Confessions of an Overachiever (III)

Part I and Part II

Somewhere in between all of that driving I had to ask myself what are you doing? While I believe in hard work, I’m also a firm believer that life shouldn’t be hard work. There’s a difference between a challenge and an uphill battle. Facing challenges in order to attain goals is expected. However, uphill battles symbolize something else. They’re signs that life has become harder than necessary. And for me, it was. The rate of return for my “hard work” was minimal. I intuitively knew that I was no longer walking in passion and purpose.

I began a closer and less stressful job in August. But it seemed that I had all of these revelations too late. I should re-phrase. These a-ha moments were too late for my physical health.

My hands would swell every time I ate. Sometimes it would happen over night. At one point, I couldn’t remove my wedding ring. And when I did, there was a big brown bruise underneath. After finishing dinner one time, my belly looked like I was four months pregnant. Aside from that, the lethargy that rested behind my eyes was enough to send me napping. This continued for months. I figured I could get to the doctor after I returned from Japan. But I had a summer conference in Philly. I’d go after that. Then, my father passed away. Damn. I’d go after that. It was October by the time I decided to visit Dr. Kristy, a holistic practitioner and chiropractor.

Dr. Kristy performed nutrition response testing. The results were astounding. Apparently, my adrenal glands were weak and in need of repair. I had overstressed my body to the point where these very small organs didn’t know if I was running late or running from a bear. They functioned in a stressful state most moments, and consequently, released cortisol most moments. What did all of this mean?

“There will be a minimum of 12 office visits at $40 each,” the doctor began.

Additionally, she had a list of several supplements totaling about $90 per month.

Come again Dr. Kristy?

Like many people, I reverted to my free professional go-tos: Google and WebMD. Also, I was in the midst of a 21-day detox. I’d noticed that removing coffee eliminated bloat. Google confirmed it. Ridding your body of caffeine is a huge factor in controlling adrenals. Diet, in general, is a way to manage these organs. With my professional Internet information, I told the good doctor that I would first work on my own health. I’d be back in a few months.

Since then, a berry smoothie has replaced my daily java. I eat more vegetables and lean protein. I’ve kicked CrossFit to the curb. Yoga and low-impact exercise are a part of my new lifestyle. One of my yoga friends recommended something called adrenal repair. The compound of vitamins and extracts seemed to have done exactly what the name claims: restore my adrenals. My energy levels have increased and I’m sleeping through the night.

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Holiday cookie baking and snacking also revealed a slight sugar and gut sensitivity. Dwight suggested using Kefir in my smoothies, instead of Silk. The 12 additional probiotics have helped balance my belly’s good and bad bacteria, further reducing bloat.

Every now and then, I mentally abuse myself for pushing myself past my own limits, but more so for ignoring obvious stress signs. Then, I acknowledge the feelings, say something more positive and true, and go take a walk, talk to the birds or write something inspirational.

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I promise I’ll never be overstressed again. And this time I mean it. The alternative is not worth the achievement.

~Dr. kg

Confessions of an Overachiever (II)

Part I and Part III

It was 2009. I was conducting a study, analyzing data and giving job talks in a few states. The interview process itself was an unexpected stress. One interview lasted three full days. After talking with search committees in five states, I secured a position at a liberal arts college in Georgia. It seemed perfectly aligned with my vow to avoid stress.

There were a few challenges, though.

The institution promised to support my husband in finding a job. They never did. We still had our Florida house to sell. The girls lived with me; Dwight stayed in Florida. It was a three and a half hour drive. So while my job wasn’t stressful, the weekend commutes to have some semblance of normalcy was. For me, this meant packing up the kids and dog, and then trekking up and down I-75 every other weekend. We did this for two years. The cycle was relentless and taxing. I went back on the professor market.

To say I was desperate to move back to Florida is an understatement. My pre-teen daughters were well-behaved, but with the absence of a father, they had gotten a little lippy. We were also sustaining two households. But I didn’t feel as stressed as I had before. I mean there was no chair of a doctoral committee determining the balance of my life. As a matter of fact, I had lost weight and felt more energetic. Still, the situation wasn’t ideal and we needed to move back together, under one roof.

