Thursday, May 4, 2017

From The Influence List to Fractals to Nihilism

Recently, while downsizing some of my belongings and memory items collected over the past 10+ years, I came across the program from my high school graduation. The 17 students who participated in the ceremony each had two pages in the program: one for a brief auto-biography and one for a submission from one's parents. As a high schooler, I believed strongly in what I called "The Influence List." It was originally a book idea and I had started some preliminary work on the project at one point. The basic premise was this: everyone and everything has an influence on your life, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. It's like an interpersonal version of the butterfly effect, where a small change across the globe can have a significant effect on local weather. The brief auto-biography I submitted for my high school graduation program was a miniature verstion of "The Influence List."

I took a moment to pause and read this page...
I highlighted the particularly salient influences of an algebra professor at Penn State York, HOBY Leadership Seminar, a Bible class at Lancaster Bible Colleg, a Spanish class at Harrisburg Area Community College York, and everyone and everything: "In addition to the people, programs, and classes mentioned above, I also value everyone I've ever known and everything I've ever done because each person and thing I've experienced has influenced me in some way or become a part of who I am today. I honestly feel that everyone I know has made me who I am. Whether I have known you for basically forever or only for a moment, I appreciate you for what you have shown me, taught me, or made me understand."
...and I was struck by the fact that this specific area of my personal philosophy has shifted quite a bit, but I'm jumping ahead.

Toward the end of my first year of college, I dated a guy who was really into fractals. He liked them for the math and science side of them and I grew to like them for the aesthetic aspect. I also liked them because fractals are everywhere. Lightning bolts, rivers and deltas, trees and ferns, and our circulatory and nervous systems. Everywhere. I took this piece of information and added it to the memory network where "The Influence List" was stored and created a new belief: not only did everyone and everything have influence, everything was connected. Fractals remained an interest; I later purchased the book, Design in Nature, which proposes a new principle of physics to better-explain fractals; in early 2015, I got a circle fractal as my first tattoo; and at some point during summer 2016, I explained my fractal tattoo to a friend as being representative of my spiritual belief that everything is connected.

In January, I went to see the new Resident Evil movie. The combination of the closing scene plus situational stressors at the time prompted a bit of an existential crisis for me. I drove home with a dark cloud of thought: nothing matters, nothing matters, nothing matters. As I neared home, I broke through the other side of that cloud: nothing matters and that's good because the only things that matter are the things that I choose to matter. The situational stressors became insignificant. The only things that matter are what I make matter.

Two months later, during a bike ride, I was thinking about upcoming life changes and opportunities in light of recent let downs and frustrations. I decided that no one's opinion matters but my own and I can do what I want and create my own happiness. I also decided that life could be going poorly and I could use the fact that nothing matters to create a positive emotion and, conversely, that life could be going well and there would be no pressure to be 100% happy 100% of the time. Only I am master of my fate and emotions. There is always choice and it is always mine.

Wikipedia defines nihilism  as "a philosophical doctrine that suggests the lack of belief in one or more reputedly meaningful aspects of life; most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that is life without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value."

Life is without objective meaning. Nothing matters except for what I choose to make matter.
Life is without objective purpose. Nothing matters except for what I choose to make matter.
Life is without intrinsic value. If we take "life" to mean the day to day experience of living: nothing matters except for what I choose to make matter. If we take "life" to mean human life, that is where I am not a nihilist.

Wikipedia defines existential humanism as, broadly, the human struggle for self-knowledge and self-responsibility. Kierkegaard says that the best use of our choice "is to live a fully human life rooted in a personal search for values rather than an external code. Nothing matters except for what I choose to make matter. Sartre says that value is self-created. Nothing matters except for what I choose to make matter.

My beliefs around "The Influence List" and fractals still remain, but they are now expanded MY the belief that these things only matter to me because I choose to make them matter. That's the crux of it: CHOICE. Maybe choice is what is fully human, maybe choice is what gives us soul; what allows us to influence and be influenced by others, to see connections in nature, and to create meaning in our own lives. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ironman 70.3 Augusta Race Report


Water temperature of 78 wetsuit!

