How to Apply To PhD Programs When You Have OCD

I realized I want to be a researcher years ago. Unsurprisingly, on the day of my college graduation, my good friends joked that I’d probably end up marrying my PhD. I protested adamantly! As time would tell, my lack of “real world” experience and my good friend “impostor syndrome” would keep me from pursuing my ambitions to apply to PhD programs. Until now.

That’s to say, I spent the better part of $5000 and the last 6-months entrenched in the process of applying to doctoral programs. Contrary to common perception, good grades and recommendation letters aren’t the top secrets to getting accepted to PhD programs. I can assure you, the process is much more complicated than that! It involves networking, self-awareness, prerequisite courses, tests, patience, and applications! If you can do all that and live to tell about it, you’re ready!

I’ve heard that the hardest part of a PhD program is getting in. While I cannot attest to this fact because I’ve yet to be accepted or start a program, I can concur that this process was grueling, exhausting, and anxiety provoking. For me, this entire process was exacerbated because I have OCD. I didn’t wake up one day and just simply know how to apply to PhD programs and even though I had a basic roadmap and some scraps of details from friends and colleagues, my anxiety made it difficult for me to be in this process.


Here’s how to apply to PhD programs when you have OCD:

Related, Relevant, Program-specific Research

First, read EVERYTHING you can about ALL the possible programs. Record the data meticulously in a spreadsheet with several columns for all the possible variables and information that may be relevant such as funding and research opportunities, potential advisors, and application requirements. I mean it, scour the program websites for the requirements, faculty interests, and the specific language they use to describe their program. Generally, this type of scrupulous research is encouraged; however, if you have OCD I recommend rereading the sites an unnecessary amount of times to make sure you didn’t miss anything crucial to the admissions process – be absolutely sure they don’t require a writing sample!

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As you’re reading consult your ever-present, always rational friend “impostor syndrome” at regular intervals. It’s their job to talk you in and out of this decision to apply. Their influence will have a pendulum effect. If you wait long enough or engage in a stimulating conversation where someone asks incredibly thoughtful questions about your research interests and aspirations your motivation will swing back the other way. Make sure to repeat this process dozens of times and continually refine your “final list” up until the week before you apply to programs.

Recommendations

When you’re pretty sure that you’re applying to at least one school, start to stress about asking for letters of recommendations. Be sure to wonder if you’re inconveniencing your mentors/professors by asking them to advocate on your behalf and on behalf of your qualifications. If they say yes, be sure to wonder, a lot, about if they actually think you’re qualified and should pursue doctoral studies or if they’re just saying yes to humor you. Recommendation letters are crucial to your applications! By this I mean, scrutinize about whom you ask to write recommendations for which programs. If you know folks who are alumni of the program, snag them! Make sure to vary the people who are writing you recommendations so you have the best representation of institutions and experience. Play the game wisely! And, it absolutely is a game!

As the deadline approaches carefully finesse reminder emails as specific intervals (2 weeks, 1 week, 1 day, etc.) that you’re too afraid to send because you don’t want to badger them or be a burden. Reread, duh, the reminder emails several times for typos and ways to seem less annoying and needy. Then, hastily press send when you’re “ready” so it’s just over and done with. After you’ve sent the emails, reread them in the “sent” folder even though you know there’s nothing you can do about any typos or alternative ways to phrase certain sentences since it has already been sent.

Later in the process, panic, but try to play it cool, when you don’t hear anything from them after these several reminder emails and points of contact. Wonder only irrational things about why they still haven’t submitted your letters at 10 PM THE DAY THEY’RE DUE. It’s probably best if you wonder if they’re purposely holding out on submitting them to seriously screw with you and try to cause you major anxiety. Also consider that they’re doing you a favor by submitting them late and this is their way of gently bringing you down from your delusion that you deserve to be in a PhD program. You should convince yourself that their subtle sabotage is actually doing you a huge favor and sparing you the humiliation of rejection from these programs when the admissions committees realize you’re not qualified. Don’t forget to worry if something seriously bad happened to them that made them unable to submit your letters on time. Since you’re definitely not high up on their priority list, if something serious happened you would probably never find out. Subsequently, you should worry about how you’ll explain your request for an extension to the programs if you need to find someone else to write you a letter because of such an emergency or dire situation.  Panic in this circular and entirely irrational way until they submit them ON TIME. Then, thank them profusely and never, ever mention that their near lateness caused you an absurd amount of unnecessary anxiety.

