Archive for February, 2010

Now what?

It’s the thought many people have after a long-anticipated event. Doesn’t matter if it is a marathon, huge exam, graduation, or a recital. Something that one has put massive amounts of time, energy, and concentration into. I am currently in a grey area of lostness-
precipitated by my senior recital, which occurred on Sunday. I see that my slumps are worsened by a lack of big-picture planning. Let me explain…

I have my ultimate goals in life–things like becoming a physician, teaching and playing flute at my highest possible ability. But those goals are not one-step processes. Each one is made up of smaller checkpoints and the path to each checkpoint is a series of action steps. My senior recital was a checkpoint. My priority checkpoint for the last month or so (that sounds a little sad–as if I were ignoring it before that time, but think realistically. Can any person truly have more than one priority at any given time? Can you have multiple things that are the “most important?” No. Something always wins even though other important things may come in at a close second.)

When I am working toward a checkpoint I am constantly focused on the next action step. And my action steps are probably smaller than you would imagine. Say my checkpoint is to get an a in one of my classes. What is my current action step? Is it to write the paper that is due next week? No. Is it even to write the outline for that paper? Think smaller yet. What is the smallest item I can possibly do? Here is how I break up the checkpoint for getting an A. I will use this semester’s Psychology of Women’s class as an example. For this class I have a grand total of 2 exams and 5 papers for the entire semester. Checkpoints would be: paper #1, paper #2, midterm exam, paper #3, paper #4, paper #5, final exam. Action steps for paper #1: choose a topic, determine a focus, find x number of journals/books with research and/or support for my view, read each source (x number of action steps), read the corresponding chapter of the text, review corresponding class notes, reevaluate my focus [depth and breadth] for length/connection to class, write outline, write rough draft, edit draft, add bibliography, final edit. Sounds nit-picky, but in reality it’s what you would do anyway, I just break each step down visually instead of mentally. This keeps me from getting overwhelmed. I could just say: write outline, write rough draft, write final draft. But I can’t sit down and do any one of those in 30 min without prior preparation. I break down things into approximately 30 min tasks so I always k ow precisely the next thing I need to do, precisely what I need to do it, and I know that I can accomplish it in a reasonable amount of time. It also prevents me from getting ahead of myself and spend hours writing before I realize that my topic is much too large/small to fit in the assigned length. I obviously have multiple classes so knowing my next action step makes it easier to plan my days and study sessions. I no longer find myself at the library switching subjects only to realize that I am missing some key element that I need to get closer to my next checkpoint.

And now back to my original point: a lack of overall planning. When I am absorbed in my priority checkpoint I always have a very clear picture of where I am and where I will go next. Once that checkpoint is achieved I have a time of “what next?” I obviously know the next actions in all the checkpoints that are in front of me, it’s really an issue of choosing which checkpoint will be my next priority. Do I want my net priority to be Psych 346? Psych 313? Phys 112? My planned marathon? A flute competition? A pet project of my own? If I reach one checkpoint without planning my next checkpoint, I become lost in the sea of possibilities. I waste time only half-committing myself as I thinks about what I could/should/want to do next.

Even as I write this it sounds ridiculously over thought. But I have realized that I need this ultimate structure in my life. If I always know where I am headed next then I find it is much easier to deal with all the swells and dips that come in life. Instead of being in a tiny boat and being upset by each single wave, I am instead in a large boat and each wave just gently rocks me, but doesn’t throw me off course.

So what will my next priority be? I’m not sure yet, but I know I need one asap. Perhaps my first priority will be to choose my next priority checkpoint.

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Tuesdays kill me.

I leave home at 8 a.m. because I “have to” walk to campus. It starts early, that voice. The eating disorder voice that tells me if I don’t walk everywhere I go then I will instantly become fat. “poof!” In an instant. Instead of turning into a goon I become my worst nightmare the instant I don’t obey the voice. So I do. I walk to campus. It is 1 mile to the close edge and another 3/4 mile to the building that holds my first Tuesday class. That isn’t until 10 but I came early so I can sit in the library and beat my brain down before the day starts, working on homework, worrying about all the work I didn’t do the night before.

At 9:40 I head to the music building, pull out my flute and prepare for my 10 a.m. lesson. I enjoy my lessons. Lately I’ve been a bit stressed because my senior recital is coming up and because I missed the first two weeks of school getting ensemble things worked out with my pianist has been crunched for time. That typically runs all the way up to the hour which means that I am late for my 11 a.m. class.