First river swim!
Longest no-wetsuit open water swim!
First armadillo sighting!
First catfish farm sighting!
Successfully drank enough water on bike!
Broke the ultimate rule of race day...twice!
Longest run ever!
First half marathon!
Discovered an allergy!
Made fun of tired volunteers! 

Last Training Block (4 weeks)

2 Weeks Overreach

For overreach, I had little to no idea of what I was doing or how I would feel. I was told it would be fatiguing, obviously, but figuring out how much fatigue was too much fatigue was one giant experiment. I decided to stick to the training plan and back off if needed. I did skip one day of lifting sometime during overreach and replaced jump squats with regular squats to reduce impact on my knees. 

On September 10th, the last day of overreach, I was scheduled to do a long brick (35-40 mile bike and 7-8 mile run). I made plans to do this workout in a different county, since I had ridden pretty much every road I wanted to ride in my home county over the past few months. I met up with a cycling buddy for a beautiful 35 miles ride and planned to run at least 7 miles afterwards. I bonked really, really hard on the run and ended up getting in about 5.5 miles before calling it quits, knowing I did not want to go into my two weeks of taper over-fatigued. Lessons learned from this tough brick were that I needed better sleep the night before, needed to hydrate more on the bike, needed to eat more before the bike and during the bike, and that I needed to train more for running in high temperatures. 

2 Weeks Taper

Taper was also an experiment. I was told that "things would come together during taper." After an active recovery day on September 11th with some pretty significant fatigue and frustration from the tough brick the day before, I felt pretty good on week one of taper and stuck to the training plan. During a short brick on September 17th, I had some shortness of breath, which I attributed to damp air. During week two of taper, I felt terrible. I felt fatigued and grumpy and also had shortness of breath and high heart rate during cardio workouts that week. PMS is a cruel mistress, my friends. I also suspect that my body may have preferred a shorter taper block, but who knows. I think it was a combination of work stress, life stress, PMS, immune release following a deep tissue massage, and cardio withdrawal. During this time, I read an article about the mental exhaustion of taper and found it to be very true. Doubts start to creep in because, if you're not ready, it's too late. I slept a lot, stuck to the training plan, began increasing my calorie intake on Thursday, prepped pasta for carb-loading, packed on Thursday evening, went to bed early on Friday, and woke up early on Saturday to travel to Georgia. 

Pre-race Saturday

I left home around 4:45am and arrived in Augusta shortly before 9:00am. I was grumpy and crampy. Mom and dad arrived shortly after and we went together to a very well-organized and busy athlete check-in. Ironman 70.3 Augusta is one of the largest, if not the largest Ironman 70.3 races in the world; capped at 3500 participants. We attended mandatory athlete briefing at 10:00am and then drove a few miles down the road to the transition area. I met up with some triathlete friends from Tennessee before going for a short warm-up ride around town. Still dealing with grumpy-cramps, I instantly felt better as soon as I clipped in and started pedaling. I rode for about 30 minutes and maintained a low heartrate. I returned to the transition area, left my bike on its designated rack space, and walked through transition to get a sense of my rack location for swim-bike and bike-run transitions. I let air out of my tires in anticipation of temperature change throughout the rest of the day. Someone who raced Ironman Chattanooga the same day said he heard a lot of tires popping on Saturday due to the high temperature. After bike check-in, we returned to the hotel and met up with my friends from Tennessee who had traveled to spectate and went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Then it was back to the hotel to repack for race day and go to bed early. The sofa bed had a hole at the foot of it, so I warned mom that I would move to their bed if I fell through the mattress frame during the night. I slept peacefully without incident. 

