Ability, Inability, Disability, and Waiting

It’s been a hard few weeks since learning of the systemic nerve damage throughout my body, so I was morbidly amused when I found that I couldn’t open the door to the university’s disability services office without injuring myself. 

Lately, doors that pull inward have not been friendly to me. Moreover, doors that pull inward and are located anywhere at my university have not been friendly to me.

Take for instance the door to my work area. Every day, I pull the door open and nerves in my shoulder, elbow, and wrist send fiery pain signals to my brain. I stand still for a second. I breathe and count to 5. Those biofeedback lessons have taught me something about pain management, and after a few minutes all systems return to normal — well, as normal as my normal has been these last few months.

Anyone who’s seen my work patterns knows that I’ve developed an interesting habit to avoid this pain. It’s a simple enough solution, I suppose. I mean, if opening a door caused you fiery nerve pain, the most reasonable course of action is to not open that door anymore, right? So, therefore, it continues to make sense that any time I need to leave my office to use the restroom, I instead walk in the opposite direction, take the fire escape door (which pushes out) to go downstairs, then walk up the center staircase and to the bathroom.

My fitbit tells me that this turns a 82-step trip into a 285 step trip. I don’t do math much, but I think this roughly equates to:

Choice(285 steps + stairs) > Choice(82 steps + pain)

So I choose the stairs. Unless I can use my cat-like reflexes to run from my desk to the door when someone else opens it.

***

I’ve been hesitant to talk much about what’s going on with my body – partly out of grief, partly out of still waiting for more tests results to come back, and partly — and maybe mostly — because I don’t really want to explain to everyone what’s happening. Dredging up my feelings and putting them on display isn’t helpful for me right now, especially because I’m still waiting on test results.

Admittedly, this counterintuitive because I’m putting all this on a blog post for anyone with the link (or a decent ability to Google) to read. But at least this blog post is doing me the favor of quelling some of your curiosities on why I’m doing strange things like wearing braces/slings and walking a really convoluted way to the bathroom.

What really cemented my decision to not want to tell people was that the day after I received a partial diagnosis of the damage, I went to a special event at the university Chancellor’s house where most people (none of whom I had ever seen before) felt it their duty to ask me what happened to my wrist. The first-year medical students seemed particularly hurt when I brushed it off with a simple “nerve damage” and quickly changed the subject. Shortly after, when dinner was served, it quickly became apparent that there had been little attempt to make sure that there was food available that I could safely eat (with food allergies), even though I made sure to request accommodations through the appropriate people. So I resolved that telling people things takes a lot of energy, and why spend that energy to tell people things when my needs still won’t be met? Too often, the reason for asking is a formality or to satisfy a curiosity but it does nothing to soothe my pain, my fear, and my insecurities.

So, in my pursuit of self-care, I’ve become hardened in my belief that I can say no, that I’m allowed to protect myself because I’m not able to give you an answer to the ubiquitous “What happened?!?” and the insecurity of waiting is the worst. (But, as my doctor reminded me today, waiting might be the easy part. Knowing may be even worse yet.)

Please know that this isn’t a reflection of any of you. It’s a reflection of how much stress it is to struggle with basic, every day needs and my desire to save some spoons for the big things. Like that dissertation.

And if you have not read Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino yet, you should: https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

 

Staring at Clouds, Accepting Nothing

Yesterday I was angry. I was 3.5 hours into an 8 hour drive back from a friend’s wedding, and I was on the phone with family trying to handle a social media crisis of the grandest sort. The FBI was called; non-profit advocacy groups contacted; family put into high-alert to flag and report heinous acts.

And then, I found myself in the middle of nowhere. There was no cell signal. Barely a clear radio station. And miles of rolling hills, blue skies, and the puffiest white clouds I’ve ever seen.

I realized I had two choices: continue to stare at my cell phone hoping for cell signal (and then I still wouldn’t be able to do much) or press my forehead against the passenger window glass and watch the clouds go by. Either way, I would be helpless to do anything to “solve” the problem.

So, I chose the clouds.

It brought me back to childhood days of watching the different layers of clouds float by at different speeds. I let myself be awestruck at the miles between me and the clouds.

