my body, my research

Over the last few months, I’ve been receiving emails and comments on past posts about what sort of testing I went through in 2010 and if the chronic pain I had that year was related to having kidney stones. I’ve been putting off that story because it was an extremely busy semester and now that it’s over, I’m in the thick of writing of my dissertation proposal. Not surprisingly, my dissertation topic is related to science, health and how we learn about the seen and unseen (invisible) things that go on inside of our bodies. (Dissertation nutshell: How do urban girls learn about bisphenol A (BPA) in their bodies while making a science documentary on that topic? Even just typing that makes me giddy about my research.)

An important part of my dissertation proposal has been writing about myself as a researcher. In the academic world, we call this a researcher positionally statement. I’ve been drafting and redrafting mine for a solid 8 months. I sort of know what I want to say, but conceptualizing how I understand my own health journey and experiences with my body while in graduate school (researching how girls come to understand their own bodies and the role that scientific knowledge plays in their understandings of themselves and their environment) has really shaped how I approach my work as a researcher: it’s important to me to really grapple with my own journey, because it has shaped my understanding(s) of how other people come to accept or reject “scientific” explanations of what actually happens inside of our bodies.

When I look back at the last 5 years, I realize just how much my physical, mental and emotional health impacted my experiences in graduate school. I write about it because it helps me understand myself and my research. It feels like a new step to be conceptualizing that journey now in a dissertation proposal for a new audience (an academic one), but one that has watched me struggle through the last 5 years to get healthy and stay healthy enough to complete my Ph.D. Learning to take care of myself has been one of the hardest lessons I have ever been forced to learn. I’ve come to understand it as a continuous process of unfolding: every day/week, I look back and see  moments where I chose to put my health and well-being first, even when it made me feel horrible that I didn’t meet a deadline, missed a meeting, didn’t get enough done. Slowing down takes practice. Feeding yourself takes practice. I’m still in the process of figuring out what it means to really feed myself every day–literally: feed myself food that keeps me going and doesn’t make me sick 24 hours later. When I fail to feed myself literally, it impacts every other aspect of my life. This is why I’m so motivated to stay with my limited diet: I want to graduate in May 2014. I’m determined to stay as healthy as I can, recognizing that some times that’s beyond my control, but often, it’s a matter of choosing what works for my body, recognizing that everything I put in impacts multiple aspects of my life.

The academic writing teacher in me (I taught academic writing in higher education for 7 years) has been thinking about how interesting it might be to continue writing about my digestive journey (of 2010/hell year) here on my blog as a way to help me understand how that journey has impacted my dissertation research. Writing for different audiences can really push someone to articulate experiences in new ways. I’m curious about how writing about my digestive journey here might help me write the researcher positionally statement of my dissertation proposal this summer, keeping in mind that some of my academic life bleeds into my online life and reads this blog.

I left off my 2010 story right before my bike accident, where I was literally unable to feed myself and forced to have my saintly husband and mother take me to the bathroom because I broke both my elbows. O, and getting my first endoscopy and colonoscopy while in casts. Avoid the next few digestive journey posts if you aren’t okay with reading about what it feels like to clean out your entire body for a colonoscopy: it’s fascinatingly sick.