Race Day

I woke up around 4:15am, packed some breakfast (2 hard boiled eggs and a bagel), and left with mom and dad around 5:00am. We parked near transition so that I could go in for body marking and transition set-up. A volunteer wrote my race number on both of my arms and my age on my left calf, which mom said looked more like 85 than 25. I thought it looked like 05. I set up my transition area and double checked my supplies, mentally picturing T1 and T2. The official announcement was made that the water temperature in the Savannah River was a toasty 78 degrees, so no wetsuits. I ate my two eggs and we walked back to the car to find parking closer to the swim start. I released some tension from feeling overwhelmed by crying for a few minutes and ate my bagel. We parked near swim start and had a nice restroom and coffee provided by St. Paul's Episcopal Church. The first racers were in the water at 7:30am and I had an hour and fourteen minutes to wait before my wave began. I stretched, went to the restroom, changed my tampon, and got in line with my wave at 8:30am. 


My wave started at 8:44am. I got to the front of the line so that I could go to the end of the dock toward the center of the river and left-most side of the swim area, in order to be in the strongest current area. Walking across the slippery floating dock was scarier than the swim itself, other than the bundles of prickly seaweed that whacked me in the face and draped across my throat and threatened to choke me. I saw a few leaves that looked like fishes. Or maybe they were fishes. I got water in my nose once, which has happened during a few recent open water swims. Afterwards, it takes me a few breaths to get back into rhythm. I stuck to my alternating breathing pattern and did not work too hard. Thanks, current! At one point, I saw a pair of face-up floating feet looking very dead and was quite startled until I realized she was doing a lazy backstroke. So, thanks, lady, for giving me a small heart attack. I went to the left of one channel buoy in order to avoid hitting it head-on. Swim exits are probably my least favorite part of open water swims, second only to anxious thoughts about vicious aquatic creatures. The last few meters feel the slowest and continuing to swim while not knowing how shallow it will become or how quickly is very disorienting. I made it out, there were no strippers because there were no wetsuits, and I saw mom and dad at swim exit.

Time: 32:54
Pace: 1:42/m
Division rank: 39


After a long jog to my bicycle, I greeted Leo Lady by calling her "beautiful bicycle." My transition neighbor thought I meant her bicycle and I did not correct her. I put gels, bloks, and a tampon in my pocket and picked up my bagels with peanut butter to put in my other pocket. An ant colony had set up camp in one of the bagel baggies, so I left that one and took the other. I ate a handful of trail mix and grabbed my bike off the rack. 

Time: 5:52


I saw my parents on bike out and settled in to take it easy for the first portion before any climbing.During the first few miles, I saw my first armadillo roadkill. I learned that I had never learned where armadillos live naturally. I felt good and stable and kept a nice pace and a low RPE for the first 15 or so miles and continued feeling good through mile 30 or so. It was neat to be a part of a group of thousands of cyclists with 6 bike-lengths between. Cyclists as far as the eye could see; the biggest non-drafting group ride ever. The rid was well-supported by volunteers and law enforcement officers, which made the miles fun. I saw one "wreck" during a climb: a woman laying in the lane with two others stopped to help. I suspect either poor gearing and/or overlapped wheels. I saw a catfish farm at one point. And I leapfrogged a nice gentleman named Todd a few times. I would catch him on climbs and he would catch me on descents. At aid station 1, I threw away my empty water bottle and grabbed a new water bottle while riding. At aid station 2, I stopped for a moment and grabbed a citrus gel, a new water, and a bottle of Gatorade Endurance. I had been training with regular Gatorade, but not the endurance formula, so I broke the ultimate rule of racing by trying something new. It worked out fine. Around mile 35, my feet started burning really bad. I have either gotten taller and/or my posture has changed since I've started lifting and I need to invest in a full bike fit in the near-future. I considered stopping to stretch and was given encouragement by a guy with a fancy bike said "I know" when I told him my feet were burning. I figured if fancy-bike-guy's feet are also burning and he's continuing on, so can I. I decided to stop at aid station 3 to stretch and have a potty/tampon break. I ate my bagel before aid station 3 and that helped, as well. At aid station 3, I racked my bike, peed and changed my tampon, stretched for a few minutes, refreshed my water and dumped one bottle on my head and face, and picked up a pack of citrus bloks. I biked the rest of the way feeling pretty good, passed Todd one last time at bike in, and saw my parents again. 

