Birthday week firsts: Post-party energy, driving lessons and a chiropractor visit

It’s been a great week of birthday celebrations (yay to the October-born).  With all the changes that have happened this year, I found myself caught up at the start of this semester with the “must work all the time” kind of mentality that comes with starting a new job. Not surprisingly I found myself becoming quite anxious and mentally exhausted – not a good sign given I’ve got 8 weeks left to the semester.

However this week I’ve been reminded of what actually matters by just being around people. Especially people who want to party. Considering most of my social circle is comprised of language teachers and UK HE professionals, the need for a party runs pretty high. Not party in the sense of all-nighter, lock-in binge (not really my thing) but more grab a drink and chill. I mean actually having a conversation with friends you cross paths with on campus when you’re both on your way to teach your next class but barely have the time to say hello. I don’t think I realised how much I needed to sit and hang out with people until after the party, when I felt more energised than drained. As an extreme introvert this rarely happens, and was a reminder that focussing on work all the time does nothing for anyone’s mental health.

The rest of the week was filled with other awesome experiences: first driving lesson in the UK (I haven’t driven since 2002) and my first trip to the chiropractors to deal with my first lower back twang (running related *sigh*). OK so having lower back pain isn’t awesome but going to see a chiropractor was quite calming. In all this week has been a good reminder to take a step back from work and do some self-care, especially during your birthday week!

Running alone and facing down the dark morning shadows (real and imagined)

I prefer to run in the morning. Not early morning, but usually when there’s light out. While I much prefer the temperatures to autumn and winter, I prefer the light in an early spring or summer morning, but running in the dark during winter? Nope.

And yet, here I was, on a cold and blustery Thursday morning, willing myself to go and run. I’ve tried several times to run back home after work but it wasn’t for me. Traffic is quite heavy so I’m too busy watching out for cars to really enjoy the run and the backpack I have isn’t suited for running. Also, after a long day, I just want to go home and chill.

earlymorningrun2feb17So this morning I decided to out for for a run. Ok, so it wasn’t quite dark. My fear of being attacked while I’m out running has kept me from lacing up my shoes. So as a compromise I went out when the sun was starting to rise, so the sky was greyish rather than pitch black.

The run this morning was a kind of breakthrough. It was a step towards facing my fears about running alone in the dark as a woman. Yes, the dangers are very real and I do take every precaution to keep myself safe: stick to lit roads, wear visible clothing, wear lights, no headphones, run with ‘resting bitch face’. I don’t want to be held back from doing things I really enjoy because I’m afraid of being a woman in a (dark) public space. It’s a balance between doing the practical things to keep myself safe vs. actively avoiding certain activities because of imagined dangers.

So when I went out this morning to run, it was a bit of a reality check. The run itself was really good. The roads were quieter, there was quite a lot of street light lit and the sky grew brighter and brighter as time passed. I found I could relax into my run and let my mind rest. As a road runner my mind doesn’t really wander because I’m always aware of my surroundings, and in limited light I don’t run with headphones as a rule, but during this run my mind could rest! It made for a lovely start to he day. So, while I’m not completely comfortable running in early hours when it’s dark out, after today, it’s not as scary as I thought it would be.

Image my own, post run, just with armbands turned off!

Booklist 2017 “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” by Oliver Sacks

I read a lot but given the latest news developments around the world, I find that I spend several hours a day reading just the news. While it’s important to keep up to date with the news I have a feeling of being swept away in this sea of information.  At the moment, nothing really feels that solid and I yearned to find a way to slow down. So for 2017 one of my resolutions is to simply read more non-academic books.

The first book I’ve read considered Oliver Sack’s most famous work. This is one of those books that was on my “I’ll-get-around-to-it” reading list. My overall thoughts: I really liked it. It’s not a comfortable read but it is fascinating nonetheless because he presents a sympathetic, and often times, poignant reflection of his experiences working with several of his patients afflicted with different neurological problems. The case studies are intriguing accounts of people that are, frankly, quite extraordinary. Their accounts certainly opened my eyes to what the human brain is capable of, both in a positive and negative sense.

The case of “William Thompson” (Chapter 12) really stayed with me. He is described as patient who is constantly, desperately, trying to make his identity because he isn’t able to ‘retain’ an identity. “The world keeps disappearing, losing meaning, vanishing – and he must seek meaning, make meaning, in a desperate way, continually inventing, throwing bridges of meaning over abysses of meaninglessness, the chaos that yawns continually beneath him” (p. 118).

Sacks identifies this as an extreme case of Korsakov syndrome, in which the patient is “continually creating a world and self to replace what was continually forgotten and lost…the patient must literally make himself (and his world) up every moment” (p.116). Not being able to ‘have’ an identity for oneself is very unsettling, and as I continued reading, the devastation of this loss began to dawn on me. It’s not only that he’s lost his identity, but that he is constantly, at every waking moment, was trying to make a new one. On one hand, there is knowing that you’ve lost your identity because then you can remember who you are in moments of lucidity. This case was altogether different because the patient was unable to recall himself and was, instead, constantly re-creating himself. Sacks describes his meetings with this patient as “…one never feels, or rarely feels, that there is a person remaining” (p. 122).

I find this description quite jarring because I don’t think I’ve ever thought it was possible to actually lose your identity permanently. Those with Alzheimers or extreme cases of amnesia there’s at least a sense of having lost part of you which can be redeemed, even for a while. It’s entirely a different deal to lose your whole self. It’s a very weird thought and this book certainly made me appreciate what my brain is capable of in a whole new way. As a narrative researcher this case has made me reconsider what stories make me, me. That I am aware of and make known to other than I exist through the stories I tell to and of myself.

It’s a bit dizzying to take in one reading, but I really enjoyed this book and it’ll be one I’ll probably return to later.

Image my own photo.