Stress, a high credit load, & health

If all goes well, this will be my last semester of coursework…assuming that I can handle a 9 credit load (full time at my university for graduate students starts at 6 credits).  I tried this a year ago, but that happened to be a really bad time for that.  Because of problems with trying to get adequate pain management and the uptick of more health stuff, I ended up dropping the online course I was taking (it was a “test run” course for an instructor in my department, so there were technical difficulties on top of me not being an ideal online student).  In all honesty, most of the health stuff is still an issue….possibly even more of an issue, but I’m learning to cope with some of it like the random hand tremors.

The other reason why I’m taking an “overload” (most able bodied students in my department take this kind of load) is that I’m not teaching or TAing.  The courses I wanted are spaced out in a way that allows me to have sufficient time to rest &/or lay down when need be (no two classes in the same day, the two long classes are on Tuesday & Saturday to allow for time to work on coursework at a reasonable pace).  I also have one less student that I’m doing editing* for as well, so I’m in the best possible situation to do this.

Long story short, if this works it’ll be awesome!

The thing is…I’m scared.  I’ve talked about how recuperating is not the same as relaxing, so I’m putting some “safeguards” in place to try to help me get through the semester as unscathed as possible while making sure the non-class things (like my co-chair duties for NWSA and my meetings with my adviser & fellow SHS Kinesiology students) don’t get mucked up either.  Because of this fear, I wanted to blog about some of these “safeguards” that I’ve put in place to help keep me being the happiest, healthiest Casey I can be…that still wants to stay in academia for the long haul (finishing my PhD & getting an academic job afterward).

  • Do something purely for joy at least once a day
    • This one freaks a lot of academics out, especially grad students and non-tenured professors.  There’s some good research coming out that says that putting more hours in does not lead to equivalent levels of productivity.  There’s also research that shows the impact of high stress levels & working too much on both physical health & mental health.  “Work smarter, not harder” is the take-home message of that research and that’s particularly wise advice for many sick & disabled scholars.
    • Additionally, with disabilities that limit my physical & mental capacity, there are times where I’m not working but also not doing anything deliberately joyful.  Surfing Netflix because my pain levels are too high to do good critical work is not fun, it’s survival.  Catching up on the plethora of comic book inspired TV shows that are out right now?  Potentially joyful.
  • Be a realistic multitasker
    • Some multitasking works, some doesn’t.  For example, I tend to have too many tabs up in my browser (usually 90% of them journal abstracts)…this just makes me overwhelmed at “all the things I need to read” so it’s not functional
    • What is working are my recumbent bike workouts at the campus rec center where I let myself read fiction for the duration of the ride.  I know I’m not working out as hard as I would be if I wasn’t reading, and I know that my reading comprehension isn’t as good…but it lets me get my workout in (hooray!) as well as allows me to read for fun (which is part of a mentally healthy Casey).  Once the semester’s dust settles, I will be back dancing at least once a week and trying to take spin, yoga, & TRX classes….but those aren’t multitaskable.
  • Unsubscribe from non-vital email lists
    • I love to shop and I really love how various retailers can send me emails with all sorts of shiny things that make me smile (oh ThinkGeek…if I had the money & space in my house….).  However, the volume of emails was getting ridiculous and when money is particularly tight, it just reminded me of all the things that I can’t afford (versus being fun window shopping)
    • Similarly, I was getting a lot of emails from social justice oriented organizations, some of which (like MoveOn) constantly send out a lot of emails.  Some of these organizations are constantly trying to get me to donate money I don’t have to campaigns I would like to support.  As a compromise, I “liked” some of these organizations on Facebook so when I do take a break for some social media, I can see what these organizations are up to without as much stress.
  • Limit redundancy
    • I used to have my Facebook settings set that I would get emails whenever people posted in groups, whenever certain people posted (close friends), or when I was tagged.  Since I use FB for a lot of networking, research, support, & fun stuff, I was getting a lot of email…which was redundant because I could log in to FB and look at the notifications icon to get most of that information.  I now have my settings changed that I only get an email when I’m tagged or if I’ve set a post to “get notifications” so I’m not overloaded with information.  Sure, I miss some things…but such is life…it’s impossible to know everything about everyone anyhow, so it’s good to let go of that impulse.
    • Similarly, I’m on several social media platforms that I would sometimes follow XYZ organization/company on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and whereever else they were that I was also on (I don’t do Instagram or Pinterest).  When I would browse my social media, I would find redundant information from XYZ on the various platforms…which essentially can be a waste of time (it can be a great reminder, depending on how you operate in the world, but for me it just added to my feeling of “too much!”).  I’m trying to keep companies off my Twitter feed so I can see what my friends & colleagues post and FB for various other things (I have a great research network there, so FB isn’t going anywhere for me).  It helps me be able to disconnect & be present to other things in life.
  • Learn to say no
    • No to extraneous emails
    • No to commitments that must be “monkeywrenched” into my schedule
    • This is really hard.  There will be time to take on committee work (for example, this is not the time to find the committee working on the new Rec Center on campus to have input on accessibility…as much as I feel this is important, I just can’t).  There will be time to present at conferences, publish book reviews, write articles, etc.  I only have one body and saying no when possible will keep it in the best working shape it can be in!
  • Consistency!
    • This one is really hard for me, partially because I’ve learned to work in spurts and partially because my body doesn’t necessarily cooperate with consistency.  I’m trying to set up a schedule that has me going to bed & getting up at roughly the same time every day, writing at least a half hour a day (which is usually a small enough goal to not be daunting, long enough to get at least a couple solid ideas out on paper, and really a perfect amount of time to get my groove & write for longer (as well as to stop if my body isn’t cooperating with being at my desk).
    • I’m also applying this to some health behaviors.  You can probably see this from things like “find joy every day” and trying to get physical activity (even if it’s a wandering recumbent bike ride with fun reading…right now I’m reading A Beautiful Friendship from David Weber & I just finished Tamora Pierce’s Wolf Speaker).  I’m also applying this to eating habits as mine are sporadic.  I’m trying to make sure that I have a better stock of upset stomach-friendly foods because my pain meds frequently make me nauseous.  I’m also trying to limit things that make me feel crappy (I’m gluten intolerant, but I’ve been really bad about eating it lately because it’s cheap & easy), so I’m figuring out options that are low prep, easy travel (for my long days on campus), and economical.  Lately that’s been sliced apples & avocado for lunch and meat & sweet potato for dinner, with Graze snacks & other things for breakfast & as needed for meds.

