The Rogue (W)riter (plans to) Returneth

August 31, 2011 § 6 Comments

That, friends, is an example of a deeply desired (but masterfully failed) attempt at alliteration where alliteration has no business. Ah well. Them’s the breaks, as they say.

So, yes, I am (planning to) return to my writerly ways. (Visual alliteration but not auditory…damn you, English language.) I admit to taking a lengthy reprieve from writing on my dissertation, but I don’t feel guilty about it. I needed the time off. I needed the time to refocus, to reconnect, to recommit. I can see now how other ABDs* before me have gotten so near the defense and petered out. I would be willing to bet that their lack of motivation was more than likely externally imposed. I doubt, for instance, that someone whose writing fires had been previously stoked suddenly and without any warning whatsoever saw those same fires extinguish into barely smoldering ashes.

It may be difficult for those who have never taken this particular journey to understand how a student (an adult, grown-up, ready-to-move-on student) could put several years toward a program only to turn tail and run the other direction right before the last big push.

If you are such a person who has difficulty understanding this phenomenon, please allow me to offer my take on it.

The stamina required to keep pushing is unlike any other I have ever known. This is not just “finish the work.” This is not “keep your nose to the grindstone.”

It’s torture yourself despite your better judgment not to.

You may think I’m overdramatizing the writing process. I can promise you that, for my particular situation at least, I am not. In fact, I may not be “dramatizing” it enough.

Remember way back in May, when I had my embarrassing gynecological exam?

My blood pressure registered as “prehypertensive,” according to the new measurements. It rang in at 130/80. At the time, I attributed the pre-high BP to an uncomfortable conversation about my weight. While that is a possibility, here’s a stunning fact. Two months later, when I went to my first prenatal exam (at the same doctor’s office), my blood pressure registered at 114/76. Way normal. About as normal as you could want. I had also apparently lost 11 pounds since getting pregnant. At my second prenatal appointment, my blood pressure was 126/70. Still normal. (I gained 9 pounds–normal!–but I blame that entirely on all the carbs I ate in order to control my “morning” sickness…I feel like my eating habits are a little more on track now. We’ll see at the next appointment on Tuesday.)

What was the one thing that changed between May 19th and July 12th? What can really be attributed to the sudden drop from 130/80 to 114/76?

I decided to postpone graduation by four months.

This meant that I could take my time on the last chapter and the revisions. It meant I didn’t have to kill myself to try to meet ridiculous self-imposed deadlines. It meant I could actually take some time to focus on myself as my body experienced something entirely new.

Attempting to meet the August deadline, writing as quickly as I did, was physically harming me. If you can look at those numbers and not agree with me, then I must suggest that you’re simply refusing to see the point.

This process has taken a toll on many of us. And it will continue to take its toll as long as students voluntarily (that’s the worst part) submit themselves to the torture. I have not decided yet if the payoff is worth the risk–I’m still involved with the risk, you see. Ask me again in five years. As of today, my answer would be a strong no: no, I would not pursue a PhD directly after my Master’s, given the opportunity for a do-over.

So, what does all of this have to do with the Rogue (W)riter Returnething? Well, probably not much. Except to say that I have recovered, and I finally feel ready to reenter the writer’s wrestling ring. (Much better alliteration…strange image, though.)

So, what does this mean for the rest of my progress? Just how far behind am I? Are we looking at a future modeled on the break-neck pace of January through May?

Hell no!

Friends, I’m probably about 20-25 pages away from completing my dissertation. I have three pieces of literature to analyze in this final chapter, and I’ve analyzed one. So I’ve got two left. And I know what I want to say about them…I have just been waiting for the motivation to sit down and say it.

Do I care if nobody understands why I needed the break? Not really.

Do I care if nobody appreciates that I am confident in meeting this new December-graduation-deadline? Nope.

Do I care if somebody chooses to judge my process and condemn me for slamming on the brakes in July? Not even a little bit.

So, what’s the point of this entire tirade if I just don’t seem to care?

It’s to say this: I’ve been there. If you are struggling through a difficult Master’s or PhD program, I’ve been there. If you have lost all motivation to finish your dissertation or thesis, despite being mere months away from graduation, I’ve been there. If you feel as though you have been chewed up, swallowed, regurgitated, spat out, stomped on, and chewed up again by your program, I’ve been there.

Much like Dan and Terry Savage’s** campaign to end suicides in response to anti-gay bullying: It. Gets. Better. Promise.

Hang in there until you either feel that you have accomplished what you have set out to accomplish, or hang in there until you work up enough gumption to say that you refuse to take the abuse any more and will pursue other dreams. Hang in there while you allow yourself to reevaluate your priorities–and reevaluate them frequently. Check your blood pressure and weight, your lifestyle, your friendships. Choose what matters in life and hang in there until you can confidently focus on them.

