This summer began with the weight of my expectations bearing down on it, no matter how much I wanted to keep an open mind. It was to be my first summer without any graduate school classes since 2008, which alone felt major, and I was hoping to spend at least part of it celebrating graduation.
I was also intent on it being a summer of rest and restoration, friend time and play time and free time. Having worked myself into a state of burnout in the spring, I wanted to savor unstructured hours and to feel unattached to deadlines and projects for a little while.
Things didn’t quite go as planned, at least at first. I spent nearly all of May with various viruses and infections; by the time my birthday rolled around in June I was exhausted and battling waves of hypochondria, which tend to hit me when I’m anxious and have been somatizizing my stress. I didn’t want to catch up with friends or to enjoy summery, New York activities; I wanted to be home, by myself, where it felt safe and slow.
I gave myself permission to do that, which is the best thing I could have done. I took seriously the advice of a reader who emailed me “to echo the benefits—physically, emotionally and spiritually—of just staying put for a while and pulling your energies in.” It was better medicine than I expected it to be, both an affirmation of how good it feels to stay put and also the restorative time I needed in order to venture into the world a little more.
The second part of the summer has been the opposite; it’s felt full and energetic, sometimes downright hectic. I took on some work that I did expect to get, and wasn’t sure I could manage right before the DI, but was glad to be offered. The job made my summer more stressful than I’d planned on, but it was a good experience; it reminded me of how well I do with immersive projects, especially when I’m able to focus on them one at a time.
I said yes to things spontaneously this summer, which was intentional on my part and a new practice for me. Doing so made me realize how often I tense up against and resist opportunities to socialize and connect; it gave me a lot of interesting food for thought about how the suggestion of making plans often feels impinging to me. I’m still considering what that means and why it’s the case, but it’s been good—and occasionally uncomfortable—to set it aside and allow myself be a little more accessible to other people.
Now it’s Labor Day weekend, and everything is about to shift. I begin my DI on Tuesday, which is a day that I thought I could prepare myself for entirely, when of course I couldn’t. I don’t feel nearly as organized or prepared as I wanted to; I haven’t finished up all of the household tasks I wanted to check off my list before the fall. I haven’t batch cooked my meals for the week ahead. I only just wrapped up the study guides and coursework that I need to have completed beforehand. There are work projects that I entirely committed to wrapping up before my start date, which aren’t finished and will need to squeezed in when I can find the time. Oh well.
And of course there are things I wanted to do this summer that I didn’t do. There are so many more activities I wanted to share with my mom—plays I wanted us to see, dinners out that I wanted to treat her to. There are friends I meant to text and didn’t, people I wanted to catch up with and then dropped the ball. I had a now ridiculous-seeming fantasy of cooking tons of recipes for this blog and photographing them, so that I could seamlessly roll out content throughout the fall and early winter. That sure didn’t happen 🙂
But it’s fine, because among the many ways that this summer was good to me, it pushed me one tiny step closer to living in the present. Sometimes that meant throwing away my plans and doing nothing; sometimes it meant saying yes to things unexpectedly and allowing myself to enjoy them. I welcomed a few new experiences and new people into my life, and I’m so glad that I did. I spent a lot of time with my mom, not necessarily in pursuit of culture or shared meals at nice places, but sitting at home in her apartment, my childhood home, and that was sweet in its own familiar way.
More than anything, I know that my heart softened up a little at the edges this summer. After more than a year of processing a heartbreak, then pushing myself into a mode of “doing” in order to finish grad school, then feeling chronically unwell (and all of the vulnerability and protectiveness that can come with that feeling), I began this summer a little defended and shut down. Through acts of connecting, savoring nature, and inviting myself to perceive peoples’ friendliness and attention in a new way, I welcomed more tenderness into my life, and I opened my heart up along the way. I became willing to receive. What more wonderful thing could I say about the past few months?
On Tuesday, I’ll begin my first assignment, which is at a nursing home. The hours should be manageable, which will give me some time to keep up with writing and work. My first substantial clinical assignment will come later this fall, starting at the end of October. There will be a long commute and more demanding hours, and I’m expecting life to feel a bit turned on its head once that begins.
As I was telling someone close to me last night, though, it’s OK. Anticipating an uncertain schedule and having no “control” over my day-to-day routines certainly isn’t my comfort zone, but I’ll do my best. Another gift of the summer is a strengthened capacity for self-compassion, hewed especially in the last few weeks, as I navigated a wave of anxiety. If can remain connected to that—if I can take care of myself even when things are messy, uncertain, or a challenge to my need for order—the rest will follow.
Maybe you’ve got fun Labor Day plans for tomorrow; maybe you’re in a quiet, reflective mode like I am, thinking about the summer that’s about to be tucked away behind us. Maybe you’re simply experiencing the weekend. No matter what, I wish you a good Sunday and Monday, and many good things for the fall. Here are my recipe and reading picks for the past week.
First up, Lindsey’s beautifully simple charred corn and poblano pepper soup.
Sarah’s vegan ranch bacon pizza is comfort food bliss!
A stunning whole roasted, spicy cauliflower from Erin, whose recipes are always so bold and flavorful.
I’m loving Miranda’s pumpkin and hemp seed granola—a perfect option for my make-ahead breakfasts this coming fall.
Finally, Hannah calls this “cheesecake for the ages,” and what an apt description it is!
1. It’s a couple days behind us, but I’m glad that Vox called attention to International Overdose Awareness Day.
2. National Geographic has published a pretty amazing, longform piece on the face transplant of Katie Stubblefield, the youngest US citizen so far to receive this still experimental surgery.
3. Also in medical news: Texas Monthly reports on the race to create the first artificial heart.
4. The Atlantic just published a piece about incrementalism and vegan activism—is animal rights outreach actually more effective when it’s less flexible? I see great value in an incremental and inclusive approach, and it’s the kind of activism I’ve always shared, but it was interesting to be exposed to a different perspective.
5. Finally, a new study from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health underscores 5 habits that contribute to longevity. It can be so difficult for consumers to parse through complex (and sometimes conflicting) information on how to foster and maintain health. I appreciate this study for its breadth and the evidence-based, intuitive, and well-reasoned strategies it identifies.
Enjoy these awesome recipes, and I’ll be back later this week with a little comfort food of my own.