Onward to ABD!

Greetings, Internet! First, an announcement: My NYT essay, “My Life with Paralysis, It’s a Workout” is going to be included in the anthology, About Us: Essays from the New York Times’ Disability Series. It will be published September 3rd, and I will use any and all opportunities to plug it until then, because holy moly, something I wrote will be in print! Print! In a book that you can physically hold! Needless to say, I am psyched, and plan to shamelessly post pictures of my essay in said book once I own a copy (or maybe just my essay in the Table of Contents, because copyright issues).

It’s been less than two months since my previous post, so I’d like to think that I’m posting more frequently, but I probably should pick up the pace a bit. I don’t think I was expecting how tired I would be after General exams. It’s a bit like how after turning in my senior thesis in college, I binge-watched three seasons of “Game of Thrones” in less than a week (whoo hoo, senior year spring break!). The energy to do schoolwork had vanished temporarily, and was replaced by a burning desire to watch Arya get revenge. I did get back in the swing of things after the GoT marathon ended, but I absolutely needed that week off to decompress.

The post-Generals decompression similarly has been bereft of scholarly intentions. What have I done since finishing Generals?

  • Saw “Avengers: Endgame”
  • Watched the entirety of “Good Omens”
  • Read Good Omens (which was, I kid you not, the first piece of fiction I have read cover-to-cover in roughly a decade)
  • Started badgering friends to watch “Good Omens”
  • Saw “Yesterday” with a couple of people from my cohort
  • Watched the first season of “Jessica Jones” in about 36 hours (why did no one tell me that David Tennant played the villain?!)
  • Went to bars multiple times with cohortmates I barely saw during the semester
  • Doctor appointments! So many doctor appointments!

Oh, and I had to do a month-long prospectus seminar in which I cobbled together a very early draft of what my dissertation is going to be about (working title: “Poverty in the Post-Carolingian World”). I got to read the prospectus drafts of everyone else in my cohort, which was delightful. It’s really too bad. Just as I felt like I was getting to know the people in my cohort a bit more, the seminar ended and pretty much everyone went their separate ways. I, too, will be moving out of Princeton on account of my apartment not being all that wheelchair-friendly. But that’s a post for another day.

After a semester of exam preparation and a month-long seminar, the summer can feel a little confusing. Am I supposed to jump straight into hardcore dissertation preparation? Do I take a break before said preparation? If so, how long should the break be? I’m a firm believer in breaks. I mean, if you go too hard too quickly, burnout is inevitable. My advisor has hinted a bit that this is a sort of “take a break, but not too much of a break” summer, but there’s a fuzzy line between “taking a break” and “turning into a slacker who mooches off of Princeton.”

Similarly, the freedom of being All But Dissertation (ABD) is every sort of amazing, but it also makes you start feeling the need to plan out your life. What have I neglected in the past two years while I tried to turn in papers and read all of the things?

For starters, I’ve been living in an apartment that doesn’t have a wheelchair-friendly kitchen. It’s been rough, so I’m going to move to NYC. Sure, it’s not a city renowned for apartments with large kitchens and bathrooms that wheelchair users rely on, but at least I won’t have to deal with the isolation of living in the ‘burbs.

I also need to start going back to Push to Walk. Oddly enough, the commute is faster from NYC to Push to Walk than from Princeton (why is NJ so weird?). Once based in NYC, I’m going to balance PT and the dissertation (and whatever else comes along) along with some kind of social life. Karaoke has been absent from my life for too long. I’m also moving back so that I can hang out with my niece, who is too cute for words.

What will I do until then? Thankfully, a couple people from my cohort are sticking around Princeton for most of the summer, so we’ve been hanging out (which is 80% marveling at how we’re ABD and wondering how exactly we’re supposed to spend our summers). The only downside to hanging out around Princeton is having the realization that there isn’t much to do around Princeton. Seriously, I know that graduate programs can be isolating, but the feeling of loneliness is magnified tenfold when you realize that you need a car, but never learned how to drive.

I recently tried to do a bit of physical therapy in the Philadelphia area. I was interested in checking out this exoskeleton called the ReWalk because I had heard good things about it. It’s a great idea in theory because an exoskeleton helps with weight-bearing, which is beneficial for bone density (people with SCI tend to be at a much higher risk of osteoporosis than able-bodied individuals), digestion, and pretty much anything. After meeting with a doctor about it, however, I found out that the ReWalk device could result in injury if one’s legs spasmed in a jackknife direction. My legs can jackknife or extend depending on however they feel like spasming, so this certainly sounded like an issue I would have.

The doctor recommended that I take an anti-spasm medication. It would help me do the ReWalk without fear of injury, however I rely on spasms to keep my blood pressure up. So my options seem to be: relax my muscles and potentially faint in the ReWalk, or don’t relax my muscles and potentially suffer a bone fracture. Perhaps I’m overreacting, but I think I should wait a few more months before I consider trying out an exoskeleton.

What else should I do before I move to NYC? On the one hand, there’s a part of me that’s itching to start putting together a bibliography and starting to read through secondary sources a bit before searching for a bunch of Latin terms in several databases. I’ve already started collecting books from the library because the force is strong with my inner nerd guilt.

On the other hand, I should probably put more thought into this blog. Provided that people still read this thing, what do you want to read about? PhD life? An SCI FAQ? My favorite wheelchair gloves? Stories of getting rejected from SCI rehabilitation programs? Tips for cobbling together PhD applications? A list of back-up careers because academia has so few jobs? A bit of everything? Note: if no one responds to any of these suggestions, I will likely do them all. Sorry not sorry.

Currently, I’m planning to write about my quest for wheelchair-friendly housing in NYC (spoiler alert: I have to renovate the kitchen and bathroom wherever I go). I’d also really like to do an AMA-type post about SCI/PhD programs where people can leave questions here or on my Facebook, and I’ll respond to as much as I can.

Before I sign off, one more announcement: In addition to this blog (which I will do my best to update regularly henceforth), my sister and I are planning to start a food/travel/fashion/beauty blog. My sister will handle fashion and travel (including food), and I will tackle food (mostly dessert) and beauty. I should save this for another post (on this blog) that clears up why I would want to write about beauty, because the beauty bug didn’t bite me until after college. But oh, the bite was deep.

That’s all for today. Thanks so much for reading! If you’re interested in the AMA-type post, please leave a comment with a question about SCIs or PhDs. And if you’d like the ramblings of a doctoral student living with paralysis in your inbox more regularly, feel free to subscribe!

Val

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