A time to rebuild

I haven’t run since October.

I’ve spent the better part of the last year in and out of physical therapy. A sprained ankle from spring 2020 that never quite healed, then another sprained ankle (the other one, at least — equal opportunity injuries!). Muscle imbalances and tightness. PT would “fix” one issue and another would pop up like a game of Injury Whack-A-Mole. I’d build back up to running, and then have to stop. My last run, in early October, ended with me hobbling with achilles pain and one really specific painful spot in my hamstring.

When resting and yoga and foam rolling and strength training and pleading to the running gods for several months to just let me run again already, please didn’t work, I broke down and scheduled an orthopedic visit. And ended up back in, this time, pretty intense physical therapy. “Postural therapy”, as my chart puts it.

TL;DR: my body is pretty darn broken.

Through PT, I’m slowly retraining my body to support itself properly, to undo years of overcompensation for muscle weaknesses and realign everything back to where it’s supposed to be. It’s hard and maddeningly, maddeningly slow. Understandably, my body’s fighting the changes — it’s difficult to unlearn habits honed over a lifetime! If PT doesn’t ultimately help, I’m not sure what the next steps are.

The hardest part, of course, is not running. Sure, I do other active things — my fatbike and snowshoes saw a lot of action this winter, and the taekwondo studio is my home away from home. But running has always been my go-to, my most satisfying workout. And it’s a key, key part of my mental health toolkit. Walking is great, but it’s not running. I’ve been mourning the loss of running (even if it turns out to be temporary and I’m back at it someday) as keenly as any other loss. I’ve had to mourn the loss of running, so that the thought of possibly never running again doesn’t consume me.

I find that I’m not just rebuilding my body right now — I seem to be in a state of rebuilding. I’m rebuilding my mental health toolkit to make up for the absence of running. (Yoga, which was my go-to for a while, is off the table for now too, until my body gets in a better, supportive place.) With the end of my tenure as STEM Director approaching at the end of the calendar year, I’m rebuilding my career goals and figuring out what I might want to do next. I’m rebuilding connections to community partners, to jump-start collaborations that went dark during the pandemic. And I’m looking to rebuild my relationship to my work in general, so that it doesn’t leave me so burned out and demoralized.

The trick with rebuilding is that nothing is guaranteed. I may indeed need to let go of running even if I do get my body to a better place. My career goals, and community collaborations, may not pan out. Given the state of the world and the still ongoing pandemic, continuing burnout seems likely. But even if rebuilding gets me to a different place than I’d hoped, in any or all of these realms, I still believe that I end up ahead — and that’s worth the risks and the costs.



After pressing “submit” this morning on the study abroad program website, uploading the weeks-ago promised letter of recommendation, I felt something I hadn’t experienced in quite some time:


Going into the term, I knew that Winter Term would be a whirlwind. It’s always my busiest time of year service-wise — reviewing applications and selecting the next cohort for the Summer Science Fellows, coordinating the review of applications for faculty-student research funding (and suggesting how to allocate those funds), managing the end of the Fall/Winter Comps cycle with the Comps Gala and the oral exams and all of the other administrative tasks that entails. On top of that, I have a large Software Design class (36 students). And this year, I’ve added reading tenure and promotion files to the mix and attending meetings for the tenure and promotion committee I was elected to at the end of last year.

It’s…a lot.

It’s been particularly a lot since mid-February, starting with Advising Week and going non-stop since then. I’ve worked every weekend in February and so far in March, sometimes both days (particularly in the last couple of weeks). Early mornings, late evenings, random bits of time I’d usually spend on other things — work, work, work. (When I grumpily kicked my partner and my elder kiddo out of my home office last night, both of whom bounded in wanting to brain dump their days on me, both of them rolled their eyes at me and deemed me “no fun anymore”. Ouch.) Work often feels like an avalanche — as I finish up one set of tasks, I can see the other ones quickly bearing down on me.

I’m definitely not at my best. Because of all the work, and because I lack some of my coping mechanisms like running (more on that in a future post), I have limited energy reserves. I find myself spending those limited reserves on my students and my colleagues — which means that my reserves are even more shot than normal by the time I get home.

The recommendation letter is not the last item on my way-too-long to-do list. Not by a longshot. But that letter was the last thing in the overwhelming backlog of tasks. I can look at what’s left on the list and slot those tasks, many though they are, into mostly normal working hours that don’t involve frantically keeping one eye on the clock and worrying about the 8000 things I’m not currently doing. I have time to pause and take breaks in between tasks! I can take the entire weekend off if I choose! I might even spend a wild evening (gasp) playing board games with my kids tonight!

For the first time in a long time, life feels….manageable.

(At least until the final projects and reflection essays come in next week!)