In between the many papers, tests and presentations, I thought I should have an update of sorts.  I have been wanting to write for a long time, but when I sit down to work there seems to always be something more pressing to do.  That is no different today, but I still need to take the time for myself.  This morning is wonderful and slow before I rush off to a full day.  I tried the pumpkin Noosa for the first time and it was amazingly delicious.  I make a pumpkin cheesecake for the holidays and this yogurt tasted a lot like that.  I highly recommend it!  I have had to be more conscientious of my meal plan lately which frustrates me, but also reminds me that life will always have the ups and downs.  I am not struggling, but I was getting into poorer habits that could lead to destructive places.  Luckily I am in a place to recognize the signs and make corrections.  Starting the day sitting down with breakfast helps tremendously.  This time of year always leads to a decrease in mood due to the time shift and the added stress of graduate school has made it extra challenging.  More days than I like to admit I want to just crawl in bed and stay there, but I keep dragging myself (extra caffeine required) along.  Being back in class makes me realize why all my bad habits were so easy.  Coping skills take time, while other behaviors don’t.  I have had to discover quick coping mechanisms to turn to.  Some of them have included social media, short play sessions with my dogs, hot showers.  Anything to clear my mind and reset so I can come back and be productive with my work.  It is a balancing act, but I am looking forward to the holiday season where I get a break from the endless pile of work and get to spend a lot of time with family.  I enjoy my work in cancer rehab and my clients brighten my day.  My training for competition is coming along well, but also with ups and downs.  School sometimes gets in the way of training and I have just had to accept that and work with the schedule I have.  Overall things are good and I am very grateful, I just need to keep taking it one day at a time and ride the waves that my mood brings.  I know that is a cliché saying when it comes to bipolar, but I have found it to be very true.  If you go with the flow of your moods and don’t fight them, they are more manageable and the negative does pass.  I am actually proud of myself.  I am handling grad school very well and I am enjoying it.  The stress and pressure is sky high, but I am prioritizing and also living life.  I am doing what I was not able to do throughout high school and undergrad.  It may have taken some time, but I feel my life is my own again.

Just a quick reminder when it comes to school!

How I am handling the increasing stress of graduate school without falling into old behaviors:

  • I don’t care if I have work to do, in fact the truth is there will always be more work to get done, but I put everything away by a certain time every evening and unwind for bed.  If I don’t get at least eight hours of sleep at night (I prefer nine), I cannot function at my highest the next day and all of my work suffers.  I am a lot more productive and can concentrate a lot more if I am getting the rest I need.
  • Meal planning. Every Sunday morning I go to the store and have everything for the week available.  It is a lot easier to do one larger shopping every week than going to the store every other day or so because I need something for dinner.  My days are very long and being able to just get home and already know what is for dinner makes the evening less stressful.  I always have a couple of extra meals that I could prepare in case what I planned for just doesn’t sound good at the time.  Even though I plan, I still need to remain flexible.
  • I am now in training mode for competitions which can make this one a little difficult and will need to dedicate an entire post to about exercise and training as an athlete after recovery, but for now I know that being in the gym is my time to escape from the stress of school.  It makes me feel strong and allows me to clear my head.
  • Social time. Just because I have exams and papers to read and write, I can’t neglect social time with those I love.  Even short visits or outings make my day just a little brighter. Being able to stay home and watch a movie with my boyfriend on Friday nights is a success for me and I really cherish that time.  Sometimes it is hard for me to stay at home and not be studying or cleaning or worrying about things I should be doing.  Relaxing with him and my dogs is exactly something I should be doing.  And of course football….need I say more? (Broncos are 2-0 and so far my fantasy team is winning!)
  • Self-care. This one seems to make the most sense but really is the first that tends to go when my schedule gets overloaded.  Reading, writing, coloring, etc are all valuable things that help me reset my mind and allow my time working to be more productive.

As I head into the coming week with one of my biggest exams Monday I needed to put this out on paper and realize that there is a lot more to life than one class.  I cannot sacrifice health in order to feel perfect about the material.  That is why this morning I am writing and drinking delicious coffee and later I will be going to a college football game with my dad and boyfriend and tomorrow will be a day preparing for the week and spending time with family.  I will fit my studying in here and there and not stress about it.  Maybe you struggle with trying to be perfect when it comes to school and let me assure you that life is more than a test or a grade.  When studying, study hard, but don’t forget all the simple things like sleep and friends that ultimately make life better and your work time more productive.