That stresses me out too. Some classes I am ok with being late for, but this is a small, upper-level women’s studies class and the only entrance is in the front of the room so everyone doesn’t just see me, I have to visibly break their lines of sight to the professor in order to get to my seat. And then the class is an hour and a half, not a big fan of long classes. When that is done I trudge to my psychology of women class that begins at 12:40 and, of course, also runs an hour and a half.

At 2 I promptly leave psych and head to a two-hour physics lab. Some lab classes don’t take the full lab period, but this semester of physics has run the full-time nearly every lab. As soon as I’m done with lab I head back to music hall for a two-hour orchestra rehearsal. My day is finally over at 6 p.m. however, I still feel the need to walk home.

I arrive home utterly exhausted. And why shouldn’t I? I just had 8 hours of intensive classes with no break. Lunch is a hurried matter and snacks typically don’t happen unless I break rules and bring food into the recital hall during orchestra rehearsal. I have walked 3 miles just going to campus and back and easily another 1-1 1/2 miles between classes. It’s no wonder I never have any motivation to do homework. Many nights I stare blankly at my books or computer screen and try to will my brain to think coherently so I can get work done and escape the guilt. Should I just call Tuesday nights a loss? Go to bed as early as possible so that when Wednesday comes I am fully rested and can handle more. I wish I could. Instead, I force myself to painfully waste time writing a few lines in a paper, I go to bed late, the next morning I am still exhausted. I can either sleep later (hello guilt and worry!) or drag myself out of bed and spend another day with lost productivity because I am so worn down that I can’t get my brain to think in an organized fashion. And this scene repeats itself on Thursday and Friday.

I long to have the energy and stamina to take Tuesdays as they come. To buck up to one challenging day in a week and come out of it okay. Will I ever be able to do that again? Will I ever have the insane drive I had in high school that allowed to me go to school, run track, and practice flute and piano upwards of four hours a day? Will I be able to handle the rigors of medical school? Of a career in medicine?

Should I regret the insanity I gained when I planned my schedule for the semester or should I appreciate the opportunity to spot my weaknesses and create a plan to combat them?

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I know the typical treatment program’s view on triggering language, behavior etc. I also understand why many of them have those rules.

My most recent treatment program had none of that. We were able (in some cases encouraged) to talk about specific behaviors we had engaged in and in fact some of the therapists would purposely used triggering language during groups. Why? Because that’s how the real world works. Outside the walls of treatment people talk all the time about food and fat and calories. The entire population doesn’t walk around thinking “I wonder if she has an eating disorder? Perhaps I should say this in a different manner or avoid it altogether.”

And you know what? I liked it. A lot.

I have had my times when things have “triggered” me–sitting in a psych lecture where we spent an hour talking about obesity and how to avoid it and then some time spent talking about eating disorders with triggering pictures and whatnot. It was an incredible difficult lecture, in a class of 1000 people, so I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who struggled with it. But would it have been okay for me to talk to the lecturer and tell her that? I don’t really know. She was just doing her typical teaching thing, 99% of the students probably didn’t have a problem with it, and how often in life am I going to get into similar situations where I don’t have the right to bring such subject matter up?

No matter how careful a person is and how much she tries to avoid triggers, they will happen. And if I am restructuring my life to avoid ED triggers, then I am not enjoying full freedom from the eating disorder.

If there is a time and place to learn to face and deal with triggering language, therapy is it. Surrounded by supportive people, with a chance to express and deal with emotions, one doesn’t have to just stuff it down. They are in a unique position to face the underlying issues about why that language triggers them. There are other ED sufferers that understand the difficulty in hearing it and there are professionals trained to help them work through it. I think that a treatment center that is willing to face the realities of this is very intelligent.

And now that I’m out of intensive treatment, I find that having to censor my thoughts is very difficult. It’s cumbersome and it distracts me from what I am thinking and feeling about the real issues I have. There’s always that voice in my head going “Can I say this? Should I say this? How much of this should/can I say?” and if that inner dialogue goes on long enough it becomes “Well, I don’t really know where the safe zone starts or stops, so I guess I won’t say anything.” And that is where a ban on triggering language moves from being a safeguard to being a liability.

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