Archive for April, 2012

Poked and prodded

Today I was poked and prodded at two different medical exams. First, I had my routine eye exam this morning. My vision is pretty horrendous, a la Mr. Magoo. Part of it is just plain near-sightedness, but I also have astigmatism thrown in there, just to keep things interesting. If it weren’t for advanced plastic technology I would be wearing coke bottle lenses and could barely keep my head up. Thank you, polycarbonates.

I got my first pair of glasses in fourth grade. Evidently my eyes had been bad for quite a while without anybody really knowing, but my parents finally realized how much I was squinting to read and how close I would sit to the TV and finally took me to the eye doctor. When I got my glasses, it was as if a whole new world opened up. I still remember remarking, “I can see every leaf on the trees and every blade of grass!” It was, indeed, quite remarkable to me at that age.

Since then, my eyes have gotten a little worse, but they really don’t change too much from year to year now. I’m also thankful that I don’t exhibit any other eye problem, and hopefully I’ll maintain healthy vision for many years. Writing my thesis this semester really caused me some eye strain a few times, but between eye drops for dryness, regular rest breaks, and turning my screen brightness down, I improved that issue. Now I’m feeling much better as I don’t have to concentrate on a computer screen as attentively.

Evidently I was chatting it up too much with the eye doctor’s assistant, and she only put dilating drops in one eye and forgot the other. The eye doctor was a bit perplexed about why one pupil was so much bigger than the other! Since I had already gotten another wide-field retina screening with a big, fancy machine and everything was looking fine, she said she wouldn’t bother dilating it. However, that meant I had wonky vision until well after lunch today. If anyone had looked at my eyes they probably would have been freaked out, too. 😉

This afternoon, I went up to the university health clinic to squeeze the last few drops out of my student health coverage before it runs out after graduation. They have a free walk-in PT clinic where you can have minor injuries and concerns assessed, and they will refer you to actual PT sessions if you need it. I actually had five or six PT sessions earlier this semester for back pain, so I decided I’d stop in to have my wrist checked. In the last four or five years, my right wrist has occasionally flared up with some discomfort, ranging from mild to almost acute, depending on how I flex it. I’ve treated it with rest, stabilization, and NSAIDs for inflammation, and it usually goes away, only to pop back up a few times a year. It’s currently grumpy again, probably because I’ve been more active since defending my thesis and have been exercising more (i.e. push-ups and planks and such). That extreme flexion must have irritated it more. So I figured my friends at the PT clinic could give me some some ideas of what was going on and what I might do to manage it.

It was nice that I got to see the lady who worked on my back this semester, so we already knew each other. It was also nice that she immediately noticed what is the likely culprit of all my issues…a moderate ganglion cyst right on top of my wrist. I had never ever noticed it before, and you can only see it when I flex my wrist down. It’s not too huge, but it’s likely putting pressure on the tendons, giving me the dull discomfort I am accustomed to. She recommended resting and stabilization, just like I’ve always done, and maybe some short ice massages of the area to let it disperse on its own. At least just knowing what it probably is (and knowing that it’s definitely not carpal tunnel) was worth the effort of getting poked and prodded a bit.

It’s nice when medical exams are just for check-ups or mild issues. I’m so thankful that I’ve been blessed with great health. Even with the few minor issues that come up, and even one major issue I had as a kid, my body is fully functioning at a very high level. Some days I’m bowled over that our complex bodies work as well as they do! It’s definitely a remarkable design. I never want to take for granted what I have, because anything could happen and it could be taken away. And I try to do my best to take care of what I have.

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They see me runnin’…they hatin’

And by “they,” I evidently mean my calves or hip flexors. Every time I run it seems  a new muscle group decides to be mad at me. Actually, it seemed like my whole body hated me whenever I ran at first…

As you probably know, I am training to run a 10K race on Memorial Day. You probably also remember that I am not a runner at all; in fact, I am a failed runner. In the past, I have tried a running program a couple of times before getting sidetracked within a few weeks. This coupled with an entire semester sitting at my desk writing my thesis means I had to start absolutely from square one fitness-wise. However, this sitting around made me adamant to get up and moving again when I finally got finished, and I planned to try running again, though I didn’t have too much of a plan. However, when I found out my friend was inspired to begin running, too, with this Memorial Day 10K in mind, that motivated me to try, too; it gave me a goal and a buddy to focus my interest.

