When I moved to New Mexico, one draw for me was changing my way of life. Moving from Chicago, I saw my move as an opportunity to learn another side of myself and explore natural, non-urbanized settings. I felt that this move would provide the space for me to connect with myself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, even in the midst of pursuing a doctoral degree. In fact, I found building this connection to myself at this particular time to be the most imperative. I figured if I could learn to live more holistically healthy during my doctoral program, then I would have no excuses for reasons why I couldn’t do it as my life progresses.
Doctoral programs are known for generating stress for their students. While pressing due dates and academic check-off lists can create their own sense of urgency, I am also aware of the pressure I feel and create within me. As a recovering perfectionist who is aware of the various ways that people underestimate me due to my intersectional identities, it can be hard to focus on my health. I want to be perfect…I mean, do my best (still recovering). I have to be diligent, reminding myself to workout multiple times a week, eat healthy foods, consume less caffeine, and sleep at night. I need to make time to get centered, take moments to enjoy life, connect with friends and family, and take breaks.
Once I actually do one or more of those things, then comes the next step — not feeling guilty. As much as I know the importance of being holistically healthy, I also feel the guilt in doing so. It’s a struggle. Most times, I am able to rationalize the guilt away. However, there are few times when the guilt sneaks in subtly. It comes in the form of: “You don’t have time to do this, do you know how much stuff you have to do?” or “When you are doing this, you could be doing this other thing?” When the guilty feelings and thoughts are persistent, I usually refer to a resource, whether it’s a book, social media page, video, or journal entry, to be reminded of the reasons why focusing on my health.
There are times when I don’t think I am making progress. My high expectations from my academic and professional life transform to the idea of a perfectly holistically healthy lifestyle and being a holistically healthy person. Then I start reflecting on how much I’ve changed since I’ve lived in New Mexico. I remember when I struggled to find time to meet with a counselor; now I have regular appointments. Or the times I had to convince myself that working out wasn’t a waste of time; now I look forward to my intense cardio, especially when I’ve had a stressful day. I make time to be quiet and get centered when previously I couldn’t be still without thinking “I can’t believe you’re choosing to do nothing”. I regularly check in with my body to see how it’s doing, write in my journal, make time to try new things, and make frequent trips to a friend’s healing arts store. Without realizing it, I have changed. Even now, as I write this post, I am amazed by the different rhythm I have with my life. I still work and will work long hours when necessary. However, I know my functioning improves and I am a better human being when I take care of myself.
The purpose of living in New Mexico was to open me up to another way of living. One that I felt would be better for me, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I feel that it is a luxury to be a doctoral student here because I don’t feel the consistent pressure to perform. I can take breaks like visiting national parks, driving to another city, or tasting a new green chile dish, and no one will think I am slacking. I have developed a better balance in my life, and feel more content. I haven’t worked out all the details of this new rhythm nor omitted feelings of guilt, stress, or high expectations. However, I do know that I am more connected to the layers of myself and have enjoyed the journey (for the most part). I am on my way to being the holistically, healthy person that I aspire to be.