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Networking

As your list of schools to which you are planning to apply grows (or narrows), start playing the networking game. It goes something like this, “Hey [professor you know] who do you/we know at [name of school] that you could put me in touch with?” If they know anyone ask for a virtual introduction and support to set up a meeting.  You can also muster up the confidence to send some cold-emails and try not to fret about their severely delayed responses. It probably means they’re convinced, accurately so, that they shouldn’t waste their time talking to you. If they reply, schedule a meeting anyway.

Applying to PhD programs is way more about who you know not what you know. Make sure that at least one (okay maybe four) faculty members in the program/department know your name and that you’re interested in applying. Before each informational interview, obsess over your resume formatting (even if the PDF file hasn’t been modified) and qualifications for at least three hours. Be sure to also obsess over the questions you’re going to ask about the program (even if you already have a list of questions with the ones you want to prioritize marked by *). Again, consult “impostor syndrome” to remind yourself that you need to convince them, and eventually an entire admissions committee, that you’re worth their time and investment. Psych yourself out entirely until just before your call/meeting. Then, turn the positive self-talk on hyper drive to attempt to forcefully convince yourself of your credibility and eligibility before you start the call. Attempt to be cool, calm, and collected and ignore the secondary conversation that’s going on in the back of your mind. You’ll have time to ruminate on what/how/why you said whatever you said for hours later. So, set aside several hours of time that you’re supposed to be very productive to ruminate and convince yourself the informational, networking meeting went well (or probably didn’t). You’ll need at least four hours.

Personal Statement

In the meantime, expect to write at least 25 drafts (if you include every draft you changed a single punctuation mark) of your personal statement. Forget about calling it a “statement of purpose”. You know you have no “purpose” pursuing a PhD Send it to everyone you know, trust, or even just sort of like to request their feedback. Because you don’t trust yourself or your writing qualifications (even though you’re a paid freelance writer at several reputable sites), attempt to incorporate everyone’s feedback in some way. Do this because you know their intuition is better than yours. Make sure to doubt yourself during the entire process. If you forget to doubt yourself, check back in with “impostor syndrome” to see if they think you’ve convinced anyone of your credibility or qualifications yet. Resolve to believe that you probably never will.

As you get closer toward the deadline, expect to be useless for all tasks except rereading your personal statement. Expect to read it on a word doc, then save it as a PDF, find a single error, go back to the word doc to correct the mistake, resave as a PDF, and start rereading from the beginning. Do this anywhere from once an hour to seven hours straight. You can try setting limits on the amount of time you can spend or the number of times you can read it aloud or resave as a PDF, but just know you won’t be done until you can recite your statement verbatim. Depending on the number of programs you’re applying to, this process can be very rigorous, exhausting, and time-consuming. Your compulsions will absolutely get the best of you and even if you’re aware it’s happening, you won’t be able to stop.

“The Portal”

Check “the portal” (i.e., the online platform where you submit your application) constantly. Make sure that your submissions on “the portal” align with your progress checking on the aforementioned spreadsheet and myriad of lists you’ve generated to keep you on track. When you’re in the application process, check that your “required uploads” are still uploaded and legible every time you log in. Read and reread your address and name each time upon logging in until the letters are blurry and you have to articulate each letter individually to be sure you spelled “Gmail” correctly. Do this from the beginning, every single time you log in. Once you’ve “submitted” (CONGRATS!) constantly check that everything is “complete”. Review that all your uploads are there in “the portal” and everything that’s required was submitted. For a few days after, be sure to keep checking that the status still says “submitted”. You know there won’t be any decision overnight, but this is to be sure you actually applied and didn’t skip that critical final step by accident.

