Life Updates

I have spent the past several months writing and editing my master’s thesis so any other form of creative writing or blogging completely fell by the wayside as plenty of you had noticed.  It has been about eight months since I have touched or posted anything on this blog and I miss it!  Writing, painting, and reading have been at the top of my list now that life is slowing down a bit.  Here is a brief rundown of the past few months!

August – I stepped away from the blog for a bit because I needed to put all my writing energy into my thesis.  (If anyone has an interest in that I will post my abstract and a little more about what I did the past two years).  I wanted to see if the six-minute walk test was a valid test to predict peak oxygen consumption in cancer survivors compared to a treadmill test.  Conclusion – the walk test is not valid in cancer survivors who have average or higher levels of functional capacity.  I will present my findings this year at the annual American College of Sports Medicine Conference (ACSM).  Last August I was continuing data collection and starting to draft out my thesis document.  I was also gearing up for a very busy semester with courses like cardiac and muscle physiology.

September – School was immensely busy and I was there pretty much 24/7.  I was still commuting an hour plus one way so it was often draining and coursework was demanding.  I enjoyed classes though.  I spent much of this month preparing for October though.

October/November – I finished data collection on my thesis and began to look at analyzing the data for my abstract.  After several months of debating, I undertook another major foot surgery in October to correct my alignment.  The technical term for those who care was a calcaneal osteotomy with a tendon transfer.  It was not pretty and I was very unprepared for the actual recovery.  I am solely to blame because I went in thinking it was just another surgery and I would be back in no time.  I have been an ortho patient so many times in my life that I guess I took this one for granted.  I have had a spinal fusion, yet this was the worst surgery recovery to date.  Add in the fact that fall is not the best time of year for me mentally and it was a rough six-week period.  Thankfully my family took amazing care of me and my dad even drove me around to school during this time!  I was non-weight bearing for a couple months but I was sick of crutches and tried out a new fun walking “leg” which allowed me more freedom to shop or walk around.  During this time I didn’t work on my thesis a ton, I was just focused on my classes.  Looking back now, I am still not sure it was worth it to go through with the surgery, but I still have 2-3 more months before I am close to one hundred percent again so we will see.  This was the first scenario though where I realized that I have truly recovered from the eating disorder and that if I can handle a few months like that then I can handle anything.


December – I started to feel better and was relieved that fall semester was out, although this is the time I geared up to write.  It was almost a good thing that it was winter and I couldn’t walk so I could write a large portion of my draft.  The holidays used to be a big problem for my eating disorder recovery, but they honestly keep getting better and better with every passing year.

January – New year and a new walking boot.  It was a great relief to start walking and driving again.  I am very independent and having that freedom taken away was just plain torture some days.  I also began a new semester finishing up writing and an online statistics class.  I visited family in Oklahoma and started to get a little panicked that I was graduating so soon.


February – While all of the things surrounding my surgery and school were going on I should also mention I had been on the job search.  In February I officially accepted an offer as a full time professional research assistant in sports medicine.  This month was full of excitement as I finished my draft and started to continue editing with my advisors.  I was also able to find time to spend with my sister and it was unseasonably warm for February!


March- I officially started my job and absolutely have loved every aspect of it!  I had my thesis defense and turned it into the graduate school for review….party!!!  I had a quick business trip to San Diego and enjoyed some sun and relaxation away from thesis work.


Every day I wake up generally in awe of where I am in life today.  No one who knows me is surprised in the least bit, but I still surprise myself.  It was a challenging academic year and to see the light at the end is very sweet.  I graduate in a month and I am definitely looking forward to some down time that doesn’t involve academics.  I have a long list of things I want to do this spring and summer.  Lots of hiking and camping especially!  I tried to keep this a bit brief just for an update and want to post more frequently in depth on topics as they come up.  I want to keep mindfulness and mental health priority topics on this blog.  Even though I am recovered, I want to support anyone struggling and hopefully be a source of positivity that full recovery is possible and sustainable.  Take care!

