Badass Women: Kaija Is Changing The World Through Education And Real Talk About Your Mental Health
Something that keeps me going, through good times and bad, is hearing stories of badass women. It's hearing stories of people who are changing the world (or their small corner of it) that get me out of bed. Especially in those moments where I have coffee stains on my shirt, a whole bottle of dry shampoo in my head, and am questioning quitting my life to become a professional pillow tester. You know? This is one of the biggest reasons that I started Donuts + Down Dog, because I figured I wasn't the only one who needed that little extra push. I also saw that there was so much fucking greatness out there that nobody knew about. I want to change that.
Today, I want to introduce you to my dear friend Kaija. Aside from being one of the silliest people I know (and one of few who will sing along mindlessly with me), she also happens to be one hell of a badass motherfucking lady. I could write a novel about my love for this unicorn of a human, but I'll let her words speak for themselves.
Check out my interview with Kaija below. I think you're going to love it.
Tell me about yourself! What makes you tick? What do you do?
I work to empower youth through science education. That’s taken a lot of different forms over the years, but currently, I am working towards my Master’s in Teaching for Secondary Science; a year from now I plan to start my teaching career in a Seattle-area middle or high school.
Schools are a microcosm of society, and I know it’s the setting where I can (currently) make the greatest impact. Unfortunately, science is traditionally taught in a way that prevents most students from discovering how science is connected to their everyday experience. I seek to change this for as many students as possible. A positive relationship with learning and science has provided me with access to an array of opportunities in life, and my goal is to pay those learnings forward into the next generation.
Applying the scientific process—questioning, experimenting, and reflecting—to my everyday life has been critical for my self-development. Through science, I have learned to question my behavior in terms of individual and societal norms and I have learned to challenge and experiment with these norms in the pursuit of growth and deepened understanding of self. Science has taught me the value of failure and the wonder, beauty, curiosity, and awe that comes with ‘not knowing’.
Studying biology, specifically, has allowed me to more deeply understand how I am a very small speck in the tree of life. Knowledge of the biological processes that support and create life empowers me to feel less alone in my brain and body, and more connected to the human experience and struggle for existence that all life forms face. This knowledge is something I think all individuals should be exposed to.
Donuts + Down Dog is all about balanced living. How do you find balance in your life?
Every weekend, I reflect on my past week and set three goals that seek to restore aspects of my life that are out of balance. Often times one of my goals is related to my physical/mental health (exercise, meditation, sleep, diet, social time, etc,), the second is related to something tangible I need to accomplish, and the third is related to honoring my process in someway (permission to rest is a very common goal).
What is your own personal Donuts + Down Dog? (aka, whats your favorite treat and our favorite way to move that bod!)
Anything cheese related. I always joke that I would probably lose 5-10 pounds if I just stopped eating cheese…… I’d rather keep the cheese though! Yoga is my forever favorite form of movement, but I’ve added running back into my routine (though tbh I have a real love/hate relationship with running).
What is the biggest obstacle you've had to overcome to get where you are today?
Perfectionism. I have been navigating and seeking to understand and manage my mental health since I was 16, so that’s roughly ten years! On the daily, I am engaged in a dance with anxiety, depression, trichotillomania (I compulsively pull out my eyebrows), and OCD. For me, all of these mental health disorders are very very rooted in perfectionism—in the belief that ‘I am not good enough’, ‘there is something wrong with me’, ‘I am unlovable’, etc. I come from a very affluent, privileged background, and with this upbringing came the expectation to perform, achieve, and excel at everything. But alas! We are imperfect beings! I am constantly working to unlearn my perfectionist habits of mind and behavior. It runs deep y’all!
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself 5 years ago, what would it be? Why?
5 Years ago is when I was really starting to productively address and navigate my mental health disorders. My favorite piece of advice I got at that time is: “Everybody’s living their own soap opera.” For my entire adolescence, I was constantly comparing myself to my peers. I was always worried about what other people thought of me—if other people thought I was pretty, smart, athletic enough. This piece of advice allowed me to realize that most everyone else engages in similar self-centered thought patterns. If I am spending this much time thinking about what other people think of me, then everybody else is probably doing this too… and therefore, they probably aren’t wasting energy thinking about me! Or if they are, it’s probably only in relation to their own identity. This idea still acts as a very effective reminder when I fall into this sort of thinking.
What are your biggest sources of inspiration right now?
I’m getting my Masters in Teaching right now and I absolutely love love LOVE my program. I’m surrounded by colleagues that are passionate about social justice education—people with the shared belief that our youth, particularly those marginalized by society, deserve better, more equitable opportunities for learning and growth. I am inspired and challenged every day by our professors, curriculum, and class discussions, and I could not be more excited to put everything I am learning into action in my future science classroom.
What are some of your favorite things right now? Food? Books? Products you love? Tunes?
The book Is Everyone Really Equal by Sensoy and DiAngelo is a great read for diving in to topics of social justice in America – but if you’re more of a Netflix person, I highly recommend Dear White People. I am also slowing working through Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, which gives me some solace as I try to navigate the exhausting and complex world of modern dating LOL. And again, if you’re more into Netflix, Master of None is the BEST.
Anything else you wanna share? Sky is the limit, babe!
I was the class speaker at my college graduation. This is how it starts: “Today I want to share with you my college story, which is ultimately a story of self-discovery brought about by facing my fear of failure and embracing my journey of mental health.” Basically, if you are curious in knowing more about my experiences working to overcome perfectionism, give it a watch! And if you are interested in learning more about trichotillomania, specifically, check out this ‘coming out’ video I made when I was 20 and this updated one I made when I was 23.
I also have a blog that I used to document my time teaching and living in Thailand. I have been home for a while now, and I haven’t updated it in a while, but a post about my experience transitioning home and into my next phase of life is in the works!
If you know of a badass women I should feature, let me know!
Sending you lots of coffee and ass-kicking vibes,
PS- this post contains a few affiliate linsk. If you make purchases from them, I may receive compensasion.