I started this 10K novice training program roughly three weeks ago (give or take a little while I was still busy with my defense). The training should take me right up until the weekend before the race. At first I didn’t think it would be enough time for me to condition up, but I’m slowly making progress, and it might actually not be as insane as I imagined.

Despite how miserable I often seem to feel in the middle of a run, in actuality everything is improving from those first few tough runs. Things that were sore after a run before are now not, so maybe I’ll cycle through everything once and be more or less good to go (especially as I’m diligent to stretch thoroughly afterward). And while I still gasp for air and my chest feels like it’s going to explode at times during my run, those moments pass and I can sometimes feel downright almost comfortable (how’s that for hedging?). I still have to push myself since I am training for more distance yet, but I could imagine finding some pretty moderate and recreational run almost enjoyable even in my current state.

For the majority of my runs, I have used an iPhone app to track my pace and distance. My first recorded run here was 2.15 miles with a pace of 14:04 minutes per mile. That’s pretty darned slow, but I was pretty stoked to have made it over 2 miles at that point. Yesterday, I squeezed in a “quick” run before sundown, logging 2.71 miles with a pace of 11:56 minutes per mile. Not a bad improvement at all, I must say. For distance, I’m up to 4 miles, and my pace for that was 12:34; I thought I was going to die about mile 2, but somehow I made it the distance and could possibly have gone even longer, though it’s not wise to push too hard at first.

The first couple of weeks are certainly hard, as it’s hardly motivating to get out of the house when you don’t see much progress and you feel like you’re going to keel over. However, I stuck with it, and going into week four I’m feeling much more optimistic. It’s still hard, like I said, but there’s hope! I really hope that sticking to an eight-week plan helps me firmly establish a good habit so that even after the race I continue to run as routine exercise. I know from experience it’s easy to have a hiccup in your training and never get back on until you’re starting from square one, but having done it before should at least be motivating if/when that happens again.

My enthusiasm has also inspired DH. He will quickly tell you he is no-sir-no-way-no-how not a runner; however, he does a “bootcamp” workout twice a week and has been gaining a lot of strength and endurance. After thinking about it a while and seeing my effort, he decide to run with me twice last week to supplement his other fitness training. It was nice to have someone to go with to encourage me and push me. After our first run, I felt he pushed me too hard, but I was able to increase my distance plus shave a whole minute off my average pace on the next run, so evidently it was good for me to get a little kick in the work-out pants.

I’m always interesting in knowing about peoples’ gadgets when they run, so I thought I’d share some of the stuff I’ve purchased for this endeavor. A few thoughtful investments have seemed to pay off, and I haven’t even really spent that much money, either.

First, I bought some new shoes a week or so ago. I had shoes that were probably okay, but I had the funds, so I decided to just go and spend as much as I decided I needed to for some good shoes. I tried on $100+ shoes and $40 shoes and everything in between. Turns out that I truly and honestly liked the less expensive Ryka Revive 2 the best–lightweight yet enough structure to help support my foot. I’ve done four runs in them, and they’ve done well so far.

Next, I wanted to make use of my iPhone to track my distance and pace as well as record my workouts. I downloaded a few free apps for that and ended up liking iMapMyRun. You do have to create an account, but it’s been easy to use and has some nice features, like voice feedback at your desired interval to tell you your pace and distance and displaying your route on a map. You can record your workout and can even share it on social media if you desire.

Knowing that I would be running with my phone, I wanted something to contain it. I don’t have many pockets in my running clothes, and a phone would fall out of the ones I do have. I looked into armbands but decided that would drive me crazy, plus I didn’t want to keep taking my phone out of my case every time I ran. I finally decided on the Amphipod AirFlow Microstretch waistpack. It looks impossibly small but stretches quite amazingly to accommodate my cased iPhone with enough room to spare for a key (probably not a whole keychain without poking and scratching). There’s still room for something like an ID card or some cash. Without the phone, you could stuff keys, maybe some sunglasses, and maybe even some small food/hydration items if you’re running long distance. I can zip it most of the way up and have my headphones stick out of the small gap, and it works great. I barely know it’s there.

Those are my main purchases, and I feel really great about them, and I didn’t need much else to hit the road.

