An Hour of Reading a Day Keeps the Anxiety Away

books, daily life, dissertation, graduate school, Harry Potter, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, reading

I usually wake up around 4am. That is, the alarm goes off at four. I lay in bed for a bit, but I’m usually out in the kitchen by 4:15-4:20ish. Bruno usually prepares coffee the night before, so all I have to do is press the “on” button. I chug two glasses of water. I take vitamins.

And, then, I grab a mug of coffee. I set an hour timer on my phone. I sit on the couch. I open a book and read. I do not read Rousseau. I do not read anything related to my Ph.D. I read whatever I damn well please. I’ve been doing this for over a year now.

After I took my Ph.D. comprehensive exam I had a really hard time with stress, like more than normal. Like I have mentioned before, stress manifests itself physically for me so I had high blood pressure, an ulcer, insomnia, and panic attacks. Not to mention, comps was not exactly the highlight of my graduate school experience. Pressure may be a privilege, but I have never been at my best when the stakes are high.

I missed reading for the sake of reading. For the last four years, I mainly read only what was required for class or for a paper. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I read for school. I would not be doing this if I did not truly love it, but around comps I reached a point where I could not separate the fear of failure with reading political philosophy. I feel much better now, but I do not think it would have happened if not for my daily reading habit.

Knowing that I would likely not get it done in the evenings — that is typically “Bruno time” — I began getting up an hour earlier. I began with re-reading the Harry Potter series which I have not read for years and years despite being a favorite. It was comfort fiction, like eating my mom’s chocolate chip cookies or taking a warm bubble bath. I continued from there to Mischka Berlinski’s Fieldwork and then Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. I re-read favorite classics like Stendhal’s The Red and the Black and discovered new one’s like Anatole France’s The Gods Will Have Blood. Somewhere I had forgotten that I’m someone with lots of interests, not just Rousseau. Case in point: The hot topic of books I read last year was on explorers and conquerors of the Amazons last year (this one on Theodore Roosevelt and the Amazon River is on my shelf now. The obsession continues!).

As the year has passed, I have actually transitioned to reading books more related to my field. Right now I’m reading Homer’s Iliad for the first time — I know, I’m practically an uneducated barbarian. I have two books on liberalism and freedom of religion that I’ve started and yes, sometimes, I even read Rousseau — but only the autobiographical works and Julie!

The benefits of reading in the morning have been practical as well as good for my mental state. It is hard for me to drag myself out of bed to work out or to work really. I have tried to start writing right away in the morning and I just don’t like it. I like easing into my day not rushing into it. That I get to reward myself by getting out of bed so early in the morning with some coffee and a book and generally just some quiet time to myself usually means that while I am slow at getting out of bed, that snooze button is almost never pushed.

And by the time I do go for my run or start writing or whatever the morning has planned, I already feel replenished not only from a good night sleep, but a good book too.

xo, Ali

 

 

Blitzkrieg (Bop!) Dissertation Catch-Up

daily life, dissertation, graduate school, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

I hate feeling behind. We have only two more days until the Ides of March (beware!) and I am already five days behind my writing schedule, not to mention my plans for reading too. I blame last week. But I struggled with keeping up with my schedule in February too and I know I do not expect too much of myself — quality over quantity.

I’m at that point in chapter writing where it isn’t new anymore. And the more time that passes the more anxious I am beginning to feel. I have fifty-four pages of writing, but none of it feels like it coming together. I’m very close to finishing the second draft (assuming the chapter will end up around sixty pages), but I’m afraid I lost the thesis thread. I just want to get it done and turn in it so I can have that day or two of “ah.”

So with all that going on, I went to noon mass and adoration today. And while I entered with a lot of dissertation anxiety, I left with a plan. One might call it divine inspiration.

I have am declaring all-out war on the third chapter. This is a blitzkrieg. Like my “let’s just do this” weekend miles, so I could get my tenth week of consistent running in, I’m writing until I’m caught up. That is, by March 15, I not only want that second draft done, but I went to be onto the third.

This chapter will be turned in by the end of the month. And hopefully it will be even decent too.

Now take it, Dee Dee! Hey ho, let’s go!

xo, Ali

 

Monday Miles : March 5 – 11, 2018

dissertation, monday miles, running

Well, I was not so sure how this week was going to go. If you asked me on Friday, even, I would have said the miles just were not going to get done. I had been having stomach problems for over a week, visits to the doctor, the hospital, a migraine on Monday, and perhaps worst of all, almost no dissertating was done. C’est pas vrais! 

