Don’t Ever Neglect Your Hobbies

This isn’t necessarily a post aimed at doctoral-level students or those in a physical therapy program. This is aimed at everyone because we all get bogged down by life and neglect the things that bring us true joy. I hardly engaged in my hobbies during the first term of physical therapy school. Part of that was trying to figure out just how much work I actually needed to put into doing well and part of that was also undiagnosed ADHD. The second term I did better, mostly incorporating some reading and Netflix, but I knew I was still neglecting a lot of other things that I love to do. Exercise comes to mind. I was seriously neglecting that. Studying wore me down so much that I didn’t have any energy for a workout when it came time for a break. I also wanted to get back into painting, but having been away from it for several years, I figured it’d be a learning curve that I wouldn’t have any energy for, so I figured it’d be better to wait until the break to get back into it. I also love gaming and mountain biking–and believe it or not, challenging games utilize a lot of mental energy that studying drains. As for mountain biking, my favorite trails are about 40 minutes away, so it’s a battle figuring out if I have any time for it or not.

But it is now my third term, and I am determined to make these hobbies more of a priority. I am on my fourth week of consistent workouts. This is the first week of the term, and I have already done two workouts this week. Tomorrow I plan to do an abdominal workout that totals 24 minutes. My plan is to workout as soon as I get up in order to prevent studying from sapping all of my energy. I will prioritize intensity over duration, using a combination of Fitness Blender on YouTube and other videos I find. Working out also gives me a burst of energy, as does regularly drinking water thanks to a hydration jug I purchased., so I have started a new painting. It’s really just an exercise in gradients and brushwork, but the point is that I started one; I always finish whatever I start. Unfortunately I’ll have to abandon it for the weekend since I’ll be at school for labs. I am also a gamer and am playing Xenoblade Chronicles 1 with the intention of beating it this term.

My hobbies are important to me because 1) they are just plain fun, and 2) they are my way to recharge. Painting provides me a creative outlet that I desperately need, a way to create since it’s hard to find the energy to write a novel (writing a novel isn’t exactly a hobby, not when I’ll be making money from this trilogy). Gaming is really just fun but also allows me to exercise that spatial visual part of my brain. I credit video games for my spatial visualization ability or just my spatial ability in general. The problem solving involved in a lot of the games may be why math was so much easier when I took pre-calculus about two years ago–it’s that sticktuitivism. And I exercise specifically for my health. When I’m of the age where I have to get bone density tests done, I want my numbers to exceed the average. I want to avoid the common age-related pitfalls that can be mitigated with physical activity.

I write all of this out to emphasize the importance of making your hobbies important in your own life. It is hard to do that, especially if you work a job that drains everything within you or if you’re a parent who spends much of the day caring for a child or several children on top of doing all the housework and other minutiae of parenthood. Even so, self-care is important. I absolutely consider hobbies part of that self-care. Self-care doesn’t always have to be doing the hard stuff like making sure you get your laundry done or that dentist appointment scheduled. Self-care can include the things that fill your empty cup.

I’m not going to tell you that if these hobbies are important, you’ll make time. Not everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. It’s also unfair to place that expectation on top of anyone. All I’m advising is that you take time, however long you need, to assess how you can fit a hobby into your day, a week, or even a month. It took me almost eight months to figure out how to make my mental health a priority.

I wanted to start prioritizing my hobbies because as someone experienced in the realm of troubled mental health, I want to feel my best. I want to avoid those dark places. I want to avoid burning out. I want to avoid questioning why I’m in physical therapy school if all it does is render my life joyless. Basically, I want a full cup so that I can give it my all in grad school, so that I can actually enjoy what I’m learning. Mental work, in my opinion, is so much tougher than physical work. At least with physical work, I may be physically drained, but I have mental energy and I can easily recover that physical energy by stopping the physical activity. With mental energy, I have nothing left, including physical energy. I can only recover through sleep.

When I went mountain biking two weekends ago, I was floored by how much I missed it. Even though the ride was murderous near the end because of some of the climbing and my lack of cardiovascular endurance, the tired I felt was beautiful. It was energizing. I went home, took a bath, and felt like I could do so much more due to that ride. So find your mountain biking. Find the thing that refreshes your spring.

