Wednesday, May 14, 2003

For everyone whom I’ve somehow failed to keep updated with for the last few…weeks? Months? Maybe it seems like years?!
Well, anyway, here’s the blow-by-blow account of what’s been going on, keeping me from contacting you! (For anyone considering grad school, let this be a shot over your bow.)

Before this semester, I was doing at least some of my schoolwork in advance, that is—longer than 24 hours before it was due. Sometimes weeks before it was due! This is mainly because the kinds of final projects we do now take me so unbelievably long, like 20-30 hours or something, that there is no way to even fool myself that I can do them all during the last week of the semester, especially since other parts of my workload are still going full blast. (Oh, how lovely it was in undergrad, when there was only full-time classes, and part-time work, not full-time classes+practicum+research+clients.)

So anyway. This past semester began with a workload trauma at my practicum, which made January and February a nightmare. I mean, I was literally having nightmares, it was so heinous. And of course, there was no “wiggle room” as far as the other elements of school—I still had to do all that other stuff, too. Since UM had a different week of spring break than we did, I also worked over my “spring break.” Luckily for me, my grad advisor was merciful and let up on me a lot. Pretty much all I did for her was grade undergraduate papers, so at least my GA component was tolerable.

March might have been okay, except I had a boatload of paperwork to catch up on from the “nightmare” period. Classes, and my practicum, ended on the 27th of April. That meant that I had three weeks in April to do all the final work for everything: 5 papers and reports and also a couple presentations, the HSRC application for my thesis, and closing out all the files and paperwork on about 25 clients, as well as grading undergraduate papers. If you know long it takes me to do reports and papers, you may begin to get an idea of how long this was all going to take. (I even had to skip my “one-afternoon-a-week” that I usually see Dave, once or twice!) I remember going into my “office” at school (i.e. tiny windowless concrete cinder-block hole inside a hallway maze on the 5th floor) just to sit there and cry from stress for a few minutes, because there was just no other relief!

So here’s how April went:

Week 1: I make a giant strip of paper that stretches across my livingroom floor as a calendar of April, because I have so much to get done I have to actually look at the tasks laid out in a row of squares or I will forget to do them from sheer quantity. Work on the projects I begin takes, of course, about three times as long as I generously estimate. Like, 30 hours instead of 10, for example. Let me tell you, thirty hours on one subject in front of the computer over two days—trying to figure out really complicated crap and not just typing or surfing the internet—is @&%@#& tiring. And there are no days of rest in between! I am really desperately looking forward to the 1-week break between spring and summer classes, particularly since I didn’t actually get a spring break this year. I feel like I haven’t had a break since last summer, since over the winter break I was so exhausted all I did was sleep that week, plus I was at someone else’s house.

Week 2: More stuff is coming due, and I’m feeling frantic, because everything is taking me so damn long! MMPI paper, grading, Rorschach report. I’m still following the practicum schedule of: leave home at 8 am, get home at 9 pm. And Wednesday is still filled with classes basically from 9 am to 9 pm. So that leaves Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and maybe a couple hours of Monday to do the 30 or 40 or…50 hours of work I’m talking about. My dishes go undone, and there’s no time to even buy groceries any more. My lower back is starting to hurt from all this constant, intense sitting, but I hardly have time to shower or eat, let alone go for a walk or whatever. I learn that my practicum supervisors wanted me to stop seeing clients before my last week there, to finish up paperwork, so the upshot is that now I will still be going there during my “break” between spring and summer, dammit!! The one thing that is moving me forward is the thought of our Europe trip this summer, and I have gotten the tickets and begun to look for places to stay.