This list isn’t in order of importance, just FYI

What is working or not working for folks?  What things do you prioritize when life gets hectic?

*If anyone needs my editing services, comment on this post & we can talk…I moderate the comments so your contact info won’t float around the internet.  I won’t be doing rush jobs this semester unless my husband has time to edit on my behalf.

Winter break, aka my Dragon Age: Inquisition binge

So winter break for both work and school started on the 22nd of December (I was back to work on January 7th), which is awesome (except for the bad cold virus I picked up around the 12th but didn’t fully kick until the 26th).  It wasn’t until my partner and I got home from his family’s Christmas celebration that I truly had a chance to just be.  As you can tell, this post is a bit delayed…sorry!

My cats like vacation & video games
My cats like vacation & video games

I would normally pack in cleaning my house from post-finals paper tornadoes as well as any other housework that got neglected in the rush that is the last month of a semester.  While that is on the docket and has been done in small spurts, I decided that I wanted to do a self-care experiment…I wanted to see what it felt like to blow my spoons on joy for a couple of days.

That probably sounds a bit weird.  I gave myself a few rules.  No leaving the house for a couple of days…partially because have a set of stairs outside to get to our home and stairs are notorious spoon-consumers (in order to not trip, I have to think about all the foot movements involved with stair climbing, plus holding on to the railing in case my balance bombs). The campus gym was closed anyhow and the New Year’s resolution gym rush would make visitor passes obnoxious.  I also didn’t want the stress of dealing with other drivers (whether driving or scooting) or people other than my partner.  Just him and the two cats.

Another rule was to sleep as much as I wanted.  With mild narcolepsy plus pain medication side effects, part of me was a bit leery about this.  There have been times in my life (usually complicated by depression) that I could sleep 18-20 hours straight.  Spine pain means that I’m generally awake every 2-3 hours, which isn’t particularly restful, but I wanted to try to make up for it with quantity if I couldn’t get quality.

My intended joy target: Dragon Age: Inquisition on my Xbox 360.
I’m a big fan of the Dragon Age series and this came out in November.  I didn’t pick it up until mid-December (I was saving Amazon gift cards I earned through Swagbucks).  Bioware, the company that makes this game, has been known for doing a pretty darn good job being inclusive of gender and sexuality (they still need some work regarding race, but they seem to be doing a better job than a good chunk of the video game market). Here’s a link about how DA:I became the first game with a trans* character and here’s one about both their gay male character as well as one about a fantastic pansexual oneAs you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of the series and I really wanted time to play it and this experiment was a perfect time for it.

I popped the game in and realized that the text on the game was too small (which is a bit ridiculous on a 42″ widescreen television) and I couldn’t find any way to make it bigger.  That meant I needed to get creative as I wasn’t going to be able to sit or lay on my couch to play.  I ended up making a nest propped up against my heavy coffee table using my manual chair cushion, a few blankets, and a “bedrest” pillow (like this one)…plus I tweeted Feminist Sonar‘s main author Elsa Henry to see if she’d played it yet (she has an awesome series called Blind Lady Versus (she hadn’t yet was it was next up on her game queue).

Long story short…I played a lot of DA:I.  A lot.  My husband made sure I ate and was comfortable and encouraged me to play as long as I wanted to along with sleep as long as I wanted to.  There were times I was itching to leave the house and be “productive” but I reminded myself about my upcoming rough semester (an extra course along with trying to finish incomplete courses) and how I might have weeks upon weeks in which I have something scheduled out of the house every day.  It feels weird to write about this, but I think of meditation techniques about being in the moment….and that’s what I tried to do.  I dove into the storyline, made deliberate choices (and tried to not think about how I might make new characters choosing different options!), and just enjoyed myself.  Sure it wasn’t a physically active experiment (although I am one of those people that moves their head & arms around like somehow that changes how the controller operates….that drives “real” gamers up walls), but it was enlightening.

I did end up finishing the game before the semester started (hooray) and I started two different characters to play when I find bits of time to steal (a dwarf rogue and a human mage, both female).  I also feel like I’m starting off the semester more focused but relaxed as well, which seems a bit contradictory but a much more healthy perspective…especially with both new and old health malarkey in the mix.  It also helps that I’m finally at a pain medication dose that’s allowing me to be upright (aka not in bed) for longer if I’m careful, which is allowing me to be more physically active, which is keeping me more mentally healthy.  A definite win overall!

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