Time: 3:32:06
Pace: 15.84 mph
Division Rank: 43


I jogged back to my rack spot; racked my bike; and put on fresh socks, my running shoes, my hat, and my race belt. I jogged to a volunteer to get sprayed with sunscreen before heading out. As I ran up to him, my brain said "sunscreen, please," but what came out of my mouth was complete gibberish. He stared at me blankly as I tried again: "I can't even talk. Can I have some sunscreen?" I didn't wait long enough to have him spray my back well and did end up getting some burn during the run. 

Time: 5:38


I saw my parents at run out and was immediately cooking in the direct sun. I planned to run 15 minute intervals and walk 1 minute intervals and rapidly realized this was far too ambitious. I heard a girl say she was doing 4/1 intervals and I decided to do 5/1 intervals after triple-checking my math to make sure I could still finish under my goal of 7:30:00. The first 2-mile stretch of the run was a long straightaway with zero shade. I bonked pretty hard around mile 2.5, stopped to cry for a moment, recommitted to 5/1 intervals, got into a rhythm, and quickly hit 4 miles. I saw mom and dad 3 times during the run, drank water at every aid station and dumped water on my upper body. I ran or walked extra as I was able to or needed to. I peed around mile 5.5 and rejoiced that I was well-hydrated. At some point, I started carrying a cup for ice to keep me cool and for extra hydration between aid stations. I wish I would have taken a bottle with me to carry to maintain more hydration between aid stations. Around mile 8, I hollered to a nearby volunteer if his volunteer-friend who was lounging in the shade was tired. Around mile 10.5, I ate the citrus Clif Shot I had grabbed at an aid station on the bike route and discovered that I was allergic to one of the ingredients. Trying something new during the race worked for me once, but a second time was apparently pushing my luck. It was a mild reaction, just inflammation on the roof of my mouth, which I've had before from certain barbecue sauces. I wouldn't have minded so much if that flavor wasn't SO delicious. I drank some Coke and some Red Bull at some point. Around mile 11.8, I cried as I passed nearby the finish area, feeling surreal pride for my body and willpower. I considered stopping for a second pee break, but only had a short distance remaining. I rand my last 0.5 hard while crying, crossed the finish line, and cry-hugged the volunteer who placed the finisher medal around my neck. 

Time: 3:01:40
Pace: 13:52/mi
Division rank: 43

Overall Time: 7:18:10
Division Rank: 43 out of 59
Gender Rank: 624 out of ???
Overall Rank: 1810 out of 2568

Now What?

Who knows. One thing I do know is that no one warned me about the emotional fall-out following the end of a season. My training plan, workouts, and calorie intake have been a huge priority since February. Mental preparation began even before that, with registering for the race and training for and running a 10k in January. The end of this season has felt like the end of a relationship. 

In the immediate future, I will be racing a Sprint distance triathlon with my mom this upcoming Sunday, which will be her longest triathlon to date, as well as her first open water swim competition. 

I'm mostly recovered and went for a nice ride this morning. I have some lingering pain and tightness in my right ankle, which is likely related to overuse from the race. 

On October 15th, I'll be doing the 40-mile White Squirrel Cycling Classic, which I thought was considered a race, but is not. I may ride it like a race. 

For next year...I'm fairly undecided. I'm open to doing another 70.3, likely Augusta again. I will definitely continue racing Sprint and Olympic distances, probably forever. I would like to upgrade my wheels and get some aero bars. It will soon be time for new running shoes. I've played around with the idea of testing out a cyclocross race here or there. And maybe I'll be totally crazy and do a 144.6 in the next year or two. Who knows. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Gains and Goals: An Update

Three years and seventeen days after my first triathlon race (09/02/2013), it is time for a physical health and wellness update. I was reading through old posts a month ago and stumbled upon the original physical health and wellness post (09/06/2013), which I re-posted to Facebook because I thought it was hilarious compared to where I am currently.

