Historian goes to Health School: Learning to Thrive.

Here’s the thing about why I haven’t been blogging:

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I spend so much time on my computer already.  It’s kind of ridiculous. My laptop, my iPad and my phone are my lifelines, my work sources, and my ball and chain.

There are so many mornings where I haven’t ran. I can’t remember the last time before last night (at 10 PM. With a German shepherd. On a whim.) that I really ran. This past week, after working myself into a sinus infection and the beginnings of tonsillitis and struggling in vain just to keep myself together so I could keep going on, I stopped. I wasted time. I made myself take a breath. Sleep. And ease myself back into things.

Was I behind in work? God yes. Was I struggling to catch up? Like nobody’s business. Was I stressing out about it anymore? Nope.

The end of the quarter is always the hard time. Finals, final projects, etc., start to overload and come to a head and suddenly I’m just laid flat when it ends and I don’t have anything to do for a week or two. That’s how end of terms always are with me. With MPH@GW it’s a bit harder because I’m working my way through four quarters with only a week or so in between until December when I get the month off, so I’ve literally been in school almost consistently for close to 20 weeks. And I have two more quarters to go for this round.  It’s easy, so easy, to burn out.
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And friends, I am so burnt out that I am charred and krispy. Pass the ketchup, stick a fork and call me BBQ.

But I can’t stop. I can’t give up, because I still have to manage to pass my Biostatistics final and not fail the class (I’m not going to fail, no matter how much I whine like I am. I’m quite proud of how not-going-to-fail I am) and finish the grant proposal with my group for Program Planning of Disease Prevention Programs. It’s not over yet.

So what am I learning to do? Thrive. In the years between undergrad and beginning graduate school, I forgot how well I work under deadlines. How much I manage to just make things happen.

The trick is making my healthy habits happen at the same time. So that I don’t get sick. So that I don’t eat crap. So that my body doesn’t feel like I got hit by a MAC truck at the end of the day. Maybe that would be easier if the only time I can find for working on lecture materials wasn’t 5:30 AM. Or if I wasn’t putting out fires every day at work. But even without that ease, I’m doing okay.
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Vegetables are my friend. Protein is good. Sleep is a requirement, not an option. Everything will still be there waiting when I wake up.  Just like it will be there when I get back from my run (which let’s be honest, running for me is run-walk-run-walk-jog-walk…. I run to prove to my body that it can, not to be a runner or even for fitness. But that’s a whole other post).

And I definitely can’t forget to feed the cat.

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So now I go back to working. Editing. But I’m trying to follow this wise advice, and remember how much I love the process of working through challenges, rather than focusing so much on the challenges themselves.

Photo May 07, 11 12 51 PMI’m learning to thrive in the life I’ve built for myself, even if it’s not always the easiest.

What have I been hiding from?

The past few weeks, months… I feel as if a part of me has always been hiding behind the screen, keeping just out of sight, panicking when I felt someone get a little too close.

What part of me? The part that cared about no one but myself. The part that put nothing and no one above my own survival and ability to thrive in the situation.  That part of me has been pushed into a box and stuffed away ever since last August.

When my grandpa was diagnosed with cancer. When I started a relationship. When I entered graduate school. When I began having to schedule time for my friends rather than being able to just decide to go out on a whim.

When everything around me seemed to demand that I care more about other people than myself.

So I stuck the part of me that wanted to take care of myself, to invest time and resources on good things which benefited no one but myself into a box. Why?

Because I fear, above all else, being seen as being selfish. Why do I do that? Because society tells us to be selfless, to love the other person more than you love yourself. That your worth is what you can do for other people, not what you can do for yourself.  People who climb the social ladder to further themselves socially, professionally.. they’re painted as being cut throat, bitchy, hard.  People who give the shirt off their backs, who share what they have and ask nothing in return are shouted from the mountain tops as being someone worth emulating (though they are, in turn, called soft and easy to manipulate, door mats, etc. as well. There are two sides to every coin).

I wanted to be one of those people who gave everything to everyone else. That’s how the people who are the biggest influences in my life are. I wanted to be just like them. So when things happened that mattered to no one but me (break up? Diet flop? Bad test grade?) I just kind of bottled it up as much as I could and only let a few people see a little bit of it, because I didn’t want to be… selfish.

