Vacay.

I’m on winter break until the first week of January as of today.  That is, as of the moment my group partner so graciously submitted our research project on ketogenic diets and Ironman competitors.

To be honest, it hasn’t sunk in yet that I have no responsibilities of the academic kind.

Just think, in exactly ONE YEAR I will be really done.  I can’t even imagine.

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Finding the why.

Ah, has it really been over a month since I last gave this blog any attention?  There have been some major adjustments to the dailiness of life, or liveliness of each day, or I guess I could just call it chaos, plain and simple.

First and foremost.  I learned a very important thing about myself.  I tend to plan things without a calendar in front of me.  Perhaps we can call this “organic planning” or “going with the flow”.  This leads to filling every (perceived) free spot with something to do, and usually this has nothing to do with vegging in front of the tv, or better yet – sleeping.  Add the busy schedules of two teenagers and a tween and the balance becomes quite precarious.

About mid-October I attended the first of eight sessions as part of my yoga teacher training, which admittedly was something I signed up for very last minute, after hearing about it from a fellow instructor.  Beyond the challenge of actually doing yoga again (who knew that dancing would create tighter muscles than running), we focused extensively on the attitude behind yoga.  Okay, maybe attitude isn’t the right word for most people…. but for the monster bitch I have evolved into over the past couple of years, it definitely applies.  I realized that if I were to continue down the same path, the health assessment numbers I take so much pride in (you should see my triglycerides – they are shockingly stellar!), it will all mean nothing if I’ve let myself be so overcome with stress that the entire family hates me and I have no friends.

Fact of the matter is, even though this really long journey of pre-requisites and graduate school has my priority since 2013, it isn’t everyone else’s priority, and I can’t expect everything to be all about me just because I’ve embarked on something that is life changing, challenging, and oftentimes overwhelming.  I started to make myself out to be the victim that no one respected and my self-pity was robbing me of finding happiness and contentment in just about everything, even in things that were supposed to feed my soul.  As a result, I forgot that I’ve been given an opportunity that isn’t available to everyone, and I was no longer enjoying this journey that I began with so much excitement, curiosity, and wonder.  I got into the mindset that I needed to hurry up and finish already so I could move on with my life and start making a real income.

Was that even the why behind this journey in the first place?  Um.  No.  I thought I wanted to help people lead healthier lives, which was why I’ve continued to teach group fitness classes for nearly a decade.  But now with all this knowledge and academics under my belt, I could widen my scope to populations beyond the marathon runners and gym rats, beyond the 9:15 a.m. Bodypump classes and weekend excursions with the run club.

After one month it seems that I’ve found a bit of clarity about the future simply by not allowing myself to worry about it too much.  I’ve let some things go (tutoring, for one) to alleviate stress and give me more much-needed family time.

There is still a great deal of uncertainty that can really cloud my mood if I let it, but at least I do know that one thing is for certain:  Everything will work out.

Catching my breath.

When you wake up not sure what day it is, I think that’s a sure sign you’re about to recover from a drunken stupor.  However, in my case it’s a sure sign that I’ve definitely overdone the piling of my plate.

Call me a glutton for punishment.  At the end of the day I actually think I love what I’m doing.  I don’t know how much I will love doing it once October 5 rolls around, at which time one more thing will be added to my plate, which may tip it over completely because it pertains directly to grad school.  However, right now I’m surviving.

So I decided to take a job as a tutor at a nearby college.  This is where I had completed all my science prerequisites for grad school.  This is where I also, somewhat on a whim, decided to enroll into the culinary program because I figured it would give me something challenging yet not too science-y to do as I complete the last few quarters of grad school.  And it’s related to the whole nutrition/wellness/healthy interventions thing I’m hoping to focus on when I’m set free from academia.

My former Anatomy and Physiology professor caught wind of my presence on campus and the next thing I knew, I was hired as a peer tutor to lead guided study groups for her classes.  The first few weeks have been a bear, as I’m trying to get used to office dynamics (politics) while reacquainting myself with the human body.  I am a little surprised that it has all come back with relative ease.

However, I’m still trying to figure out the office dynamics part, which will likely never happen because unlike the “me” of my 20s when I cared about what people think, the “me” of my 40s doesn’t really care.  Or really, I probably just don’t have time.  Along with A&P, I also do math drop ins, and I have a handful of appointments related to everything from Biomedical Terminology to Developmental Psychology.  Granted, I do think the drop ins and appointments have more to do with showing students study techniques and ways they can organize the giant heap of information they have to learn.  At least I hope so because I don’t have that much brain capacity.