Three previous blog posts may or may not be referenced throughout this update. These are:
Physical Health and Wellness           09/06/2013
Living Clean                                       12/16/2013
Gains and Goals: The Plan               01/06/2014

In order to review the past three plus years of my physical health and wellness journey, I pieced together a timeline of major milestones and events, which I hope is mostly comprehensive.

May 2012.........................Graduated college; farewell, BC! Began biking to/from work on my mom's old Huffy mountain bike
July 20, 2012....................New bike day! Surly Pacer
August 2012.....................Moved to TN for grad school at ETSU
September 2012................Began participating in local group rides, watched current boyfriend participate in a 70.3 Ironman
November 2012................Started running!
Summer 2013...................Lived in Virginia with current boyfriend and ran/biked maybe four times
August 2013.....................Back to TN for grad school
September 2, 2013............First sprint triathlon: Barberito's Sprint at Warrior's Path
April 2014........................First metric century ride (100 km/62 mi): Jacob Francisco Memorial Century
May 2014..........................First official 5k event: Thirsty Orange; graduated grad school; good riddance, ETSU!
June 6, 2014.....................Moved to beautiful Western NC; geography of my soul
June 9, 2014.....................Started work as a mental health and substance use counselor
Summer 2014...................Kept up some with biking and running, but adjusting to full-time work took a toll
October 2014....................Second official 5k event: Color Me Rad
April 18, 2015..................Second metric century ride: Jacob Francisco Memorial Century
May 25, 2015...................First organized ride with mom and dad: Ride for Hospice (13 miles)
May 29, 2015...................New bike day! DeVinci Leo
June 2015.........................First imperial century ride (100 mi): Fletcher Flyer
August 9, 2015.................First Olympic distance triathlon: Lake Logan
August 15, 2015...............New shoe day!
August 22, 2015...............Registered for Ramseur Lake Olympic triathlon
September 19, 2015.........Second Olympic distance triathlon: Ramseur Lake
October 18, 2015..............Rode to Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway
November 1, 2015............Pumpkin Peddler Costume Bike Ride
November 15, 2015..........Ordered a Share the Road custom license plate: RL#5
November 27, 2015..........Ordered a Garmin Forerunner 290xt
January 2016.....................Registered for August 70.3 and other triathlons, first official 10k event: Hot Cocoa 10k
February 2016...................Started the official 70.3 training plan: lift, swim, bike, run
April 10, 2016...................Second organized ride with mom and dad: Gears and Steers (25 miles)
April 16, 2016...................Third metric century ride: Jacob Francisco Memorial Century
June 5, 2016......................Second imperial century ride: Fletcher Flyer
July 24, 2016.....................First triathlon event of the season, with mom! You Go Girl Puroclean mini triathlon (250 yd, 10 mi, 2.5 mi)
August 7, 2016..................Third Olympic distance triathlon: Lake Logan (19 minutes faster than 2015!)
August 27, 2016................Sprinternational distance triathlon: Watauga Lake (1000 m, 35 km, 8 km)

...and here we are, kiddos.

Less than one week to August 70.3 Ironman. Last Saturday, September 10th, was my last major training workout prior to beginning two weeks of taper. That long bike/run brick was really difficult and did not help my confidence very much before going into my taper. I recently read a post about how taper can be just as mentally and emotionally exhausting as heavy load training weeks because now it's all over. There's nothing to do but maintain, rest, and trust your body. There's no cramming for a test here. You're either ready or you're not. There's nothing to do but wait. My pre-test mantras were always "Do your best" and "Go with your gut." Those probably apply here, as well.