Friday afternoon, I found out the ultrasound was all clear and my bloodwork showed that I was getting over a virus. I did not (and still do not) feel that great, but I was no longer yacking. I felt unbelievably anxious and grumpy. Around four-ish on Saturday, I though I was just going to do what I could to make it happen. I did Wednesday’s 5 miles on Friday, Saturday’s 11 miles on Saturday, and Thursday’s 3 miles on Sunday. It was not pretty. But it got done.

saturdayrun

Saturday Pre-Run Power Pose.

 

3 / 5 : Nothing, nada, zilch. Not necessarily a recovery day, though. I did spend the day chasing down my two toddler nephews.

3 / 6 : 3 miles. IT Band & Core.

3 / 7 : Where everything begins to go downhill.

3 / 8 : I’m dying, Egypt. Dying.” Also, so much time in the walk-in clinic, the hospital, just waiting, waiting, waiting.

3 / 9 : 5 miles on the treadmill. Even though it was fine out, the treadmill just felt safer. This was fine. It happened. 3 x 10 push-ups, 3 x 10 assisted pull-ups, IT Band, and Core.

3 / 10 : I took some time to work as much on my dissertation as I could in the morning and I did something I never do. In fact, I kind of hate doing. I ran my long run in the afternoon. I told myself I only had to do six and could decide from there. Two miles in, feeling bloated, heavy, just blah, I was certain that I was not going to be able to do it. Well, guess what, I did it. It happened. I felt like a walrus the entire time because I felt so bloated and, frankly, exhausted the last two miles, but man, I was in a good mood the rest of the night. 11 miles in average 10:17 mile pace — which, for feeling like hell, felt pretty good to me.

3 / 11 : 3 miles. Slowly trudging around. I was sore. Yoga with Adriene for Back and Hips.

This week was a reminder to quit being so precious. Things don’t have to happen exactly how they are supposed to (i.e. running in the morning, not afternoon) do to get my runs in. I need to (must) apply the same thing to dissertation writing.

xo, Ali

 

 

 

 

Favorite Things : Week of March 3 – 9, 2018

favorite things, running

This week was quiet. I am having my first big hurdle to consistent training and dissertation writing, which is frustrating. I’m not good with plot-twists. I like routine. I like sameness day after day. I’m ok with not doing the usual — as in I watched my nephews on Monday and did zero work — provided that I had plenty of time to harness my expectations that the usual is not going to happen.

I had a great working day Tuesday, but for the past week I have been experiencing some increasingly intensive stomach pain. I’m not sure if it is related to Sunday’s migraine, but I’ve just really struggled keeping anything down. I checked all the possible suspects — not pregnant, no fever so not a flu, etc. Yesterday we decided to go to a walk-in clinic, which led to an ultrasound and blood tests.

The ultrasound came back with nothing on it and I had to re-do the blood tests, but mainly I’m just frustrated. I want whatever it is to be taken care of now. I am so scared that I am not going to be able to run my half at the end of April, lose the little speed gains I have made in the last several weeks of hard-fought consistency. I really, really, really do not want to start over. Again.

And with that panicky introduction, I will leave you with this week’s favorite things:

I loved this piece from Ashley Ford at Cup of Jo so much. I do not have kids yet, but I think about how different it will be to raise them compared with how I was raised. Most likely they will not be milking on a dairy farm before and after school. Considering that both Bruno and I will have our Ph.D.’s by the time we have kids, they will most likely have a very different culture being raised than I did. The differences probably between how Bruno is raised and how our kids are raised are perhaps even more stark –he was a Brazilian immigrant, grew up speaking Portuguese in the house, and even left the states to go back to Brazil during his childhood to return back here. It is just interesting to think about. I, too, like the women in this article fear that my kids my end up “too happy” and not understand struggle and working for what you want.

This shirt.

Productivity advice. Common sense, but I can always use it.

I enjoyed this article on the new rebranding of Johnny Walker as Jane Walker. Frankly, I exceedingly dislike consumerist feminism (as in “buy this because it supports women!”) and this phenomenal article really calls out this problem with the liquor industry: Women, Booze and the Vote

I’ve been making my own sourdough bread, but sometimes I feel lazy. This looks like a good possible substitute.

Hopefully someday I’ll have what I need to be an ultrarunner.

I can hardly go a day without dropping an “f-bomb,” but I really do not like it in writing. Let me rephrase that, I think there are very few writers who can cuss in their writing without it sounding gratuitous or like the writer is trying too hard. Anyways, I guess my f-bomb habit is good for me.

Have a good weekend!

xo, Ali

 

 

 

In (And Out of) Bed : A Response to Joan Didion

books, daily life

joandidion

Joan Didion’s “In Bed” with all its clinical accuracy made me proud to have migraines. After all, this and a love of big black sunglasses were two things I had in common with a woman who is considered a great American writer.