So, yes, I have been hanging in there. And my dissertation has taken a new priority. Rather than being at the top of the list, it’s toward the top of the middle of the list. Still important, but not my everything.

And I’m much happier that way.

* Refresher time: ABD stands for “All But Dissertation,” meaning that all other requirements have been completed satisfactorily except for the dissertation. I am currently ABD. If I were to bow out of my program now, I would forever be an ABD.

** I am blanking now on whether or not Terry has taken Dan’s last name…. I made an editorial judgment call for the sake of completing a blog post. If I’m wrong, please feel free to correct me, but don’t be offended if I smile, shrug, and say “that’s nice.” (Point is this: it doesn’t matter, does it?)

Gynecological Origami: or, the art of humiliation

May 19, 2011 § 7 Comments

This post is Tori’s fault. You see, a few months ago, she bravely recounted her trip to the gynecologist for her annual exam. So you know what? Inspired by her womanly courage, I’m giving you my own recap today, you lucky, lucky people. (You can direct your generous gratitude HERE.)

In preparation for my annual embarrassment, I took a thirty minute shower. I soaped up and rinsed off my body three times. I shaved my armpits and legs with the care reserved for first dates…and gynecological visits. I washed my face and scrubbed behind my ears. No way in hell was I going to be the “stinky” patient today. No strange smells were going to emanate from my body. No funny-looking hairs would peek out from shredded paper gowns. No siree bob. Everything I could control was going to be freaking controlled.

I pottied before taking my shower–no stray toilet paper fuzz in embarrassing places. Definitely no smells. I would be clean as a whistle!

Until…

The nurse weighs me (since I already know the answer, I look away) and invites me to provide a “sample, if [I] don’t mind.” Mind? Me? Shucks no! Just point me to the cup and laundry marker, and I’m revved and raring to go!

Except I wasn’t. Because I had already pottied. And I had forgotten that I’d give a urine sample.

“Sure….” I say, because there’s no other choice than to say “sure.” She sends me to the bathroom and I sit. And sit. And sit. And sit. And sigh. And sit. And wonder if she’s standing outside the door waiting to hear the tell-tale sounds of peeing in a cup. I take a deep breath, envision drinking all the water my bladder can hold…and squeeze. I’m utterly empty, but what I’ve produced should serve enough for the test strip. I put my labeled cup on the shelf with all the other labeled cups. Mine is the least full.

First Instance of Humiliation: Inadequate urine sample.

Next, as my gynecologist’s nurse administers the super-comfortable and enjoyable blood pressure test, she begins to tell my fat ass about the new weight loss clinic our women’s clinic has opened specifically for its female clientele. I take deep breaths and smile at her as she explains how useful it will be for me to sign up. “It’s only $150 for the consultation,” she begins. When she looks up and sees my panicked expression, she stops talking.

My blood pressure registers as “pre-high.” 130/80 is no longer an average blood pressure. I’m now apparently prehypertensive. Fabulous. I wonder if I should get points off because the nurse was talking about my big fat ass?

Second Instance of Humiliation: Prehypertension brought on by discussion of weight.

The nurse takes me to the exam room and hands me two stacks of paper towels that look identical to one another. “This one’s the top, which opens to the front. That one’s the bottom. She’ll be right in.” The nurse draws closed the curtain around the exam table and walks out of the door. I toss a furtive glance to the handle for a lock. No such luck. Even though it is extraordinarily common for doctors to politely tap once on the door as they are walking in the room, it is not extraordinarily common to see a lock on this door handle.

In my gynecological experience, one of two things can happen: 1. the doctor walks in while I am in the middle of undressing/figuring out the paper gown or 2. I hurriedly change only to wait for half an hour to hear the tap.

Today was a second scenario day.

I gently unfold (and manage to tear in two places) the top paper towel stack. No sleeves. That must be the blanket for the bottom half. Sure I am running out of time, I fumble with the other paper towel stack. Tearing this in a key location (right in the middle of the left breast), I finally manage to get into the front-opening paper vest. I sit on the edge of the table (recalling that I’m always encouraged to scoot down), spread the paper blanket over my lap, cover every last instance of flesh, and wait.

I am reminiscent of a toilet paper bride from one of those bridal shower games. Minus the veil, paper flowers, and huge smile. Every time I breathe, my paper configuration falls open in one way or another. I fold it, pull it, tuck it, and hold onto it until my paper gown origami is nothing more than a wrinkled reminder of what it once was.

Third Instance of Humiliation: Required inadequate paper apparel.

And then I am left waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

I hear voices outside the door, and, like a pound puppy, I am just certain that one of those voices belongs to my girl. She’s going to swing open that door and rescue me from this hellish experience. The voices dissipate down the hall. Other doors get knocked on. Other patients come and go. A.Hab. is left in her pile of paper towels, behind an un-tapped-on door, trembling from anxiety, embarrassment, and a slight chill.

C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, I beg in an endless cycle.