Life is good

I am taking a short break from my mindfulness series to do a bit of a reflection.  Three years ago I had my spinal fusion surgery.  Reflecting over the past three years really makes me sentimental.  Going into that surgery was terrifying.  What if this? What if that?  I had painstakingly gone through the process of finding the right surgeon for me and one who believed I would get back to my old self.  There was no hesitation and his confidence allowed me to let go of my own fears and literally put my life into his hands.  I cannot stress to you enough the importance of a second, third, or fourth opinion.  And I cannot stress to you enough the importance of rehabilitation after the fact.  Since my surgery three years ago I have once again competed at a national level, have had the ability to go on 12+ mile hikes, taken part in crossfit workouts that include Olympic type lifting, continued to do light gymnastics tumbling, have had the ability to be on my feet all day whether at a museum or other event, and I could name a hundred more.  Pain free through it all!  Of course I can get sore on occasion if I overdo it, but doesn’t everyone?  I learned how to listen to my body.  I learned patience and perseverance and vulnerability.  I have since recovered from an eating disorder because this surgery allowed me to realize how much of a hold it still had on my mind when I was forced to give up daily exercise.  I started graduate school and am on a path towards a career I am passionate about.  I have grown so much as a person and I continue to strive towards what makes me truly happy.  It was nowhere near easy, but it changed me as a person and really had an impact on my life that makes me thankful I had to go through it.  If you are in the midst of a difficult situation in life, keep enduring.  Take it that one day at a time and soon you will look back and realize things are for the better.  Everything takes time.   Back

Reflecting

Year one of graduate school complete!  I don’t get much of a break, but I can breathe a bit.  I know year two will be more challenging due to thesis work and more difficult courses, but I have learned a lot about life and myself in the process to feel confident.  I truly feel balanced.  I went into grad school not knowing how I would fare.  Prior to grad school I had spent a lot of time physically healing from back surgery and mentally healing from the eating disorder.  I had a few classes and completed some important certifications, but ultimately this time was focused on recovery and building a solid foundation.  Jumping back into the real world was both exhilarating and frightening.  It hasn’t all been perfect, I know it’s not supposed to be.  In fact, it has been a bit messy.  Messy and beautiful.  Difficult.  Agonizing.  Tiring.  Wonderful.  Amazing.  All of it.  I haven’t written in a long time because of this last stretch of projects and tests.  Also because I was trying to stay afloat.  I should have been writing and reading and coloring and using all those self-care techniques, but stress got the better of me.  I have enjoyed not being paralyzed with stress and able to do some things not related to school.  This is important for me to remember and realize going forward that taking time to myself and putting school work aside is not selfish.  Stopping to go out to eat and put down the journal articles is not selfish.  Going to bed early is not selfish.  I am so grateful for the people in my life and grateful for my life itself.  My field of work can be difficult some days, but it has taught me a lot about patience and a lot about making your life worthwhile by doing things you love.  So for me, please stop today and take time to do something for yourself.  Reflect on the past few weeks, months, years, and think about if your life is in alignment with your passions and desires.