Oh! Here’s the most important thing of all!

Talk about your applications, hopes, and dreams incessantly. I mean it – nonstop! If it’s the only thing you can think about, make sure everyone in your life knows that. Of course, be sure to follow up your statements about your aspirations with an ample dose of self-deprecating talk. It’s definitely useful to discredit yourself and all the things you shared about the process with something like, “but I probably won’t get in.” That way you don’t seem too pretentious or confident. Confidence isn’t a good look. Make sure to worry, often, about if you seem too confident. If you do, consult “impostor syndrome”.

Got it? Good!

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So, you’ve applied and you’ve made it look easy to everyone around you! Congrats! You fooled them again. Everyone thought you totally had this under control even though your mind felt like a frenzied, chaotic place and you felt like you were going to implode.  Then you realize, this grueling process is only the beginning! You realize you’re willingly signing up for 4+ years to this internal struggle. You’re exhausted, but also feeling energized by all the possibilities (and probably anxiety)!


In all seriousness, this was an incredibly challenging process for me because of my OCD. I can poke fun, and in hindsight, some of this is really quite quirky and laughable, but it was also very difficult and overwhelming.  The good news is, my applications have been submitted! Now, I wait…

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What’s Cooking?

“What’s cooking?” Get it? It’s a pun!

As a general rule, I don’t cook. I don’t cook unless I’m preparing a meal for someone or someone else is cooking and I’m watching (usually drinking wine!). In fact, me cooking is such an anomaly that when I do cook, my roommates are genuinely surprised.

However, I recently had a breakthrough! I realized that my go-to, everyday foods (read: safe foods) are all cold (i.e., things I don’t have to “cook”). Well, coffee is hot, but that’s an exception. If I could have it my way, I’d eat the same, cold food every day. I don’t like to think about food and I don’t like to deviate from my routine! I’m working on changing that.

My breakthrough was timely because it’s getting cold out and warm food is (apparently) satisfying and seasonally relevant! In fact, in Melissa A. Fabello‘s recent Beauty School newsletter, she reminded us that in the winter our bodies crave heavier, warmer, and calorie dense foods. All this is great, but what did that mean for me?

This week, I set a nutrition goal that was way out of my comfort zone. I set a goal to have chili as a planned dinner meal to rotate in with my usual tuna wrap and veggies.

Easy right? Wrong!

Before I could make chili, there were several things that needed to happen. Primarily, I needed to find a recipe and gather the ingredients. I decided that Using a Crock-Pot seemed like a good idea because once the ingredients are in the slow cooker there’s not much maintenance. I did a Google search for “easy vegetarian Crock-Pot chili” and after a bit of scouring through recipes, I found a recipe that seemed possible for me.

chili recip

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How Do You Measure a Year?

Content Warning: disordered eating, excessive exercise, and self-harm


I’ve been working on this post since December 30, 2016. It’s time to share this aspect of my story even if it’s making me shake as I write. There will be more time to unpack and reorganize my thoughts later. The beauty is in the imperfections. The beauty is in naming my lived experience even if I’m scared. Thank you for reading.


2016 was a remarkable year – literally.

As I was reflecting, I realized that for someone who isn’t very good at math, I did a whole lot of mental gymnastics and complex calculations in 2016. I measured nearly everything – even when I didn’t realize I was doing it.

So, in that spirit, to reflect on 2016, I’m asking, “how do you measure a year?

Really though, what’s going to make a difference when you look back? What matters for days, weeks, months later? What’s memorable enough? What’s quantifiable? What’s not quantifiable that’s still important?

