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Running Free

Last time I wrote of running unplugged and not experiencing any epiphanies but quietly building my confidence. Tonight, the epiphany arrived before, and then necessitated, the run. I’ve been struggling with fatigue, which has made getting up early enough for my morning run impossible the past couple of days. I needed to run tonight to maintain my fitness level so I didn’t fall back into the painful cycle of having to rebuild. More importantly, I needed the emotional release that running provides and quiet time to meditate.

My apartment has been empty since Saturday, and this week is the first time I’ve been alone, really alone after finishing work at the archives in months. For the past two months, I have been with friends and acquaintances nearly every waking hour, which stayed the loneliness. However, once everyone had gone, I had no more distractions from the melancholy that settled in. Despite having numerous reasons, all logical and some quite serious, I have continued to struggle with my eating habits. I tried to fill the loneliness with food, with books, with TV shows, even emailing and chatting with friends, but nothing filled the void because it came from within and not from outward circumstances. I would overeat at times because I didn’t think I was worth taking the extra effort to make wiser choices. And therein lay the key to understanding why I persisted in doing things I knew were not healthy: I didn’t think I was worth it.

Tonight’s epiphany, then, was this understanding and the truth that the One who created me made me for more than this. As I set out for my run, without my iPod I might add, I walked out of the door unafraid – unafraid of the pain I knew was waiting for me from stiff muscles and an overly full belly, unafraid of disappointing myself with my ‘performance,’ unafraid of the stares and strange looks I would get for running at this odd hour – or running at all, for that matter.

I knew that this would be the last time I allowed myself to overeat and so willingly accepted the painful reminder that I was intended for more than the physical pain, emptiness, and shame I felt after eating too much. Despite that heaviness though, the rest of me felt light and free. I was made to live into my full potential and not settle for anything less. I had been praying that God would sink that truth into my heart, and he answered that prayer in a profound way tonight as the puzzle pieces I had been mulling over dropped into place.

So I ran. I ran into town and down Cours Mirabeau, magnificently lit up and reminding me of the magical unreality of Disney World, with hundreds of well-dressed people milling around, enjoying late dinners, and every vendor still displaying jewelry, clothes, and handcrafts after dark. I ran into the softly lit, mysterious medieval streets of Centre Ville and up toward the Cathedral, its illuminated tower shining like a beacon, pointing me home – not home to my apartment in Aix, but home within myself, within my heart, at peace with who and what I am. As I passed it, I breathed a thank-you to the One who affirmed me. I ran on, feeling as if wings carried me up the hills of this ancient city and finally ended at the gated entrance to the apartment complex, surprised to have arrived back so quickly. I ran with and into freedom and a deep sense of peace tonight.

Although the road back to full health remains long and even a little daunting still, I am more confident now that I have what I need to persevere. For those who are curious, I found 2 Peter 1:3-11, 1 Corinthians 6:12, and 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 very encouraging, along with Lysa TerKeurst’s Made To Crave. For now, my watchwords are self-discipline and perseverance. I trust God for the strength to follow through and to face my fears with courage rooted in truth.

I realize that I still have other stories to tell of my travels, but I write what I feel compelled to write when compelled to write it and must therefore apologize for the delay once again. At the same time, I believe the inner journey is as important, if not more so, than the outward adventures.

A balance between living and writing about living remains to be reached, but I sense that I am getting closer. More stories to come – and pictures!  🙂

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2012 in Self-Reflection

 

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Through the Clouds

“Sisyphus,” Peter Vinton,
For more of his work, see http://www.petervintonjr.com/

On an usual cloudy day in Aix, I see light. I realize it’s cliche, but the word picture always conjures up a vivid image for me.  The last couple of years have been a long, dark tunnel of stress, ill-health, and to say that the times were challenging is an understatement.  These have been two of the most difficult years of my life, but the time of intense struggle seems to be nearing an end.