In addition to all of this, I was unexpectedly hired to teach Bodypump at a nearby gym, an opportunity I jumped at immediately because in all my 9+ years of teaching group fitness classes, I have never taught any Les Mills program within such close proximity to my house.  The only problem is, the times they need me conflict with the tutoring gig, except for every other Saturday.  I’ll take it.

So in a nutshell, this is my current laundry list.  And I am only writing this all out to remind myself to not do this ever again:

  1. Grad school (online/independent study)- Advanced research study with children and weight perception/diabetes prevention.  With a group, thankfully.
  2. Tutoring – A&P guided study groups, math drop ins, appointments.
  3. Culinary Arts – Intro to Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management (online).
  4. Group Fitness – Bodypump and Bodyjam.  Nothing more.  Nope.  Just say NO.  Seriously.  Even though it’s fun and the participants are awesome.
  5. Marathon training – Chicago Marathon, 10/8.
  6. Grad school – Research Methods in Nutrition, begins 10/5.
  7. Parenting – which I am trying not to suck at.
  8. Oh yeah, ACSM personal training certification, which is totally on the back burner even though I’ve been “attending” (sleeping through) the weekly webinar.

Somewhere in the mix is my husband, injured so he hasn’t been running with me.  But he gladly does the laundry, makes me coffee, and carries all 200 pounds of textbooks, gym gear, and/or culinary tools out to the car for me, depending on where I’m heading off to.  Next semester that list will be reduced by more than 150%.  Seriously.

Note to self.

I seem to recall using this title before.  Let’s face it, I’m either getting too old to remember everything or have too many things I need to remember and am running out of space.  Too bad I can’t just empty the trash and be rid of things I no longer need.

Anyway.

One of my professors just pointed out something I need to remember about health claims: the difference between “science-based” and “evidence-based”.  The former means something is plausible, a conclusion based on the possibility of efficacy based on in vitro studies, animal studies, or simply deduced from the pathophysiology.  We might consider this anecdotal.  But definitely not conclusive. The latter is based on repeated testing (preferably randomized, placebo-controlled trials) which has resulted in a consensus of the efficacy.  This is very important to consider when recommending anything for a client or patient, and the difference between simply Googling for answers and spending hours upon hours researching a product, treatment, or regimen.

Being in the fitness industry, I hear a lot of anecdotal recommendations.  I feel as though this industry is wrought with individuals who are always stepping beyond the threshold of what the scope of practice should be.  They mean well, but without proper research behind what they’re recommending, they could be doing more harm than good because health and wellness is not one size fits all.  One important concept I’ve learned, which even experts tend to rely, is to try and step away from a reductionist approach.  In other words, recognize that the human body is a complex interaction of systems which is affected by one’s environment, and therefore any recommendations should be taken on with a more holistic approach rather than a linear “cause and effect” that tends to coincide with reductionism.  Easier said than done when we always want answers.  After all, a single line is much easier to follow, even when meandering, than a giant web of possibilities.

Endlessness.

Unbeknownst to me year ago when I was newbie to the MPH program, I opted for online classes to ease into grad school life.  I also did not know that there were no breaks between quarters.  When one ended, the next one would begin the following week.  This was even more of a challenge because I was still finishing prerequisites at the junior college, so I would not have had a spring break anyway.  In hindsight, I don’t know how I survived that craziness, though I credit blissful ignorance more than anything.  The 2015-2016 school year was indeed a blur.  I forgot many things which were unrelated to school.  I lost some friends.  And I just decided I needed to put on blinders, shake off the guilt, and keep going.

Fast forward a year and I’m a little wiser.  Research and writing don’t take me nearly as long and I somewhat know what professors expect.  I figured out my passion, though I also realized students in the Nutrition program are very different than students in the Public Health program.  The former makes me feel old and a little awkward, while the latter has an interesting mix of people from many different disciplines.

And despite the lack of a break a year ago, I find myself taking an online class once again, which overlaps the on campus classes, one which is about to end in a few days, and another which will start sometime mid-June.  I just need to get this stuff done so that my final year of grad school, with a research project/dissertation needed to complete my MS, and along with an internship needed to complete my MPH, isn’t a total bear.

I also realized, however, that most of the people pursuing both degrees work full time.  I do not, unfortunately, and my teaching schedule has whittled down to just 2 classes a week, 3 for the summer with the addition of a dance class on Sunday.  It’s given me more time to really focus on school, but I also find myself yearning for a hands-on challenge.  Hours sitting at the computer researching topic after topic has it’s ah-ha moments, of course.  But perhaps the art major in me needs to go out and create something, even if it’s extracting DNA from squished strawberries (Biochemistry, Spring Semester 2016).