I could measure 2016 by the number of Tweets I posted, the number of good things that happened, the number of bad things that happened, the number of times I didn’t feel guilty about the food I was eating, the number of amazing conversations I had, the number of trips to the ER, the number of friends I lost, the number of friends I gained, the number of pounds I lost, the number of miles I ran, the number of times I dropped everything because someone needed me, the number of dollars I spent on therapy, the number of hours I spent in therapy, the number of articles I wrote, the number of “accomplishments” I earned, the number of days I over-scheduled to occupy my mind for every single waking minute, the number of fights I had, the number of moments I actually felt present, the list could go on, and on, and on, and on.

The truth is, it’s a miracle I made it through this year, and I’m not sure how I did it. I was crazed and compulsive, and my brain NEVER shut off! I mean it. I woke up exhausted from how many ideas and conversations my brain entertained while I was “sleeping”.

Control

In 2016 I was out of control; even though the one thing I felt like I could count on was control.

Control for me is the ultimate goal. Perhaps it’s because I can recall so many times when I didn’t get to be in control of my life [read: abuse & chronic pain – although I can’t get into that right now]. I always fight my environment and circumstances to feel in control; it’s comforting, reliable, and trustworthy – except not really. It’s actually so deceptive. It’s a made up, abstract concept. Control reveals it’s malicious self when I’m not looking. When I feel like everything is finally manageable, the perception of control laughs in my face, and shows me how wrong I actually am [read: every excuse I ever had about compulsive exercise and not being hungry – more on that soon]. Control is a falsity. It’s a mirage. And, since I’m compulsive I literally get trapped in a vicious cycle of catching and chasing control. Striving for control manifested in a lot of ways for me in 2016. Since as early as I can recall needing control, I can identify how almost all of my attempts to ascertain control were various forms of self-harm.  Most recently, it looks like excessive exercise and compensatory, disordered eating behaviors. Craving control isn’t glamorous, and any threat to that poses a likelihood for a compulsion to kick in – a false sense of manufactured control.

Running

I started measuring 2016 by counting calories and miles – obsessively [Thank you Under Armour You Vs Year Challenge] . I ended the year the same way. I ended 2016 weighing myself twice a day, working out 6 days a week, eating one full meal a day, and purging when I felt too full or overwhelmed. I spent 2016 calculating how many miles I’d need to track to erase every indulgence, and every slip of self-control. I ended 2016 feeling “okay” if I ate the same thing every day, and being both proud and fearful every time I lost more weight. It was never about weight, size, or body image; it was always about control. I ended 2016 convinced that these behaviors were typical and not disordered.

In 2016 my identity was contingent on my accomplishments; my identity was consumed by how far I could push myself [read: attempting to run a half marathon while being malnourished and completing an intensive one year Master’s degree while working four jobs]. I tracked my the miles I ran (see below), and if you ask me I can tell you how my mileage totals correlates directly with the chaos in my life.  When I felt most out of control, I ran more. It was so simple.

capture

Side note: Melissa A. Fabello suggest it’s bests to “Never, Ever  Use Numbers” when talking about fitness on social media. While I tend to agree and realize it can be triggering, I’m using numbers right now. I’m using numbers to illustrate and own my experience. I’m using numbers as literal data to tell my story.

I once described my feelings about running like this,

 “pounding the pavement, counting each step, each throbbing step. Endure, push through, don’t stop. Determination.  Thud, pound, pound, breath, keep going, don’t stop, sigh, sigh…”

I’ve also described running like this,

“I started running because it was the most brutal, ruthless, clearest way, aside from being a competitive gymnast, I could think of to tell my chronic pain that it isn’t in charge. Running is how I’m reclaiming my body. When I’m running I’m in charge. I’m strong, powerful, and triumphant.

I channeled my mileage into training for two half marathons. The first race, I ended up in the hospital. I said I didn’t care, but I cared a lot! I was convinced I could push through anything but, my body had a different reality. If I was healthier, stronger, and had better intentions, I would have finished.There was a disconnect between my mind and my body. [Side note: There still is.]

