Grad School: The Endless Spring

This is a hard post to write because the spring semester doesn’t feel over just yet, even though we are well into summer at this point. This was going to be my longest stretch of classes since going back to school. I knew that right off the bat.

That didn’t make it any less overwhelming, in fact it may have made it more overwhelming.

Rather than give you a full rundown or the last 5, yes, I said 5 instead of the typical 4, I’m just going to give you bullet points

-Not taking a 1 credit class between semesters last year ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve made in my post grad career. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have had a single break in almost 4 years.

-Being Catholic is vastly easier than becoming Catholic.

-The Church is full of technicalities that must be given attention and remembered.

-The Church is full of semantics that don’t make sense but you should still follow them.

-If you can’t find the answer you can find someone who either knows it or can find it.

-Support comes in many forms, sometimes in multiple forms at once.

-Ministry isn’t all peace and smooth roads, learning the more technical side of it is like walking barefoot on broken glass

-No one is right 100% of the time, even professors and/or priests.

-One person’s definition of “simple” is often another’s definition of “impossible.”

-It’s OK to lean on other people.

-Other people will need to lean on you.

-You will be on the verge of a nervous breakdown at any given point, so will someone else, that’s what group emails and texts are for.

-If you send a group email make sure everyone in the “to” field is actually in the class you are referring to, or else you will quite possibly be responsible for someone’s unnecessary nervous breakdown.

-Being on the receiving end of a “no” can be even more freeing than a “yes.”

-There is such a thing as too much communication between people.

-Being available to everyone in your life all of the time is impossible, not to mention impractical, don’t try to achieve it the collateral damage will be permanent.

-Very few people know what it means to really say yes to your vocation.

-Finding humor when and where you can can make your life choices worth it.

The Gift Of GIFs

Graduate school has officially taken over my brain. I can’t formulate my own thoughts without consulting some set of instructions and analyzing them to death before doing anything.

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And even then, nothing makes sense.

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I embark on the assignment anyway praying I’m on the right track furiously texting classmates under the theory that, “if most of us do the same thing, we’re not wrong.”

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I still lose my mind the second someone says something that I consider to be criticism.

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Then I question every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

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And then I swear it isn’t worth it.

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In the end I get up the next morning & do it all again.

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Grad School: The 3nd Fall Semester

I’ve come to realize that I have no idea how engrossed I get in class until I sit down to write about it, without words that can be found in a Catholic encyclopedia.

This semester was up in the air for me up until the first day of classes, at least that’s how I felt about it.

This semester I finished fulfilling my required number of elective credits (I hope). I’d be lying if I didn’t say I still have some apprehension about it. There’s a level of “done but not done” I just haven’t gotten comfortable with.

The semester was fairly light in terms of workload since I was only taking one class, but other than that it was pretty challenging.

It was a small class, which I typically like. However, the make-up made it challenging for me, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. I’ve gotten used to interacting with the same group of people in so many of my classes it was an adjustment just interacting with different people.

That alone made class hard.

You know how they say sarcasm should never be in an email? It’s kind of like that. If people don’t know you well, like at all.

I spend hours choosing the “right” words, and it turns out the “right words” and the “best words” aren’t always the same thing.

I can’t really tell you if I learned anything related to the topic of the course because most of my focus was on effective online communication (or at least trying to be better at it). I’m sure I learned something, the results will come with time, not unlike a lot of other topics I’ve studied in these last few years.

At the beginning of the semester I wish I could’ve taken more credits but now I can look back and see it as a nice break before heading into a heavy workload.

In all honesty, I’m glad things turned out the way they did, especially now that I don’t have to deal with it anymore, because it made me realize that I had become too comfortable in terms of how I conduct myself as a student.

I also read books that I actually enjoyed, a feat that’s hard to accomplish in graduate school.

Now onto the longest stretch of work I’ve ever had to do, and if I’m lucky at the end of that stretch will be the finish line (oh God please let it be the finish line).

Now What?

This is the 3rd time I’m participated in HAWMC. Each year it comes at a less than ideal time and by the end I can’t wait to write the last post. This year is no different. As much as I get out of blogging everyday this time I just need to be able to check this off the list and move onto the next thing.

What is the next thing?

Practically speaking, there’s a paper to write, podcasts to record, and Christmas shopping to finish (which should’ve been finished by now, because I’m one of those people who shops throughout the year to avoid the added stress).

Ideally speaking, I have a project coming soon. Just how soon? It’s at the editor’s but I’ve already seen what may well become the final product. It turns out I’m very bad at providing feedback short of ripping something, anything, to shreds.

