can grab a can from the nearest corner store in a pinch.

Here’s a trick: in a favourite recipe that features ground meat, cut the meat down by half (or even entirely) and replace it with lentils or mung beans for their bulk and texture, plus a handful of minced button mushrooms for that rich, savoury taste (called umami) that we usually rely on meats for. Save a few bucks without sacrificing the deliciousness that you deserve!

Off Campus

There are food banks, soup kitchens, and places of worship that offer meals on site or non-perishables to take home. You don’t have to be on the street to use these services, folks. There’s enough for everyone who needs a good meal. Also, in many communities across North America, a new model is popping up to address food insecurity, called the community food centre. At your local CFC, you can eat fresh and nutritious meals, often made with ingredients handpicked from local community gardens and handcrafted by a staff chef. You can also learn and share knowledge about cooking, nutrition, and budgeting. FOR FREE! And, if you’re so inclined, there are often opportunities to volunteer, so you can support and stay connected to a community centred around healthy food!

Those are just a few options to think about. Use that student brain and get creative.

Most importantly, folks, if you find yourself going hungry, we encourage you to reach out. Everybody deserves to have access to the tools to take care of themselves. Everybody— including YOU— deserves to eat.

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Look, education is expensive and the costs keep climbing.

Even with financial support or a part-time job, the reality for most of us is that being a full-time student also means being near broke. 

The stress that can come along with that is a strain on mental and physical health. It can affect mood, focus and memory, energy levels—  all very important variables in the equation of student success.

After lump-sum payments for rent and tuition, there can be little leftover with which to do that most essential thing— feed ourselves.  

It’s rarely talked about, but food insecurity has quietly become a serious student issue. Much more needs to be done to resolve it, but there is a lot happening already.

If you find yourself cutting out meals or putting nutrition on the back-burner because money is tight, there are options.

On Campus

Fact: postsecondary institutions can be complex to navigate.

If you’re not actively looking then you could miss out on some helpful resources. With a little scouting you might be surprised by what’s available. Many schools have on-campus food banks, and many offer part time employment for students with financial need, for example. If you’re not sure what’s out there, talk to an advisor or counsellor. Your tuition pays them to connect you with the right services.

At Home

Fact: that is far easier said than done.

It means less eating out, more time at home preparing food yourself, plus a little extra time and effort because— let’s face it— the cheaper foods usually need a little extra love.

That doesn’t have to be a bad thing! If I can share one recommendation here, folks, it is this: make friends with the unassuming lentil! That goes for beans, chickpeas, split peas, and anything else from the family known as pulses, too.

These nuggets of nutrients are versatile: they appear in cuisines the world over, they take on flavour from the spices, herbs, acids and sauces you surround them with, and add their own earthy depth and density to dishes. They’re great in soups, salads or sauces, pilafs, pulaos, or paellas. Best of all, they’re dang cheap for something so nutrient-rich! Best of all, protein-packed pulses are available anywhere, which means you can grab a can from the nearest corner store in a pinch.

Here’s a trick: in a favourite recipe that features ground meat, cut the meat down by half (or even entirely) and replace it with lentils or mung beans for their bulk and texture, plus a handful of minced button mushrooms for that rich, savoury taste (called umami) that we usually rely on meats for. Save a few bucks without sacrificing the deliciousness that you deserve!

Off Campus

There are food banks, soup kitchens, and places of worship that offer meals on site or non-perishables to take home. You don’t have to be on the street to use these services, folks. There’s enough for everyone who needs a good meal. Also, in many communities across North America, a new model is popping up to address food insecurity, called the community food centre. At your local CFC, you can eat fresh and nutritious meals, often made with ingredients handpicked from local community gardens and handcrafted by a staff chef. You can also learn and share knowledge about cooking, nutrition, and budgeting. FOR FREE! And, if you’re so inclined, there are often opportunities to volunteer, so you can support and stay connected to a community centred around healthy food!

Those are just a few options to think about. Use that student brain and get creative.

Most importantly, folks, if you find yourself going hungry, we encourage you to reach out. Everybody deserves to have access to the tools to take care of themselves. Everybody— including YOU— deserves to eat.

How To Use Cooking To Relax

How To Use Cooking To Relax

Here’s The Ideal
Cooking can be one of the simplest meditations. With a little attention, it can be a way to momentarily free ourselves from life’s burdens and worries. It starts with mere veggie-chopping, but ideally, by the time we sit down to eat, we’ve forgotten our troubles, we’re at peace, and there’s joy in every bite.

Here’s The Reality
That’s what cooking can be. But if you’re anything like me, all the healthy, earth-friendly eating habits you told yourself you’d finally stick to this semester have fallen by the wayside come midterm season. When there’s barely enough time to squeeze in assignments, stuffing down fast food and chasing it with a Timmie’s on your way to class starts to seem like the only way to survive.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself about the food I end up eating when I’m trying my best to juggle work, school, and the rest of life. What I really needed was a pat on the back. When our bodies are working through the high-stress periods that come with post-secondary studies, they need our support even more, not our nagging judgments. That’s why this semester, I decided it’s time to go easy on myself. It’s time to keep my eating goals manageable and fun.

Here’s The Recipe
I’ve decided to prioritize cooking up my own comfort food, just once a week. I’ve started to set aside a few hours on my day off to cook up a big meal that’ll provide me a few lunches and dinners for later in the week. I don’t worry about whether it’s the healthiest possible dish I could make, or if the final plate will be Instagram-worthy. Comfort is the key here. The goal is to make the meal equivalent of a pair of cozy, weathered pajamas.

I try my best to make meals from scratch. I know it sounds daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Scratch-cooking really gets the body and mind engaged, which is where that meditative potential comes from. The trick to keeping it manageable is to keep it simple. Pick a dish that you know and love, something familiar and homey. It helps if you’ve watched a family member make it a million times.

Here’s an example: I pick a pasta shape (for me, pasta = comfort) and I make a super basic tomato sauce from scratch. There’s nothing quite like taking a juicy, ripe tomato in my hands and squishing it to a pulp over a bowl! It makes me feel like a kid. An hour later I’m amazed at just how beautiful and delicious the simplest tomato sauce spooned over pasta can be when I’ve brought it to life with my own hands. Savory and sweet, tangy and rich.

Pasta is my thing. Pick your thing. Take it back to the basics. Comfort food is not about complexity or skill. It’s about nourishing every part of you.

The Transformation
Going to school doesn’t always feel like the empowering place that it can be. At the hardest times, it can feel like you’re just doing as you’re told. It can feel like you’re working your arse off just to hand in an assignment, you wait for someone to judge it, and then you do it all over again. It’s hard to remember that we all have the power to make beautiful and important things happen in our own lives and in our world. Cooking can be a powerful reminder. You’re in control of a handful of ingredients, and you get to transform them into a work of art. And if you’re the only one eating it, the only judge is your taste buds.

Cooking doesn’t have to be a thing we do just to survive. It doesn’t have to be just another thing on an endless to-do list. We can cook to be mindful and present. We can cook to spend a little quality time with ourselves. We can cook to give ourselves the pleasure we deserve. We can cook to nourish our bodies, minds, and spirits.