Hopefully I can continue to report even more progress in the coming weeks. I think that for my next run I’m going to try tackling a route I did very early on that featured a pretty decent hill; I was not at all in condition to run up it earlier, but now I think I could do better. Of course, they say pride goes before a fall, too. 😉 Well, at the worst case I can call DH or 911 to come pick me up off the road, but you never know if you don’t go!

Lessons Learned: Goal-setting

One of the surprising things that surfaced out of my creation of this blog is the importance of goal setting. While always a list maker, I never, ever considered myself to be a goal maker. However, a list is clearly a set of goals, so it doesn’t surprise me that my time working on my thesis and writing this blog naturally lead me to a more broadened view of making goals.

I suppose I’ve normally felt that setting too many long-term goals was a bit presumptuous. How am I supposed to know what my life will be like in ten years, let alone in ten days? What I want right now might be totally different after I live a little and gain new perspectives on life. I suppose I took for granted that I did have some assumed life goals; for example, as a high school student I aimed at going to college, and after that it just seemed natural to go to graduate school. I thought I would most likely get married and have kids and work in some sort of job eventually. That was a general plan, but I never took for granted that life is not in my control and my circumstances could always change. Even now I make sure I remember that and allow myself to be at peace about something unexpected happening.

So, since the future is unknowable, I felt for a long time that making long-term goals was a little bit meaningless–why say you are going to do something when you don’t know if you will be able to achieve it? Of course, if you live your life day to day with nothing in particular that you are working for, then it starts to feel like you’re just spinning your wheels. So what’s a girl to do?

It has finally occurred to me how one can approach his or her life to make both today and tomorrow as meaningful as possible in our short time here on earth, and that approach is, shockingly, making goals! Now, in my mind I have this broken up into two areas: personal vs. circumstantial goals and short-term vs. long-term goals. As I just stated in previous paragraphs, I was hung up on the uncertainty of making long-term circumstantial goals. However, I have finally recognized that there’s a much broader scope to goal-setting, and if you can nail down this strategy, you’ve found an incredible tool for living an intentional and meaningful life.

Your money, possessions, or even status can be taken from you, but the things you strive for within yourself are immutable. My previous view of goals was purely one of circumstances or material things, but I now understand that goals can also be set to develop who you are as a person. In that case, it makes total sense to always have a number of short- and long-term personal goals. I believe this is somewhat naturally ingrained in us, as we probably do this without thinking: I should really watch less TV; I should spend more time with the kids; I should be less grumpy in the mornings. I’ve set many vague personal goals like this for myself, but I’ve never articulated them specifically, which has lead to varying degrees of success. If you are intentional about setting personal goals and quantify exactly what you want to accomplish (I will read x books this year or volunteer at y places), then you can gauge your progress and motivate yourself to complete it exactly. And you’ve probably created a wonderful habit you’ll benefit from all your life. Now that I realize this, I’m committed to keeping various personal goals for myself at all times.

While I hesitate at the long view, circumstantial goals are still very important, too. There’s certainly in principle no harm in having a material or situation objective to work toward–a nice house, a good job, a big trip–as long as you keep a reasonable attitude about those things. You wouldn’t want to let something you have, or maybe don’t even have yet, totally define who you are, especially if life happens and you don’t achieve it. However, I see circumstantial goals as particularly important in the short-term. Specifically, I think of these as tasks I need or want to get done within a few days, a few months, or even a few years. For example, I want to get into better shape because I’ve been sitting behind my desk all semester. So my goal is to run a 10K, if that works out for me this spring. Having a real event coming up keeps me motivated to stick to my training schedule, or else I might not keep it up. This could even encompass mundane tasks, such as house projects that aren’t as exciting but never get done if I don’t set an intentional goal to do it.

I definitely took advantage of this kind of mindset during my “101 in 1001,” “Goal-of-the-week,” and “Goal-of-the-month” challenges. And because I took the approach of dividing a large goal into smaller pieces, I leveraged a number of small goals to achieve one large career goal, getting my PhD! So there is definitely a place for long-term circumstantial goals in life, especially since the achievement of circumstantial goals can also develop important personal rewards that will stick with you!

Now, the efficacy of goals does directly relate to personal motivation, and motivation stems from a desire to achieve some sort of reward for the completion of said task or goal. Some people respond to a physical reward–I get a piece of cake if I run five miles, or I get some cash if I complete this job. Others respond to mental or emotional reward, like the prestige of an elite career or even just the satisfaction of improving from a previous state. For a list maker like myself, I was surprised to comprehend what level of satisfaction I get just by drawing a line through something–essentially satisfaction at the act of completion itself. If the end reward is not alluring enough for the amount of effort required, then a goal will never be achieved.