The hardest thing about such moments is that they generally arrive unexpected. In this life, there are no free-rides. Life is difficult in a variety of ways for everyone, and we cannot expect it to be otherwise or we will be blindsided. As Wesley tells Buttercup in The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.” However, I want to clarify that I’m not advocating a doomsday perspective on life, simply a realistic expectation that there will be times of struggle and profound challenges. The thing is to not lose hope, to understand that life sometimes takes twists and turns we never expected, and to find beauty, positive outcomes, and yes, even joy in all circumstances.  Certainly, we all want to be happy, but even when life does not make us happy, we may be joyful. By joy, I mean a deep sense of peace under the turbulent waves that spring up as we travel through storms on our journey.

This week has been especially challenging.  I am now 3+ weeks into my new diet and had hoped to feel immensely better by now.  While I continue to see positive changes and incremental improvements, I’m not where I thought I would be, and I have had to come to terms with the fact that this may be a long road back to full health. Despite everything, I now look back on the week and see how much I actually accomplished and, quite frankly, am rather amazed because the whole time I felt like I was stuck in waist-high mud, straining but unable to move forward.  To the contrary, I found several apartment options for my Paris stay in September and contacted the owners, began my job search for a spring teaching position, wrote several drafts of a cover letter and contacted career services and my advisor to review it, figured out how to work around the problems I was having with the installation of the Windows Pro upgrade and note-taking software (Nota Bene), and am nearing the end of proposal writing. I also created a new-to-me raw food recipe, which I’ve shared below. Moral of the story: When I thought God was ignoring me, he was actually carrying me through these difficult times. By now, this should not surprise me, but when everything one does feels like a Sisyphusian struggle, it is difficult to see beyond the boulder one is trying to roll up the hill.

Now on to lighter topics…

Each week I am trying out at least one new raw food recipe – either someone else’s or experimenting with my own. This week it was making my own Mediterranean salad with what I had on hand. I am sure I am not the first to combine these ingredients, but here is what I threw in:

Peeled, sliced and chopped cucumber
Chopped Red Pepper
Chopped and seeded Cherry Tomatoes
Chick Peas
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Cumin

*Additional Ingredients (not shown):
Black Olives
Feta Cheese (which I cannot eat right now and is most likely not raw but would nevertheless add a lot of flavor)

This has quickly become a favorite.  It takes minutes to prepare, is delicious, healthy, and filling.

This week the archives are closed, allowing me to complete my proposal, catch up on cataloging and analyzing my research, and enjoy a bit of culture in Aix-en-Provence.  The festival of opera has just, which features the music of Mozart this year. My new roommate, Sarah (also a scholar of Algeria!) and I plan to attend at least one opera together, probably “Le Nozze di Figaro” (The Marriage of Figaro). I also bought a guide to the “unusual and secret” around Aix that I’ve been dying to check out.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to take a least a couple of self-guided walking tours this week as well, and yes, I will post pictures after.

 

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Short-Circuiting Lit Review Paralysis

I was going to entitle this post “Adventures in Eating” and share some of the raw food recipes I’ve been trying.  However, as I sat down to write, another idea presented itself and demanded attention.

Not that I haven’t been working and making productive use of my time all morning, but I am just now settling in to work on my main objective today: finishing a draft of my dissertation proposal.  I have to admit that I’m terrified.  There, I’ve said it. I’m sweating, and I know it’s not just the Provençal heat.  I simply have to merge the section on sources and methodology and finish my brief lit review, which I’ve been slowly working on when I have not been in the archives.  My committee is on board with my project.  All I have to do to complete the paperwork.  And yet, I’m completely stressed out about it. Why? Because I haven’t fully let go of the stress and anxiety I have come to associate with such writing.  It’s not quite as paralyzing as it was when I was preparing for my last comprehensive exams, so that is progress. Even though I know that it will become easier as I continue to write material that other academics will see and critique, it is still not enough to motivate me to begin putting sentences together. So what to do…?