Just spend time looking at your day and reviewing how you can fit in at least one fun activity. You don’t need to spend an entire hour on it. You can commit even 20 minutes to it. It’s understandable if you genuinely can’t find any time, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of trying. No one wants to feel haggard or burnt out. It is so easy to neglect yourself when you are constantly on the ground running. It’s so easy to forget that you are your own person.

My Weight Loss Rant

I have never been overweight. I’ve been close to it. Between 2018 and 2019, I gained thirty or more pounds because of medications that tossed my metabolism over the edge of a building. I am a recovered anorectic, so you can imagine what that amount of weight gain does to one’s mindset. Despite feeling absolute disgust toward my own body, one thing I didn’t do was blame myself.

I realize I am in a privileged position because I have never gone through life with anyone commenting negative things about my body, even when I gained all that weight, even when it was noticeable in places like my stomach and thighs. Even so, none of that offered me any comfort; I, too, started internalizing the hatred larger bodies received and developed an empathy for them I couldn’t have before. I already knew losing weight was tough. I already knew those with larger bodies were at a disadvantage. I already knew they needed support. But you cannot truly understand something unless you experience it yourself. And I have never had to go through the process of weight loss and didn’t think I ever would.

It was absolutely frustrating trying to start the process of weight loss. I couldn’t lose anything. Even when I deliberately cut back what I ate, all I was doing was preventing anymore weight gain. I was even training for mountain bike races, so I was lifting weights and biking many miles a week with no true increase in calories–I was afraid to increase calories, even with increased exercise. I wasn’t starving, of course. If anything, my appetite also plummeted with this drop in metabolism. Even with a change in medication, I dropped five pounds and plateaued. It took experiencing worrisome side effects of my medications to have an entire overhaul in dosage and immediate release to extended release for anything to start happening. In fact, I don’t know if anything really started happening until I started taking medication for my ADHD. It’s not a stimulant, but weight loss is a side effect.

I have been using my waist as a measure since the scale is triggering. I have lost probably 2-3 inches off my waist. The only reason I measured recently is because when I looked in the mirror my waist looked noticeably smaller, almost to its normal size. I estimate I have probably lost 50% of the weight I put on.

Weight loss is so damn difficult for women who have slower metabolisms to begin with and who fight an uphill battle with their hormones. Yet, the vitriol I see on the internet against larger bodies is obscene, unacceptable.

We do not know why someone gained weight, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people are rarely, if ever, overweight due to laziness. While weight gain because of medications or medical conditions isn’t as common as eating too much, there is usually a reason behind why someone increases their caloric intake to the point where it begins to cause excessive weight gain. Plenty of people are emotional eaters who use food as a crutch. The fact of the matter is that food tastes good, certain meals can induce positive memories and even nostalgia, and it elicits lots of feel-good hormones. Consuming food is a fast way to induce these psychological benefits, whereas things like exercise or even meditation take work.

I developed an eating disorder as a way of coping with my emotions–and my mind was also very, very sick at the time. I discovered this recently when I looked at pictures of myself in the throes of anorexia and was horrified by my appearance, a feeling I couldn’t even muster at the time. I thought I looked great! If you haven’t already deduced, I did not lapse into an eating disorder as a way of trying to lose this weight despite having developed a newfound distaste for my body’s physical changes. This is because my mind isn’t sick; its perception is not warped.

Our bodies generally have a set weight it likes to maintain. Obviously, that set point is individual. As babies, our appetite regulation is on point. We just don’t keep consuming milk past fullness. We can argue hypercaloric foods ruin our ability to regulate our appetites considering they are not very filling for the amount of calories they contain. And sometimes that does happen for some people. They simply don’t understand that even though they’re not feeling satiated, they’re still consuming too many calories. But that doesn’t matter because weight loss is hard, and it’s absolutely terrible to judge anyone in the thick of it. It’s not fun, and there are entire sciences behind weight loss.

Also…

Larger bodies don’t owe anyone anything.