Mindfulness during Exercise

I have made it a priority to practice mindfulness in my recovery, especially in the area of exercise. I grew up a competitive athlete and my career has always revolved around numbers. Score in gymnastics, time in swimming, score in jump rope, etc. Any athlete strives to make a certain time, hit a certain number. It is an imperative part of winning. But what happens when those numbers start to control you instead of you controlling them? My self-worth became completely dependent on these numbers. Eventually these numbers that had been associated with training and competition were not enough. I found myself chained to a treadmill running x amount of miles or to burn x amount of calories. It no longer became about winning or having fun, just an all-consuming obsession. I convinced myself I was doing it for training. Doing it to win. Part of the lies of an eating disorder. I wrote in a previous post about how completely abstaining from exercise helped begin to change my mindset. I was forced to stop all exercise due to a spinal fusion surgery. This was a blessing in disguise and I really don’t know where I would be today if I wasn’t forced to stop. Prior to the surgery, although in pain, I pushed and pushed myself to exhaustion. I spent an entire World Championship in pain and had the worst experience of my career. I needed a change and after surgery is when I decided to re-enter treatment for the eating disorder. I knew if I rushed back into exercise I could permanently damage my spine so I gave up all control to my treatment team and started from scratch. As I began to heal and slowly started more activity, I went to a specific group for athletes with eating disorders. I really suggest finding a group like this for anyone who has a disordered relationship with exercise. I highly suggest if you are an athlete or struggle specifically with exercise dependence to seek out an eating disorder therapist who specializes in sport psychology. I was very hesitant with the group at first because I wasn’t sure how being in a room full of competitive athletes –who thrive on competition- could be a healthy environment. It turned out to be extremely healing. One of the first things that was discussed and practiced was mindfulness. And for mindfulness to occur, the numbers had to go. Running with no set pace or time or mileage. Jumping without keeping score and counting. With practice, it became more intuitive to just be. It was very therapeutic to focus on how my body felt, how my muscles moved, how my breath felt. I also branched out and tried other forms of exercise like yoga and more resistance training. I became very appreciative of my body and my strength rather than loathing workouts and forcing my broken self through repetition. Even if you are in the depths of exercise obsession, I challenge you to try a workout using mindfulness. Cover the numbers on a treadmill, run outside on new trail, whatever you need to do to separate the activity from numbers and to really focus on yourself. It has been a slow transformation, over two years, but I have been able to return to training for competition. I have regained control of the numbers which now hold a very different meaning for me. They represent my strength and leave me excited for the next challenge. There are times I still catch myself falling back into old patterns. When this happens I immediately go back to a few days of a new activity or more active recovery. It is a balancing act just like every other aspect of recovery. Through this group I was also able to gain a sense of peace with my competitive nature. I am able to appreciate other athletes for their strengths instead of constantly comparing myself to them. I have found an identity outside of my sport and love trying new forms of exercise. Gyms can breed negative competitive environments, but find people or a gym that fits your personality. I have found overwhelming support in mine and I promise you that you can restore your relationship with exercise as long as you don’t try to do it alone.

 

Gratitude for Hours well Spent

I am exhausted. Not in the bad – I can’t get out of bed, hate life kind of exhausted. The – I have been so busy out living life that I am exhausted. It is a nice change from the first. I am faced with a lot of work to get done because I have put that work aside for more favorable experiences. Yes I have deadlines, everyone does in life, but sometimes it is better to not spend hours being a perfectionist trying to get the perfect grade. I rarely used to procrastinate. I don’t recommend it all the time, but having to stay up later a few nights over the past few weeks was well worth it. All the little experiences from a super bowl parade to hiking with my dogs have made me genuinely happy. It has been awhile since I have done a gratitude list, but I really think it is important when things are going well in life to write things down to return to on those not so great days.

  1. Football. I am sad that the season is over, but finishing with a super bowl win was worth every up and down during the season. Football is more than just a sport to me. It brings my friends and family together. It also brings the community together and I know everyone will continue to celebrate well into the summer.
  2. Fresh air. My boyfriend and I took our dogs on a hike out around a secluded lake for Valentine’s Day. There is no other feeling in the world like getting outside and being surrounded by nature. I tend to forget how soothing being outside is, even if it is only for a few moments in the backyard. I am hoping to go snow shoeing for the first time in the next couple weeks as well which will be an amazing experience. I am definitely yearning for warmer weather too for more hikes and camping.
  3. People.   Usually I am more of an introvert and a lot of people tend to get on my nerves, but lately that has been changing. I credit working with cancer survivors because I get to meet and interact with new clients on a weekly basis. It has really opened my eyes to how every one of us is truly an individual with unique talents and experiences. I have learned a lot through observation and really listening to people. When I stop to actually listen to someone and understand what they are saying I tend to have a more positive interaction. We all want to be heard, but it is rare to listen and remove your thoughts and judgements. I encourage everyone to practice empathy on a daily basis.
  4. Family. This really goes without saying, but I grateful every moment for the support and encouragement from those around me.
  5. My health. I am grateful that I can get out and be active and enjoy the things I love with the people I love. A lot of times we take for granted what our bodies actually do for us.       There were times in my life where I could barely get around my house, especially after the spinal fusion, and now I am physically in the best shape of my life because I am healthy. For one I am nourishing myself and two I know when to rest and take it easy.       Injury and sickness give me a very cut and dry perspective of how precious my health and physical body are to me. You only get one, take care of it.

