On being mentored

Sometime in my last semester of college, I found myself crying on my therapist’s couch.

Okay, this is vague – I spent a lot of my last semester of college crying on my therapist’s couch. In retrospect, I was genuinely in the throes of an existential crisis, but a major perk of being incredibly high-functioning is that I’m able to compartmentalize my anxiety away to do what needs to be done. As a result, when I wasn’t spending whole cursing out my capstone, I seemed as put-together as anyone on the cusp of graduating could be expected to, uh, be. But make no mistake: every single therapy session I had that semester, I spent crying into my therapist’s succulent that I was cradling to myself.

During one such succulent-cradling occasion, I cried to my therapist about how, despite the fact that I felt like I was a mentor to so many people, I didn’t have a mentor myself. How at that moment, with the dizzying array of possibilities ahead of me, the one thing I wanted above all else was a mentor. I felt petulant. Had I not been lucky enough with the support of my peers and professors? Why did I need a dedicated mentor?

I still don’t know why it hit me so hard then. My guess is I was self-flagellating at all the things I hadn’t done during my five years at Northeastern. Like so many students, I was terrified of going to office hours. I didn’t want to bother professors. I felt like all I would do was make a fool of myself. It was enough to be a presence in class and know that, at least, the professor knew my name (maybe) – but to go out of my way to bother them? I didn’t want to hoist myself as a burden onto anyone.

But since my third year, whenever I was at a panel or in a position of advising undergrads, I always said (and still say) that the one thing you should do as soon as you come across a professor you’re interested in is to go and see them. I was exposing myself in saying that. I was extolling the virtues of having a mentor and revealing the secret to finding a mentor after years of having missed out on the same experience myself. The best pieces of advice I give all come from my own mistakes and misfortunes. But when I’m not advising people, those mistakes and misfortunes sit deep in my belly like a rot. In therapy, the rot translates to crying into a succulent while running my fingers over its fleshy leaves.

(Have I painted a vivid enough picture of my lowest moments for you yet? Should I mention the amount of used tissues scattered at my feet? I’m baring my soul to deliver this quality content!)

What I was really getting at was that I didn’t know how to reconcile the mistakes I had made in college with my then-uncertainty. There was so much I could have done: I could have offered to do research for faculty, I could have tried to get things published in earnest, I could have joined more clubs, I could have spearheaded more initiatives, I could have made a better show of things during my co-ops. I could have, and – by my logic – all of these mistakes could have been rectified had I just had a mentor to guide me. It would have been that simple.

It wouldn’t have been that simple, but I needed to think in black-and-white at the time. As always, it was about accountability: by blaming myself, by pinpointing a singular cause for my condition, the uncertainty became slightly more surmountable.

Now that I’m sufficiently divorced from that situation, I can say, with relish, that I was being dumb and reductionist. (ASIDE – that’s one of my favorite words: reductionist. What a good word. And what a great insult, even at one’s own expense, both academically and in real life). Of course it’s nice having a dedicated mentor, but in doggedly pining after a mentor, I had my shutters closed against what I’m so immensely privileged to have: a whole constellation of support, comprised of friends, family, and professors.

It’s been a year since, and I’ve recently come into some good news. A large, decidedly South Asian part of me always wants to hold good news close to my chest. I’ve been burnt by nazar before, and there are just certain things I don’t want to ruin for myself by casting the news far and wide. I’m not ready to share that news on this platform just yet (soon, hopefully!), but as soon as I got this particular piece of news, I set about telling the people closest to me. My family, of course, my dearest friends – but beyond that, I realized, I had professors whom I desperately wanted to tell about this news. Right after firing off an email to a fifth professor, I realized – full of warmth, and – that I had been doing my betters a disservice. I’m not going to pull up the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of mentor (though, uh, here) but I had talked myself into such a specific definition of mentorship, that I had forgotten just how many people have been in my corner since I first got to Northeastern in 2013.

If I’m being honest, I don’t even know what my definition of mentorship entailed. All I knew was that I didn’t have one of those. On the contrary, I have several mentors, many of whom probably had no inkling I looked up to and wanted to emulate them, among both professors and peers. It’s natural for us, as humans, to feel like we are alone in our moments of pathos. The existential crisis is not a particularly social experience. Tunnel vision does not afford the opportunity to glance around and see the many others who are trudging along beside you, and, more importantly, those that are cheering you on from the other side of the tunnel. But joy is exultation, and in exulting, we open ourselves up to a shared experience. In the course of my exultation, I allowed myself to follow my intuition, and I realized I already had people in my heart to whom I wanted to parse some of my joy for the sheer reason that they helped me get to my joy.

If there is a definition of a mentor more appropriate than simply “someone who guides you towards finding joy; someone with whom you can mutually exult,” then I don’t want to know it.

An unqualified guide to bullet journaling for mental health

This guide was requested by a friend but in all honesty, this is something I’ve been thinking about writing for a while. This is no replacement for actual honest to god therapy, so please do seek a counselor if you struggle with some of the issues I vaguely allude to! Also, naturally, content warning for discussions of mental health and vague references self-harm and such.

To relatives who might be reading this – I promise, I’m good and well-adjusted and happy, and I’m okay weathering awkward questions if it means someone might find some use in this guide!


When I started bullet journaling last December, I didn’t realize how much it would help my anxiety and generally facilitate a more organized existence. While I was never a mess, I wasn’t necessarily organized either. Bullet journaling helped me keep track of all my deadlines, my daily tasks, weekly tasks, monthly tasks – whatever I needed from it – in a space that was as accessible as it was a creative outlet for me. Moreover, I found that it was incredibly helpful in tracking my mental health concerns; primarily my anxiety and complex PTSD.