I swing my feet, admiring my super-clean soles as they ascend and descend rhythmically. I’m glad I washed my feet so well, I congratulate myself.

My thoughts turn dark. What if my urine sample is showing something bad? What if she’s gathering armloads of materials for her super fat patients? What if she’s working up the nerve to tell me that I have to lose 100 pounds before I should conceive? At this last thought, I feel a prickling behind my eyes.

Okay, A.Hab! I straighten my sore spine (of course today of all days, I have a sore back). You have got to stop thinking like this.

I return to my “c’mon c’mon c’mon” chant.

Half an hour later, as though purposefully summoned by my meditation, my new gynecologist taps once on the door as she enters the room.

Fourth Instance of Humiliation: Infinite waiting in the nude.

She introduces herself to me without shaking my hand. I’m actually relieved at this because my hands are sopping wet from wringing the ever-living life out of the paper towel spread across my lap for half an hour. She encourages me to scoot down. “And once more,” she tells me. “And…again.” I never scoot down far enough on the first try.

As I lay back and put my heels in the stirrups, my knees instinctively meet.

Dr. Gynecologist smiles warmly and says gently, “I’m going to ask you to relax your knees, just a little bit.”

I know what “just a little bit” means. I slowly let my knees fall to the sides. I can feel my heartbeat in my throat.

“Lots of cold and lots of pressure,” she warns soothingly.

A chill shoots through my core. “Whew,” I titter nervously. “That is cold.”

“And lots of pressure.” She sees me gulp. “Are you okay? Does that hurt?”

“N-no,” I respond, trying to sound convincing. I concentrate on picturing myself in the car driving home. And it doesn’t hurt, not really. But it doesn’t feel particularly good either.

Three sharp swipes and she’s out.

Hovering over my shoulders, she presses on my breasts, searching for lumps. We chit-chat about my husband, about how our anniversary is next Monday, about how he is an amazing man. How I’m lucky to have him. I relax immediately. And the exam is over.

She tells me that everything looks good, that I’m all clear.

She was in and out in under ten minutes. Yet, I climb into my driver’s seat an hour after I parked there.

Fifth Instance of Humiliation: Realizing that I was so utterly worked up for nearly an hour over nothing.

It’s a damn good thing these visits come so infrequently. Of course…I do realize that if I intend to squeeze out a human being from my nether regions, I’m just going to have to get the hell over this anxiety.

In the meantime, Robert’s my safe word. Plain and simple.

And then I was abducted by aliens…

April 29, 2011 § 13 Comments

It’s the knocking and the laying still that are the worst.

Crap. I’m too fat for all my clothes. I’m going to have to wear a too-tight shirt. The one that essentially says “I tried.”

For some people, it’s the claustrophobia. The coffin-like structure reminds too much of impending doom.

“I want to see what’s going on in there,” he had said. “Just to be sure.”

The dulcet tones of Kenny G’s sweet soprano sax waft into my ears in between bangs and squeaks. Somehow, I am not soothed by the smooth jazz. Maybe I should have gone with country. Or even R&B.

“You can have a seat right there. I’ll just go over some quick protocol issues with you. You don’t have any heart issues, no stints, no metal in your body, tattoos, piercings?” I tell the nurse no. “You’re not claustrophobic or pregnant?” Again, no. “No history of surgeries, implants of any nature?” I pause. Back surgery, May 2008, for a herniated disk in my lower back. She jots down the note. Sends me to a room to change.

Laying here, my back begins to hurt. I can feel it tightening. I rotate an ankle slowly, trying not to move, trying not to prolong this process. The banging comes in a specific series. There are pauses. Warnings. Warm-ups. The clicks indicate adjustments. I’m convinced the aliens will come for me soon. This contraption is too bizarre not to be extraterrestrial.

My too-tight shirt and bra are off. In the shirt I got with a gym membership, the one that declares “hey, I tried,” my boobs look obscene. They are a prominent feature. Something to be hidden. I should have done laundry. In the hospital gown, my boobs hold the shape from the wired-bra for a moment before beginning to sag. I realize that I have boobs. Not tits. Tits are smaller, perkier. On prettier girls, slender girls. No, mine are massive, vulgar, udder-like boobs. I sigh and emerge from the changing room.

The banging comes to a sudden stop. Kenny G cuts short his arpeggio run. I hear a faint beep. Something stirs deep in a repressed memory and I wonder if it’s over.

The MRI technician enters the room, all chipper, and exclaims, “All done! You did great!”

“Oh, good,” I laugh tensely. My voice sounds strange in this machine. I can feel my body moving forward. “I was afraid that I might have moved when I took really deep breaths.”

“Nope! You were perfect.” She can’t know this, but an insecure spot deep within warmed up momentarily. “So…when do you come back to read your scans?” Did she hesitate? Did she see something?