So, the second time I trained for a half marathon, I trained smarter. I decided to think about food as fuel. The second time, I did finish! That was an accomplishment in 2016! In 2016 I  ran more than 1000K! I ran nearly the distance of 24 marathons, and with each crazed, obsessive step I gained clarity, pain, agony, energy, and strength – depending on the day.

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At the finish line of the Cambridge Half Marathon  – 11/13/2016

I ended 2016 both in denial and with a plan to tackle these perfectionist driven behaviors, and dangerous habits. I ended 2016 with a plan to be stronger – both physically and mentally.

I should mention here that living with OCD and overcoming compulsions or obsessions is not a linear process. I’ve had several bouts of compulsions in my life, and even if I’ve resolved one, it’s likely another will reveal itself or I’ll relapse – this is super context dependent (I learned this in 2016). Acknowledging this is a really important step.

Education

In 2016 I graduated with my Master’s degree. Now I have two degrees – count that! I am among the nearly 9-12% (depending on the source) of people in the U.S. who hold an advanced degree. That’s pretty cool.

I also got a job! I love my job, and I love getting to say that I’m a researcher! My team is an amazing group of nerdy, collaborative, intelligent people. Each day my strengths are recognized. I’m trusted and respected. Our work is important. I feel productive and valuable. I feel empowered and supported. I’m appropriately challenged, and I’m always learning new skills. I feel happy at my job every day (even when it’s stressful)- that’s a relief. I am so lucky!

Many people have asked me if I think that graduate school was worth it especially because I love my job and learned so much, and most often my response is overpowered by  my own ambivalence. Usually I don’t even want to be entertaining such a question. However, if I’m being honest, I hated graduate school. I have been working through a lot of issues such as complex traumaimpostor syndrome, and anxiety because of it. I do not think that it was worth it. Merely surviving should never be the objective. Although, it’s always an accomplishment. As much as I try to convince myself it wasn’t “that bad” the more I listen to my friends and recall several of the worst nights of my life it’s tough to deny how severe it was. I wouldn’t say that struggling for a year, being suicidal at times, and acquiring an eating disorder as a result of my unrelenting OCD was worth it no matter how amazing my job is now. In 2016, I learned how academia doesn’t take mental health and self-care seriously, and that it’s too easy to pretend you’re “fine” even when you’re struggling immensely.

Writing

In 2016, I also found and joined feminist writing spaces. In first publication on Ravishly.com I came out as asexual. I recognized my values and my identities were reflected in the topics other people were writing about.  These writers and activists exemplified for me how to elevate and insert my voice into important conversations. My queerness is not the most prominent aspect of my identity, but being queer and owning it afforded me both a sense of connection and exclusion. The connectedness was electrifying. The exclusion made me feel enraged and small. And so, I wrote!

I was enamored with the connection and the energy! I became addicted to saying things, and having them matter to someone. I wanted to be seen, and to belong. I wanted people to recognize my identities, relate to me, and engage with me! My feminism burst out of me once I gained knowledge and started writing, and allowed myself the privilege of being recognized for and confident about who I am, and how my life works. In 2016, I became a writer, and found my voice – which I still think is really cool!

Awareness, Acceptance, and Action – Next Steps

I measured 2016 in events, logistics, and numbers. I allowed my emotions to be in charge when they made sense and they were manageable. Otherwise I silenced them. I convinced myself most feelings were too big, and too intrusive. I learned to retreat instead of express myself. In 2016 I mostly felt complacent – which felt good. Conversely, I often felt out-of-control happy, out-of-control sad, out-of-control angry… and those feelings didn’t feel good. I learned that numbness can be an everyday, acceptable feeling, and that being numb can carry you for a really long time.

I’m still doing the work to recognize, respond to, and feel – literally – what emotions feel like. Sometimes that means getting on a soap box ranting about how frustrated I feel when women at my office complain about the actual, never-ending supply of candy, and the perpetual body shaming and food shaming. Sometimes that means saying when someone hurts me, and calling them out even if it’s uncomfortable. And sometimes that means, recognizing when I’m happy, and sharing that joy with others!