Initially, I used it to log things I wanted to discuss with my therapist. I could only afford therapy every other week and didn’t want to forget anything important/catastrophic that happened during the days betwixt. I also started making a point of writing down important takeaways FROM therapy. I explained to my therapist what I was doing and why, and she encouraged me to write notes, doodle, scribble during our sessions. Keeping notes also helped my mindfulness and concentration. My mind tended to wander a lot – still does – but bullet journaling and my journal itself served as a focal point to remain present and not dissociate wildly.

The most destructive manifestation of my complex PTSD has been a tendency to self-harm. Proximity to a therapist was an easy way to work through what led to self-harm and how to avoid it, but upon moving to the Netherlands for a few months, I needed to find an alternative way of coping. After a few disastrous near-brushes with self-harm and anxiety attacks, I tried to look at ways I could “weaponize” my bullet journal against my mental health issues. Understanding the enemy is part of the fight, so I Googled ways that people used their bullet journal to track mental illnesses.

This was a huge preamble, I know, but I wanted to make a convincing argument! Here are the strategies I use to aid my mental health (also this guide assumes you know the basics of bullet journaling):

  • Mood tracking: Granted, I’m not great at this and I often fall asleep without filling in my mood tracker – but for the two months that I did religiously, it was really interesting to see my mood throughout a given month at a glance. With my monthly calendar filled in, and by referencing the daily tasks associated with any day I was curious about, I began to make associations e.g., dealing with finances was an immediate downgrade to my mood, as a general rule of thumb I was a distinctly happy person but days that started off as being coded “mixed” would often be coded “anxiety” during the latter part of the day – and days that started anxious ended up turning into angry days. The codes I used were: anxious, happy, sad, hyped, angry, mixed, and meh. You can use whatever codes you’d like. I fully intend to get back to mood tracking starting November and I’m considering switching to mood tracking as part of checking off my tasks at the end of the day instead of flipping back through to the mood tracking page.
  • Master-list of symptoms and manifestations of anxiety: Another really frustrating manifestation of my complex PTSD is a reduced capacity for memory. While this is annoying on a day-to-day level, let alone as a tie-in to dissociative amnesia, it’s really hard to learn anything about your mental illness when you can’t remember you learnt anything. This is a bit vague, so I’ll give an example: in the first few weeks of realizing what CPTSD was, I read pretty widely about it and the symptoms associated with it. In the months after, I would often forget that something I was doing persistently was a symptom of my CPTSD and would get really afraid and concerned, only to rediscover or be told by a friend that I had already identified action x as a symptom of CPTSD. Cue feeling really stupid and being upset that my memory had gotten so bad – which, incidentally, has triggered self-harm before. You see the utility of this. So in order to alleviate this feeling, I’ve identified all the symptoms of CPTSD that I’ve experienced before in order to have a single point of reference (eg., emotional flashbacks, hypervigilance, concentration issues, trouble breathing). Everything is a bit more palatable, once written down.
  • Master-list of tried and true self-care or preventative strategies: This is pretty self-explanatory. I tend to forget everything in my rush of panic, including what strategies calm me down. Listed self-care techniques include: watching make-up tutorials, taking a shower, drawing something beautiful and then destroying it (very therapeutic), working out (nothing like burpees to distract you!), grounding strategies including meditation, deep breathing, being mindful of my body, counting off sensory triggers, etc. Preventative strategies include: covering my arms and legs as soon as possible, getting fresh air, drinking or feeling something cold, turning off my phone, calling someone.
  • Self-harm tracking: This is a two-part tracker. The first part of the tracker is tracking days without any self-harm. For every two weeks I go without self-harming, I make a conscious effort to treat myself – whether to a smoothie or something decadent I wouldn’t normally let myself get, or a new piece of make up, whatever you want. It’s something to look back at and be proud of accomplishing. I’m a bit prideful, so seeing the tally end suddenly because I’ve self-harmed bruises my ego. This works in my favor; often, right at the cusp of self-harming, I’ll think to myself but you were doing so well! You had just a few days to go before the next two-week bench mark! and it honest to god works (for me). I’ve also written right at the top of my tracker “no shame, just move on” for if I do self-harm. You can adjust this for panic attacks or whatever you want, and have the benchmark be as long or short of a timespan as you’d like. The second part to this is logging instances of self-harm. I took this template from Lindsay Braman and if I do self-harm, I list events that transpired before the breakdown and identified symptoms/emotions leading up to it as well. Hopefully you won’t have to fill this out, but if you do, it’s a good way to foster awareness of yourself. Eventually, I would like to create a similar log for emotional flashbacks. I will say, I don’t create a monthly log for self-harm tracking, mostly because I (on average) self-harm once a month so I don’t personally find utility in that.

I hope all of that makes sense and that you can see some value in tracking your mental health. Some other points to note – please make time TO update your bullet journal! Whether it’s five minutes a night or in one big chunk at the end of the week, you get out of your bullet journal what you put into it. You don’t have to make it look excessively creative or pretty. The aesthetics of my bullet journal have deteriorated significantly since I started it (I’m on my second bullet journal now) but I absolutely love it still, and I’m not lying when I say it helps keep me sane. Also, your bullet journal doesn’t just have to be geared towards mental health! I use it as a commonplace notebook for literally everything, including books I want to read, research interests, goals for the year, plans for the future (grad school, etc), assignments for the semester my measurements/sizes because I always forget – whatever you want! The most important thing is to not make your bullet journal a burden on yourself. Don’t overtax your bullet journal, and don’t overtax yourself. Good luck!