Week 3: Okay, all the final stuff is due this week, and I also have to terminate therapy with several long-term clients. This is not some sudden thing, it’s gone the way it was supposed to and they have all done well, but the stress and exhaustion makes me even more emotional about ending relationships with people I’ve grown attached to. There’s a party for the interns who are also finishing their turn at the same practicum, and ostensibly for me too. I feel it mainly points out how isolated I’ve felt there: partly because I was the only practicum student, and also because right when I was beginning to feel comfortable in my role there and wanted to reach out to people and make friends, was exactly when I had the nightmarish client overload and became a de facto recluse, seeing others only in the halls. I mainly feel lonely and exhausted, and my back pain has become so bad that even a client could tell that’s what it was, during his final session. I turn in the class projects I have finished, without even the solace of feeling I did them well, even after taking 30 or 50 hours or whatever, because there’s simply too much going on to do a good job on stuff. I have a couple meetings with my advisor and some of her other assistants about beginning new work on her research. I go out on one night with some of my cohorts, which is fun, but somehow makes my back worse instead of better. Vanessa visits on Saturday, and we spend the day mostly walking around Ann Arbor and shopping, which hurts my back even more. I am still assuming my back thing is some kind of muscle spasm and fixable with a martini, or maybe a massage and some yoga.

Week 4: Classes are over, for the next week. However, instead of having a week to lie in bed like a lump, as I really need to, I must go in to my practicum for about 25 hours. Of sheer sitting and furious typing. My back is really bad, and I have decided it’s time to finally fork out the $200 and go to Dave’s chiropractor. I have an appointment for Friday. All I really do this week is be at my practicum and be in pain—oh yeah, and I did the dishes finally, and some laundry. My stepmother calls and wants to arrange a time to come and visit me and have Christmas, since no one really did that this year, so I suggest the following weekend, before my classes start up again.


Week 1: Appointment day arrives. I can barely drive the car or walk into the chiropractor’s office, let alone turn over on the squishy table. I get X-rays and everything, the whole deal. It takes 2 hours, mostly examination. Turns out I have an inflamed disk from sitting so damn much! Imagine that. My lowest vertebra is tilted forward a bit, from some childhood instance of falling on my behind most likely, so sitting a whole lot is apparently even worse for me than for most people in general. The adjustment comes last, and the crunching part is kind of fun and doesn’t really hurt any more than it already did. And I liked seeing the X-ray of my spine. The only part of it that hurts is trying to turn over. And then—trying to get up. The doctor has to bodily pick me up into a sitting position. Since the vertebrae right around that already inflamed disk have now been moved around, this is amazingly agonizing! My hair stands on end, and I am shaking so much from pain that my teeth are chattering. I can’t relax my arms, since they are holding my body away from the table. Standing up is absolutely out of the question! It takes me a while to even get out of the office. Driving hurts like crazy, as does…everything, really. It ends up taking hours, after I finally get home, of lying down and taking Advil and icing my back for the pain to subside somewhat. It hurts every time I move any part of my body. The doctor wants me to return for a follow-up the next day, but I have a 12-hour Saturday seminar on group psychotherapy that will require—you guessed it—constant sitting >sigh<.

If I hadn’t been anticipating this seminar for months (and even gotten a scholarship to attend it) I absolutely wouldn’t have gone. But I do go, with an ice pack, and a lot of Advil. I lie down on the couches in the lobby during the (few!) breaks. It really makes the whole experience extra weird and surreal, to do all this extremely personal intellectual and emotional work, in front of a room full of complete strangers, all while my back is in terrible pain. The next day (Sunday), my family visitors arrive. Luckily, they don’t get here until about 2 or 3, so I have time to do the dishes and straightening that I have been forced to neglect. (I take a lot of half-hour ice-pack breaks.)

The back thing hurts like crazy for a long time. Basically anything that’s not lying down: such weird activities as “sitting,” “standing,” and “walking” allow the weight of the top half of my body to crush down on that poor little disk. And you can just forget such exotic activities as “carrying stuff, like textbooks,” “washing the dishes,” or “taking out the trash.” Which makes the next week very annoying:

Week 2: Classes begin again. (Oh, yay, sitting!)

So, there you have it. Every wretched detail I forgot to tell you or just didn’t have time to email because there was so much going on! (Kinda glad you didn’t get to hear about it as it happened, aren’t you?) Yes, my back is incrementally better every day—as long as I don’t spend too much time putting weight on it—and I have another appointment on the 17th. I look forward to this getting better so I can get back to what puny amount of weightlifting and yoga I was doing before all this!

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