I call it concern trolling, where people who think they are well-meaning try to espouse the many negatives of being overweight. People with larger bodies know that. I know that, which is why I fought to get on a regimen that would finally allow me to lose the weight I’ve gained. I’ve talked to many people during my time doing observation hours who admit they needed a joint replacement because of weight gain. Who wants a joint replacement? The recovery is miserable. No one needs to be reminded of the health problems that come with excess weight when concern trolling is everywhere and unavoidable.

When I initially discovered all of this weight gain, I was blindsided and unable to process the first 20-lb. gain that I saw. I had not increased my food intake, and at the time I thought the only reason you could gain weight on meds was due to a possible increase in appetite. It was confusing. I was so upset that I was almost in tears. Originally I thought it was my birth control, but nothing happened when I stopped it, which is why I started blaming the medications; I wasn’t wrong. I’m not an emotional eater, after all. If anything, I stop eating with an increase in stress. During my last lab weekend I barely ate anything from severe anxiety due to lab practicals.

I remember how disgusted I felt looking at a body that shouldn’t have been mine: being able to grab a handful of my stomach, having not even a centimeter’s space between my thighs anymore, not being able to fit a pair of favorite jeans, switching to sweats and skirts and dresses because it’s easy to hide.

I’m sure this disgust wouldn’t exist if larger bodies weren’t so vilified. Women’s bodies are especially torn asunder. Men get to have theirs called dad bods while women’s bodies are just fat bodies, subject to humiliation and scorn because many people believe women exist to be pretty for others and not ourselves.

And if we don’t, we deserve scorn.

It’s all unbelievably unfair, and the people who need to read this message won’t because they are stuck in echo chambers bleating hatred at their walls.

I have only recently begun to accept my body again. That is only due to the weight loss. I don’t want to sit here and type that I ever hated it. If I did, I would have relapsed into anorexia. I would have deprived my body of its favorite foods (I never cut out anything). I would have spent my days with some sort of self-hating chip on my shoulder. I wouldn’t have ignored its changes during 2019, the year I trained for various races. I didn’t spend moments reflecting and crying over it and being angry that I could not lose the weight. I just couldn’t. Cutting back anymore on my intake would have starved me.

But I get it now. I understand just how truly difficult it is.

For those who tear apart people with larger bodies, remember that one day you, too, could be struggling trying to lose an amount of weight you didn’t mean to gain.

A Change In Direction

I’m going to be doing a complete overhaul in the content of this blog because I have a lot to say, and I’ve been saying it all on Twitter, and Twitter isn’t the best place to be platforming my opinions on a variety of topics. This blog was originally a lifestyle blog and then I wanted it to be a physical therapy blog and now I want to bring it back to being a lifestyle blog. I’m still going to absolutely be covering physical therapy, especially my experiences in PT school; that is an inseparable part of my identity. However, I have grappled with feeling as though being a student is my only identity. A doctorate is all-consuming. I don’t want that. I only feel as if I have multiple identities in between terms, so I think being able to blog on a variety of topics will help remind me that I am a multifaceted person with a complex personality. Thus, off of the top of my head, these are the topics I will be blogging about:

  • Mental health: ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder
  • PT school and being a student in general
  • Feminism
  • Being childfree
  • Relationships (I’m married)
  • Exercise
  • Hobbies
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Coping skills
  • Body image

Being Neurodivergent In PT School

I have bipolar disorder, ADHD, and anxiety. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder back in 2012. I’ve had anxiety since I was a child. And I received an ADHD diagnosis in January, with the idea that I’ve most likely had ADHD since childhood. I am in my second term of physical therapy school, and luckily my bipolar disorder only reared its ugly head once and it was a mild depressive episode that was very easy to power through until I cycled back to baseline. But undiagnosed ADHD coupled with untreated anxiety (because my anxiety is more of a thing that is triggered) made my first term a horrendous ordeal.

I developed the shakes, something I never had before. I even had the shakes during my first soft tissue practical, which thankfully did not affect my ability to do soft tissue interventions. I have had anxiety attacks. I even shut down several times throughout the term due to my brain no longer being able to tolerate the amount of anxiety assaulting it. I was overall numb.