I had my first in eighth grade, on my way home from my first post-parents-divorce therapist appointment. Hours after I was telling some stranger about life at home, I was in the emergency room, throwing up in a pink container. I had no idea my body had the capacity for that amount of pain.

I did not have another migraine for another year (missing my freshmen homecoming) and after that they came with yearly regularity. I’m lucky though. One a year. Only a couple of hours. I know people who have them for days. Didion had them a few times a month.

I never take anything for them. By the time I realize I am about to have one, it is already too late. I remember sitting with a friend at a coffee shop suddenly unable to focus on my eyes on anything in the room, unable to focus on what she was saying. That is usually the first sign. “We have to go,” I announced abruptly. I spend the next six or eight hours between my bed and the bathroom.

When I was in high school, I used to panic when I had them. When Didion writes that migraines are supposedly imaginary, that is how I felt. I would come down the stairs, startled by the fact I could not feel the left side of my lips, my face, my hands. They tingled. I would be informed that I need to “calm down” because I was “making it worse.” Then up the stairs I would go to make the dozens of trips from the bed to the bathroom.

I later found out these symptoms are common accompaniments to migraine. And I eventually became more stoic. “I’m having a migraine,” I now announce and then ride it out in bed (and the bathroom) until it is over. Calm throughout.

My only migraine-related irritation are those people who get on social media and complain that they are having a migraine right now. I lose my mind (and my stomach) if someone so much as looks out the window, letting in natural sunlight, while I have a migraine. I cannot imagine being able to look at a computer screen. I cannot believe those people. I waver between jealousy and a desire to direct them to the differences between headaches and migraines.

One thing that Didion never discusses is the primal messes migraines create out of normally rational people. Even when she describes the symptoms, they sound so far away, not really experienced. They even sound glamourous. One imagines Didion in her sunglasses. Nobody imagines Didion out of her mind scorched with pain, vomit on her shirt, exhausted, but unable to sleep, most likely irritating (and scaring) everyone around her. I have never had a migraine where I end up in bed and stay there, at least, not until the worst is over. And the worst is the migraine.

This past Sunday night I cursed Joan Didion for her calm, rational approach to migraines. It started at dinner. Bruno and I had a dinner of sushi. And then just as the waitress was giving us back the check, I looked up at Bruno and realized I could not focus my eyes. For whatever reason, I refused to recognize the migraine for what it was. I just had one a couple months ago. It had not been a year. Maybe three months since my last one.

I closed my eyes the entire way home, willing the pain in my head to go away. I did not even make Bruno turn off the music. I was not having a migraine. I went home and laid on the couch. “Do you want some cake?” Bruno asked. “Just a sec, I’m waiting for this to go away.” All the usual symptoms started making their appearances. My stomach started to lurch (a wonderful respite from the actual migraine pain) and my left side went numb and tingly. I removed myself to the bathroom.

But I just could not stay calm. I broke the rule that had been drilled into me since the very beginning: panic makes it worse. I made it worse. I panicked.

Suddenly I have only one aim: stop the pain. This is a side-effect of my panic. I forget that while I can control my emotions, I cannot control this pain. I seek control of the latter.

Deep down I know that I cannot make the pain go away. Still, I do whatever gives me a reprieve from the pain. I throw up. I place my head on the cold bathroom floor, begging over and over again, “Please make it stop. Please, please, please make it stop.” Bruno has to move to a different room to sleep, because I cannot stop getting into bed and back out of bed. There is nothing he can do. And truly I just want to suffer alone. Other people trying to help only reminds me that there is nothing that can be done. And fool that I am, attempting to regain control over my body, I drink water, get sick, place head on cold bathroom floor, plead for the end, go back to bed, and repeat.

I have no idea what time it eventually broke. One of the times I lifted my head (from the toilet? the bathroom floor?) I realized it was over. My head hurt. Yes. But it was starting to dull. Done. Over. I could, finally, go back in bed and remain there.

Didion is right about the end though. I woke up Monday morning still feeling the after-effects of the previous night, an undeserved hangover. I have no idea how much sleep I actually got. My body aches in places that are not my stomach and head. But for one day, I have a forced and welcome calm.

 

 

Monday Miles : February 26 – March 4, 2018

lifting, monday miles, running

This was a recovery week. It felt good, but I don’t know if recovery weeks will ever stop making me nervous. This upcoming Saturday I am supposed to run eleven miles, this last Saturday I ran six. All I can think is : “What is I can’t do it? What if I get injured?” I’ll be anxious until Saturday when the run is over. When I think, “ah, I can still do it. Good.” Relief. Totally irrational.

