Posted by Ellen Bremen on Jun 26, 2012 in General, General College Success/Responses to Other College Entities | 8 comments
(Small diversion from my usual, but my usual will be back. Between now and into fall and 2013, I’m going to commence an intermittent series of posts dedicated to students—anyone—who is having to redo, retool, or just plain start again. Read on and I’ll explain…)
My goal was to get in and out as quickly as I could.
I didn’t have the strength for conversation. I couldn’t make eye contact.
Given how much I love people, talking with them, experiencing them, my momentary shielding of self would have been a clue that something was not right with me right now.
I filled out my waiver and sure enough, a chirpy woman began friendly banter. “You doing the half or the full?”
“Neither,” I muttered.
“Oh…” she said, sympathetically. “Are you injured?”
“Something like that,” I replied. “I’m giving my number to someone else.”
“Well, I’ve done it injured and, you know, you just get through,” she said, a little more perkily than I could handle.
“It’s not that type of an injury.”
My nonverbals were finally getting across. She stopped talking.
“Have a good race,” I said, mustering a half-smile and scurrying away. I found my corral position, showed my ID, picked up my materials for the 2012 Rock & Roll Seattle Half Marathon–my bib, race shirt, and swag bag. Then, fast as I could, I escaped to the getaway car, driven by a dutiful fellow mom who was circling the Centurylink Events Center so we wouldn’t have to pay for parking.
Just a year prior, I would have lingered at this expo for hours, reveling in it, owning my role as a “runner,” albeit a penguin runner (a’la John “The Penguin” Bingham), a proud back-of-the-pack’er. This 2012 race would have been my 11th.
I’ve chronicled my weight story briefly before, my familial history and my own with morbid obesity. About eight months ago, I realized that something physically wasn’t right. That’s when an unfortunate metabolic issue surfaced, which involves an insulin problem. Now, until further notice, I’m sidelined from hard-core exercise. According to my doctor, long distance running is harmful to the chemical shifts that need to take place to get me “well” again.
Since 1998 when I started my journey to lose 90 lbs (yes, it took years and years… and two kids), I am not a woman who gives up. I trained for the 2008 Seafair Half Marathon with an open C-section wound for four months (don’t ask). I had major (elective) abdominal surgery in August 2010, was walking hills two weeks later, and went on to complete two half marathons and one 25 mile bike race in the next year.
I would never give up a race that I paid for. I’d let someone drag me to the finish first.
Gaining weight when you are working so damned hard to be healthy (marathoning, for goodness sakes!) is like that surreal, tunneled nauseating feeling when you get an exam back that you thought you studied your ass off for, only to find that you still only scored a C, D, or even failed it. (Yep, students, I’ve been there, too).
So, while being “repaired,” I’ve felt physically broken.
Like when you wonder what’s wrong in your brain that you’ve studied and studied and studied and still can’t get that particular math equation or your research paper still doesn’t quite make the sense you want it to.
And I have never felt more broken than last Friday when I had to walk in and out of that expo knowing that I was going to hand that bib number to someone who could run.
Let me put one thing in perspective: The world isn’t coming to an end. Not doing a race isn’t tragic. And I am same woman who just had a book come out. I can compartmentalize that there are incredibly exciting things going on in the other part of my life.
But when our core being isn’t functioning, it’s easy to just feel like we’re malfunctioning. Again … broken.
I have told my students often that my struggles with weight and exercise are the place that I deeply relate to their academic struggles. Of course, I had challenges in college, but I’ve been out of school for over 10 years, so that experience is dated. And suffering is suffering, right? The genres don’t have to be exactly the same for us to relate to each other.
The bottom line is that in the aftermath of failure or even just a single bad experience, we end up in the “in between” before we make our next moves. We are over the terrible moment that’s happened, but we haven’t embraced the new possibilities just yet.
In one of my favorite books, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, who lost his child to a rare illness says that we can’t say “Why did this happen to me?”, but instead we must say, “What will I do now that it has?”
So what will we do now that it has?
Students, maybe you failed a class last term or you had one class that went wrong, you had a poor experience with a professor, or you’re feeling unsure about your major. You are having to do some major retooling for the term coming up in the fall. Here are some strategies to tackle right now to keep you motivated and sane until that time comes. I’m going to take some of this advice, myself.
1. Support, support, support. Students, for you, I’ve said many times that I think the campus counseling center is one of the most critical places to use as a resource. Make an appointment with a counselor and say, “I am just coming off of a failing term/bad paper/horrible experience and I want to make a plan to turn things around.” You can also say “I’m scared that my bad experiences are going to continue.” Or, “I don’t want to repeat my mistakes.” Say whatever is on your mind. Be where you are. Most of all, create a plan and get some support!
For me, my doctor has other patients who have gone through the same metabolic syndrome that I am dealing with and who might be willing to provide support. I’m game.
2. Smaller, achievable goals. Try to chunk out what went wrong in the bad experience (wrong combo of classes, lack of time management, not seeing the prof enough, etc.) and this time, create some smaller steps, some win-able achievements, that may seem more do-able than “Get a 4.0 in all of my classes.” And tell someone about your goals, too.
I had a student who told me that they had a history of falling off on all classwork after the third week. So, we set a goal right at that third week mark: The student was going to make a checklist and we would check the checklist literally every day to ensure that Student was on track. Tell someone, “I need you to hold me accountable for _____________________ because I don’t want what happened last time to happen again.”
Just this last weekend, I said to my husband, “I wonder if I could do a 5k or 10k in September. I think the IronGirl race is then.”
(Confession: After so many half-marathons, anything less has been inferior to me. Not anymore.)
He said, “Let’s ask your doctor and find out.”
There. Little goal. And a little race that I will covet to feel a glimmer of my strong self again. Tearing up even as I type that.
3. Unhiding from the broken. I don’t know about you, but the extreme extrovert in me has taken to introversion in my disrepair. Some might say this isn’t a bad thing. But too much sadness turned inward can trigger anxiety and depression, which can spiral. So, reach out and let others in, particularly in this in-between time. I’m going to do the same. In fact, this past weekend, when I almost turned down a friend who invited our family for dinner, but then ended up going, I said, quietly, “Please keep asking. Getting out really helped.” And that’s all you have to say.
I’ll be back with progress and more “unbroken” posts from time to time in the months ahead. Bravo to any of you going back to school in the fall who are making a comeback. I’m here to support you!
I have been out of the classroom working on a grant and my book for a year. So, I am truly going back to the classroom and starting over with you again in that way, too!
Here’s to becoming unbroken… together.