Yesterday, a friend of mine asked if I could come pick her up from a doctor’s office and bring her home because they wanted to do a minor test that would leave her unable to drive herself — But only if it didn’t bother me, or take me out of my way. I know that she’s terrified of pain and doctor’s and I could hear the anxiety in her voice, so I asked if she would like me to come up and do more than just pick her up, to hold her hand, to make sure she’s okay, and I got the same “I don’t want to bother you” speech, because she didn’t want to be any trouble. I went up and sat with her, made sure she ate lunch, and got her home safely. I also granted her doctor the knowledge that she snorts when she laughs really hard about something.

That’s me. The person who didn’t want to be any trouble. I was perfectly willing to be there for my friend.  I’m more than happy to go out of my way and take the time to do that, but driving myself home it hit me that I would have used the same terminology. I probably wouldn’t have even called anyone, wouldn’t have asked them to help me. I would have refused the drugs and taken the hit full pain force to make sure I could drive home.

Because I didn’t want to seem selfish asking someone to help me.

Asking for help isn’t selfish. Taking care of myself, choosing to invest my time in myself rather than others isn’t selfish.  Beyond getting into graduate school and focusing the minimum of my time on it, investing the majority of my time in my studies is not selfish.  If that means that time I would have with other people, for other people, gets cut because I refuse to cut the time I need outside of my studies to take care of myself, then so be it.

I don’t want to hide behind my fear of being seen as selfish. I don’t want to be seen as someone who “lets herself go.” I want to be able to be proud of myself, my care of myself, rather than feeling ashamed if I want to make a big deal out of my birthday, my good grades, my stress over school. It may not have anything to do with the people I’m ranting to, but if I matter to them, it will matter to them. I don’t expect them to care as deeply as I do, but I don’t need to hide that part of myself from them either.

I am worthy of being selfish. Not just occasionally. Constantly. Every day, I vow to do something a little selfish. To take time for no one but myself.

Giving to others is part of who I am. I do what I can, and I want to be there for people when they need me, like when they face a doctor’s appointment and they’re scared. When they need a ride and I’m going vaguely in their direction. All of those times when I’m happy to go above and beyond.

But I shouldn’t avoid the times when I need to go above and beyond for myself, either.

All or nothing

I’m not someone who likes to do things halfway.  If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it. Which is probably why house cleaning tends to happen in short, intense bursts in my life, but that’s a confession for another time.

As my life shifted the past couple of weeks, I got the bug that maybe I could get through this quarter without sacrificing so much of a social life. As a certain vacancy had opened up, I figured out my schedule and though “Hey, I can do that!” and accepted every invitation. And I don’t regret doing it at all, because I needed that time.

I do regret not focusing the time I had left more wholly on my school work, but that’s my innate procrastinator in my personality.

So now I’m wiggling things around, putting color coded labels into my planner and figuring out how I’m going to balance things. Balance my good eating habits (well, my attempts at better eating habits, because I can’t be perfect) which require time and preparation, my deep desire to have more of a fitness routine because it makes me feel good, my human need for companionship of friends, oh, and working full time and going to school full time.

No sweat, right?

Balance is something that keeps coming up in my blog, especially in terms of Work+School+Life. I struggle with it, and I take comfort in knowing that other people do too. It’s a struggle we all have, because we all have the same 24 hours in the day, and we all have the same physical limitations, because we’re not Time Lords.

…If you are a Time Lord, well, I’d like to submit my humble application to be your next companion. Just sayin’.

As far as things go, I’m doing pretty well, if you don’t squint too hard at my Biostatistics work. If you do, well, it’s Biostatistics. If you understand it better than I do, please, feel free to explain it. In small words.

Really, I make time to go swing dancing on Tuesdays after my class lets out. It means getting up early with extra coffee to make sure I am prepared on Biostats for class, but it’s worth it. I take the time to pack lunches, which is much better for my wallet and my waistline. I keep track of things. And I don’t beat myself up, because I can’t change what’s gone wrong before, I can only keep moving forward and hope to keep out of the way of further mistakes.

Now I’ve got a Moose on my feet, a fuzzy blanket to ward off this WEIRD APRIL COLD SNAP and a congratulatory episode of Call the Midwife to reward myself for getting through work and classes this week… and to help me forget that I have an entire day dedicated to school work in my planner tomorrow, in an effort to get ahead of things before my birthday.

It’s kind of a big one, and I’m all excited!

Changes.

Things… change.
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Sometimes, they change unexpectedly. Out of the blue. And you’re left standing somewhere you’ve been a million times, but everything has changed.

Life changes. Relationships change. Things ends. And sometimes, you don’t have anything you can do about it, except move on. Which, of course, is the hardest part.