So, on somewhat of a whim I decided to enroll in the culinary arts program at the junior college where I just recently completed my science prerequisites.  I figured, there is no set pace.  I can put it on hold if I foresee a session-from-hell.  I get to make stuff in a kitchen the proper way, and perhaps this will give me the necessary skills to teach others how to create healthy meals on a budget.  With a graduate degree in Nutrition, this ties in perfectly, for I’m not able to work as a registered dietitian unless I decide to go backwards to pursue that path (but would need to take Chemistry II and Organic Chemistry first… ugh… no).  Along with an MPH and my plans to become a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), I believe culinary skills will help with intervention designs, especially if my focus will be obesity prevention.

But as with everything I decide to jump into, we shall see.  This summer I’m taking two online classes:  Sanitation and Intro to Hospitality.  They’ll be a bit accelerated because a regular 16-week course is compressed into 8 weeks.  But I should be used to this by now since that is exactly what online graduate courses are like, which was another thing I figured out the hard way when I was a grad school newbie.

I think this will be a fun, no-pressure distraction during this final year of graduate studies.  I’m looking forward to distractions, in an academic sort of way anyway.

The Queen of Procrastination.

My sister, who is an excellent therapist, shared some tips about procrastination.  Though they were meant for the Teenager, who is currently struggling with time management, I can certainly benefit from most of these tips myself.

This quarter my plan to take a grueling 16-credit load went from 12 credits to just 8.  This was likely divine intervention because I’m finding half way through the session that 2 courses have given me enough to juggle.  I’m not sure if I’m just burned out or if the courses themselves are challenging (Advanced Metabolism: Carbohydrates & Fats and Health Policy).  In my dual masters program I’ve completed 50% more classes on the MPH side than the MS in Nutrition/Wellness side, and for good reason.  The science end of it is kicking my butt.  Not that policy and law is any less tedious, but it’s a different kind of challenge that entails the regurgitation of knowledge and then some.  If that makes any sense.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t me.  This is just some really difficult shit.

I was actually very disappointed when I realized I may be taking much longer to finish grad school than I had initially planned.  I contemplated dropping the Nutrition component which would have allowed me to graduate this spring, with the MPH internship pending for the summer.  However, in my undying search for the “why” behind everything related to health and fitness, I decided to stick to the dual masters.  On top of that, my Nutrition advisor recommended that I take my time so that I don’t become too overwhelmed.

Blah.

But she was right.  The first year of grad school was a whirlwind.  I need to take this all in so that I know I’m ready when this milestone is behind me.  Right now many things are up in the air, simply because there are so many options.  And that is a great thing.  I never thought in a million years I’d be contemplating a doctorate but that may very well be the next step.

We’ll see.  For now, it’s time to bury myself in academia once again.

As the second year begins.

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I started grad school.  Granted, during half of this first year, my other foot was still at the junior college completing prerequisites necessary for the second component of my dual masters program. Life during this time was so hectic that I think I successfully blocked it out of my mind.

Once the fog started to lift, I realized I had forgotten important appointments.  It had been 2 years since my kids last visited the dentist; this March will mark 2 years since my last ob/gyn checkup.  I was supposed to get a mammogram sometime as well, but I’m not even sure when.  The icing on the cake occurred while sitting in my Bioethics class and I received a panicked text message from my daughter that she couldn’t try out for the basketball team because her sports physical had expired.

But wait, didn’t we just do that?  They must be wrong.  They must have misplaced the most recent copy.  Or maybe she forgot to turn it in.

Right.

The irony is that one of my degrees is going to be in public health.  I should be on top of preventative health measures for those who are near and dear to me.  Grad school has made me a hopeless flake.   Not to mention more sedentary, with stiff hip flexors from sitting too long along and an annoying shoulder impingement from poor posture while typing endless papers and discussion posts.

While most people see the new year as a new beginning, I tend to view “the year” based on the school term.  Indeed 2015-2016  was great because I started a new chapter in my academic journey, though I wasn’t sure what direction I was going and the sheer amount of thinking rather than merely regurgitating knowledge was an adjustment, though a refreshing one.

I finally found my focus and this is what’s going to carry me through to the end of this leg of the journey.  Hopefully this newfound focus will trickle into the other aspects of my life which seem to run on autopilot, thankfully.

Although this short break between sessions has given me time to evaluate and improve, I have to remember:  No one was sick, injured, or felt deprived, as far I could tell.

We survived, and we’ll just keep going.