Lunch! It’s lunch time… Perfect!  I need a little break between this morning’s activities to transition into proposal writing, to change gears, so to speak.  As a side note, I prepared the following “raw” dish and even attempted to eat mindfully for a few minutes. (Sliced cucumbers, baby carrots, red bell peppers, and avocado boats with cucumbers, red peppers and salsa.)

“Raw” Lunch

The problem was that I took those few minutes (to eat mindfully) after reading a GradHacker post, entitled “7 Ways to Survive a Lit Review” by Andrea Zellner (which, by the way, is fantastic!) Just reading, of course, meant that I wasn’t focusing on the sweet bell peppers or the crunchiness of the carrots.  The real problem, however, was the realization, once again, that so many of the suggestions were things I should have started doing several years ago but didn’t know then to do them or how to do them.  So by the time I arrived at my much-anticipated avocado boats, my mind had taken flight and was doing barrel rolls while I tried to figure out how in an afternoon (or even a couple of days) I could pull together everything I had learned over the past few years that is relevant to my research. Alas! I stared off into space, occasionally remembering that I should be focusing on the creamy texture of the avocado and the spiciness of the salsa. I tried to calm the rising panic that now sets in just before I begin a historiography (literature review). Have I read enough? Have I read the right sources? Can I make a good argument out of what I read and took notes on? (Related question: Can I find my notes since I haven’t migrated them all into Zotero yet, let alone into Nota Bene?) Will I be told that it’s not good enough?

The last question haunts me, but I shove it aside, remembering the feeling of accomplishment I experienced just this morning as I finished a draft cover letter for a position as a university history instructor.  For the first time, when I sent it to family for the initial review, I didn’t feel the urge to apologize that “it’s really rough” or something to that effect, nor did I worry about my writing style or the content. As a first draft, I know I will need to make some changes, but I also know that it is a good first draft, and that is saying something.

Writing is cathartic, at least this type of writing is.  It provides a way to release tension, to unburden myself in black and white. I feel at least marginally better now, so it’s time to “just do it” – to just write.  I inhale and exhale slowly a couple of times and take the plunge…

Image from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/MatlSci_StressStrainStrength_h003.shtml

 

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Going raw … mostly

If you have been paying any attention to health news lately, raw-food and organic diets are becoming quite popular for a variety of reasons. Some people want to lose weight, others want to reverse the effects of disease, while others want to improve athletic performance, and still others see it as a way to “eat green” and leave a smaller footprint on the earth. I view my decision to “go raw” (mostly), organic, and hormone/antibiotic-free as the only way I can eat for life – both quantity and, more importantly, quality.

To make a long story short, I have had to follow very strict diets for 5-6 months at a time to get rid of systemic infections over the past five years. In case you’re wondering what the diet entails: very very few carbs, no more than one piece of fruit or the equivalent of one medium apple per day, and no sugar (including most fruit and all dried fruit), dairy, wheat, or foods with yeast, like condiments, which contain vinegar, or alcohol.

The last two times I had to go on this diet, I just tailored it to my old eating habits and found replacements for the things I normally liked to eat. Certainly, I experimented with new veggies and found I liked gluten-free bagels with a soy “cream cheese” spread. However, as the condition became more severe, I could no longer eat many of the replacements.  Goodbye bagel and “cream cheese.”  Now that it is pretty clear that I need to make a change for at the very least a lengthy period of time (probably at least two years, if not a lifetime), I decided to step out of my comfort zone farther than I ever have before and go mostly, but not completely, raw.  Right now it’s easier in some ways since Aix-en-Provence has fantastic local farmers’ markets (something I strongly support) and it’s relatively easy to find organic food.

Within five days of making the dietary transition, my morning run felt so much better. I felt like I had grown an inch and lost ten pounds over night. The additional energy I had coupled with the overall feeling of lightness made it easier to run faster without much effort. That is not to say the switch has been easy, but I can see hints that it is already paying off.

