Really sucks sometimes.
That is all.
For most of my life, the end of any semester has been marked with a cold or a flu, something that forces me to take some time to recover and physically take care of myself. Sometimes the sickness is dramatic, like the respiratory infection I got the semester I finished my Spanish translation class. (One of the most stressful semesters of my life, both personally and academically.) Sometimes it’s just a cold that passes after a few days of extra sleep, juice, and chicken soup.
In the past couple of years this hasn’t been the case. I have waited after submitting final grades and finishing portfolios or other projects for the exhaustion and sickness to take over. And I have certainly been tired but I haven’t gotten sick.
So I thought, well hey, I’ve been doing this teaching thing for almost a decade, I’ve removed some major stressors from my life, perhaps I’ve just gotten past taking my stress out physically.
Rarely have I been so wrong.
A few weeks ago I went to my doctor because I was experiencing some physical symptoms that scared the crap out of me. Literally. Given the “negative history” in my family, she ordered a battery of blood tests, pretty much everything except the fasting cholesterol test I did last year.
I didn’t think much of her warnings about the extent of the tests until I walked into the lab and the attendant gave me about ten test tube labels. “All these are for me?” I asked. She nodded and pointed me back to The Chair.
I had to wait about five minutes before the phlebotomist came to take my blood. She brought six vials, two that were double sized. I kept reminding myself to breathe and wished I didn’t have such a curious nature. I had to look after the fourth vial just because I had never seen so much of my own exposed blood in one place before.
I left the lab woozy and light headed, sitting in my car for about five minutes, drinking water before I drove home.
Then the results started coming in via email.
They were just the lab results, not yet the ones explained by my doctor.
So I tried not to panic when I read “pre-diabetes” on one set of results.
My mind could not make sense of those words. I am 5’6″, 140lbs, and 36 years old. I have a BMI of 23. My diet consists of whole grains, lean meats, and lots of fruits and veggies.
And yet…. pre-diabetes.
My doctor emails me the next morning, telling me to take inventory of my diet and start exercising more to lose some weight and that we’ll re-run the tests again in August to see if this issue has resolved itself.
On top of this, I also have two vitamin deficiencies – B12 and D. The D is so severe that she ordered me a prescription dose of 50,000 once a week for eight weeks, and 1500 every day after that.
I spend a day or two freaking out. A litany of How? What? Why? plays through my head over and over again. I talk to a friend who had Type 2 and completely overhauled his life with exercise and diet changes after losing an insane amount of weight. He’s certain that this pre-diabetes has been brought on by a combination of stress and genetics. I am pretty sure he is correct.
The irony here, the thing that still has me shaking my head, is that I have been so attentive to my diet for so long because of the predisposition to heart disease that runs in my family. No one in my immediate family has diabetes – I have aunts and uncles battling it but no one in my first line of family. With that and the fact that I’ve managed to moderate my weight well as an adult, I didn’t think I’d ever battle diabetes.
Through my reflections I’ve come to realize that instead of getting a cold or other sickness over the last very stress filled years, I’ve instead been silently beating the crap out of my body. I hadn’t even registered that I stopped taking my multi-vitamin…. it just got lost in the stress filled dance I was doing to stay on schedule and finish my dissertation this spring.
A few weeks ago I started to freak out about the fact that I lost half my summer income. And yes, this is still a problem but I am going to reframe it now. Instead of flipping out about money, I am going to spend my more open summer schedule eating better and exercising. I joined our local community center that has a pool, a rock wall, a gym, and other fitness classes before I even got this news, knowing that I needed to get my blood flowing again after an intense period of sitting on my behind writing. Now I am thankful my teaching load is lighter and I have some time to get some major changes going in my life.
And I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to report back in late August that my blood sugar levels and vitamins are all back to normal.
Today has been a good day. It’s been a day of connections.
I had coffee this morning with a former boss actually, one of those rare experiences where Facebook actually brought me closer to someone pretty damn awesome. We’ve chatted over email, comparing notes about life and struggles and changes. We’ve talked on the phone. But we hadn’t actually seen each other in 16 years.
That’s a long time.
Last night I had been thinking about where I was then – 1995 – just about to start classes at UCSC. Fresh faced and oh-so-naive. John was my “boss” at a local radio station where I was a news intern for the summer. It was a great job – I got to write some quips that he would read on the air the next day and hang out at a radio station. One of my best friends was working there at the time so I got to see him as well.
It was the perfect job for me at the time.
But I moved to Santa Cruz, and got lost in my university experience. Not a bad thing – just the way things go sometimes.
I didn’t reconnect with John until he friended a friend on Facebook (the same one from that same radio station). At first it was just one of those I-kinda-know-this-person connections. Nothing serious. Then he started a blog and I’m not ashamed to say his blog was part of the inspiration for me starting this one.
It’s fitting that we both love words and that’s really what connected us from the beginning. He teaches now and he gets it and that’s awesome. I knew seeing him today would be great.
But I didn’t expect it to have an awesome outcome.
I decided after I dropped him off at his symposium, that I would run a couple of errands up on campus. I needed to return my graduation regalia by tomorrow and empty the last box out of my office. I’ve had my office packed up for weeks and was dragging my feet about finishing, not yet ready to leave my university behind in such a final way.