The point is, once I started allowing myself to feel, I allowed my opinions to be valid, and spent time cultivating self-awareness – including learning about myself and my opinions about feminism. I realized there were so many injustices that made me absolutely livid inside, and I charged toward advocating for justice and equity. I also gained some personal insight into what emotions mean for me – which is definitely a work in progress.

I rounded out 2016 by signing a lease for an apartment in Cambridge, MA. I found a wonderful, accepting community of social justice minded, Jewish, young professionals to share Shabbat with. I am in love with the intellectual capital and the culture of Cambridge. I’ve enjoyed sharing the camaraderie of running in this compact city! When I’m feeling really good, I’ll even admit there are a lot of incredible restaurants to try too! I’m excited for the opportunity to thrive in a new, invigorating space.

I could measure 2016 SO many ways. I did measure 2016 SO many ways. Now, in hindsight, I’m finding it most helpful and fulfilling to measure 2016 by recognizing all the opportunities for growth and all the potential for the coming years. I’m happy. Really. I’ve got a good thing going for me right now, and I have an incredible amount of hard, hard work ahead of me.

2017 will be about embracing being simultaneously a masterpiece and a work in progress! I’m ready!


If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

If you struggle with self-harm, the you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

The Number Stares Back

I used to keep the scale in the closet.

Inspirational post keep reminding me that I am more than the number staring back.

I ask, more what?

Inspirational posts are reiterating their messages of body positivity and healthfulness.

The number stares back.

 

I used to keep the scale in the closet.

Feminist blogs keep reminding me that my body is for me.

I question, how can I be more confident?

Feminists blogs are shouting the atrocities of body policing and fat shaming.

The number stares back.

 

I used to keep the scale in the closet.

OCD tendencies keep reminding me that control and discipline are at risk.

I think, what else can I control?

OCD tendencies are commanding their claim for necessity with the sensational appeal of order and calm.

The number stares back.

 

I used to keep the scale in the closet.

Today, my white scale, fixed, centered on the cold, wooden floor, keeps reminding me of the dissonance I’m experiencing around self-destruction and self-worth.

I demand of myself, what have I done?

My scale is engulfing me when it screams, “it will never be enough”!

The number stares back.

Wonderful Terrors

I have writer’s block. I can’t find the words or space or time to write about what I want. I’ve been journaling though because despite the craziness of finals and grad school, I can’t shut my mind off even if I try. What follows is an attempt to relieve and relinquish the swarming thoughts in my mind and reconcile some of the words I’ve been scribbling down over the past two weeks.


 

It feels like my words are shouting what I can’t say aloud:

I want to stop!

I want to feel less crazed.

I want to feel like everything is not urgent.

I want to be okay with doing nothing.

When will it/I be/do enough?

Is this sustainable?

WHY!?

Sometimes people ask me what would happen if I just stopped (stopped rereading/repeating, stopped planning and attempting to ward of unpredictability, stopped surrendering to my watch). Usually, they ask, “what’s the worst that would happen?”  I can’t answer them. I wouldn’t know. I don’t want to know. Instead, I prefer to go through the motions. 

For me, there’s solace in each predictable, planned moment of my day. Knowing each minute will be attended to assuages any concern that my thoughts will distract me.  It’s true that in life there are no counterfactuals but, that hasn’t stopped me from trying to anticipate each situation (and to some extent the various outcomes). It makes things easier to manage.  I need order, structure, and routines. That’s safe. That’s comfortable. It’s incredibly easy for me to rationalize and justify many of these behaviors because I crave that control.

An important, and incredibly influential, role model once said to me, “What wonderful terrors await you 😀 hehe!”. In response to her I said, “So, basically what I derived is that it’s okay to be scared. I hope that this fear will actually fuel me to make the most of this opportunity rather than cripple me. ” I hoped that the concoction of terror, excitement, opportunity, and the unknown that I was about to swallow down by choosing (and eventually coming to) this program would propel me and ignite something in me. 

