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

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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