Fifteen minutes in, I realized that it was the first time I’d let myself enter into a meditative state in weeks.

After 15 more minutes, I let myself pull my cell phone out of the center console and check for text messages.

There were only two: one was a thank you and the other was inconsequential.

The power of it all struck me. I was given the gift of 30 minutes wherein I couldn’t do anything except meditate and remember the joy of clouds. Sure, there were still problems to solve, emotions to deal with, and family to worry about, but it was 30 minutes of accepting that I could do nothing but be angry until I wasn’t angry anymore — and it was liberating.

From Frazzled to …Less Frazzled?

It’s barely 10am and I’m overwhelmed.

  • My morning started at 5am, not of my own choosing.
  • The car had to be taken to the shop, and I chose to not write down what needed to be done and keep it all in my head instead.
  • I had to drive during rush-hour, which I never do (I live 2 miles from campus and typically work from home on Thursdays)
  • I’m waiting to hear back about someone who wants to buy our hammock on Craigslist.
  • It’s going to be 98 degrees today.
  • Due to a medication, I am physically unable to sweat.
  • Repeat: it’s going to be 98 degrees today, and I can’t sweat.
  • I’ve received nearly a dozen emails from the online course where I’m a teaching assistant. From there, that added about 4 new tasks to the already daily tasks I do.
  • I received 77 scans from one of my UK archives and the email insisted that EVERYTHING MUST BE DOWNLOADED WITHIN 7 DAYS. And so, my brain translated that into: “DOWNLOAD EVERYTHING IMMEDIATELY AND BACK IT UP IN 6 PLACES SO YOU DON’T LOSE IT AND HAVE TO PAY FOR IT AGAIN”
  • Facebook: Political rants. People hurting. People scared. People angry. People feeling helpless.

In looking at this list though, I realize that I have some control over many of these. Instead of letting them be bulletpoints, I started to categorize them. Normally, I do this on my daily to-do list, but I hadn’t taken the time to sit down yet and plan. So I forced myself to sit down for 15 minutes, drink half a bottle of water, and write out my to-do list including all of the things I had done so far.

StressfulRegain

Tips for Regaining Peace after a Stressful Morning

  1. Drink some water and eat a small (healthy) snack. Water and a snack can go a long way in making you regain yourself, especially when it’s going to be 98 degrees outside and you’ve already exhausted your brain fuel supply taking care of chaos. Rebalance yourself physically so you can take care of yourself mentally.
  2. Write down all the stressful things. Paper and pen or strokes on the keyboard, it doesn’t matter how you do it, just get it out of your head and into a place you can visually see it.
  3. Categorize them into buckets that make sense to you. Once you have the list, see if you can start building categories to show yourself the areas you’ve already made some gains that day. For me, I categorized mine into four: Online Course, Dissertation Work, Self-Care, and Home Organization/Cleaning (includes Craigslist and car repair). This helps me remember what’s most important to me and identify other areas where I can cut back (you see how Facebook doesn’t fit into those??)
  4. Determine your (reasonable) goals for the rest of the day. Put those on your To-Do list. Preferably a To-Do list that incorporates time-blocking.
  5. Avoid Facebook and Email. Unless social media is part of your job duties (or only contains pictures of adorable animals that you enjoy), AVOID IT.1 Also, turn off email alerts until after a certain time. (You’ll note, this post was added to Facebook via an automatic script from WordPress).
  6. Practice gratefulness. A new thing I’ve added to eliminate stress is to find a way to practice gratefulness. Today, I want to write 3 cards to people in my life who were affected by the recent shootings at Pulse in Orlando. It’s part of my desire to do something more tangible than passively read or “like” things on Facebook. It’s about making sure people in my life know how much spectacular they are.

A big thank you to several people who posted this:

Below is a snapshot of my to-do list (on left) and the time-blocking (on right):

2016-06-16-11.12.40

Here’s to getting today back on the right foot.

What does your to-do list look like today? How do you handle stressful mornings? What do you do when you also have to handle someone else’s stressful morning (like a spouse or a child?)? What are your most successful ways of moving past the anxiety and regaining control of your day? How do you practice gratefulness?