What are one or two things you are grateful for today?

How Writing a Thesis can be Compared to Recovery

I tend to fixate too much on the future, especially when it comes to school. I am finding that the hardest thing about writing a thesis is to actually start the writing. I love data collection and actually getting to do the research, but with the writing it seems overwhelming to start. I have an outline, I know the formula, so why is it getting in my way so much? The answer goes back to fixating on the future. Instead of chapters with subheadings nicely broken down, I can’t help but see the deadline for the entire thing and I am left with an overwhelming sense of dread. There is so much to do! I like to be a perfectionist when it comes to about everything in life, which I might add has been mostly a harmful attribute, and it is the same with this. My head gets in the way and just stops me from writing. I want to get it perfect the first time even though rationally I know that isn’t the right mindset.

In my mind this is very relatable to the recovery process. Whether it is addiction or eating disorders or self-harm, or any destructive behavior- if you look at the grand scale of things, it will automatically become overwhelming and you won’t even want to continue. You know what you have to do, yet your head gets in the way and you fail before you even try. Recovery is just like the writing process. There will be several, and I repeat several, “drafts” before things start to fall into the place you want. You will stumble and trip up and succeed and slip and win and lose and the list could go on endlessly. Recovery has become second nature to me now because I took that first step and kept climbing. I also continue to take small steps every day to commit to this new life. Stop focusing on the end goal and start focusing on all the little steps you can do right now in this moment and today that will help you move forwards. Before you know it, your life will change for the better. Trust me in the fact that you may not see it happening, but you will be able to look back after a while and be proud at what you have accomplished. When I put writing a thesis into perspective and comparing it to my recovery, I know that I will succeed. I just need to start, no matter how small and eventually I will have a finished product to be proud of.

Energy

As an athlete I know all too well how my energy can impact my performance. Not only my physical energy, but the energy of my state of mind. Anxiety and excitement are two opposite forms of the same energy that lead to very different results. Anxiety is a negative form of energy that sucks the life out of me, leaving me hopeless and prone to depression. When I am anxious, I pick apart certain skills or movements and am never left satisfied. Excitement is the positive form of anxiety and instead gives me hope and confidence. I work hard on skills and sets with excitement trying to become my best self. In both energy states I work my ass off, but which one produces the results I want? Obvious to any athlete. But what about applying this principle to other aspects of my life? Getting back into a new semester I find myself a bit anxious and stressed concerning my master’s thesis. That energy didn’t do me any favors last semester. As I picked apart every little piece trying to make it perfect, I lost all mindfulness and serenity in life. That energy carried over through the break and it is exhausting. My brain is wired to default to the negative. I am working very hard to re-wire it and be very intentional about mindfulness and gratitude. At first thought it was very hard to think about my master’s thesis as exciting. Yet the more I separate the stress and anxiety, I actually find there is a lot to be excited about. I love the work I am doing with cancer rehabilitation and it is a privilege to get to work with these survivors every day. Each passing week I am closer to the career I want and the life I have envisioned. This is my passion and school is just a stepping stone to get there. Writing can definitely be compared to competing in athletics. You work hard, have many drafts and edits, and eventually end up with something you hope to be proud of. I compete to win and this makes me excited. I am writing in hopes that my thesis will become published and to have a successful defense in order to graduate. That will be a huge victory and this makes me excited. Regardless, I will finish my degree no matter the state of energy. I hope in the coming weeks to continue to be mindful about this topic and use my energy in a positive manner. Thinking this way does transform you. Think about what makes you anxious and then think about how that energy can be converted into excitement. For example, maybe recovery is wrought with anxiety and there is no way for it to be exciting. Really dig deep and come up with your own personal reasons of how it could be exciting. With no exaggeration, I have found recovery to be the most exciting thing in my life. It gave me a new life. I encourage you to take a step back and consider how you can be intentional with your own energy. It is a challenge and as I move forward I strive to stay excited and inspired about life.