“Thursday,” I reply, sharply attuned to her tone of voice and facial expressions. I am reading her. Or I am reading into her.

“Good, good.” She is either pleased that I already have an appointment established, or she knows something.

I laugh. “Why? You didn’t see anything, did you?” I immediately regret what I said. She laughs nervously. “Sorry!” I say, matching her nervous laughter. “I know you can’t say anything…liabilities.”

“Yeah…” she replies, helping me to sit up. “And what level was your previous back surgery?”

“L5/S1.”

“Okay. Okay,” she says. Again, I scrutinize her face. She is indiscernible. I’m frustrated and beginning to panic. “All righty, sweetie, you can go get dressed now. And your insurance has covered the scan for today, so you can just walk right on out! Have a great day!” I offer a feeble reciprocal reply, utterly ensconced in my own worry.

Bring on the six days of self-inflicted mental torture.

Tension, taxes, and ticks–oh my!

April 4, 2011 § 11 Comments

Today was marked by three things:

1. Tension
I keep forgetting to post the update from my orthopedist last Wednesday. He X-rayed my back and said that the vertebrae from the first surgical site were still intact. The best, educated guess at this point is that my left-side sciatic nerve is “traumatized” from the herniation in 2008. He said that sometimes what can happen is that when that area becomes inflamed, the nerve sort of “overreacts” and shoots pain signals down the leg. He put me on a steroid and a pain killer. I take the pain killer at bedtime to help me sleep (and boy does it ever!), and this morning was my final dose of the steroid. I still feel pain in my left leg–it’s similar to tension. I generally want to just remove my leg and let it hurt apart from me for a while. I have a follow-up appointment with my doctor on the 13th. I’m still holding out hope that the steroid will take a little more time to work in my body and will do something amazing over the next couple of weeks.

2. Taxes
This basically says it all, right? I hate taxes. Like, hate them. I’m always nervous that I’ve done them dreadfully wrong. I guess if I were really concerned about it, I could take some courses from H&R Block or someone similar, but in the meantime, I’ll just sit around and chew my fingernails to nibs. The good news is that our forms are filled out. Now I just need my spouse’s signature, and these puppies plus one ginormo check will be headed toward their disparate treasuries tout-suite.

3. Ticks
I found a little, eensy-weensy tick on Annie’s foot earlier today. I panicked and called V…and then the vet when V wasn’t able to answer. The receptionist I spoke to was really sweet and helped calm me down. Of course, my first thought was, “Lyme Disease of Torture and Death!!!” But the receptionist assured me that I could remove it and kill it myself, otherwise the vet would be more than happy to do it for me. I took some breaths and told her I’d try first, and would seek veterinary assistance only if I absolutely couldn’t get the tick. I managed to get Annie to lay down calmly; then I took a pair of tweezers, some rubbing alcohol, and got to work. It took no time whatsoever because this eensy-weensy tick wasn’t even properly attached yet. It was definitely trying, but it didn’t have its head fully buried (thank goodness). I put it in the rubbing alcohol bath to die and watched it carefully to make sure I saw a head and pincers. I’m pretty sure I did see them…but I’ll be watching Annie’s leg closely over the next couple of days, just in case.

And, there you have it, folks. My busy Monday. Back pain. Uncle Sam’s money. And my first encounter with a tick.

It’s been a banner day in the Hab. household!

Taking time for yourself

March 25, 2011 § 5 Comments

I ramble when I meet with my director. I don’t know why; she intimidates me in the way that brilliant people intimidate the commoners, the way that authority figures intimidate people who really want to impress them. But she doesn’t frighten me. I’m not scared of my director. (Nor should I be, just to be clear. Nor should anyone be.) My director is the kind of brilliant woman who just seems to naturally get things. Even though I ramble on and on, she manages to parse out meaning in my nonsense, whittles it into a much better point (pun fully intended, thankyouverymuch), and restates it in a way that stuns me in its innate brilliance. In her voice, my dissertation topic sounds meaningful and worthwhile.

I’m learning to take deep breaths while I meet with her. An attempt to stop rambling. An attempt to slow down so she doesn’t have to try so hard to catch my meaning.

During one of my breaths, she looked at me and said,

“Amanda, you need to be happy that you turned in a draft. That’s good.”

I made eye contact briefly. “Yeah…but…when you were writing your dissertation…did you ever feel happy when you turned in chapter drafts? I mean…I’ll be finished with them, and then I just sort of sit there thinking about how bad they are and what work they need still. Was it like that for you?”

“Yeah,” she smiled. “It was. But you have to get over that and just be happy that you finished a draft. It’s a big deal.” There was a beat. I made eye contact again. “You need to take time for yourself. Do something that you enjoy. Be kind to yourself.”

I promised her I would.

This weekend, beginning tomorrow, I fully intend to take time for myself. This includes but is not limited to the following: staying in my PJs, not doing my hair or make-up, leaving the house only to take Annie and Milton potty in the backyard, and watching the trashiest television I can find.