I’ve never dealt with change well.  I don’t handle it well, because I like to understand things. I want the motivation, the reasoning, the impetus to all be clear cut and laid out before me. And sometimes that just doesn’t happen. I don’t get that luxury. I just have to deal.

I suck at rolling with the punches in terms of my personal life.

But I rock at doing it with my work and school life. Interesting.  Because as everything shifted, I couldn’t let things go and had to work on school work. Had to go to work for a seven day stretch. Had to keep getting up every day and moving forward.  The luxury of my explaining my decisions, or even making them, was taken away for a while.
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Until I decided to do what I wanted to do.

Seriously, I should have a motivational poster that says “When in emotional distress, dye your hair and go swing dance.”Photo Apr 10, 3 32 25 PM
I know this is cryptic, doesn’t really have anything to do with graduate school or work or health related, other than my personal mental health, but that’s what this blog is for.

Here’s to the future.Photo Mar 18, 11 05 10 PM

“I can’t, I have class.” – Or, the loneliness that comes with graduate school.

The honest-to-god hardest part about making the choice and the commitment of pursuing my graduate degree while working full time… is that it’s making what I do all about me.  I don’t like making things all about me.  Working on my Master’s means that I have to, have to make time to study, watch lectures, do assignments, and keep my grades up.

Because if I’m going to invest this much money, time and effort into it, failing isn’t an option (my academic perfectionism is another story all together).

This means that I don’t have time for much outside of that. And the people I see and spend time with are almost exclusively people who are within my immediate orbit, where I can’t help but run into them in my daily life. I hate that I can’t go dancing on Tuesdays nights anymore, or trivia on Thursdays, and that Fridays and Saturdays are when my assignments are due, so I usually can’t quite swing going out then either unless I’ve managed to get far enough ahead on work.  By not doing these things, I diminished the amount of people in my immediate orbit by a factor of about a million.

Which makes me feel… terrible. It’s honestly the hardest part about this situation, the part where I don’t even have time to go to dinner at my parent’s house because Epidemiology is kicking my butt and I have to watch the lectures three times in a row before I understand the calculations. The part where I don’t know what’s going on in my friend’s lives because I’m not there for social functions. Where my having to say “no” more than once leads to a decision not to invite me, to keep me from having to decline… even if it means eliminating my chance of saying yes

The part where I feel like making the choice to do what is best for me, has made me invisible.

Am I invisible? No.

I’m very much still here, still corporeal, still living happily in my bubble. Just lonelier on a daily basis.

That’s not to discount my boyfriend who takes me to horse farms on Valentine’s Day so I can get sunshine and pony kisses, who shows up when I’ve had a crying-inducing bad day at work and still have to do my homework just to sit on my couch with a book and be there while I work. Or my neighbor/landlord who reminds me that food comes from more than a microwave and that the ice cream place in town needs supporting. Or my friends who have ninja-formed a second job for me dogsitting within our circle of people as a way to support my gradschool habit (Biostatistics is expensive, y’all).

Photo Feb 15, 12 23 13 PMOr the animals who routinely remind me that sometimes the best thing to do is take time and just sit on the couch and watch T.V. that doesn’t involve the words “cholera,” “poop hands” or “epidemiological transition.”

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Moose is obviously still refusing to exert herself in her cheerleading efforts.

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I’ve finally made the decision to make myself be the most important person in my life. Just because I have done that doesn’t mean that I expect other people to decide that I’m important in theirs as well. I can’t do as much for other people as I used to, just because I’m limited to the same 24 hours in a day as everyone else is, and my color coded planner is pretty full to begin with.  I can’t do everything, but I can do  what I can. I just have to learn to accept that, as hard as it may be for my overachieving little heart.

I've been making this face a lot.

I’ve been making this face a lot.

But hey, if I can manage to keep a B average in Epidemiology, I can accomplish anything, right? Maybe this whole lack of a social life situation will change soon. Maybe not, and I just need to buy some bunny slippers and a bathrobe and become accustomed to living like a shut in. Whatever happens, I’m determined to roll with it.

Priorities can be flexible, too, you know.

 

This one is just because we're cute.

This one is just because we’re cute.

 

 

 

Things I have Learned Lately

1. Color coding is necessary in my life. I broke the habit in my planner a while back… well, it’s back. Let’s just say that. It’s slightly obsessive. But if it keeps my head on track as far as what I need to do… so be it.

2. I like not panicking. I spent the last few months panicking for no tangible reason, and while it was happening, I felt it was reasonable. Looking back, it wasn’t.  Now I don’t even bat an eye when my planner fills up in color coded goodness, and I haven’t even added in my personal time yet.