I hated my first term. I found very few enjoyable moments. They say your first term is the hardest because it is a big adjustment period in terms of work load, but I knew there was something more going on. I knew that what I was experiencing couldn’t just be anxiety. I constantly felt beat up by the end of the day. I would go to bed thinking the next day would be easier in terms of getting my work/studying done in a decent amount of time, only to wake up and struggle trying to keep my focus without being pulled in fifty million directions by distracting things. If the internet didn’t exist, I would likely be distracted by something else, so the internet wasn’t the issue. Plus, I needed the internet to do all of my assignments. I then thought about how if I were placed in an empty room with nothing, how would my mind be? I then realized I’d start screaming from abject boredom. It’s known those with ADHD have a low tolerance for boredom because our dopamine levels are low to begin with. We’re constantly seeking out things that raise dopamine levels, which is why we always have to be doing something.

I started considering the possibility of ADHD. My brother has it, so it’d make sense to consider it. But I didn’t tell my psychiatrist about it right away. Even I was falling prey to the stigma attached to ADHD. I just kept thinking I needed more willpower. But it got to the point where I realized willpower was not the issue. No amount of my feeling determined to get through the day without issue made it so. I started relying on coffee to give me some focus. It worked. I was actually able to get through five finals without feeling numb and burnt out. Of course, I knew medication would likely be a lot better than coffee, but I just didn’t know how to bring it up. So I sat on this possible diagnosis and used some of my Christmas break to take every screen I could find on the internet. They all pointed to me having combined ADHD (inattentive and hyperactive).

Fast forward to today, and I have been on a non-stimulant medication called Strattera for five weeks.

I feel like focus is a superpower that I am finally privy to. I can wake up, tell myself I’m going to answer ten questions for gross anatomy or whatever, then have a break, and actually be able to do it without taking three hours to do ten questions because I spend so much time messing around. I’ve even been able to write this blog post without going to Facebook, then Twitter, and going to Google to search something unrelated that I’m curious about.

My executive functioning also seems to be improving. I picked up all the trash in my room and bagged it. All I have left to do is organize the stuff on my floor–but at least it’s not trash! And because my focus is better, my memory seems to be improving, which I found so problematic last term. I had to do so much repetition because it took an absurd amount of time for things to stick. Prior to my medication working, I almost felt the creeping fingers of burnout while studying for midterms and sucking down caffeine. Then I started to notice my medication dusting off the cobwebs of my mind. I let go of the caffeine, and I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to power through the rest of my midterms–even though I still couldn’t wait for them to be over with. I didn’t have as much time to study for my second patho exam as I did my first, but I did not freak out like I normally would. Instead, I used the power of focus. Even though I studied less, I felt it was more quality thanks to a clearer mind.

Unfortunately, I think my anxiety is still largely a separate thing, though it is better now because Strattera is doing a good job at dusting. I lost my mind during a midterm when I started having problems with Respondus (there’s a whole story behind why I flipped out that is connected to the fact that we originally used ProctorU). Of course, it was me jumping to conclusions; everyone had the exact same problem I did. Even so, I think parts of my anxiety are more under control now that the ADHD is settling down.

I am now enjoying this term more and feeling more confident that this is something I can manage, that I am capable of doing this, that I will not fail or drop any classes. I am looking more toward the future now instead of feeling trapped in the present, taking things one day at a time. You’d think that’d be a good thing, taking everything a day at a time, but sometimes being too present can feel stifling. Sometimes not looking toward the future means you are uncertain about whether or not you’re even going to have a future. Now I am doing research into a specialty that I would ultimately like to obtain within the decade after graduating PT school, one I’m very much excited about because I didn’t know of its existence. I have TMD, and physical therapists can help with that, and so I want to specialize in that area. I still want to specialize in the low back, but I’ll probably go after the McKenzie specialty first since it may count toward being able to be certified in the craniofacial and cervical spine through PTBCCT.

Overall, my passion for PT has been renewed thanks to finally being treated for ADHD.