Tonight, I re-read over my athlete guide and some advice from triathlon friends. I drafted a weekend schedule (travel, arrive, athlete check-in, athlete briefing, easy warm-up/stretch ride, bike check-in, etc.) and drafted a packing list divided into sections (swim start, transition one, transition two, post-race).

For now, I am sitting with the anticipation for the athletic event. I'm ready. I'll do my best. I can't cram; all I can do is rest, mentally prepare, and eat as much as I can Friday and Saturday. (a not-so-hidden perk of endurance racing: pastaaaaaaaaaa). The anticipation of the chaos of the event (approximately 3500 participants!) is the most stressful part at this point.

Looking ahead, I have a deep tissue massage scheduled for Tuesday after my race.

And, because I'm crazy, I will be "racing" (pacing) a Sprint distance triathlon with my mom on October 1 and participating in my first official road race (40 miles) on October 15.

Hang onto your hats, I've lost my mind.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

On Being an Empath

On Being an Empath

According to Google, an empath is: "(chiefly in science fiction) a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual."

To me, an empath simply is a person with an especially strong sense of empathy and emotion in general. I identify as an empath and a number of my friends do as well. Based on what I know about MBTI personality types, empaths tend to score high in the areas of intuition and feeling, as opposed to sensing and thinking, respectively.

For me, being an empath impacts my emotions, relationships, and life in a number of ways. Sentimentality in regards to people, places, and things; emotional investment in work; and emotional sensitivity in relationships. In the past, I have thought of these characteristics as separate personality traits or quirks, but more recently, I have come to conceptualize all of these aspects as falling under the umbrella of my identity as an empath.

Sentimentality for People
I miss people. A lot. I miss people that probably haven't given me a second thought. I miss people who I have known only briefly or met only once, or even only know online through mutual friends. Perhaps missing is not the right word. I believe that everyone has impacted my life in some way and have intended to write extensively on this topic because of it's significance in my life. With this belief, and with my empath personality, I feel a deep emotional connection to everyone I know or have known. This is incredibly clear to me through how I write about my interactions with others and in the vivid memories I have of people, even of the briefest connections. I miss people I knew from my first job, I miss people I knew in high school, I miss people from college, I miss people from grad school, I miss others I have known more briefly, and someday I will miss you too.

Sentimentality for Places
I have multiple places I call home, for different reasons. Each place I identify as home was formative in some way. I feel a tug when I visit these places and I become homesick when I leave them. I was homesick after after a recent visit to where I went to grad school. I became homesick after spending a lot of time thinking about where I grew up. I will become homesick next month. after I visit where I went to college. Places are tied to experiences and experiences are tied to emotions.

Sentimentality for Things
Similar to people and places, things are also tied to experiences, which are tied to emotions. I also carry the hoarder gene, which makes this worse.

Emotional Investment in Work
I believe that empaths are more likely to work in helping professions, such as counseling, nursing, social work, and so on. In helping professions, helpers are likely to take work home with them because of emotional investment in their work. As an empath, this is even more likely. Anyone in a helping profession will tell you about the importance of self-care and preventing burnout. I believe that burnout is even more likely for those who identify as empaths.

Emotional Sensitivity in Relationships
The main trait of an empath is sensing the emotions of others with intensity. For empaths in relationships, this can cause strain because the empath deeply feels his or her partner's emotions and can get stuck in them with his or her partner. You're sad? I'm sad. I'm not only sad that you're sad, I'm also sad because I truly feel that you're sad. Sometimes, both people in a relationship identify as empaths, which makes this process even more continuous. You're sad? I'm sad because you're sad AND I'm sad because I truly feel that you're sad AND now you're more sad because you truly feel that I'm sad. And so forth.

These can be the difficulties of being an empath, but they are also the blessings of it. I am deeply thankful for the people I have known, the places I have been, and the things I have had. I am deeply thankful for the people I know, the places I am, and the things I have. I love my job. I love building connections with clients at my job. I love being invested in clients at my job. And, even though dating an empath can complicate both of our feelings, it also greatly increases our communication skills and overall understanding of one another.