Then there’s grad school to finish which includes a capstone that needs writing. I feels like I’m in the middle of a triathlon I couldn’t find the time to train for, after I signed up and paid the entry fee, so I kind of should do it.

All of this pretty much leaves my career up to chance, word of mouth, and pure luck. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to speak and write more in the last year. It just hasn’t happened. I’m trying to see it as a positive, to give me the time to devote to other things without having to decide what to do or overextend myself.

That doesn’t mean that my life as an advocate is going to be put on the back burner. Another degree will add another dimension to my business, to my advocacy work, at least that’s the plan anyway. HAWMC isn’t the end of the line, it’s a stop on a journey to something greater. But like I’ve said already, the month has been long enough. It’s time to move on to the other things I have on the calendar on the way to where I eventually see myself being.

However, I’m available if someone needs me.

I’m participating in WEGO Health’s Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge. If you want to find out more about Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge visit their blog, Facebook, Twitter. You can find more posts by searching #HAWMC.

Grad School: The Third Summer

This summer could have easily been titled “the summer of my discontent,” and school commitments played a big part in that, not just because it takes up a substantial portion of my summer either.

I learned a lot from last summer in terms of class logistics. It’s tempting to load up on courses since they’re readily available. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

One class a day is enough, because there are plenty of ways to fill your day; formation requirements, exploring campus, meeting people behind the avatars, and studying.

As much information you can get your hands on before class starts is good, but somehow it’s never enough. Thankfully it being my 3rd summer I had enough resources to pull together (read: friends) in the same situation so we made it work.

My days basically went like this:
-Breakfast in bed, literally as I didn’t pay for the meal plan this year, so I had some Netf!ix time then too.
-Class
-Lunch
-Library
-Back to my room to finish studying
-Dinner
-Shower
-Bed

For basically 2 weeks straight.

This was the 1st time I’ve had assignments due during the week other than “just” reading. Honestly I hope it’s also the last time, although that’s highly unlikely, because it made things more difficult. It’s hard to truly learn anything when you’re focused on the oral exam at the end of the week.

I’ve never been a fan of oral exams, like most people, they aren’t any easier as an adult.

I had it in my head that last year would be my “summer of suck” but I feel like I had two of them, for different reasons obviously but the feelings were/are the same.

I’ve never spent so much time in a library, ever. In an odd way I’m proud of how I stuck to much of what I had planned. Usually I say one thing and get caught up in the plans of others, however most of us where in the same classes so that had an effect on things.

I did have time to spend one on one time with a few friends, another benefit of not having the meal plan is that you have to get out of your room (and the library). As much as I have enjoyed having a sole focus for a week (in the past) I think my favorite moments from this summer are ones in which I spend time with classmates outside of class.

Many classmates graduated this past spring so they weren’t with us this summer, at least not physically, so I wondered how that would impact my experience this year. Thankfully, well not really, I was kept busy enough that I didn’t think about what was missing this year compared to previous years.

I also relearned what I love about this school and the community. Although I only spend a few weeks a year with people in person it doesn’t feel that way. It just adds to the feeling of community I have every day (even if some days it does mean being underfed, overtired, and stressed out; at least we’re in it together).

Grad School: The 3rd Spring

I thought this semester was going to be easy, instead it was a semester that looked easy on paper and was anything but in reality.

At first I was only taking one class, which isn’t uncommon for pat time distance learners, like myself, but I’ve been fortunate to be able to take at least 2 classes per semester (thank God for 1 & 2 credit courses).

Then all the practical pieces for my practicum came together and that’s where things got interesting.

Even my advisor was shocked, which should’ve been at least one clue.

I must’ve thought my practicum was going to be easy because there were no big benchmarks, like quizzes, tests, or papers. Instead it would be more of a “boots on the ground” class.

In other words, I’d be working with people.

It’s one thing to master concepts in a book but it’s another to put them into practice, or sometimes just attempt to.

Now I’m no stranger to working alongside people but this was semester was a lesson in interpersonal communications for sure.

I have a whole new respect for people who do parish work. I have even more respect for people who find it energizing. I think I would find it incredibly stressful if I worked at 98% of the parishes I’ve heard people talk about.

I appreciate the gifts of being able to work for myself, by myself, when, where, and as much, or as little as I want to, more as well.

I never imagined I’d look forward to learning about the Old Testament either, but that’s just how things worked this semester. I can honestly say that there’s more depth in the Old Testament than I ever thought possible, and the class just scraped the surface of it all.

I will not be changing to the Biblical Studies program with an Old Testament emphasis, just in case you were wondering.

The “easy on paper” semester ended up being the “hardest semester so far” in reality. I won’t lie I almost cried & screamed in delight when I logged in to check my official grades recently, which was probably a good thing because the library was morgue level quiet at the time.