My weekend will be relaxing to be sure. I have done as much work on my dissertation as I intend to do over the next 48 hours, and I have caught up on all my grading. I literally have nothing to do right now.

And you know what?

It feels good.

Something’s wrong.

March 24, 2011 § 21 Comments

Something’s wrong! My brain shouts me awake. Something’s wrong! it insists again.

I’m lying in bed at two in the morning, it’s the middle of Spring Break, and my hip…no, my gluts…no, my knee…no, definitely my shin…is painful. It’s just my hip, I tell my brain. From last Monday, ten days ago, when I hyperextended it in personal training.

Several moments go by. I’m breathing in for six, out for eight. I’m soon asleep.

No! Something’s wrong! Again, my brain’s insistent claim jolts me awake.

As do the pain signals now radiating…radiating?…shooting?…squeezing?…throbbing?…from my hip to my shin. The pain is indescribable, but I recognize it. Shit.

I roll over, prop my left leg on top of my right leg which is now crooked in such an odd way one would wonder how I manage to find comfort in the position at all. I fall asleep, imagining someone expressing shock at my ability to resume REM as quickly as I do. Try writing a dissertation, I might respond. It works wonders on insomnia. Also causes it. It’s a mysterious beast.

Pay attention!! Something’s really wrong!! My brain is now really starting to piss me off.

It’s 2 a.m. Nothing to be done about it now. Shut the fuck up, I bite back. And it does.

For the next few days, the pain in my leg comes and goes. It can’t be that, then…when that happened, the pain never went away. I’m afraid to say the words, even in my mind. I don’t want to revisit thatplease, not that.

By Sunday, my left leg feels as though it is in its own private torture device. Radiating pain in the hip. Rolls down to tightness in the gluts. Rolls down to tightening in the calf. Rolls around to burning in the shin. Rolls down to squeezing in the heel. The pain isn’t as bad as it was back then, but I do find myself sitting down more often than not. Sitting hurts. Walking hurts. Standing hurts. Laying down hurts.

Please!! Am I shouting at the Heavens? Not THAT again!!

I flow through V’s yin yoga session. Everything’s fine. I know the modifications; my body naturally flows to them in order to protect my left leg. It’s time for savasana. Corpse pose. My favorite. V instructs us to roll down gently onto our backs. I tuck my legs in and begin the roll; I’ve done this a thousand times. I struggle. I collapse, but I don’t think I was really loud enough to disturb others’ descent into their restful meditation. I slowly slide my feet to the end of my mat and reach up with my arms. Something’s wrong. I ignore it. Breathe in for six, out for eight. Practice your ujjayi breath, your ocean-sound breath. V tells us to tense up all our muscles on our inhale, and release everything all at once on our exhale. Twice. Three times. There, I reprimand my brain. See? Nothing’s wrong. I settle into my savasana, my breathing slows. My brain begins to relax.

No! Something’s wrong! Now I feel it. Now I feel a tweak. I’m on my back, on the floor, and I feel it. V encourages us to find rest in any pose that is comfortable to us, recommending us to try supta baddha konasana, reclining bound angle pose, mostly because it feels good on the lower back…and because she likes saying its Sanskrit name. I slide my feet back toward my rear-end and, keeping my feet together, allow my knees to fall to either side. My hands rest beside me, palm-side up in order to receive peace; I feel my fingers just brush the inside of my hands.

I can’t feel that any more. I float away, listening to my friends practice their ujjayi breath, wondering what they’re meditating about. I meditate on them. On my joy to have such friends. On my gratefulness to V for being who she is. On my love for Robert and the tiny two-person family we’ve created. For a minute, I am still.

On Monday, I work out with my personal trainer. I tell her, hesitatingly, reluctantly, not yet wanting to say the words, on the verge of tears…about how I feel like something’s wrong. We regard one another. Is she reading my face to see if I’m just trying to get out of it? No, surely not. That’s just my own insecurity. She chirps (yes, chirps at freaking 7 a.m.), “Not a problem! We’ll do arms and legs today!” I watch her write in all capitals “NO BACK EXERCISES,” on my training chart. She underscores it twice.

Something’s really, really wrong! It’s almost 5 a.m. today. I’m dreaming about Dr. Cuddy…from House, M.D. She’s in pain, too. To alleviate her pain, she is resting on a pool table with her legs and arms hanging off the sides. House berates her. She ignores him, or cannot hear him, because all she can think is something’s wrong. Why is she on a pool table? Is the hardness of the table even helping? Or could the gravity pulling on her legs be making the something’s wrong worse?

Robert wakes me up. For a minute, I don’t want to move. I’m Dr. Cuddy resting on the pool table. Except my bed isn’t as firm. I slowly roll over to my side, suddenly sad.

“Something’s wrong,” I mutter to myself.