1 At least until you no longer feel like breathing into a paper bag.

How to get away with murder(-ing your academic journals)

After the cull, this is the half-foot stack that remains.

Last night I took a knife to the spine of 28 academic journals…and scissors to half a dozen academic magazines.

I felt like a murderer as I culled article after article with seemingly reckless abandon. My unsympathetic eyes skimmed abstracts in mere seconds as my brain made quick decisions as to what was worthwhile. If it didn’t say one of the “magic words,” it perished. If it was too tangential to my research topic, away it went.

In the end all that remained was a mere 5 inches of articles and book reviews. Each of the remaining articles received delicate treatment with staples along the edges to keep them tidy. A few journals even retained their covers, as they were special issues and it made more sense to cut out what wasn’t needed than what was.

Part of me felt like preserving the covers and spines was a mistake. I wondered if a paper guillotine would do the trick. My husband tempered my murderous streak by reminding me it was bedtime; so for now, the covers live for another day.

As this week goes on, I’m curious how many of those delicately bound articles will remain. As of today, a dozen or so book reviews joined their brethren in a shallow grave recycle bin.

So far, the mission has been successful, albeit ruthless. I am reading. I am making notes. And all the while, that stack of journals is transforming from a pile of guilt into a useful set of notes and ideas.

Scholarly Hoarder

Two stacks of academic journals
Academic journals, one area of scholarly hoarding in my life.

I am a hoarder of academic journals.

At first, I didn’t think this was a problem, but a recent clean up of my bookshelves led me to this discovery: 28 unread academic journals, and at least 6 unread academic newsletter bulletins/magazines. And this does not include whatever is likely sitting on my bedside table.

Now part of the above paragraph is a lie. I did know this was a problem. I knew it was a problem every time I opened my mailbox to find a new journal, with its beautiful cover, its crisp pages, its unbroken spine, its promise of amazing scholarly ideas and fascinating characters.

I knew it was a problem because after a week of the journal sitting unread on my desk, it would wind up getting moved from one place to the next: from the desk to the coffee table to the nightstand and then to join its buddies in the overflowing stack on my bookshelf in a room far from my office so that I didn’t have to feel ashamed for not reading it cover to cover every time I passed it.

So, in my pursuit this summer of what I’m coming to term “academic minimalism,” I’m trying to figure out the best ways for me to actually read these and remove them from my home/office.

Step 1. Come up with a better metric for deciding what’s important.

This is probably the hardest part. I have a lot of interests, so how do I keep them contained? Well, my current way is to follow this simple advice: Do what gets the dissertation done. 

Step 2. Cut out interesting articles.
This step is dangerous. How do I avoid going from having a 6 foot stack of journals that I don’t read to having a 2 foot stack of articles THAT I STILL DON’T READ?

BrowZine Logo

BrowZine App: One more tool for scholarly hoarding

You might be yelling at your computer right now, “But Dani! Don’t you know of the fabulous BrowZine app that allows you to save articles from all of your favorite academic journals??”

Yes, and it frequently reminds me that I have bookmarked over 150 articles to read “later.” My friends, later never seems to come.

The hope is the printed articles are visible enough to remind me to read them, and I don’t have to use my iPad — because if I do, it is just a few short clicks to Candy Crush and Two Dots, which I have learned can easily busy me for hours when I should be doing more important things. Like finishing my dissertation.

Step 3. Set up 20 minutes every evening to skim at least two book reviews, if not a full length article. 

This seems reasonable, right? Especially with time-blocking.

In any case, this blog is my attempt to journal my way into productivity. To create a system of accountability for becoming more focused and more intentional in my work. And I hope that anyone who happens to follow this blog feels free to pose a question or offer up potentially useful strategies.

With that in mind, I ask you: Do you have a pile of academic shame sitting in the corner? How do you narrow down the articles in your “to-read” pile? What are you metrics for what gets read and what gets tossed? Does recycling/donating used journals pain you or feel liberating? Or, have you just come to terms with the guilt of not reading everything?