On an extremely different note, I want to touch on something that happened on my run on Saturday. I wrote an Instagram post about it, which is odd for me, because I’m usually anti-social media emotion, but I was so shaken up over it that it felt like an impulse. I ran past a man and woman (possibly a couple) in a loud altercation on Saturday, that sounded like it was on the verge of getting violent, or maybe actually was. As I told a friend, the woman’s screaming did not sound angry, but scared. I don’t know. I didn’t turn around, because I didn’t want to call attention to myself. Instead, I called Bruno and Bruno called the cops. I have no idea what happened after that, but it was deeply unsettling and upsetting. I told another friend who very sweetly text me after my post that I felt like I was being dramatic. I felt pretty off the rest of the day. But I just kept worrying about that woman, hoping the cops got there, whatever the situation was, whatever, I just was worrying that she would be ok. I wish I had something more insightful to say here, but I have never been naïve to that sort of ugliness in the world (my mom was very involved with the local crisis center). It just has been a long time since I have seen it (or rather heard it) in such force.

And ending on that somber note, here are my miles for the week:

2 / 26 : MTV Pilates & Yoga with Adriene for Psoas.

2 / 27 : 3 miles easy; IT Band & Core.

2 / 28 : 5 miles, 9:35 mile average; 3 x 10 assisted pull-ups; 3 x 10 push-ups; 3 x 10 kettle-bell swings; 3 x 10 hamstring things that I cannot remember what they are called; .5 mile run back to the house; IT Band & Core.

3 / 1 : 3 miles easy; IT Band & Core.

3 / 2 : IT Band & Core (I wish I could remember specifically what I did. I just set a timer for an hour and did all the usual, clamshells, bridges, etc.)

3 / 3 : 6 miles. I was supposed to run a 10k, but with no 10k around I just took the flat route to see how fast I could go. It was not the most even run of my life, but I did complete my goal — I ran it under an hour, average 9:28 pace. I’m going to repeat this work-out in a couple of weeks, so hopefully my time will improve even a little bit more.

3 / 4 : MTV Yoga.

Total : 17.5ish miles.

Have a great Monday!

xo, Ali

 

Favorite Things : February 24 – March 2, 2018

favorite things

And another bites the dust. All I can say is dissertation chapter three is growing and the miles are flying by. Tomorrow I head back to Ohio for a weekend visiting family. I haven’t been home since around Christmas, so homesickness is starting to be at around an all-time high.

Campus will be on spring break, but Bruno and I are not — so it will be just another regular week for us, although I will not have to work at the archives — aka more time for Rousseau.

And without further ado, this week’s favorite things.

I’ve loved this poem for years. It explains so perfectly why I wake up so early (between 4-5!).

I’ve just recently starting wearing red lipstick, well actually lipstick in general. I’m not much of a make-up person. I don’t even wear foundation or any sort of cover-up! Anyways, these beautiful shades are making me think I should broaden my lipstick horizons.

Adding these work-outs to my Wednesday to-run list!

Bruno and I moving houses this summer. The décor of our current place is very bachelor meets graduate student, so these wall décor ideas are giving me some ideas and plans.

I made this for dinner last night. It was definitely a winner.

I’ve been wanting a motorcycle jacket for so long. I’ve wanted this motorcycle jacket for all of today.

Have a good weekend!

xo, Ali

 

Throwback Thursday Tunes : The Dissertation Process Edition

dissertation, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, music, throw-back thursday tunes

ledzeppelin

Keeping with my theme yesterday, I was thinking about the songs that get me through the different parts of dissertation writing. I am not one of those people who can write without music. I need to tune out the other world and drop into dissertation-land if anything is going to get typed out or edited. Usually this is Bob Dylan or the Velvet Underground. Television’s Marquee Moon and Patti Smith’s Horses have been on repeat lately. Other times I’ll just see what Spotify has in store for me. The first 60 seconds of the Avett Brothers’ Talk on Indolence describes the dissertating experience better than any song I’ve ever heard. It captures that frantic writing that comes with the first draft. If I am really trying to concentrate I’ll put on Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique” (my absolute favorite) and just listen to it over and over again.

Here I Go Again, beginning with the nerve-wrecking and hopeful beginnings. You happily take the plunge Into The Great Wide Open.

And then the hurdles come. When you feel like you just Couldn’t Get It Right and you just can’t see the light. You want to take a Mudshovel to your chapter. You tell Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” Just me? Ok, then.

But you Carry On.

And eventually you start Beginning to See the Light. The argument makes sense (hopefully). You start to make sure every Oxford Comma has its place.

And then. Finally. The Beautiful Day. You turn the chapter in. And all you have to do is another round or two of edits until it is approved and soon enough, you’ll be Grazing in the Grass. Baby, can you dig it?

You can find the whole Dissertation Edition playlist here.

xo, Ali

P.S. The playlist is 1 hour and 30 minutes, the same amount of time I use as dissertation writing blocks.