Context

Many of my friends are probably sick of hearing about this, but it might have reared its ugly head again. For those who are gloriously not in the know…sorry, but I’m about to tell you about it. You won’t be not-in-the-know for much longer.

In 2008, my L5/S1 disk herniated (bottom of the lumbar, top of the sacrum–located essentially where the spinal column begins to meet the hips). I treated friends to pictures of my MRI scan, showing off (in my pain killer haze) how that little pillow disk looked like a thought bubble protruding from my spinal column, pushing against the sciatic nerve, which sent pain signals shooting down my leg. From February to May 2008, I was on pain killers because there is no such thing as “paid medical leave” for graduate teaching assistants. I had two choices: take a “medical withdrawal” from the university, receive no pay, and be behind one full semester in my trajectory in order to have surgery; OR float around doped-out for three months, feeling the pain but not giving a rat’s ass about it, teach and get paid, and stay on track to finish my coursework. I chose the latter option. I like money. I need money. Money makes the world go round and keeps the lights on. Money’s gooooood. On May 6, 2008, my disk was removed. I was put on more pain killers, but I took the first half of the summer off. I begged my surgeon to release me to work in July (so I could be paid for summer teaching), and he reluctantly agreed, with several admonitions of being careful. I was careful.

Until I received my medical release to exercise. Once I was released from recovery and could reignite my smoldering desire to lose weight, I hit the gym. I felt amazing. No pain, no restrictions. I was loosey-goosey. I could walk! I could stand! I was thrilled that now I faced a future where I would march down the aisle with my father holding onto my elbow for pictures and not for stability. I wouldn’t have to get a wheelchair wedding dress. I was awesome!!

And now? Now, three years later, something’s wrong. I don’t want to speak the words yet, but I’ve made an appointment with my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Surgeon (he’ll be called), for next Wednesday to just…see.

I’m trying not to jump to conclusions. I’m struggling even more not to destroy myself for possibly causing this. (I gained so much weight, you see.) I feel terrible, both emotionally and physically.

And still…if it comes to surgery, it will just have to wait. Dissertation and graduation come first above all else.

Even if something’s wrong.

Yoga with a budding yogini

March 20, 2011 § 13 Comments

My friend, V, is training to be a yoga instructor–she’s already a Level 1! And tonight, she led four of us through a “gentle yoga” (or “restorative yoga” or “yin yoga”) practice that she choreographed and set to music herself. It was both instructive, peaceful, and absolutely restorative.

I am so grateful to V for helping to recenter me. I have been out of my yoga practice since last August…which is embarrassing, considering how far I’d come since last February. Since I started practicing in 2004, I always come back to yoga at some time or other in my life. And, coincidentally, it seems to find me when I’m at my lowest, most stressful places. There’s a saying among the yoga practitioners that “yoga meets you where you are.” It does. It meets you when you are tired, sore, stiff. It meets you when you are stressed, sad, unmotivated. It meets you when you are flexible, energetic, centered. It meets you when you are calm, rested, happy.

Yoga meets you where you are, and you are left to answer: are you ready to meet yoga?

Thank you, V, for tonight’s practice. I needed it, and I’m confident I will be prepared for tomorrow’s demands.

You know you’ve hit a low point when…

March 18, 2011 § 25 Comments

…when you wanted to spend money on new capris, realized you couldn’t fit in any of the sizes you’re willing to house in your closet, went home utterly dejected, and decided to spend the new clothing money instead on an online membership for Weight Watchers.

Am I ready for this? No. I don’t feel like counting points and working on my diet. God knows I barely have the wherewithal to remember to eat in the first place, let alone counting points when attempting to remember to eat.

Do I have to do this? Yes. It’s bad. I didn’t keep to my original plan to lose weight (I would be almost 30 pounds lighter than I am right now), and now I’m feeling kind of like I want to be sick. I feel so gross.

Will I be successful with Weight Watchers? Considering this will be my fifth time to join, yes. I always lose weight on Weight Watchers. I am incredibly successful on this program. The problem is that I never stick it out long enough to get to the maintenance phase. I typically get about a week or so away from maintenance (which means I’d be rather close to my goal weight), and then I just stop doing the program entirely. So I never learn how to maintain the new weight I’ve reached.

So there you go. A.Hab. feels like a big fat cow (and doesn’t really want to be comforted at the moment, but thank you in advance for any and all kind sentiments), and she desperately needs to make a change, no matter how inconvenient that is for her right now.

Edit: Before anyone asks or offers recommendations, I thought I should catalogue the programs I’ve already attempted and when and to what success:

1. Weight Watchers: the first time was in tenth grade and I lost all the weight I intended to lose; the second time was a couple years later when I started college, but I was unable to cook my own meals so I quickly failed; the third time was another year or so later when I moved to an apartment-style dorm and could cook my own meals, I did lose weight but failed to keep it off; the fourth time was at the beginning of graduate school, and I lost a great deal of weight because I was also starting a personal training program, but again, I gained it all back plus a great deal more.