I’ve known for a while that I needed to change my eating habits because, like many people, I found myself eating to feed emotional needs, but then I also rushed through whatever I was eating because I felt like I had to also be “productive” during that time. Both of those issues had to be dealt with. Fair warning for anyone else who plans to go on a fast or detox that it can be quite emotional. When the foods you ate to fill those needs are no longer options, you are left to deal with the emotions themselves and the reasons for them. Since I wasn’t even enjoying the food I was eating, healthy or not, I am now learning to slow down, take some time away from my work, maybe not much, but just enough to actually taste what I’m putting in my mouth. Mindful eating is better for the digestion, is much more enjoyable, and it gives the mind a little rest from the activity of the day.  As I practice it more, I am sure I’ll have more to say about it. 🙂

The blog won’t become all about food, but I may provide updates on how everything is going from time to time and post any particularly good recipes I’ve discovered since this is all part of the journey. The meal pictured above was last night’s experiment of throwing things together that I had on hand. The salad includes brown flax seeds for fiber and organic veggies: half an avocado, slices of cucumber, succulent cherry tomatoes, sweet green chile and bell peppers, alfalfa sprouts, and salsa (not homemade, this time but hopefully soon!).  The drink is essentially home-made Sprite: San Pellegrino sparkling water with fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juice and a sprinkle of stevia. I’m not sure if sparkling water is considered raw, but it’s allowed in my diet, and since I had it on hand, it was a nice treat.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Recipes, Self-Reflection

 

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A Return of Sorts

This week marks a return, several, in fact, but it has also been a time of stepping out of my comfort zone to try new things.  After finishing my last written exam this past week, I returned to my research, part-time at least, which meant a return to the Newberry Library.  I began working out again, but joined a class to learn something I’ve wanted to for some time but allowed busyness and fear to keep me away … until now!  And after falling into some bad eating habits during comp preparation and the exam itself, I’ve also returned to my normal, much healthier, diet.  In all of this, I feel like I’m returning to myself, but a slightly different version, one that has become more aware of my weaknesses and learned to overcome paralyzing fear, illness, and depression.  I’m taking time to let all of that sink in, to recognize the person I’ve become, and to allow that recognition to grow into self-confidence, something I let slip away this fall and winter.

Finally returning to the Newberry to work on dissertation research this week felt like such a victory after everything that has happened over the past six months.  It had been some time since I had been able to work on it at all, but this week, I traveled over the Allegheny Mountains and down the Ohio River with a land agent for the Ohio Company who founded the town of Marietta (Ohio) in 1788/89, examining his views of the settlers and Indians he met along the way, and sympathizing with his losing battle against June gnats.

(In another post, I will write in more detail about some of my processes for note-taking and keeping everything organized for those that may be interested.)

I have to admit that I’m rather proud of myself.  I love to learn, but I’m always nervous when trying something new because I’m such a perfectionist.  However, I have been wanting to learn one (or several) styles of martial arts, so tonight I went to my first Muay Thai kickboxing class.  It was a fundamentals class, and I was not the only newbie there, so I felt quite comfortable.  We began with conditioning, which reminded me how out of shape I’ve become! I kept up though and will definitely be in the gym more in between classes.  The instructors led us through basic kicks and punches and then had us pair off to practice simple sequences of blocks and strikes. I loved it and can’t wait to go back! There’s a class tomorrow that I’d like to attend, but I should probably wait to see how sore I’m going to be before I make that decision.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in Research, Self-Reflection

 

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Masochistic Grad Students and Empathetic Rats

I used to find such solace in writing.  For the past four months, I have written very little for myself – next to nothing, in fact.  I can’t blame it on the busyness.  My life has always been and will probably always be busy.  I can’t blame it on the fact that I have had to write a great deal for other people either.  I knew then and know now why I didn’t write and why I didn’t want to.  There are times when writing is cathartic and allows one to experience a sense of freedom after a burden has been unloaded onto the page, but there are others when revealing one’s heart in black and white makes the pain hurt all the more instead of healing it.  It was hard enough to write out the facts and place the events of this fall on a stark timeline.  Each notation was so loaded with emotion, emotion that I could vocalize but could not write.  Writing it down made it more real and that much more devastating.  Even now, as I side-step around actually naming the feelings and the events that prompted them, a cacophony of emotions wash over me, and I am thankful that I am already sitting down.

