Tag Archives: graduate school

Quickie update

It’s been a heck of a couple weeks, which is why it’s been quiet on this blog.  There will soon be a post on Fierce Freethinking Fatties about my first week using the scooter (affectionately known as my first week as a Scooter Fatty)…let’s just say that once I pushed past my anxiety, it’s been liberating!

Off white wall and medium brown desk in background, small metal scooter with basket in back & crutch balanced on it.
My TravelScoot sitting behind my desk at work on the first full day of using it.

My next immediate hurdle is figuring out how to do appropriate spoon management while teaching so I can get back to dancing more.  A standard classroom technology podium is built for someone that’s over 5’2″ (approximately) and trying to lecture while seated in a classroom with barely movable rows isn’t working, so I’ve been standing & leaning on a rolling chair or other creative stand/sitting hybrids to be able to operate classroom technology.  I could probably fight to get a presentation remote clicker to use, but since I’m considered an adjunct professor I doubt the university would spring for that.  The other thing I’ve figured out is that the scooter is basically unhelpful in a classroom with the way I want to teach.  I’m a kinesiologist and a dancer, so I like to be in pretty constant motion in some manner, and a scooter just doesn’t allow for that.  If I can figure out how to conquer some public speaking fear to be able to teach in front of twenty college freshmen, I can definitely figure this out!

In terms of scholarly stuff in general, I’m severely struggling.  I still have my incomplete courses, but I’ve not made significant headway on my independent study for the semester either.  In all honesty, I’m barely keeping up with the one in-person course I’m in (Autism, Disability Theory, & Philosophy).  A little bit of that is from not having a background in philosophy, and a little more is from some really weird dynamics in the class that have pegged me as the token disabled person.  The rest is just from dealing with my body and what I’m trying to force it to do.  I spend most of my weekends laying in bed trying to recover.  Unfortunately, my cognitive abilities get dumped into the recovery bin as well (chronic pain is tiring on its own, even without the assortment of other bodily oddities I deal with).  I’m honestly scared because of it….I’m trying to put together my committee for my plan of study & comprehensive exams (depending on dissertation, the committee might change), but I don’t want to come across as someone that will be stuck in ABD land (“All But Dissertation”).  One way or another it’ll work itself out.

As for dance, I’m really feeling awful that I haven’t been to a dance class or a troupe rehearsal in a couple months. The combination of my work/class schedule, increasing spine problems, and tight finances have left me with doing some mental rehearsal & occasionally doing FCBD drill videos from YouTube (on my tv with my Xbox 360!  I love technology!).  It’s better than nothing, but I fiercely miss my Helix dance siblings…not only is ATS a primarily group format, but I just don’t enjoy soloing that much (which is why I never became a pro dancer…semi-pro was the best I managed in my whole-spine days).  I’m nervous getting back into the swing of it all because my anxiety disordered brain keeps spinning me tales of angry troupemates and passive aggressive garbage (the latter has happened in a previous troupe…fears with connections to reality are the hardest to overcome).

The scooter arrived just in time…for me to get a flat in one of my manual wheelchair wheels.  Since I’m still going to use the manual chair for smaller things like shopping trips and longer trips like academic conferences (I cannot bring myself to use the scooter at the upcoming Sport Sociology conference…I’m too afraid of being treated poorly and giving a first impression that will keep me from getting a job post-PhD), I’ve decided to check into solid tires that don’t have inner tubes.  They’re a bit heavier and don’t have as good of traction, but will keep me from being stuck in a random city trying to find a bike shop to pump or fix my wheels (which has happened).

In a few days, I’ll post a few OotD posts from Gwynnie Bee.  While I probably shouldn’t be spending money on it, having a guaranteed nice thing to wear once a week that I don’t have to worry about washing/drying/maintaining is absolutely lovely.  It decreases my stress, lets me have a package come in the mail about once a week, and always feels like I’m playing a grownup version of dress-up.  If I could afford upping my subscription, I would!  I could have two outfits a week for teaching in that help me not waste spoons on clothing maintenance and to help me pretend that life isn’t really hard with chronic pain & nerve damage.  Less laundry = less wasted spoons = happier Casey = I win!

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Teaching while gimpy

I’m working out a lot of thoughts I’m having about my teaching gig this semester (I’m not a TA, I’m the actual instructor!).  It’s been a heck of a journey, especially considering it’s what I would call a “non-traditional” course.  It’s through my institution’s Learning Communities department and I have about twenty bright-eyed first year social science students trying to navigate their transition from high school to university life.  I have a lot of freedom in the course, which is both awesome and terrifying.  I’m also learning a lot about myself, including about my body in traditional classroom space.

Photo shot from the entryway of the building, showing the "automatic door" warning sign but no button to push for access.
Photo shot from the entryway of the building, showing the “automatic door” warning sign but no button to push for access.

Let’s start with the classroom I’m teaching in.  Wait, let’s back up to the building that the classroom is housed in.  I don’t know the history of the building, but it is mostly a residence hall that has a couple classrooms attached to it (I think they were a later addition to the building based on placement and door access).  Because it is primarily a residence hall, most of the doors are locked 24/7 for safety.  The classrooms are placed so there are specific doors that are open for ten minutes before the class time to allow the instructor and students that don’t live there in.  While there are no stairs (and there is a sign that designates this as an accessible entrance), there is no button for the automatic door.  I’m guessing if I had an electronic key for the black sensor on the outside wall it might open automatically, but that doesn’t help me as a keyless instructor.

