Gravis, Gravitas

I gained 50 pounds in my first year and half of master's study. This isn't a tale of impostership or anxiety, how I ate my feelings because I just didn't belong. I was injured.

I didn't know how bad things had gotten until I went to the doctor for what I had complained was a sinus infection. The headaches were unstoppable. I hadn't slept in what felt like years. My neck was so stiff that I couldn't look to my right when pulling into traffic. I had slowly lost all of my peripheral vision.

Loss of sight isn't a symptom of a sinus infection. Even a really bad one.

Backstory: I think adjustment to graduate school is tough all over. While it's easier for some, it's tough for everyone. I don't know anyone who, in the midst of getting a master's degree, can say, "Oh, I feel like a perfectly confident and capable person right now!" The atmosphere just isn't conducive to confidence. Most programs are too short; once you feel comfortable with the script, you're done. (And, even then, it took me two years of doctoral study to really feel like I had caught on.)

Ergonomic injuries are cumulative, and by the time my second year--my teaching year--rolled around, I was experiencing a myriad of symptoms: blinding headaches, stiff neck and jaw, this strange alternation between rock-solid sleep (for 16-18 hours) and insomnia. And the weight gain, up to 60 pounds by that time. The doctors (and I saw many of them) chalked it up to stress (duh) and "chronic pain."

Nebulous term, "chronic pain." It means "pain that comes and goes, and we'll leave it at that because we're not sure why. Here's a pill designed specifically to treat such a problem. Take it and be in good health."

Maybe I'm a little cynical.

For a full year, November 2004 through November 2005, I took high doses of Amitriptyline, which intensified the insomnia and had the pleasant side effect of causing edema. The jaw pain was enough to warrant a spinal tap to check for meningitis (nope, and there's nothing like an unnecessary spinal tap to make you question all that's good and right in this world), and the headaches were sharp enough to warrant a brain scan (brain's there, for you doubters, and now I have photographic proof). The medicine knocked the edges off the pain; my body became a memory of ache: I could feel where it was supposed to hurt, but the pain was muffled.

Fast forward a bit: two more MRIs, vials and vials of blood work, and finally finally someone suggested I see a physical therapist. Diagnosis: weak lumbar. The lone cause of all that trauma was a loose core, which referred pain to my neck, jaw, and head and compressed an optical nerve. Three weeks of physical therapy, I came off the drugs, and my symptoms dwindled to only mild inconvenience. In my present still-sitting-most-of-the-time occupation, I have to work a few planks into my day to keep my core tight, or I'll get headaches. Hours a week slumped over books and first-year composition papers triggered a series of physical reactions that led to seeing a neurologist and a football team's worth of other specialists. And it all happened in about 18 months. More importantly, it still happens when I let my core work go too long. If I don't want to be broken in half, aching, and blinded by a pinched nerve, I have to listen to my body: feed it, move it, and give it a comfy place to create.

Once they finally figured out what was wrong with my broken body, I had to lose my 50-pound parting gift. I'll spend some time in the next few posts talking about the feeding habits of graduate students, per a conversation with a friend about the horribly unnatural things one must consume in order survive on $643 a month (pre-tax) and when reading for class on the bus home is considered "down time." Eating is, for me, is an emotional topic, since it's wrapped so tightly in cultural and social implications (and by its association with fat, which is a scary word for so many people. Hence the italics.).

1 comment:

erin said...

I still shudder to think about how I ate in grad school. No wonder I gained weight. I don't know exactly how much I gained, but I would guess at least 30 pounds.