As I was walking to the bookstore, I ran into one of my profs, one of my all time favorites, actually, and she asked me what I was doing about jobs, etc. I told her how I was struggling and that with budget cuts even finding part time jobs was difficult.
I won’t go into the details but let’s just say . . . . it was a very good conversation and some good connections were made right there.
Had any moment of my day gone any differently . . . had I not met John for coffee or headed to campus to return my robes . . . had I not parked in metered parking so I could get my last box from my office . . . this connection wouldn’t have been made.
So I guess the moral of the story would be never underestimate how the words you use connect you to the people in your life. You never know where the awesome might be found.
When I got married, a friend of mine said that every wedding she to went to after reminded her of her own wedding and all the reasons why she got married. She said it was a lovely way to reconnect to your partner and your past.
I didn’t have much of a chance to experience this with my marriage, mostly because things started to fall apart so quickly after the wedding. But I did have that experience this weekend as I participated in my last graduation ceremony.
This ceremony was different for me for many reasons. Yes, because it was for my Ph.D. and it’s the last degree I will be getting. The three of us getting doctorates laughed in unison and said, “No, oh no!” when during rehearsal one of the organizers said we may graduate again.
No, I am pretty sure this is THE LAST ONE.
Sharing the stage with my own students was a once in a lifetime experience. I was so proud to be able to cheer my own students across the stage. I felt a certain level of satisfaction in my own walk across the stage and my big, puffy doctoral sleeves. But the real joy for me was seeing my students succeed in their own endeavors.
But this isn’t what I intended this post to be about. Putting my regalia together, I played back all the many moments I’ve participated in commencement, walked across a stage and shaken hands with people I don’t know. I remembered my high school graduation and the slick red polyester robe that I wore, how my friend, David, had made us comedy and tragedy masks to wear on the top of our caps. In homage to David, I made my own cap topper this time.
It dawned on me sometime during this insanely busy and exciting day that it’s called “commencement” for a reason. For each of us, it was a new beginning. I’ve never felt that way before, regardless of the other ceremonies I’ve participated in. This felt new and different. Scary and exciting.
For the first time since the defense, I felt happy about finishing the dissertation and moving on. Some really smart person somewhere said “timing is everything.” Getting the news about my summer job being cut two days after defending my dissertation sent me into a downward spiral, panicking about the future and worrying myself into a pretty heady depression.
And yes, some things have shifted – I’ve had a couple of job interviews and I have some prospects on the horizon. Maybe that was all I needed to be able to acknowledge my own success – the prospect of *something* on the horizon other than the job search.
I’ve talked about my struggles accepting happiness, shifting my outlook from having sadness and disappointment as my life long companions. Finishing the Ph.D. shifted me back into that place of doubt, that place where I found comfort in disappointment and heartache. Commencement – my true beginning – shifted me back out again and reminded me I have lots of reasons to be happy.
I have a loving partner.
I have great friends.
And I have a shiny degree that I worked my ass off for.
Life is good.
I had an interesting revelation last night when I was thinking about this blog. I realized I never keep drafts here. I pretty much write and publish just what is on my mind. I set out an amount of time (often in conjunction with Silent Writers or other online writing groups like Reverb10) and I just get out what’s batting around in my head.
And that single thought was amazingly liberating.
As an academic, I scrutinize every word I produce, considering the political impact of phrasing and word choices. I carefully construct my critiques of other people’s work so that I demonstrate my knowledge on the subject, and how my work contributes to an already ongoing conversation. I often worry. Sometimes, I fret.
The whole process is bothersome.
Especially considering the end result is considered by an incredibly small group of people. Matt Might demonstrated this concept with a stunningly accurate visual representation here. His main idea, though, was to help Ph.D. students keep their heads as they work on their projects. This is an important point, and one that helped me put the whole thing in perspective as I finished.
But what I’m thinking about now is all those little dots, all those arrows that push on the boundary of what we know. Who is paying attention to all those arrows?
Chances are the only people paying attention are people with arrows of their own.
I’m not saying this like it’s a bad thing – it’s the way the academy works. Do I think it’s time for a change? Yes, absolutely and I think the change is coming. It’s slow but it’s coming along.
But for now, I am going to focus on the writing I do in this space, where I can “think out loud to myself” and consider all the crazy ideas that pop into my head on a semi-daily basis.
The Indeterminable Weight of the Blank Page
Staring at the blank page I wonder
Where to begin
The whiteness of it confuses me
So I start to identify colors
Blue shadows slink like clouds
Red flecks of lint like birds float
My thoughts roam with them
Past the edge of the page and out the window
Landing on a boulder littered with white spirals of moss
A small bird, a yellow finch lands on the boulder
And plucks my red linty thought up like a cracker
Swallows it whole and flies away
I stumble from my chair, determined to follow
Knowing the single thought
That flew away under another’s control
Was the one I needed to mark the white with black
The letters when strung together create the magic I have always loved
Tripping over my pink fuzzy slippers –
I knew they’d be the death of me
When I plucked them from the mass of red Christmas boxes
A little bit of luxury for the writer
As she sits arguing with the tabula rasa –
“Give me that back!” I yell out the window
And the bird winks from a distance
Smiling like the Cheshire cat
All-knowing and aware of the chaos created
By a simple snack
So I start over
Turn my attention back to the page
No longer blank as these words cascade down it