One Happy Penguin

Things are going really well.  I owe an update of sorts since it appears that I have disappeared the last couple of weeks.  Thank grad school for that!  Between classes, training a few clients in cancer rehab, coaching gymnastics and jump rope, and my own training, I have very few precious minutes left to enjoy my family and make sure I am also taking time for myself.  A few highlights over the past weeks:

  • My cousin got married and my boyfriend and I were able to fly out and celebrate with my family over the weekend!  My best friend was able to drive out and spend time with us.  She is the complete definition of my person and anytime with her makes life better.  It was a great getaway from classes even though it was an incredibly quick trip.  The ceremony was lovely and the reception that followed was full of laughs and dancing.
  • I began to train clients at the rehab center on campus and although I haven’t been at it long it is already very rewarding and usually the best part of my day.  Right now I am just volunteering as a grad student for hours towards my cancer exercise certification, but I really hope to have my internship there in the future as well.
  • It is that time of year again where the competitive jump rope team begins their season and I get the amazing chance to coach and see these kids succeed and conquer challenges.  I get to improve their gymnastics skills and they also brighten my day considerably.
  • Regular season football begins tonight!!!  Another reason I love this time of year.  I am a little nervous my fantasy team won’t live up to my expectations but we will see after week 1.  I am missing out on the first game of the season tonight but I will let that slide because I am going to a very anticipated concert.

Some challenges over the past couple of weeks:

  • My great-grandmother passed away. It wasn’t completely unexpected and although sad, I celebrate her life and realize how awesome it was for me to have twenty five years with her around.  She lived until 95 years old!  I can only hope to be around that long.  She was feisty and I thankful for the Native American heritage she passed down to me.  Wah Doh.
  • Breakfasts and meal planning in general has been quite a challenge with a vastly different and new schedule.  I am not a morning person in the least and by the time I am ready for breakfast I am already training clients.  I have an hour commute which doesn’t help the situation.  Bagels with peanut butter have become my friends recently.  Not only is it hard finding things I can eat on the go, I generally don’t like to eat while driving or being occupied because it isn’t very mindful.  This is still a work in progress.  Luckily I have been able to write out my dinners on a board and go to the store every Sunday to be prepared for the week.  It is a lot easier just to come home and not have to think about what is for dinner or if I have everything to make it.  This has worked out very well for me and I am happy to say food doesn’t preoccupy my mind like it used to.  I get hungry, I eat, I move on to the next thing.  The one thing I have to be cautious of is making sure that even when I get super busy that I still take the time to eat.  I know it is sometimes normal for people to forget to eat because they were so engrossed in a project, but that can mean disaster for me.  I have had to be more aware of that.
  • Just getting back into the swing of classes has been a challenge!  I graduated over three years ago from my undergrad so reading textbooks and writing papers in my spare time has required some extra motivation on my part.  I enjoy my classes though which definitely helps overall.

Overall I am in a very positive place and as the semester progresses I will continue to greet my challenges head on!  Writing is always a great stress outlet so hopefully you will see me around more!

Cancer Rehabilitation

When life gets busy, writing tends to fall by the wayside as I have mentioned before.  I wanted to pop in and give a little update on what has me so busy and assure you that I have been working on some posts for the future.  Next week I officially start grad school!  It has been a long time coming, but I have been truly blessed to be able to take time and really invest in what I want out of a career.  My degree will be in exercise physiology with a concentration in cancer rehabilitation.  I am beginning to train clients on a weekly basis and it has been extremely rewarding.  I want to continue to be involved in research and advance this field in order for clients to have insurance coverage.  The treatment from cancer leaves people with many different forms of toxicities which exercise can help alleviate.  For example, cardiotoxicity from chemotherapy weakens the heart muscle and pulmonary toxicity makes it difficult to transport oxygen from environment to cells.  Exercise on the other hand strengthens the heart and increases cardiac output as well as strengthens the intercostal muscles to increase lung capacity and improve ventilation.  These are just two examples of many in which exercise improves the awful side effects caused by the treatments from cancer.  Exercise improves cancer related fatigue and improves psychological function as well.  All of this comes from research at rehabilitation centers and I am excited to be involved!  Coming from a background of athletics I thought that I wanted to train athletes and help them get to a high level of competition.  After my spinal fusion surgery and seeing a family member go through treatment for cancer I realized that it is much more important to me to help people achieve a better quality of life.  I want all people to be able to do the simple things in life like carry their own groceries and tie their shoes.  I didn’t realize all of the things that I take for granted sometimes.  I like to train at a high level and some people just want to be able to walk down the street.  It is a very humbling environment to work in.  The progress that I have seen from various clients over the summer makes my heart full of joy and I know that this is the career I want to pursue.  I may not end up just in cancer rehabilitation, but anyone struggling with chronic conditions can benefit from exercise and I hope to be one to help them achieve their goals!

