Category: chronic illness and education

PhD and Me

The closer I get to finishing this PhD program, the more I wonder if it was/is worth it.

I’ve sacrificed much for this lofty degree and when I started I had a plan; I had major plans…but now I’m releasing myself from all of the plans I had and letting life fall into place.

One thing I know for certain is that my plans thus far constantly changed…whether it was due to my ugly battle with endometriosis and other chronic illnesses or the people I’ve met who enlightened me…I’m not the same and my trajectory has changed.

One day I hope to look back and say: those years I sacrificed and the relationships that suffered due to my pursue of this lofty degree were worth it.

Until then, I will continue what I started because I’m too close to the finish line to stop now.

 

I Think I Can

I should graduate from my doctoral program May 2018; but there’s so many changes that will happen before that day.

Health, illness has caused major delays in my original plans but I’ve made progress also. If you’ve read my posts, you know that I have endometriosis and I’ve known for awhile.

I had a dream to receive a PhD so that I could not only teach at the postsecondary level, but so I could help others reach their goals. Believe me when I say that I don’t believe you need fancy degrees to help people and you certainly don’t need a PhD; however, there are some levels of access that are denied to many without the fancy degrees.

My pursuit of this degree is not for reasons of vanity but lies in the fact that it inspires many. Many groups are still underrepresented in the halls of academia so it’s not shocking that some individuals from those groups feel that dreams of having fancy degrees are just that, dreams. I am and will always be a symbol that those dreams don’t have to remain dreams. I look to inspire at least one person to pursue her dreams.

I am representing many underrepresented groups…I think I can achieve my dream of obtaining this fancy degree I’m in pursuit of in spite of the seen and unseen obstacles in my way.

Often I have to encourage myself to keep going because it feels like an uphill battle…but in a little over one year this battle will be won and I’ll prepare for the next one.

I believe I can do this and that’s a major part of the battle.

Endometriosis Fears

Being diagnosed with endometriosis in my adolescence was a blessing and a curse. I was glad to know that there was something wrong and it had a name. I was excited because I finally knew that I did not make up the pain; it was definitively real…with a name.

It didn’t take long for me to receive my diagnosis, considering that many individuals go years without a proper diagnosis. Endometriosis was always the suspected diagnosis from the very first time I experienced pain. The only delay in diagnosis was due to my age, my doctor didn’t want to subject me to an unnecessary surgery. We waited 1 1/2 years before surgery while trying oral contraceptives and so I could become an “official” teenager.

Once the official diagnosis came it was also a curse because I instantly developed fears about my future fertility and my future career.

I automatically assumed I was infertile and that NO man would want a woman who couldn’t bear his children. After reading information about endometriosis – most of which was provided by or recommended by my physician; I feared that I would never have a successful career either.

These thoughts, fears were compounded by my very premature mind, I was only a teenager – barely -and I tried to deal with a very mature problem. I wasn’t dying, but I often felt like dying was a far cry better than living In constant pain.

Today, I’m learning to put the brakes on as far as my fertility and career goes. No reason to worry about things that are not at the forefront. I’m currently working toward the career that I’ve always wanted and I’ve never tried to conceive so who knows what the future holds

Endometriosis…beginningsĀ 

I felt the presence of endometriosis in my body during my SECOND EVER menstrual period, I was nearly 12. Once I turned 12, I started my first set of birth control pills in an effort to address the menstrual related problems I was having…birth control pills didn’t help so I was referred to a gynecologist. In the referral documents, the pediatrician suggested endometriosis as my potential ailment.

I was so young at the time so the gynecologist tried a few other birth control pills and patches before deciding on the exploratory surgery. The surgery would confirm or deny the suspected diagnosis of endometriosis.

I was 14 when it was surgically confirmed that I indeed had a pretty bad (in terms of location and size of lesions) case of endometriosis.

For a moment, I was relieved…there was a medical reason for why I missed so much school and missed out on hanging with my peers that was no longer a mystery, it was endometriosis.

Then I remembered that my doctors told me that endometriosis had no cure. My relief flew out the window because now with diagnosis, I was the sick one.

Before the diagnosis I was just an adolescent who didn’t like school and made “excuses” not to go or to leave early in the day. After diagnosis, I had an incurable disease and no guaranteed surgical or medical relief. 

Endometriosis officially made me the sick one…as an adolescent this was torture.

Illness and Doctoral Programs

Since I reached my adult years, I’ve had only one career goal in mind…I wanted to be a researcher. I wanted to research how diversity was included in helping professions, I see this as an important topic because helping professionals work with a diverse population. Technical skills and knowledge are not enough and it is my belief that curriculum in helping professions historically focused heavily on the techniques and a little on the people who will receive treatment.

I wanted to becomeĀ a researcher, so I pursued an advanced degree…in other words I am currently in a doctoral program.

This is great, the education level leads directly to the type of career that I have desired for years; however, I am also chronically ill.

This is problematic, very problematic. I am considered an enlightened thinker by many of my professors, peers, family and friends. It is not shocking for me to be told that my writing is superb and the way that I “think” is unique…it is thought that I would be a valuable asset to the research world.

But I am chronically ill…many of the illnesses that invade my body are exacerbated by stress. Remember I am in a doctoral program, and regardless of discipline, this level of education prides itself on being stressful. I am quite certain that many may disagree with me as to the stressfulness of doctoral programs. For a fact, there is likely some who feel that these programs are only stressful to those who are not quite cut out for it. Bear with me for a moment, I am not suggesting that doctoral programs are stress filled but trust me when I suggest that they are stressful.

Doctoral programs are stressful because they venture away from the normative education process that we grow up with. You reach a point in a doctoral program where you develop your research agenda by creating a project. This project should add to the existing literature in whatever your topical area may be. Additionally, you are supposed to use the knowledge acquired through coursework in this project.

There is nothing wrong with that…but I am chronically ill. Doctoral programs are difficult for individuals without illness, but I am chronically ill. Remember, I have the intellect, willingness, and the grit to complete the doctoral program and I am certain that anyone exposed to me would agree…but I am chronically ill.

My chronic illnesses makes my journey through the doctoral program difficult and makes me question what I want to do for a career. I have always wanted to be a researcher, one who researches how helping professions can improve services through education.

I am chronically ill; however, I am determined to find a way to have the career I dreamed of. My chronic illnesses teaches me adaptability daily…doctoral programs are not designed with me (and the many like me) in mind; however someone (why not me?) must make a path for those to come.

Soon I will finish my doctoral degree, but I will never forget the challenges caused by my chronic illness throughout this process. Now my research agenda has expanded to include ways to improve the process of receiving and utilizing doctoral degrees for those like myself who are otherwise qualified, but chronically ill, disabled.

I will likely always be chronically ill, since at this time there is no cure, but I am undefined by illness alone.