Would I trade being an empath if I could? No.

Would you?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Geography of My Soul

Some of my friends know that my favorite color is more than my favorite color; it is the color of my soul. I am drawn to it in any context - clothing, household items, paint, anything.

Recently, I have discovered the geography of my soul, although it seems this has been knowledge beyond my awareness for quite sometime.

When I was about ten, my family and I vacationed in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We explored Dollywood, attended The Dixie Stampede, and went horseback riding. After returning home to PA after this trip, I told my mom that I wanted to go to college in that area because of the mountains.

When I was about fifteen, my family and I vacationed in Bayse, Virginia. We hiked, toured the Blue Ridge Parkway, and discovered that Virginia has stations sold beer. Haha. After returning home to PA after this trip, I told my mom that I wanted to go to college in that area because of the mountains.

I did attend college within that second set of mountains, about an hour south of Bayse. That was home for three years.

When looking into graduate schools, I chose a school in a more southern part of that same mountain region and called East Tennessee home for two more years.

Now, having recently moved to western North Carolina for my first job as a working professional, I have realized that I have wandered back to the mountains of Pigeon Forge and that these mountains are the geography of my soul.

During college, surrounded by farmland, I always remembered that I was in the valley. I went for drives often enough to always be reminded of the mountains. I could see the tops of them after a short stroll.

During graduate school, it was much easier to forget about the mountains. There was a less distinct valley and the tops were not noticeable. I really only remembered when I commuted on the highway or biked.

Now, it is impossible to forget. I can see mountains from my house in every direction. I see mountains in every direction no matter where I go.

I felt drawn to these mountains as a child and I was right.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Blending Roles and The Art of Practice

I grew up with roles being defined by the notion of "multiple hats." I had my daughter hat, my sister hat, my student hat, my friend hat, and so on. As I got older, my hat closet expanded. I had my employee hat, my coworker hat, my tutor hat, my roommate hat, my researcher hat, my band member hat. Graduate school has added even more hats. My primary hats now include a counselor hat, an instructor hat, a peer hat, a group leader hat, a friend hat, a supervisor hat, and an interviewer hat.

Last semester, it began to appear that this hat metaphor was lacking. This semester, this realization has become increasingly clear.

Last semester, as I began my clinical internship as a counselor, my counselor role and friend role began to compete. I remember visiting home for a weekend and spending time with one of my best friends. As she told me about an area of personal growth she was working through and she asked for my input, I told her that I was having a weird experience of disconnect, where I knew what my counselor brain would say, but my friend brain was unsure whether or not it agreed with my counselor brain. My friend asked to hear what my counselor brain would say in order to evaluate if it matched with her perception of my friend brain. She said that it did. Maybe my hats were not so separate after all.

Also last semester, I remember a meeting my assistant and I had with one of our residents regarding some expressions of discontent. After the meeting, while my assistant and I were processing, he made a comment that he could imagine that my interaction with this resident was similar to my interactions with my client. I agreed. Maybe my hats were not so separate after all.

There is a concept in social work called "the art of practice" or "the art of social work." What this means to me is that social work programs can teach theory and intervention all day long until professors are blue in the face and students are asleep in their seats, but the ability to be in the room, to be fully present with a client, and to find one's own style of practice simply cannot be taught. In my opinion, this is a major philosophical reason behind the emphasis on internship experience in social work programs. Up until recently, "the art of social work" did not mean much more to me than learning to be comfortable being myself with clients to the extent that it is relevant and therapeutically helpful.

This semester, my hats have begun to blend even more.

Two weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to teach a personal development class. Being close in age to the students in my class (and younger than quite a few) made it feel natural to interact as a peer. This peer hat was in competition with my instructor hat. I had had a similar experience during my first semester of graduate school when some of my supervisees were younger than me, but I had since grown accustomed to emphasizing my supervisor hat over my peer hat. Taking on this instructor role reminded me of this.

