Saturday, September 19, 2020

Not Dead. In Grad School.

From the first month of my matriculation

Hello, friends. I've been meaning to drop you a note for, well, about two years now. That's how long it's been since my last post. You know what else happened two years ago? I started a Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

In retrospect, I had enough information that I should have known what to expect. While doing observation hours as a volunteer at the D.C. Veterans' Administration, I had many conversations with the therapists about how difficult their doctorates were, how they ended up forming bonds with their classmates, like soldiers who have been through war. A few of the students who came through on clinical rotations mentioned that multiple relationships in their cohorts had ended during the three-year program. Everyone I knew--not just physical therapists--told me how hard grad school is, how it drains you, how it leaves time for nothing else.

(Except for Emily. She breezed through grad school, somehow.)

But, and I don't know if this has fully come across in all my years of blogging, but I have a pretty high opinion of myself. I paid lip service to how hard a DPT program would be, but internally I thought, "I'm smarter than most people, and better at school. And I'm older than most students when they start grad school. I'll probably be fine."

You may be able to guess, based on the fact that I have dropped off the face of the planet for two years, that I was incorrect. Grad school is hard. Grad school is hard for other people, and it is hard for me. I have gone weeks without riding my bike. I have gained and lost weight. I have broken down crying multiple times. I have experienced mild anxiety and depression (even before COVID-19 turned everything upside down), two things I haven't experienced since puberty. 

I've also learned so, so much, and not just in my chosen field of study. Sure, I know a lot more about anatomy and physiology, movement science, kinesiology, biomechanics, and so on. I've also had the opportunity to reflect deeply on my personal values, and on what drives me to want to help people as a therapist. I've discovered that I value knowledge above everything else, and my ultimate goal as a clinician is to teach people how to be healthier, how to heal themselves. I've also had to confront some of my weaknesses as a communicator, mostly by almost failing (not as bad as it sounds, because anything below a B fails hands-on skills in my program) interview-based finals. In one, I forgot to ask the mock patient what her goals were. I realized that sometimes I think I'm asking a question, but the other person doesn't realize what I'm asking, but as the clinician, the impetus is on me to help the patient give me the information I need.

Most importantly, I've learned that I'm not as smart as I think I am, and I don't know as much as I think I do. I went into the DPT program thinking that I was basically doing the job of a therapist already, just as a fitness trainer. That was based on some unfortunate experiences observing physical therapists in various settings; some of them were practicing at a level not far above what I was doing as a fitness professional. But the first two years of my program have pricked my ego and deflated my big head. Looking back, I feel like I didn't know anything coming into this program.; I've learned at least as much in the past two years as I had in the previous ten, and I still have two more to go. Even once I graduate, I will know just barely enough to start practicing, which will open up a whole new realm of learning potential--as one of my clients put it, "You'll have your license to keep learning." I love learning, so it suits me fine. But I hope I will never again have such an over-inflated view of my own knowledge; I find I enjoy life much more when I'm approaching it with an open mind and an eagerness to see what I can learn, whether that's from a class, a person, or a situation. And I get much more out of life, that way, than approaching with the attitude of, "Oh yeah, I know all that already."

I'm studying. Patty's helping.

Anyway. That's where I've been. Not dead, just busy becoming a physical therapist. Let's talk now of where we are going.

If you are still out there, dear readers, what would you like to know? What can I write that would be worth reading to you? If you are still out there, tell me. I have some ideas, like creating a beginner's guide for road cycling, similar to the series I did years ago on starting out in triathlon. I could answer questions on injuries, or at least try to. I'm planning my own investigation on the intricacies of bike fit, and I could share that. I could share my journey of trying to continue cycling during crazy times--you know, grad school, work, travel, global pandemic, etc. And if no one is still reading, I will still write for myself, and do whichever of these seems most interesting to me. But if anyone is still out there to get some value from my research, let me know what most interests you, what would most help you!

See you out there. In the meantime, don't forget to spin and smile!