Exercise in Recovery

I want to post about my experience with exercise in recovery.  Up until 2 years ago I thought it was possible to recover from an eating disorder and still work out.  Maybe that is true with some people, but that has definitely not been my story.  Exercise has been a part of my entire life.  I was a gymnast competitively and then switched over to competitive jump rope.  I have trained endless hours for National and World competitions since I was twelve.  There was a very fine line between just training hard like any athlete and over exercising as an eating disorder behavior.  I knew it was becoming more of the latter when my overall health and performance began deteriorating.  Working out became something I had to do and there was no joy in it.  As I began recovery I couldn’t quite let go of this part of me or even acknowledge that a problem actually existed.  I was competitive and at an elite level you have to continue training.  That was just life.  At that time I was never asked by my treatment team to cut back on training and in hindsight I wish they would have.  There was a lot of denial on my part at the time so I don’t blame anyone, it is just frustrating looking back and realizing that no one considered it a problem because I wasn’t at a dangerously low weight.  My mindset shifted as the eating disorder grew.  A part of me still always wanted to win, but a larger part was determined on seeing how far I could push myself.  I wanted to manipulate the number on the scale.  I wanted to escape all the anxieties of life and control would I could.

My mindset has been completely turned around over these past two years.  Luckily I had no choice in the matter.  A major back surgery tends to sideline people for a while.  I was absolutely terrified during this time.  Not being able to work out for months seemed absolutely unacceptable.  I had been working out with pain for months.  And what if I wouldn’t ever get back to the level of intensity that I wanted after a surgery like this?  Most doctors thought I should wait to have the surgery until I was older and told me to slow down even though I was in considerable pain.  Thank goodness I talked to several doctors and formed an educated opinion.  And thank goodness my surgeon believed in my ability to get back to jumping and a very active life.  I could write a whole post about spinal fusion and recovery in itself because I have found a lot of misinformation out there along my journey.  Not to skip to the end of the story or anything but trust me I am completely healed and am at a higher level of fitness than I have been at in years.

That surgery was a blessing in disguise.  It is the greatest thing to ever have happen to me.  I was forced to face myself and sit with myself and all my feelings.  Not run away from them to the gym.  I didn’t realize that working out was one of the last hurdles to conquer to really living out full recovery from the eating disorder.  Over those months of strictly nothing but monitored rehabilitation I started peeling back all those layers of what exercise truly meant in my life.  What I found was a very unhealthy relationship to it.  My identity was completely interwoven within it and I didn’t know who I was outside of the disorder and exercise.  How did I define myself without being an athlete?  I was quite lost for those few months.  Right after my surgery I realized that relapse was imminent if I didn’t find a new treatment team. I was in a state of half recovered at the time, doing things on my own, but mentally I was a wreck.  So I sought out a center and found a therapist who specialized in both eating disorders and sports psychology.  Hallelujah!  Another blessing.  I am a pretty private person so people don’t necessarily realize the effort that I have put into my recovery since that surgery.  I assume most people thought I was pretty much recovered by that time and it was just frustrating to talk about.  I was flustered because I knew that life could be better than only half-assing recovery day after day.  I refused to believe that I would always have disordered thoughts the rest of my life.

All the work the past two years has truly transformed my life.  There were many factors in ending up where I am today, but completely abstaining from exercise was the answer for me.  It established in my head that my relationship with working out was very unhealthy and it also made me think about who I was apart from my identity as a competitive athlete.  I have also been privileged to work in groups specific to exercise dependence with other competitive athletes with eating disorders.  I learned more in those six weeks than I ever have in ten years of other recovery work.  I rebuilt from the ground up my relationship to the gym.  I was out of the gym for nearly eight months and when I returned I did at a snails pace.  Today I work out intensely because I want to and because I am able to fuel my body properly and really listen when it needs rest.  I love how strong and confident I feel in the gym and that confidence is overflowing into the rest of my life.  My training doesn’t just revolve around jumping.  I run, bike, hike, crossfit, yoga, etc.  I am enjoying new things.  I consider training again for competition because it gets me excited and I have this whole new outlook on it.  I no longer feel the need to work out because I think I should or because I really need to work out so I can have that glass of wine at dinner.  I have had to be very careful integrating numbers back into workouts but I feel nothing but joy now and freedom.  Numbers used to dictate all workouts, now they are simply a measure to assess strength and ability.  I am stronger after that surgery both physically and mentally because I took the time to do the work.  I am absolutely in awe of what my body does for me on a daily basis and know now how to take care of it.  I wouldn’t have discovered this amount of pure happiness if I wasn’t forced to sit down and deal with it completely away from the gym.  It makes me realize now how sick I actually was and how I was harming myself.  I have never felt better in my life and I wonder what I can accomplish when I actually take care of myself.