#BellLetsTalk: When the List Doesn’t Work

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January 2018 Download2017 was a huge transition year for me – new relationships, reconnecting with old friends, I started another certificate, and I moved cities. I had experienced a lot of challenges and lows in 2016 so it seemed like 2017 was off to a better, more stable start. I could look for new opportunities and be in a happier place. That only lasted until the end of March.

I went to a conference for the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology in October 2016 and was lucky to go to a presentation by my current supervisor, Dr. Jennifer Copeland. As I heard her talking, it was the answer to the big “what do I do for my Master’s degree?”. I reached out and we agreed to touch base in the spring regarding any openings she had for Master’s students.

I got an email from Dr. Copeland at the end of March saying she had received pilot funding and was looking for a grad student to start Fall 2017. In the space of 3 months I applied for grad school, got accepted, quit my job and moved to Lethbridge. I am from a family of engineers – we love logic, rational thinking, and process. I am the queen of pro/con lists and I have no regrets in life because I take the time to think things through before acting. This was not one of those times. Everyone kept asking me if I was excited to go to grad school and honestly, I wasn’t really. I had an enormous to do list and didn’t really have time to fully process that I had been accepted into grad school until about a week before school started.

I officially started living in Lethbridge on August 23 (I found out I got in on June 15) and it hit me – I literally know no one in this city. I am completely anonymous. Grad student orientation started the next week and it was not anything like undergraduate orientation. Undergrad orientation was a magical week of rallies, cheering, new friends, and football. Grad student orientation was 16h of every presenter telling us we were going to be depressed, isolated, lonely, and stressed out. Undergrad was an incredible experience, so it had not crossed my mind at all that I would feel any of these things starting at a new school.

I feel like being told I was going to experience these emotions made me feel those things – power of suggestion. The first semester of grad school sucked. The actual school work wasn’t that hard but the lack of meaningful connection and social interaction took its toll. I have the most incredible friends and they spent so many hours on the phone with me listening to me work through my feelings and offering love and support. I felt like I had sacrificed a lot of things to come to grad school – my friends, a new relationship, my job and all my personal training clients, my favourite spin and yoga classes. Although I whole-heartedly believe my thesis is what I am meant to be doing my master’s in, there hadn’t been a whole lot of pay off.

I went to the counselling offices at ULeth to see if I could see someone and get professional help since I’d had such positive experiences before. I ended up being enrolled in a group counselling program on connection and left with a list of self care exercises:

  • Exercise more
  • Sleep well
  • Eat better
  • Take time for yourself
  • Prioritize and manage your time

535259_10154221140816844_8426330704381792675_nI looked at the list and thought “I am literally doing every single one of these. I’m meeting physical activity guidelines, sleeping 8h/night, doing weekly food prep, and having more “me time” than I’ve had in years. I feel like crap.” My best friend reminded me that I have no basis for comparison – maybe I would feel 100x worse if I wasn’t doing any of these things. This would not a good time to run a time series design trial to find out (can you tell I’m in grad school?).

I started group counselling a bit of a skeptic – not because I didn’t think it would be valuable but because it was based on the books of Brene Brown which I had read and incorporated into my life already. I felt like there wasn’t really much I would learn or get from the group counselling experience. In my previous group counselling sessions, I felt like I had been put in the “jock” box and it really coloured my experience even though I thought it was a very positive program to go through.

The 2.5 years of counselling and year of health coaching courses I have taken have made me almost too comfortable being vulnerable and open with people. I find it’s relatively easy for me to articulate how I’m feeling and why (and I cry a lot) and this sometimes makes other people uncomfortable. I am hyper aware of this with people I don’t know well and I also didn’t want to come across as a know-it-all or overbearing because I knew I would be familiar with the material. The program at ULeth was calling Living BIG and we covered boundaries, integrity, and generosity.

Although I didn’t learn anything new it reminded me of a few things:

You are creative, resourceful, and whole.

You have the answers that you need to get you to where you want to be.

I am loved. I am loving. I am loveable.

During my first health coaching class, this is the mantra we were told over and over again. The instructor highlighted that they are all different, but all necessary, and that we are all these things.

Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.

This includes you! Be generous. Everyone has a different struggle and deals with it in a different way. Coming from a place of generosity and compassion provides a whole new lens the next time a friend is late for coffee, a colleague is behind on a deadline, or your partner forgets to take out the garbage.

Don’t “should all over yourself”.

Should-ing all over yourself involves a lot of judgment about what you think you’re supposed to be doing instead of what you want or need to be doing. If you slept in instead of getting up early to do work (because that’s what you SHOULD be doing), instead of beating yourself up about it, be generous. Perhaps you needed the extra rest and now you feel more refreshed and will be more productive.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

As I write this, I am conscious of how different it is from last year’s #BellLetsTalk post where I talked about how hard it was for me to initially admit I was struggling. I am still concerned that sometimes I’m asking for too much or that I will be perceived as a burden to those whom I am asking for support. However, I’ve also been able to figure out who my “marble jar” friends are and who I can trust to support and love me.

At the end of the Living BIG program, we were reflecting on our experience and I shared that previously I had felt like I was in the “jock” box but that I hadn’t felt that way with this group. Low and behold, as soon as I finished sharing that, we re-did the compliments exercise that I felt had put in the box the first time. It was really powerful to see what my peers in the group thought of me – especially since this time around I got compliments about my authenticity, openness, and how I had shown up to group.

I am happy to report that the first few weeks of this semester are going much better. The workload is a lot higher, but I already feel more settled and connected to some of my classmates that I met last semester and Lethbridge as a whole. I’m sure there will be many more challenges down the road as I move through my degree but it feels like the foundation has been set and I’m more ready to move forward.

Additional Resources

There a number of great resources out there. These resources are mostly Calgary-based, if you know of any great resources we have missed, please contact us. If you are a post-secondary student, most universities have on-campus counselling and may have a program for discounted or free counselling.

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