The classroom itself has one of those sterile “modern yet traditional” vibes, which would be cool if I wanted to run my class in a lecture format all the time.  It has a podium in the front corner that is too tall for me to comfortably use properly (right side for my student with the door on the left side).  Actually, it looks a lot like the setup in this post I made about TAing, although my classroom has carpet.  All of the tables are in five tight rows, with each table fitting two students each, and the rows are jammed flush with the right wall of the classroom leaving one aisle to get in and out of.  There is no way to rearrange the tables for better group work, and if I had a student that had a mobility impairment, it would be difficult to find a place for them to sit comfortably (that’s ignoring personal seating preference, because that’s generally not even in the conversation about making a space accessible for students).  The other problem with this is that this mobility impaired instructor can’t really “work the room” whether walking or rolling (wheeled desk chair or wheelchair).

Combined, they make a huge problem for me.  I can’t see all of my students when I’m standing as I’m short.  I really can’t see them when I’m sitting (and listening to my body).  I can’t rearrange the tables into a circle so everyone can see everyone else.  These problems made for a really rough first week of classes because I felt like I was being forced to ignore the people that I couldn’t see (which is really rough since it takes me a while to connect faces to names).  It also became apparent that, while the university kinda sorta thinks about students with disabilities, there’s no thought to faculty or staff with disabilities.

None.

Thankfully, I got this teaching gig from being scholarly colleagues with our director of learning communities, but where does this put me for any other academic job?  Will departments that don’t know me personally hire me as a faculty member with my “special needs” in the classroom or office space?  Will I just be another pain-in-the-ass gimp with a graduate degree barely scraping by with serial adjuncting as long as I don’t rock the boat too much with my activism or my needs/wants in a classroom?

I know that the change in direction in my work from mostly body size/fat studies to mostly disability studies (all with the physical activity focus) will mark me in a specific way…I think a lot of disabled scholars studying disability deal with this, whether implicitly or explicitly.  It will likely be assumed when I enter kinesiology-focused spaces that I study disability because of how I move through the world (which could be a whole different post honestly, especially because a Deaf friend and I have had discussions about it).

For the moment, I’m trying to not focus on that and just trying to focus on what matters in my life right now….work/school/life/health balance, dance, getting over public speaking anxiety so I can focus on being a better instructor, finances, putting together my dissertation committee… 🙂

Cyborg Dance Projekt: Failing, but not actually failing

I remember when I first got back to belly dancing post-surgery.  That was the birth of the Cyborg Dance Projekt.  When I started that journey, I wasn’t sure if my body would be able to handle it.  It was around 6 months post-op, and I was still in a lot of pain that still necessitated opioid pain medication.

As I reflect on this almost-year long project, I’ve been beating myself up the past four or so months about dance.  My pain level has been creeping up again, and I found out that my L4/L5 vertebral joint (the one above my fusion) is having physiological issues.  I’ve known this symptomatically since a month or two after surgery, but I couldn’t get a doctor to listen to me or to take my concerns seriously.  

I’ve been beating myself up because I’m signed up for ATS Homecoming in January including General Skills & Teacher Training, and I’m afraid that my body can’t handle it (it’s 4 days of GS, 3 days of workshops, then 2 days of TT, each with about six hours of studio time).  I’m not comparing myself to my semi-pro dancer days (which, in retrospect, would have been pro if I wasn’t so shy and socially awkward), but I am comparing myself to last summer.  I would sometimes take three classes back-to-back.  I would take classes several days in a row.  I had a better home practice routine.

This fear was really eating me up until I realized something while talking to my partner.  The difference between the past few months and last summer is that I’m in classes for my PhD.  I have six hours a week sitting upright in a classroom on top of my 20 hour a week assistantship (along with the other meetings and whatnot that are unpaid requirements for getting a doctoral degree).  I have things that eat up my energy and my time, and I’m not a supercrip.  My body is just telling me that I can either have my academic work or my dance work, that something has to flex for the other thing to fit in my life.

This realization isn’t giving me any peace like I hoped it would though.  It’s making me realize that if I want to dance more while working and going to school, I need to figure out where I can conserve spoons (time/energy units).  I really need to get a mobility scooter for campus so I don’t waste my ability to be upright on things that don’t contribute to my goals.  Heck, I’ve been so bad lately that I haven’t been doing any extraneous walking….it’s to and from my car, from my car to a close building, back to my car.  I don’t go to the library for any reason unless it’s an absolute requirement.  I will go without eating for 12 hours so I don’t hurt myself going to the student union for food.  Pain is jacking up my mental health, and I need to figure out a way to get my needs met as a student, as an employee, as a spouse, as a pet parent, as a friend, and as a dancer.

So, I’m back to fundraising for a scooter that will help me be able to have the time & energy to dance, be a fully functioning doctoral student, and a happier individual that is active.  Here’s the GoFundMe link if you can help out….most insurance companies won’t pay for mobility equipment if it’s not used all of the time, including inside the home, so I’m forced to figure out how to pay for this on a grad student stipend…which means I’m fundraising.

TL;DR- Dance isn’t going as well because school is wearing down my body…but it’s ok, I’m figuring out how to cope