2. Atkins: of course, like everyone on the planet who tries this or other low-carb programs, I was immediately successful. I was on this in between the second and third tries with Weight Watchers. I was kind of a bitch on it, though. Turns out that my niceness comes from carbs. Big FAIL for low-carb programs.

3. Jenny Craig: I was on this after the fourth time with Weight Watchers fell through. I was successful with this as well, and I was keeping up with an exercise program. It was during my time on this program, though, that my L5/S1 disk herniated, so my exercising came to a screeching halt once the pain was agonizing. I found myself lying to my over-the-phone consultant about my weight loss. I wasted a lot of my parents’ money buying food that I never ate.

4. Counting calories/low-fat: in the interim between programs I’m almost always doing some form of this or other…until I become utterly dejected and depressed. I am less successful on these sort of home-grown programs (the kinds where you’re accountable really only to yourself and the expanding gut in the mirror). Technically this is what I’m supposed to be doing right now. But once I fell into a good routine and started to lose weight consistently (averaging between 1.5-2 pounds a week) last year, I eventually stopped because I grew bored with the foods I normally ate.

Since the time that I was 15 and a half, I have always been on some weight loss program or other, which is quickly coming upon half of my lifetime with my 30th birthday approaching in September. I started too early. When I was 15 and a half (and starting Weight Watchers), I weighed 126. I remember that number because it horrified me so much. Now, I weigh 247. And I want to hide in the darkness of my bedroom and never see the light of day again. Or so much as a morsel of food. I will never see the 120s again, and I don’t want to. I was adorable at that size, but I was still growing my breasts and hips. Now that I have them, I’d like for them to still look womanly…just not…grotesque. Google search images for the “Hottentot Venus,” and you’ll get a general idea as to what I look like right now. This woman was paraded around in Europe as an example of a typical exotic African woman. Today…well, I can barely look at myself in the mirror without seeing her reflected back at me. It makes me want to be ill. Seriously ill.

Before I weighed 126, I hated my body too. I compared myself to the other skinny girls in my ballet classes and at school. In fourth grade, when we were seated around the floor in a circle to watch a movie, my friends and I would lay our bony, undeveloped forearms upon one another’s, and I would rejoice to myself when I discovered that I had the skinniest wrists in class. (The same was true for boniest ankles, most observable collar bones, and most prominent hips.) I was not beautiful then either. But I wasn’t looking for beautiful. I was looking for skinniest. Skinniest meant best. And then I hit puberty and all that Sicilian genetic coding kicked in, and I grew breasts and hips. When I was in sixth grade, I weighed 101 for the first time, and came downstairs after a shower in tears, begging my mom to explain to me what this pouch was on top of my abdomen. She calmly said, “That’s just your body growing into adolescence, Amanda. You can’t have a period without it.” I got my first period a year later. And I hated my body from the time it weighed 101 pounds and had a teensy little pouch over the abdomen all the way up to the moment I am writing this post.

I have never loved my body, not even when I was young, undeveloped, and skinny.

Daily I wonder and worry that I might have a mental disorder that will prevent me from ever seeing my body as beautiful and worthy of self-love. Will I ever be a weight that will be “good enough”? Or have I already destroyed my sense of physical self from the tender age of eight (the age I first began dancing and comparing my body to the other girls’)? Am I doomed? If I am doomed to always hate my body…then what is the value in losing all this weight in the first place? Sure, I want to get to a weight where the doctors will stop telling me how obese and disgusting I am (my word, not theirs…they say “dangerously overweight” and “borderline for major diseases”). But once I reach that weight, then what?

Ah, these are the thoughts of an A.Hab. driven crazy. Turns out her white whale isn’t a dissertation, friends. It’s actually aligning the image that Robert must have of her with the image she sees reflected in that horrible, horrible glass.

Domestic adventures, Hab. style!

March 16, 2011 § 8 Comments

This morning, Robert and I were enjoying a rare, slow-moving weekday morning together…when the giant (think: Sam’s Club) jar of salsa that Robert was putting into the fridge slipped from his hands and crashed onto the floor. The amazing part of it was that it landed on its bottom, which temporarily contained the salsa until I could get over to him and help him clean it up. Of course, as soon as we lifted the jar, the salsa poured out. My genius plan was to try to “catch” it into a paper towel as Robert lifted the jar…what I hadn’t thought about was that the bottom was utterly demolished, so scooping up the salsa would have required me to cut the crap out of my hand. I abandoned the plan immediately and watched while the salsa mountain grew in front of the fridge door.

We flew into action cleaning up and trying to watch where we stepped. Callie bounded past us, much to our displeasure, but we couldn’t really stop her because we didn’t want to cut ourselves up in the process. She made it to the bedroom, so we decided to deal with her once it was safe for us to move about freely. Robert, slightly further away from the slivers of glass than I was, grabbed the vacuum cleaner, and then I set to work.