I wish that I could give in to this terrifying and exciting time but instead I find myself consistently searching for a way out. Instead of embracing this fear I find myself tirelessly attempting to ascertain control wherever I can in an environment that too often feels unsupportive and makes me feel small (apparently that’s how you know you’re doing grad school “right”). So I need to fill my time. I need to over commit. I’ve written about this before but, it’s still relevant. I know it’s still relevant because I can confidently say to myself and others I’ve been “fine” for the past few weeks. But that’s not honest. 

Fine means I haven’t let myself experience any of what’s been challenging me. Fine means I’ve successfully occupied my mind with distractions. Fine means I’ve exerted sufficient effort trying to keep up appearances and be “productive”. Fine means I’m operating more like a machine than a person; I’m operating with the same level of energy and proficiency each day. The never satisfied need (more honestly the compulsion) to make to-do lists and accomplish everything (regardless of the consequences for my body or my mind) is keeping me grounded. But, it’s keeping me grounded. I cannot thrive. In the midst of crossing off each item and feigning fine I’m losing myself by simply, compulsively, chronically going through the motions just to make it through the day, week, month, year, etc. I think I’m trying to say, as soothing as this is, I’m not letting myself encounter any “wonderful terrors”.

Owning This: Talking Tough Stuff

Finally posting this after days of allowing my words to linger in “drafts”. I saw these two quotes as I was unwinding from an incredibly long, anxiety filled day. This just feels right.


“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” – Brene Brown


I took a break this week from writing because life got “too real”, and really hard, for a while and I didn’t have words to put to what I was feeling. I still quite don’t but I want to try.

Right now I feel lonely. I feel lonely all the time. I feel lonely even when I’m surrounded by people that I love and care about and I know they care about me too. I’ve been trying to stay busy and to surround myself with friends and fun but, even when I’m seeming like I’m having fun, this miserable mindset winds up creeping to the forefront. And then abruptly, nearly the instant I’m alone, it’s like as quickly as my fingers can snap, I feel defeated, isolated, disengaged. My mind goes into a compete frenzy and things start moving so quickly it feels like I can’t keep up. It’s like children are bouncing a ball on a playground (inside my mind) and the instant my eyes track the ball it bounces someplace else. That’s what overwhelmed feels like to me. And then like an elevator dropping flights too quickly, I hit rock bottom. That feels quiet and cold.

I’ve been noticing there’s a deep and loud sense of “wanting” that I can’t shake. And, I find myself continually “missing” something. It feels like I’ll never it get back. In a way, I’m grieving that type of loss. I’ve lost the spaces where I felt supported, confident, and like I had a purpose. I feel like I’ve lost control and I’m losing sight of myself over and over again. I get this feeling multiple times a day. And every glimpse of normalcy that I encounter quickly diminishes and is replaced by intense, immobilizing sadness and isolation. I can’t recognize myself anymore and, in moments where I feel like I’ve “found me” I too quickly remind myself that this won’t last long. Usually this feeling lasts just about as long as it takes to take a deep, satisfying breath and realize that for a moment I can breathe again. That realization makes even a glimpse seem like I’m watching someone else’s life from the sidelines. I miss my support networks – those things gave me more than I ever realized at the time. Those things kept me going.

And these days it’s more about “keeping up appearances” or “putting on a show” than anything else because I just can’t escape my own head. I can’t ignore what I’m experiencing. This feeling is so absolutely pervasive, so persistent. Now that I’ve given just the smallest amount of attention to and named these feelings I’m experiencing major flooding. For example, I’ll be reading for school and suddenly find myself just completely exhausted because I’m not even reading I’m just staring blankly at the page, flipping mindlessly. Slowly my pace will crawl to a halt. That’s when I realize I feel so bad I can’t even focus on my work. In those moments, I’m not even focusing on how badly I feel, I’m simply numb. My mind is blank and dark.