Goals are also fantastic for looking back and seeing what you’ve accomplished, especially if you take the large number of small goals approach. For instance, if you wanted to loose weight, you might get discouraged from day to day if you aren’t seeing obvious progress. But knowing where you came from (x pounds or y inches) and remembering your milestones (I did lose 5 lbs or 3 inches off my waist) helps keep you motivated to see the goal to the end.

So, I’m glad that this process has taught me to articulate my feelings about goals, because I’m now excited to leverage this new technique for future personal and circumstantial successes in my life. I hope that my new-found perspective will motivate you to try some goal-setting in your life and see what happens!

Thesis submitted

Today, I officially submitted the final version of my thesis. All of this was done electronically, so I just uploaded my PDF, payed them a few bucks for a nice hard copy, and clicked “submit” and it was done. I had sent my previous version in for an initial check by the graduate school to make sure they were happy with the formatting, and it got the a-okay. You always hear horror stories about people whose margins were an eighth of an inch off and were denied submission of their thesis, but these days, with everything done electronically, I guess it’s not such a big deal. Plus, as I mentioned before, I did mine in LaTeX, and the formatting is pretty much automatic. At any rate, my hands are now washed of the document.

I also submitted my final piece of paperwork today (at least, to the best of my knowledge it’s the final piece). I hope it’s the last one; I’m tired of making the trip up to campus only to discover I need just one more signature and have to return again. I haven’t been on campus this much since I was taking classes; it’s just almost unacceptable.

Now that all that is over, I’m sort of in a lull, catching up on a few things and doing a bit of job searching and related issues. Next week I’ll talk with my boss about stuff I can do as I coast into my last days here. I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it (surely I have), but my current appointment will last through the summer, so I have a few months to wrap things up if I so desire. I just know he’s going to suggest redoing the measurement from Hades to make some final and definitive measurements with it and possibly write up a paper on it, so I’ll have to really search deep within myself and find the strength to at least not run screaming from the building prematurely.

And then there will be commencement in three weeks. I think my parents are coming, so I will actually have to get up at the crack of dawn to fight horrible traffic for the ceremony. I guess that’s okay. The day before is the department ceremony, which I think will be a little more meaningful for everybody. Plus I get to wear a big robe and a hood and look like I’m from Hogwartz or something. And instead of a wand, I guess I get a laser pointer. Doctorus defendo!

Lessons learned: eating an elephant

I called my sister to let her know the good news after I defended. She told me she was incredibly impressed by my accomplishment, and I said I was, too, because so many times it seemed like an utterly impossible and ridiculous task. I told her that it was like eating an elephant…you just have to take one bite at a time (and possibly invest in a very large deep freeze).

So one of the lessons I’ve learned here is that any seemingly insurmountable task can, indeed, be accomplished by breaking it up into many smaller, much more reasonable tasks. I’ll talk more about goal-setting specifically later, but just the idea of setting before yourself something feasible is very encouraging and will motivate you to tackle the following tasks as well.

I am an incredibly list-driven person, which is the epitome of breaking something up into bite-sized pieces. I love, love, love crossing something off of a list, so if I construct a good list (a good mix of easy to accomplish items with reasonably sized other tasks) the progress of the small things will motivate me to tackle the bigger ones. That also helps me keep track of which parts of the elephant I’ve eaten and what’s still left.

Another way in which deluding yourself into taking that first bite is useful is that even a minute level of momentum will carry you forward. Case in point: I am not very excited about house cleaning. I do get frequent bouts of motivation during which I normally tackle it; however, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that these bouts of motivation will occasionally be few and far between, and I let a few things go that I shouldn’t (at least I had a very reasonable excuse…until last week). I just can’t convince myself that I want to do it. However, I can eventually coerce or guilt myself into saying, “okay, I will at least unload the silverware out of the clean dishwasher, then I will go sit down on the couch and watch another episode of X-Files on Netflix with a reduced level of guilt.” However, I subconsciously know that if I start an unsavory project, even without the commitment to complete all of it, I will inevitably gain enough momentum that I just can’t bear the shame of stopping. Before you know it, the dishwasher is unloaded. And then I go watch X-Files with a clear conscious.