I must have vacuumed for ten minutes, listening carefully for the gentle “clink, clink” sound of glass working its way through the hose into the bag. Then, I vacuumed again, satisfied with the lack of clinking. I caught Cal, and Robert examined her sweet little feet: glass-free! Brilliant Callie avoided all the teensy little shards that were literally everywhere.

Our day moved on as days do; Robert went on to work, and I met V at the coffee shop for another work session. We both arrived home in the afternoon, and we picked up the dogs from the boarders’ where they’ve been since Friday. I was grateful that the salsa jar accident happened while they were gone so that we could take care of all the glass without worrying about all four animals, especially one as curious as Annie.

Then, as I was cooking my dinner, I spun away from the stove and suddenly: OUCH!! I looked at the bottom of my foot and my fear was confirmed by the blossom of blood spreading slowly: I found another shard of glass that I missed while vacuuming. I hobbled around the house until I got my hands on my tweezers, and then I hobbled back to the living room where I plopped down on the couch and extracted the offending intruder. I’m now properly bandaged, and the little drips of blood that fell onto the floors at odd intervals have been cleaned up. I really hope that that was the last of the shards.

I did call my husband in between the pirouette of torture and the home extraction, and he immediately responded by getting into his maroon steed to come to my rescue. I wasn’t sure at the time if I could reach the glass; it was in an awkward location in my foot. But I decided I might as well try at least once, and that one little try worked like a charm. I called Robert back and sent him to return to the guys for the rest of their evening. Of course, I felt awful interrupting his fun with them like that, but he was more concerned that I did in fact get all of the glass out of my foot.

So, those were our domestic adventures today. I’m grateful I have the kind of husband who would drop what he was doing just to come home and dig out a little piece of glass from his wife’s foot. 🙂

Lent for Adults

March 7, 2011 § 15 Comments

It seems for me that every year I feel compelled to explain how I plan to acknowledge Lent. As a Catholic who has fallen out of the habit of attending Mass regularly, I hesitate to call myself non-practicing. I do practice. In other ways. In ways that don’t count for the Church. But I don’t care.

Last year I participated in Lent by fasting from my temper and impatience. Looking back now, I believe I accomplished my goal of permanently affecting a change. It was during that time that I really reevaluated the way I chose to conduct myself during arguments with Robert, and I believe I have become a better partner for it. (Only he can vouch for that.)

This year, I have decided to take this concept of “fasting” in grown-up terms to another level. I do not believe in giving up a food item or something frivolous with the intent to indulge in it or even just to reincorporate it in my life again. That’s fine for children who, as Robert points out, do not have a capacity to think in the abstract. Adults, I believe, should make lasting changes–changes that will carry on throughout their lives, changes that will help them or make up for a lack.

In light of these ideas, I have decided to attempt something I have always always struggled with. As many of you are aware of, in October I felt deeply wronged by a family member of mine. (I won’t go into great detail for this person’s sake.) Despite our best efforts (mine and Robert’s), the apologies we so deeply desired were never offered to us. Christmas came and went, and I was civil, friendly even. I have not seen this family member since that time. I will see this person next weekend, though, at a family gathering. And this is why I need to make a change.

When I think of this person and hear this person’s name, a deep rage bubbles from within me. I am quick to cut this person down and ignore any redeeming characteristics others point out to me. I absolutely will not hear them because this person so deeply broke my trust.

Harboring this rage and anger when I know a sincere, heartfelt apology will never come is extremely dangerous and unacceptable.

That’s why, for this Lent, I have decided to try something I have never been able to accomplish:

Forgiveness without an apology.

I have heard of people forgiving people who murdered loved ones without ever once receiving an apology from the murderer. I was not wronged in that way. Comparatively, the wrong I felt seems like the difference between running into a gnat with a windshield and purposefully running over, reversing, and running over again someone’s beloved pet cat. (I’m the gnat in this little scenario.) If someone has it in their heart to forgive and no longer harbor hatred and rage toward a murderer, then surely I can forgive this person and no longer harbor anger and hurt feelings toward my family member.

As with my attempt for patience last year, I will probably fail in my goal in many ways. But it is a change I am desperate (for my own sake) to accomplish and successfully incorporate within my character. Probably the greatest struggle I can foresee with this Lenten “sacrifice” is that I in no way want this person to believe that forgiveness came because I just eventually let the wrongdoing go or because I am letting this person off the hook.

But you know what, A.Hab.?

You can’t control what other people think or how they respond to your actions. If this person chooses to believe that you are ignoring the hurt and that they “got away with it,” then that’s this person’s deal. You will rest easy knowing that, hurt feelings or no, you are not expending any more emotional energy feeling angry and hurt by this person’s inconsideration.

Is anyone else participating in Lent in grown-up ways?

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