So why do I write now?  I’m not really sure.  The moment feels right (no pun intended), and I once again feel that familiar tug.  And yet, I am having trouble getting started.  I censor myself too much as I write.  It is so hard for me to just allow myself to put on the page whatever comes to mind.  I’m all too well aware that my writing defines and marks me in an important way.  I don’t remember the last time I wrote completely unselfconsciously, and that bothers me.  There is something in me that longs for the release I know would come from the experience, but I fear what I might see on the page.  I also know that I cannot write that way in this space.  It’s much too public. However there are some things I can share here for those who are interested and in the hope that some of what I have gone through might be of some use to someone else.

As I dive into writing again, I should probably explain this post’s title. It seems to be a consensus among grad students, that if anyone knew what they were getting into when they began grad school, they would never have even submitted applications.  The application process, in and of itself, should be an indication of what awaits prospective grad students, but I don’t think that occurs to anyone until after it’s too late and they’re committed to a program.  Many students drop out of grad school, and I can’t say I blame them, but there are many who choose to stay despite everything.  Thankfully, I’ve found that fellow grad students are much like the empathetic rats that scientists recently discovered.  At the heart of the graduate maze lies the PhD, the prize for which every grad student strives, and along the way, I’ve found comrades who understand the struggle to make it through that maze.  I am so grateful for their encouragement and support, along with others “on the outside” (of academia) who have been there for me.

Because of the delicate nature of the situation in which I’ve found myself, I cannot share many details of this fall in a public forum.  However, perhaps by sharing my struggle with the consequent emotions, another student may see that their trials and dilemmas are not unique and that they are not alone.  Over the past year, but particularly the past four months, I have borne the brunt of unrelenting personal attacks and have been told repeatedly that I was incompetent and had no right to be in grad school.  If the criticism had been focused on specific shortcomings in my academic writing and coupled with helpful suggestions for improvement, I would have been fine.  Instead, the constant and unjustified abuse led me to feel an increasing sense of shame, not just in reference to my writing but in who I am as a person.

These are issues that are rarely discussed in grad school, and when they are brought up, they are too often attributed to the student being overly sensitive.  To make sure I did not fall into this category, I shared some specifics with colleagues who affirmed that what I was experiencing was not normal and that the personal attacks were unwarranted.  I am still struck by the realization of how much trust I had placed in the person and how much power one person has to destroy a graduate student’s career.  I think that mine can be salvaged, but this situation has presented some major setbacks that I am still trying to overcome, not least in my personal life.  Until things fell apart, I couldn’t see how much I had tied my sense of self to my academic career. Grad school requires students to pour every ounce of themselves into it, and when one faces a situation like this, it feels like one’s very personhood is on trial.

I have spent a great deal of time questioning whether or not I belong in a doctoral program. I think I do. When I arrived on campus and through my first two years in the program, I felt like I had finally found a place where I fit and I felt challenged in a positive way. However, I have also considered other options in terms of careers and the type of life I want.   I think academia could still be a good fit for me, but I am open to several paths now in a way I was not before.  This fall has also revealed in an almost tangible way how important relationships with friends, family, and colleagues are to me.  And this past year and a half has demonstrated that if I do not maintain my health, I literally cannot function.  For me, that means a strict diet, more sleep than I generally allow myself, and making time to work out.  I realize this is obvious, but most people can cheat on these things for weeks, months, and years on end, but I’ve discovered I can’t.

I wish I could conclude this post with an uplifting report about how I’ve traveled a rough road but things have smoothed out and I’m on a solid footing once again, but I can’t.  I remain in limbo as I sort everything out and try to decide on the best path.  At the very least, I see options now, something I couldn’t say earlier this fall. And I’ve begun to write for myself again.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2011 in Graduate School, Self-Reflection

 

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