Recently, my internship supervisor and I have been talking about the benefits of taking more time to establish rapport before jumping into problem-solving and coping strategies and goal-setting. We have discussed how integrating friend-like conversations into the first few sessions with clients can be extremely beneficial to long-term effectiveness because of having a strong therapeutic alliance. I have since been experimenting with bringing more of my friend hat into the room when I am wearing my counselor hat.

All of my current primary roles are similar in terms of leadership and empathy: counselor, instructor, peer, group leader, friend, supervisor, coworker, and interviewer. The hat metaphor is lacking in that there are no times when I need only one of these roles. There is a great deal of overlap and many recent experiences have warranted a blending of roles, such as instructor (with aspects of peer, counselor, group leader, and friend), counselor (with aspects of friend, peer, interviewer, and instructor), and supervisor (with aspects of counselor, peer, group leader, and friend). There is no one role that does not warrant the use of portions of other roles. The hat metaphor is limiting because it precludes us from this blending. If there is one hat on my head, how can there be room for pieces of other roles? There does not need to be conflict between roles. There is no need to leave certain roles at the door when stepping into a certain other role.

This is the art of practice. This is the art of blending roles. This is the art of blurring the lines between professional self and personal self. This is the art of developing an integrated sense of whole self.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Gains and Goals: The Plan

I consider this part three of a blog series about fitness, with the first being Physical Health and Wellness and the second being Living Clean.

Today was my first day of working out in six days. Over my two weeks of Christmas break, I had run a few times and spun once while at home and had run, hiked, and spun while at the beach. All things considered, I took it fairly easy and slept a lot because the last two weeks of the semester had taken a lot out of me and had convinced me that I had mono.

I returned to school four days ago and did not work out due to being on call and feeling obligated to always be available to provide assistance at the drop of a hat. The past four days, I had been feeling fairly subdued, but attributed this to the cold weather, being on call, and transitioning to being back at school. In regards to living clean, I bought a great deal of fresh fruit, yogurt, and eggs three days ago and have been subsisting off of smoothies, hard boiled eggs, cheese, lettuce, and chocolate milk. Again, being a picky eater serves me well in that I am entirely satisfied with a diet of little variety. Also three days ago, I did eat a few cookies at game night, but did not binge-snack nearly as much as I had previously. I reinforced this thought with the thought to only eat the junk food that I pay for. I believe that framing this in a financial way will support the commitment. And, since I don't buy junk food, the commitment should be upheld.

Today, prior to going to the gym, I wrote out a draft weekly workout schedule, with 1-2 long bike rides, 1 swim, 1 yoga class, 2 runs, maybe 1 spin class, and 1 rest day; in addition to floor (sit-ups, lifting, etc.) every day.

Today, I went to the gym and rode the stationary bike for an hour, which was seventeen miles. As I sat on the bike, listening to Ratatat and Deadmau5, in the zone, and considering doing a brick and running after spinning, I had the following thought:

Two years ago, I did nearly nothing physical and now here I am spinning and planning to run a mile after an hour of biking, after having made a weekly workout schedule with one rest day. What has happened to me??!

The short answer is that I've become awesome. I mean...

No, honestly, I don't really have an answer. All I know is that life is great. Cardio is my drug of choice, in addition to my newest obsession of smoothies.

After I got home from the gym, I ate right away (lettuce, eggs, and cheese! and chocolate milk!) to counteract my blood sugar crash and showered later. As I listened to electro-swing on Pandora, dried my hair, and danced around my apartment, I was again reminded that my subdued mood was not due to the reasons listed above. Instead, as I very well should have known, I was missing my cardio high.

So, kids, here's the plan:

Sunday: Yoga and floor
Monday: Spin class OR long bike ride with the group and floor
Tuesday: Run and floor
Wednesday: Rest and floor
Thursday: Swim and floor
Friday: Run and floor
Saturday: Long bike ride with friends and floor

Listen to electro-swing every day.

Eat well.

Live clean.