When the next prestigious university called me in 2012 and offered me a visiting professor line, I was overjoyed. However, I had no intentions of moving to Tallahassee. The point was for our family to reunite. I chose to commute.

“Tallahassee is a long way,” Dwight warned.

“I know. I can do it,” I said.

As I type these words, it feels arrogant. I know. I can do it. I can drive 320 miles twice a week. To be fair, droves of people I knew and didn’t know called me crazy. The truth is I really did think I could do it. It’s an innate part of my personality. I truly believe I can do anything I set my mind to. Or am I just an overachiever? The line is fine and sometimes the two collide to blur my judgment. Either way, I did it.

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The job was supposed to last only one year. It was visiting. Instead, they were soooooo impressed with me that they found a way to offer a tenure-track line. One year turned into three. Teaching classes, mentoring graduate students, advising a couple of doc students, serving on two committees, running into unexpected microagressions, conducting research, presenting at national conferences, writing, getting published in the “wrong” place, seeking grant funding, and getting rejected publications from the “right” place made for a stressful job. The out of town commute twice a week was just bonus stress. Some days I would cry all the way to the university’s parking lot. Other days I would pray all the way home for answers. In between, I looked for jobs. Nothing surfaced.

It was six years of doctoral work all over again. There was no chalazion or sleep paralysis. But I was ignoring other signs. Although I worked out whenever I wasn’t on the road, it didn’t matter.

“You run with your fists clenched,” a trainer observed. “Are you angry about something? You have to calm down and then work out. Open your fists.”

I hadn’t noticed it before. But now things made more sense. I had run a 5k, consistently practiced yoga and maintained a restricted diet, but gained 20 pounds in three years.

I made time for my family and me: movies, vacations, cookie baking, you name it. Life looked balanced, but it wasn’t. Not really. This was the most imbalanced life I’d ever lived.

But I ignored it.

Only thing about disregarding things is that they don’t really go away. My body had had enough. It was overstressed.

Confessions of an Overachiever (I)

“You can rest when you die” ~ advice from a former professor

I used to feel stress and ignore it.

There. I’ve said it. What’s so bad about that you might ask? Hopefully, you’ll keep reading to find out.

In 2004, I began doctoral work at a research university. Some programs require that you work in a cohort or group, but not this one. Not this program. At this institution, you attain a PhD the old-fashioned way, independently. Whether independent or collaborative, doctoral programs at research universities begin similarly. Your first few years include coursework. The next few years are what separate the high achievers from the overachievers. This phase includes qualification exams intended to move you from doctoral student to doctoral candidate. If you make it through this proverbial hoop, then you propose a study, conduct a study, and become Dr. so-and-so. For me, this last part took three years. Here is where I endured, and subsequently, ignored the hardest stress in my life.

The first sign is familiar. It’s how we know that being president of the so-called free world is stressful.  One day I noticed a slight tint of silver. Is this lighting? I thought to myself? Oh my God! No, there’s a gray hair! It was true. I was 34 and ill-prepared for what is called “new-growth gray.” That means every time my hair grows, it’s growing in gray, right in the front of my head, where everyone can see it. Oh, no, no, no, no way. Luckily, I had a great hairstylist who could mask this horrid sight. But once I went natural, boxes of Dark and Lovely became my friend. Because my hair grows quickly, dark brown dye is necessary every other week.

“Why is your hair so black?” My aunt once asked.

“It’s not. It’s dark ash brown. Or at least that’s what the box says.”

So my first sign was a vanity stressor. But not my second. It was 2006. I was still teaching high school English and attending graduate school full time. And being a wife and mother. Although doctoral candidacy is the expectation, it’s not always the result, especially not at UF. I’d heard horrible tales of students failing their exams and leaving with a Specialist degree instead. This would never be the fate of an overachiever. There was one re-write. But I passed. I also developed a chalazion under my right eyelid. Chalazions can appear for several reasons. However, each points to a type of illness. I’m rarely ill. If I am, then it’s because I’m stressed. My body was screaming out to me. This time an ophthalmologist rid me of this sore. Once again, I was able to cover up and ignore a sign.