In an intentional effort to ignore these feelings and seek control I’m justifying and encouraging myself to add more obligations, responsibilities, and commitments or to harness control in any aspect of my life I can. Then I grip tightly so I don’t lose that thing too. I’m slowly shutting myself down completely. It’s no wonder I haven’t been able to write anything recently. I spend my days feeling so small and then I perpetuate this feeling, let it sink in, by minimizing my these negative feelings, telling myself  “it’s not that bad”, expecting to just “tough it out”, and not attending to the experience I’m having.

I am taking this moment to admit that this is real and it is really hard. I’m taking this moment to own this. I am struggling.

Getting Back on Track

Earlier this week, my friend asked me “how are you?”. Her question wasn’t surprising or out of the ordinary but it got me thinking. In typical fashion I answered “I’m fine. Busy but it’s all good” and then the conversation moved on. I realized that one of the reasons I was “good” was because I hadn’t given any time to myself in the past week. Even running this week was an obligation not an escape. I was “good” because in the midst of midterm assignments and more reading than I could imagine I so easily reverted to a space of neglect for myself and my needs. It’s easy for me to get caught up in my work and ignore myself. A lot of the time, I do this intentionally.

I noticed my normal state of complacency and “fine” (synonymous with good) could easily be attributed to my just going through the motions, busy, chaotic, “doing too much” life and I wasn’t respecting myself in the process. For example, this whole week I was sick and I ran more miles than the week before and went to the gym twice. While I was so busy it didn’t feel overwhelming; it felt good and really comfortable. I could stumble along appearing to be reluctantly doing my obscene amounts of work while truthfully appreciating the mountain of reading for the excuse it allowed me. I made a choice to put my energy into anything but myself. I make that choice often. So the lamenting, appearing to be procrastinating, the #gradschoolprobs tweets, they were all a front because I seriously was enjoying the machine-like week I was having. Not because I liked all the work but because for a week, I didn’t have space to feel anxious, to overthink, to consider all the alternatives and interpretations.

I turned the “me” part of my brain off and then I could breathe again. 

Then I remembered, I also hadn’t written in my journal, talked to friends, blogged, posted on Instagram (as much), or had coffee with friends during this time. This project is about accountability and taking those jumps into the unknown and seeing what happens. So now, I’ll get back on track!

Here’s what I’m going to try to do differently this week:

  1. Take breaks! This picture is taped to my desk. Too often I glance at it quickly or cover it with books while I’m doing work. So, instead of staring a the page and then going back to work I’m going to pick an activity and do it.
  2. Make realistic to-do lists. My to-do list never has anything for me on it. It’s pages long and always has upwards of 10 things that need to happen. Things often feel urgent for me and so, if it’s on the list it’s getting done and the idea of stopping before it gets done isn’t an idea I readily entertain. So, I’m going to break up my master to-do list into bite sized chunks. I’m going to practice prioritizing and to make it easier, I’ll frame it as a different type of micro-managing of my time.
  3. Run only if I want to. This summer I got into the various running challenges on Map My Run. At first it was fun and motivating but I’m not the kind of person who settles for less when I know I can do more so this became less of a fun challenge and more of a necessity (do I need to remind readers I have OCD?). So now, I’m struggling to maintain my weekly mileage and something that once made me feel victorious and strong now feels more like an obligation and just another thing I need to do each day. I want to enjoy running again and I don’t want to feel like a chore or something I can check off just to say that I did it. It’s easy for me to get caught up in how much I did and continue to push myself. I don’t settle for less than I know I’m capable of. I need to consider what I may be missing or losing by cultivating this mindset for running and for my other responsibilities.

Like I said, it’s easy for me to ignore myself. I’m often stranger to myself. When people ask me what I want to do with my life, I typically start with explaining what I’ve done since I don‘t have an answer for them. My measure of myself cannot be contingent on the compilation of what others perceive to be my successes. I need to find space to get to know who I am outside of the quantifiable, resume worthy aspects. I didn’t do that this week but, next week is another chance to do something different and in the meantime I’ll appreciate the opportunity to learn from my missteps and to practice better intentionality moving forward.