3. There is no such thing as personal time in my life unless I make it.

4. Personal time is worth making. Even if it’s at 6 AM, in the cold, in the dark, with a dog, and only for a mile. It’s worth every bit of effort to get out of my warm bed and into my running shoes.

5. Epidemiology is hard.

6. The passing of the years has not magically turned me into a math person.

7. Number six directly relates to the difficulty of number five.

8. I eat a lot of air popped popcorn when I’m working. It’s kind of ridiculous. If it was any less wonderful for me (fiber! vitamins! deliciousness! .. only because I put the kernels in a brown paper bag and pop them with nothing but a little salt added) I’d feel bad about it. Instead, I embrace it.

9. After years of trying, I finally admit to myself that I’m really not that big of a fan of raw carrots. This is my commitment to stop buying them in large amounts and expecting myself to eat them. Wasted food is sad food.

10. My cat weighs 15 pounds, but isn’t ‘fat’. She’s just a little linebacker. The vet said so… while simultaneously saying that it probably wouldn’t hurt her to play with the laser toy for longer periods of time and more often. If only humans were that easy.

And bonus 11! (I was going to stop at 10 because I like things to be ordered and neat, but this one popped into my head):
Jenny and Gretchen and I are really just kind of the same person, in three different bodies with three different lives. Because if we were the same person, the world wouldn’t be able to handle our awesome. Seriously.

I’m not crazy.

The hardest part of going through changes in life is that it corrupts your ability to see things clearly.

As a woman, it’s frighteningly easy to write off emotional highs and lows to external factors – stress, work, mourning, even PMS.  So when for the past few months I hadn’t been feeling quite… myself, I didn’t think that hard about it. I’m going to school full time. I’m working full time.  There’s that whole trying to fit a social life into that mix thing, which usually just adds stress to one area or another.  And then there’s, you know, the whole losing my Grandpa thing. No reason for me to think twice about how emotional I am, right?Sitting in a room full of people who are happy and enjoying each other’s company and wanting to do nothing but put your head down and cry is completely normal in certain situations, right?

Except that it wasn’t just in certain situations for me. It was almost every time I was with people. Even at work, if I stopped and let my mind wander, or thought too hard about something, I’d find myself tearing up. I stopped trying so hard to fit the social life part into my schedule. I stayed home a lot. I was glad that my incredibly supportive boyfriend only got to see me on good days.

So when the dust settled and I found myself starting a new quarter of school, realizing how non-existent my social life was (because eventually, even my best friends just stopped asking me to go out with them, because I had so regularly said no) because I had continued to stay home even when I wasn’t really that busy, and how I really wasn’t unhappy, but I certainly wasn’t happy.

Then I found the label on the medication for nerve pain that I had been taking for about four months that said “Call your doctor if you experience any changes in mood, depression, or fear.”

Well, needless to say, I called my doctor.

The only way that I could describe it was that looking back, I felt like I hadn’t had the reins on my emotional state in a while. I’m not a depressed person (not that I have never struggled with it, who hasn’t?), and this constant black cloud following me around, making it so that I didn’t even want to get out of bed, that I had stopped doing just about everything I loved to do, wasn’t me. I had stopped dating my running shoes. I had stopped blogging. I had stopped dancing. I had stopped doing everything that defined… Alicia. Everything that I had worked so hard to find that I loved. I merely went to work, came home, watched Netflix with my cat, and texted my boyfriend (because if I FaceTimed him, I’d be fighting not to cry the entire time, for no reason) as if everything was fine. I cried a lot. It wasn’t pretty.

My doctor agreed with me, and we decided to back me off of the medication until it clears out of my system. We’ll evaluate my pain levels (if there are any to evaluate, since the issue may have resolved itself, who knows) and my mental state in a few weeks, once everything is cleared out. I have a prescription for a different nerve pain medication that I can fill if I need to, but I’m going to try my best to return my life to a non-medicated state. I have the pain tolerance of a small rhinoceros, so I’m pretty confident in my ability to handle it.

If my mental state doesn’t change, then it’s another visit with my doctor where we discuss that. I’m not looking for a miracle change where suddenly I’m completely happy and go lucky (Hi, have you met me? That’s not me either), but I would like to feel a bit more in control of my emotional state, rather than just being a passenger and not knowing where things are going to go, and giving myself an anxiety attack over it.

So the moral of this story is: I’m not crazy. I’m still here. I’m still figuring out how to be myself in this mess of a life, but if anything, this experience has taught me how I don’t want to be. Too bad it took a reaction to a medication to discover it.