The final marker of stress happened repeatedly. It only occurred at night or early in the morning. After a deep sleep, I wanted to wake up. So my eyes would pop open but I couldn’t move the rest of my body. The room was dark. I could see everything in it. My dresser. The TV. The door. But I couldn’t open my mouth. I would try screaming for help. Nothing came out. My mind raced. Sweat trickled. After a couple of bouts, I learned to calm my mind down and tell myself that everything is okay. It’s called sleep paralysis. Some believe it’s your spirit leaving. Others say demons are entering. Medically speaking, it’s something that happens when you’re under a lot of stress, which I was. Five years in and my study wasn’t being approved. My chair was offering little help. I was working full-time. Life was difficult. But I ignored it.

Part II and Part III

Lessons Learned about Life from Working Out

Image. ©2015 K E Garland. All Rights Reserved.
Image. ©2015 K E Garland. All Rights Reserved.

Working out as part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle has been an integral part of who I am for quite a while. Whether I was doing aerobics in our tiny apartment with a VHS tape 19 years ago, or training for and running my first 5k three years ago, I’ve understood the importance of moving my body to stay in optimal shape. However, I had never really thought about how the way I work out could mean much more.

Until, I met Robert in 2007.

I had just joined a gym. I was looking to de-stress. He was looking for gym members to train. With much resistance, I agreed for Robert to be my trainer. Although he taught me a lot about where to position my feet when doing a proper squat or how to do a correct push-up, what I learned most from this trainer has remained with me well after I’ve finished my last rep.

Robert would consistently say that he could tell how someone lived his or her life based on how he or she worked out.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He began to explain. “People who give up in the middle of their workouts are usually people who don’t finish other things in life. People who have gym memberships but never show up, usually don’t show up much in other ways in their own lives.”

Intrigued, I begged him to tell me more. Also, talking meant that he wasn’t counting out my reps.

You stop and do a little happy dance every time you finish a set,” he observed.

“Okay. I meant tell me more about what you see in other people, not me.” But as he continued, I realized he was right. I’m used to cheering myself on in life’s endeavors and finishing 20 assisted pull-ups with him was no different.

Here are three other observations that Robert made with my twist on how they relate to life:

“If you are texting, talking on the phone or reading, you are not fully engaged in the workout!” When I first began working out with Robert, I would prop my book up on the treadmill and proceed to walk, and there was no way you could tell me that I wasn’t “working out.” I was on the treadmill. Moving. Right? Wrong. Most workouts require undivided attention. If we are doing something else during this important time we’ve set aside, then we’re not giving it our full attention. Life also requires our full attention. If we’re not consciously participating in our own lives, giving ourselves 100%, then we may be going through the motions, passively existing. And who wants to just exist?

“Don’t wish it was easier. Wish you had the strength to get through it!” There were times when Robert would direct me to lift some unfathomable weight, and I would give him a defeatist look. But I had to learn to pull strength from inside of myself to lift some ridiculous poundage outside of myself. Just like our workouts, sometimes we wish life was easier so we could just do what we want or have what we want; however, reaching goals in the gym or in life just doesn’t work like that. Anything we desire requires work, and we are the only ones who will be able to dig deep to achieve whatever we set for ourselves.

Don’t worry about what the person next to you is doing! In the beginning, I would compare myself to the guy running 7.0 miles per hour for twenty minutes or the lady who could deadlift her own weight. I continued these comparisons until I learned that guy might be training for a 10k, or that lady is a professional bodybuilder. We often use similar and unfair comparisons in life. We look at people outside of our lives and wonder, “How did s/he get to that point?” “Why is it so easy for so and so to have fill-in-the-blank? The fact is we don’t know what that person’s journey or story is. We don’t know what he or she has had to endure or accomplish to do what you see now. We only see who that person is today.

These lessons have helped me beyond my training relationship with Robert. They’ve reminded me of a few ways that I can get through life. What would you add?