I survived, that was enough for me, to be recognized for the hard work was just icing on the cake.

Now on to finishing with the summer……

Grad School: The 2nd Fall Semester

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was looking forward to this past semester more than most, even if it was just by a little bit more than usual. I’ve completed some sections of my degree program that I never have to take again, unless I want to. Doctrine isn’t one of my strong subjects, for example.

But it’s behind me now, so it’s time to celebrate (or at least take a well overdue nap).

It wasn’t a stress free semester but I seemed to have a better handle on things than last year. A benefit of having more than a year of study under my belt I guess. There weren’t as many late nights as other semesters, but it wasn’t because my time management skills have improved. In fact I think it’s the opposite.

I think this past summer served as a good training ground for quick thinking and juggling multiple deadlines without getting confused, or at least not so confused that I couldn’t find my way out.

This semester hasn’t been without its share of disappointment either. I thought having a few semesters under my belt would mean I would have a greater sense of community with my classmates since we are such a small group. Instead I’m meeting more new people than continuing to build relationships with people I already know something about. It’s not a big deal, but slightly disappointing none the less.

I’ve also been busier this semester, with non-school or work related activities, than before so maybe that had something to do with it. I think Lucille Ball once said, “If you want something done get a busy person to do it,” maybe there’s some truth in that no matter who said it.

I’m also grateful for the small break I gave myself this year. It was nice to have some personal time. It’s amazing how many books I can get read and TV shows I can watch even with slightly limited resources.

I thought it would take me months to get through the backlog I had going on Netfl!x. It took a few weeks, if that.

I feel like this past semester was a turning point of sorts for my studies and for my life in general. Yes, the spirit of transition is alive and well practically every day. It’s not always pleasant to wake up to but it’s always there so I’m taking it in stride, or at least trying my best to.

I’m driving into the next semester (and preparing for the summer, yes already). Not because I’m 100% ready, but because the opportunity is here, right here right now.

Pumping The Breaks

To avoid an accident, particularly in the winter, you’re supposed to pump the breaks. The idea is that you’ll slow down enough that the car will stop.

A long time ago I was watching a TV show when I learned that “pump the breaks” was also a term used in skydiving, and it’s used in the worst possible situation. If your chute doesn’t open or if the lines get tangled, or maybe both, I honestly can’t remember. You’re supposed to “pump the breaks” in the hope that you’re able to land safely, or at the very least, as safely as possible.

I think about that TV episode whenever I feel overwhelmed or if I’m headed toward some kind of less than ideal outcome.

Do I need to pump the breaks? Is it even a possible option?

Soon I’ll be starting my 3rd year of grad school, and the novelty has worn off. I’ve gone from being surprised that I was accepted to back into academia to wondering when I’ll finish (if ever).

I haven’t taken a break in my course work since the 1st day of my 1st class. I’ve taken as many classes as I’ve been able to, until now.

When I sat down to make my course plan in the fall I had intended to take an intensive class between semesters. But it just didn’t feel right for many reasons.

I took it as a sign that it was time to pump the breaks.

To work on projects I had intentions of working on this summer. To enjoy my family and spend time with friends. To take a break. Then I had a relaxing vacation only to arrive home to fight off sickness.

A confirmation of my decision to pump the breaks.

My laptop died a quick, yet anxious, death within hours of my getting it up and running after unpacking.

Yet another confirmation, because there’s no way I’d be able to complete any classwork of any quality on a tablet.

I had 2 separate follow ups with two different specialist about my nagging hip injury. One of which I’ve been putting off for a year, because I didn’t think anything would come of it so why bother. At least that was the plan.

Both appointments were on the same day with doctors in the same department, although different subspecialties, so it was booked as a “complex appointment.” Although this may not seem like a positive development it’s been something I’ve been trying to organize for years. It’s much nicer to have consulting doctors down the hall from each other or a phone call away rather than waiting for notes to be transcribed or emails to be answered.

Even though there was a level of excitement about finally having the luxury of a complex appointment I was uneasy, emotional, and in a bad funk on the drive up.

Another sign that I needed to pump the breaks now rather than later, when it probably would’ve been too late.

Good news is one doctor has bowed out of consulting on my case since it’s not his area of expertise. However I thoroughly questioned him on why, potential differences, and when if ever he would come back into the picture. I’m not happy that he doesn’t have an answer but it is nice to have one less opinion to take into account.

Not so great news is I’m still in a trial and error phase with potential treatments. However I appreciate her honesty (not to mention her ability to see though my vague answers to her questions).