Maybe claiming that I “trick myself” is a little disingenuous, since I’ve figured out my little Jedi mind trick and know full well that I’m usually going to finish whatever I say that I’m going to just “start.” In that case, I think it’s good that I’ve learned this about myself and can use it to effect, and I can clearly see how one day my attitude will change to be “okay, let’s just do it.”

As I have alluded to a few paragraphs ago, this issue is closely related to that of goals and goal-setting, something I took for granted and even poo-pooed up until a few years ago. In another blog, I will explore this lesson I’ve learned and how it has really transformed my life, or at least the way I think about it.

Lessons learned: carry it to completion

It’s been about twenty-four hours since my defense, and I’ve finally had some time to rest and process through everything. I also took the day off today, which is an outstanding event, I must say. I’ve spent some time thinking about everything and reflecting on my time as a graduate student. I thought it would be nice to share some of the lessons learned during this time in my life.

Probably the most significant lesson I’ve learned (and still have much to learn about, too) is that if God calls us to do something, He will see us through to the end. I can’t tell you how many times I was discouraged, hated what I was doing, or wanted to quit. However, it seemed clear that God put me on this path, and His plan didn’t include giving up before I got to the end (much to my chagrin at those many times of discouragement). He also didn’t leave me here to languish all alone while I did it all myself. Sure, I had to put a lot of time and effort and mental and emotional fortitude into seeing this thing to the end, but I committed to doing my part in good faith, and God upheld His end of the deal.

He provided just what I needed at the right times. After a few years in my research tenure, it became clear that I would be hard pressed to derive a thesis-level project in my initial research position. At least two times I tried to “improve” my research situation on my own, seeking out other groups or projects to take me in. It seemed downright reasonable for me to move on to something else. However, those instances never worked out, because it wasn’t the plan. I finally surrendered and was patient, knowing that God would do whatever it was He planned whenever He had planned for it. Sure enough, three years ago I was able to take what I learned those years in my previous position and work on a joint project in another group that yielded a high-level research project, for which I just earned my PhD. Yes, it ended up taking eight school years to complete, but who cares….because I did complete it. It’s not always easy or comfortable, nor does it always seem reasonable, but you won’t go wrong trusting the one who sees the big picture instead of relying on your own limited view.

He also provided a vast group of people bathing me in prayer and encouragement, especially in this last semester of straining for the finish line. I can’t tell you how many people were praying over me yesterday, because I am honestly not even sure. And while I am by no means an expert on prayer, it’s something I’ve really begun to mature in this semester, gaining some new perspectives and beginning to overcome some issues I’ve struggled with for a very long time (if God knows everything that’s going to happen, what’s the point in praying at all?, etc.). I’m still no expert, but it’s the beginning of a lifetime of new perspective on what it means to pray.

Finally, I now have to trust Him for the next steps, too. I’ve really only just come to appreciate that the rest of my life is really just beginning now. My sister has always hated the phrase “today is the first day of the rest of your life,” so I think about her when I say this. 😉 But getting a doctorate isn’t the end; it’s the beginning of something you do once you have it. I still don’t know what that is yet, and it probably won’t be just one thing for the rest of my life. Likely life will take us many places over the years, but I can trust that there’s a plan and a reason for the steps we’ll take.

I’ve learned many other things looking back on my time here, and hopefully I’ll get to share those with you. I feel like I’m now trained not just with knowledge or information in a particular subject of science, but with life skills that are now tools in my belt that will help me tackle the new challenges in life.

“…Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” Philippians 1:6

The light at the end of the fiber

When a short pulse of laser light goes into one end of a very long optical fiber, the pulse stretches out as it goes through the length of the fiber. It also might lose some energy along the way, so occasionally amplifiers are inserted every once in a while to give the signal a boost. So when the light reaches the other end of the fiber, it may have been jostled around a bit, stretched out, had some energy sucked out of it. However, it still reaches the in relatively intact, and with a lot of experience from along the way.

The light at the end of the fiber is, evidently, warm and diffuse, not sharp and overpowering like a coherent beam of photons with a small beam diameter. It’s comforting, providing relief and rest. I’ve now, finally, after almost eight years, seen the light at the end. I’m still processing this change, but, ladies and gentlemen, I am now officially a PhD.