Winning Tigers

Two exciting things happened this week:

First: The featured image, my photograph of a couple of tigers sharing a tender moment at the local zoo, won their photo contest in the novice adult category. This was surprising because although I have always loved this picture, it was an instantaneous shot with my crummy little phone and took no doing on my part really! I was just at the right place at the right time.

The second incident has to do with my last aquatic therapy session when I trained with a different therapist than usual, a more senior one and her student. The student led the session that day. She couldn’t have been much older than me (if at all) and was oozing confidence, and she was amazing! She was also driven to work on strengthening my aching muscles and she did let on that my strength scores were woeful. I found it pretty difficult to do some of the stuff she was making me do. This was embarrassing given how fit she was compared to me, being of similar ages and all, but I was honest about my discomfort. BUT THEN . . . after a while, the senior therapist started talking to me about my evaluations and how I am doing, etc. and she said that she has seen many fibromyalgia patients throughout her career in all shapes and sizes and severities – and I was actually at the front end of that scale! I may be woeful compared to others my age, but I was doing OK for a fibromyalgiac!! She thought I was off to a good start with the physical therapy and lifestyle management (fewer working hours, more rest time, energy conservation, etc.), and will probably be able to manage my condition pretty well in the long run as long as I stay committed to reducing stress, building in more “me-time,” and basically being cognizant of my body and not pushing it too hard too fast.

Woot! I hadn’t felt “at the front end” of a lot of things recently, and now two incidents happened to remind me of my potential in one week! I’ve also always had lingering doubts about wasting my time trying to conserve energy and rest more, and have the tendency to push myself until I crash. I have also had little direct encouragement (other than from my husband) to cut work time and build in more recreational/rest time. For the most part, I had considered that aspect of my management scheme to be mostly met with either disdain or general indifference from other people. Now here was somebody in an objective position who openly encouraged more of it!!! She also made me feel like I was doing pretty good being in charge of my condition and she made me feel good about doing some of the things that generally carry a load of guilt and anxiety for me. So whoa! That was a refreshing perspective!

I am so grateful to the powers-that-be for this turn of events. I really felt like I needed a jolt of encouragement right about now and, lo and behold! There it is!

To use Michael J. Fox’s words with modification (from his memoirs), I am a lucky woman.



A Tale of Turtles

After a night of poor sleep, and driving around all morning, my brain is about as murky as the water these turtles are swimming in. I start a new aquatic therapy program next week that I was evaluated for today by a physical therapist. As usual, after all the prodding and poking, I am worse now than how I started off (which wasn’t so great today to begin with).

Incidentally, I also felt like a deplorable hypochondriac today looking at an image of the human body trying to click on “pain areas” and trying to describe the type and intensity of my pain. I felt like all the boxes applied to me at some point or another! I was somewhat embarrassed though, so we decided to go with the major/focal areas. It was kind of exciting and depressing at the same time to think that 3/10 is the best pain management score we can aim for even for the most basic tasks like standing to teach (granted, that’s like ~3 hours at a time) or doing stairs or working at a computer or just washing my hair (again, granted, I do have a LOT of hair)!

I hate that I am going to have to miss another day of work but I needed the rest desperately today. What is it about us graduate students feeling so guilty about taking time off for ourselves?? I am sure there are other ways of making our lives productive (even scientifically productive) without always necessarily working on our thesis project all the time. But then the thesis is our baby, and who doesn’t feel guilty about neglecting their baby? (Whether or not it is healthy to make your thesis project your baby is a whole another discussion and I am not even going to go there!)

I need to keep reminding myself that just like a mom who does not hover over their child 24X7 is not a “lazy mom,” I am not a “lazy graduate student” for taking a day off to recover my strength. Yet I know that that is not a popular sentiment in academia. As understanding as my advisor can be regarding my situation, even he gets frustrated with my recent slowness and absence. I cannot blame him for that – sometimes I feel exactly the same way about myself! At least, he has enough faith in my ability to do science to allow me to complete my Ph.D. at my current pace. And for that, I will always be grateful.