The timeline for my movement and exercise restrictions was increased. Although I negotiated that down to a shorter period, for my own physical as well as mental state. I think the fact that I’m more inclined to lower impact sports helps. The hope is that more rest will yield more and/or longer lasting benefits.

Even people who have no idea what my day to day life is like are telling me to pump the breaks.

So here I sit fighting off germs, writing away on a tablet while on a steady plan of ice and pain killers, and trying not to feel so restricted.

One Word: 2016

This is my 4rd year choosing one word for the year. Why one word? It’s easier than keeping a list of resolutions & failing to keep them (and then feeling like crap because you didn’t keep them). Last year I had a hard time picking my word (Providence). This year my word came to me early, as in 6 months ago, early.

I learned a lot my 1st summer of grad school and I made a lot of friends. Most of them were further along in the program than I was so I knew that there would come a point, or rather summer, when they weren’t going to be around for wine & cheese nights anymore.

What I didn’t realize was just how soon that was going to be.

That same summer one of the 1st friends I made joked that she was appointing me the new social director. A plan that promptly flew out of the window when word got out (from me) that I would be arriving after everyone else; also there was already at least one wine and cheese night in the books before my arrival was announced.

That’ll show anyone and everyone what happens when I’m appointed to anything (and never do it again).

After everyone left I had the chance to explore campus. Alone.

I took the time to visit the places people had told me about but had no need to visit. I took pictures of all the things

That’s when I found my word and it was only solidified by the last week of on-campus course work, because when people start asking you the same questions you asked other people when you first showed up it’s pretty clear you’ve taken on a new role in your life, whether you want to or not.

Therefore my word for 2016 is:

Transition

I think this year will be easier to tackle if I just call it what it is from the get go, rather than being in denial for an unspecified period of time.

I’ve also been putting things off the irony is, not all of them are hard things, just things I haven’t gotten around to. I’ve been “too busy” among other things. Really I’m just being non-committal about a lot of it. That’s what happens when I approach a transition I’m not ready for, I flop around and make up reasons why I can’t do something right now.

I get excited and look forward to being able to do something, like reaching a personal goal, but as soon as I’ve reached it, or sometimes I just had to come close, I tend to back away. It’s almost like I became so focused on reaching that one goal that creating a new goal and moving on from the achieved goal creates a greater fear than never being able to reach a goal in itself.

This will be my year of transition, and as exciting as it is it’s just as daunting.

Is there anything you do to help yourself deal with or go through transitions?

When Normal Is Nice

If you asked me 6 months ago if I thought I’d want to be in a celebratory mood when December came around I would’ve had some kind of major emotional response, and it wouldn’t have been pretty.

The last year, particularly the last 6 months have been almost unreal. Aside from my (un)usual course load and near insane travel plans there has been a lot of navigating uncharted territory, and little of it was pleasant, or good.

I tried burying myself in work and school but it didn’t always work. There were sleepless nights, lots of questions, and even more tears.

One of the more notable things being sitting next to someone’s hospital bed rather than being the one in the hospital bed, normal people would consider that a good thing but coming from the point of view of a professional patient it was uncomfortable.

I was in uncharted territory.

I’m much more comfortable being the one in the bed than next to the bed. I think family, friends, and medical professionals would prefer it that way too. I’m pretty much a pain in the ass when I’m the patient but I’m insufferable when I’m the “family support” (and the fact that I can recognize that should tell you something).

I’ve had those uncomfortable conversations that people like to avoid, all over again, because if I’m ever back to being the one in the hospital bed. I want everyone within a 20 mile radius of my room to know what my wishes are, right down to how I’d like to be dressed, in the event I cannot speak for myself.

Then things changed, again.

What started as relief turned into a whole other series of questions, in the end I had to recognize that this was “the new normal” that people talk about so often; another uncharted territory that required exploring, and then accepting.

I thought I knew where I stood on a multitude of issues, but I was forced to reexamine my motives and change my position on more than a few things.

For example, I never understood how people could say that a loved one was “still there” after suffering a stroke or being diagnosed with dementia. Now, I’ve read My Stroke of Insight and many other books on neuroscience. Intellectually I understand that someone isn’t completely gone but I couldn’t grasp it on any other level, until I encountered it up close and personal.

And it’s amazing to witness (although, admittedly, not always easy).

Like so many others I’ve focused on the quality of my life over the quantity of my life (and then proceeded to project my thoughts onto others silently as well as out loud). It’s not so black and white. There’s a whole lot of grey in the in between that needs to be acknowledged, questioned, processed, and then accepted.

Allowing yourself to able to live in a normal, even if it is a “new normal” is nice, if you let it.