To the Person Who Didn’t Believe in Me

I’m going to be honest. This post is a difficult one for me. It is something I have wanted to share for quite a while, but I allowed myself time to develop the courage to share this. It’s extremely personal for me, but I hope that it can give at least one person hope.

Four years ago, I wrote this blog post.

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My parents and me at graduation, something we once lost hope would ever happen. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

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The day I accepted my offer at UNL. Celebrating with a close friend.

After I wrote that post, I wasn’t really sure where my life would go. I planned on going back to school the following Fall and graduating as soon as possible (I seriously just wanted to be done with school). But something beautiful happened. When I went back to school, I discovered a supportive environment full of faculty and students who believed in me. Soon, I developed plans of going to graduate school. Grad school turned into dreams of getting my Ph.D.

I promised myself that, when I got into a doctoral program, I would write a letter to the faculty member mentioned in the previous blog post. Approximately a year and a half ago, after accepting my offer into the School Psychology program at UNL, I came through on that promise.

I’m honestly not sure whether she ever received the letter. I think about it sometimes, but I quietly take solace in the act of writing and sending the letter. The act of standing up for myself. The act of standing up for others who have felt defeated by someone who didn’t believe in them.

Here is the letter I wrote:

Dear Dr. __________,

I hope this letter finds you well. You may not remember me, but I sat across from you in your office in Fall 2011, requesting my third complete medical withdrawal from my courses at the University of Oklahoma. I had been struggling with my health for years, as evidenced by the inches-thick binder of medical records that accompanied me during our meeting. You recommended that I do some soul-searching and suggested that I discontinue my college education. After I told you that I planned on going to graduate school, you glanced at my grades and the number of W’s on my transcript and said that I would never get into professional school with such a poor history. You told me that I would need to look into other options if I could not get my health under control. I left your office feeling hurt, defeated, and hopeless. I almost believed you.

The following semester, my health deteriorated further. I withdrew from my courses a fourth time. I became so sick that I was completely disabled. I required two major surgeries, coupled with months of rehabilitation and healing. By August 2012, however, I was back in school. I chose to attend a different university because I could not imagine being in a place that harbored so many negative memories for me. I maintained good grades, found ways to help my department, and graduated within a year and a half. With the encouragement of the faculty at my university, I started a masters program. This spring, I accepted an offer into the School Psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In three short years, I turned my life around. And I have you to thank for that.

I think about our conversation every day. Your words almost broke me. If it had not been for my impossibly strong support system, they would have. While your words added fuel to my fire, they have the power to extinguish that of others. As [a leader at the university], you have the potential to ruin a student’s career by passing judgment at an inopportune moment. Students believe what you have to say. I urge you to think about the impact your advice can have on a student before giving it, to consider how it may affect his or her life. I imagine students come to you when they are already broken—I was. I urge you to encourage them, to help them mend their broken pieces instead of breaking them further. To understand that, as a faculty member at a prestigious university, discouraging a student from pursuing an education that he or she so badly wants can hinder potential greatness. I urge you to think carefully about the lasting impression you can leave on students; I know you have left one on me.

Sincerely,

Pooja Parikh

 

Posted in Anecdotes, Hidradenitis Suppurativa, Misc, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

How to: the Perfect Smoothie

Smoothies are a huge part of my life (seriously, ask any of my friends). As a graduate student, there is nothing better than a meal I can throw into a blender and then slurp down as I run out the door to work or class. Bonus points because it’s good for me and keeps me full and energized for a long time.

I’m actually pretty picky about my smoothies, which is why I rarely buy a smoothie and prefer to make them myself. I think I’m allowed to be picky though because my smoothies are pretty delicious (not to toot my own horn). And there’s something to be said for knowing all of the ingredients I’m putting into my body!

So, while I usually mix up what exactly I’m putting into my perfect smoothie (mix up–get it?), there are a few things that I incorporate into the base of every smoothie (more or less) to ensure that my smoothie has optimal taste, consistency, and nutritional value.

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Tips:

  1. Always add greens. To me, a smoothie without at least 2-3 packed cups of leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, etc) is a wasted opportunity to incorporate greens. You cannot taste them (especially spinach–I promise it’s undetectable) and you get an extra dose of fiber, which will keep you full longer. Also, pro-tip: if you have a crappy blender like I do, pulse the greens with whatever liquid of your choice first until it liquifies, then add everything else. It’ll blend together much more easily, and your blender won’t have to work as hard! Also, using less liquid overall will lead to a thicker smoothie, which means you’ll basically be living the dream.
  2. Only use frozen fruit. I exclusively use frozen fruit in my smoothies–that way I never have to add ice! No ice = no watered down smoothie. Win/win. I also like to buy fresh fruit super cheap when it’s in season and freeze it in Ziploc bags.
  3. Add 1/2 – 1 frozen banana. It makes the base extremely creamy, which is great when you aren’t adding dairy to a smoothie (if you don’t like the taste of banana, see #4). I always buy a bunch of bananas, let them sit out for a couple of days to ripen, then peel –> smash –> freeze in individual Ziplocs. It may seem wasteful to put each banana in its own Ziploc, but it helps me portion better AND I reuse the Ziplocs so I feel better about it (I keep all my banana Ziplocs in a grocery bag in the freezer for easy organization). 
  4. Add 1/4 – 1/2 avocado + honey. Adding avocado to your smoothie not only gives you a punch of healthy fats which will also keep you full longer, but it makes the smoothie very creamy as well (good alternative if you don’t like bananas). Be sure to add a bit of honey (not too much–maybe a teaspoon or 1/2 tablespoon) or other sweetener if you add avocado because it has a noticeably savory flavor.
  5. Add protein. Smoothies are a meal replacement option for me, so I try to make sure I have all my bases covered. Protein will keep you full too! I prefer to add 2 tbsp of collagen to my smoothies, which has 11g protein, but you can add whatever you want!
  6. Liquid. I mix it up with my liquids. Sometimes I use coconut water, sometimes coconut milk. The coconut water helps with hydration and does not contribute a taste to the smoothie, and the coconut milk adds healthy fat, although it tastes coconutty. You could also use water, almond milk, anything! I’ve even left an opened can of LaCroix in the fridge and used that as my liquid base (amazing). I don’t recommend using fruit juice because it will increase the sugar content of your smoothie without really providing any nutritional value. 
  7. Lemon zest. This doesn’t necessarily go with every smoothie, but a pinch of lemon zest really brightens up a smoothie and makes it taste fresh. If you haven’t done this before, I highly recommend it!

So, there you have it. My main smoothie tips that lead me to making the perfect smoothie every single day. I will have another post soon in which I provide ingredient combination suggestions I like to use in my smoothies to hope give you more inspiration.

In the meantime, what are some tips you have to make the perfect smoothie that are not mentioned here?

Posted in Food, Healthy, How To, Paleo, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Warrior

Approximately once every other month or so, I allow myself to go into a total mental breakdown about the state of my health and body. I jokingly refer to it as my bi-monthly breakdown. I am a fairly emotionally stable person, and I owe it in large part to the fact that I think it’s okay to occasionally feel sorry for myself. Is that pathetic? Absolutely not. Life is hard, and everyone has their struggles. If I refused to acknowledge my own struggle, not only would I be lying to myself, but I would be denying myself the opportunity to reflect and heal, as well as build strength.

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Think of it as an emotional piggy bank of sorts. Each time I have a new flare or health-related upset, I put a coin in the piggy bank. Typically, within a couple of months, the bank begins to overflow and I cash it in for a good, solid cry. It is rejuvenating and I always feel 10x lighter after each breakdown.

So how does this seemingly masochistic semi-ritual of mine relate to building strength?

To me, strength is not about gritting your teeth and bearing pain with a straight face. It is not about silently tucking your pain away so that no one can see it. It is not about ignoring your pain. In fact, to me, strength is about embracing your pain. It is about allowing yourself to feel the pain, and then continuing to fight in spite of it. Strength is defined by the choice to keep fighting each day.

A beautiful thing about my disease is that it has trained me to be a fighter. After having to fight what felt like a losing battle for my life, it feels as though there is no endeavor too great for me. Whenever I encounter a challenge of any kind, my brain immediately begins developing a battle plan. I no longer know any other way.

My disease has made me a warrior.

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I found this bracelet here, and when I sent a photo of it to my best friend, she immediately insisted upon buying it for me, without any hesitation. She knew how important the word warrior was to me, and she wanted me to have a constant reminder of my triumph over my health, as well as my continued will to fight. I am grateful that this bracelet not only represents my fight, but also my support system that has armed me with love and encouragement from the beginning.

This is what the packaging says:

“Remember that true glory is in rising every time you fall. Let this band be your reminder that you are so strong, so fearless, so powerful. You are a warrior, stronger than you have ever been.”

Every single day, I grow stronger. Because every single day, I continue to fight.

Posted in Anecdotes, Hidradenitis Suppurativa, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Seeking Wellness through Disease

When I go through difficult times (failures, breakups, bouts of loneliness, a bad flare, etc), I want ice cream. And pizza. And cookies. And cheese. And wine, beer, whiskey. Society has effectively trained me to crave these “comfort” items when I’m down, paired with spending hours, days, weeks wasting away on the couch and binge-watching Netflix.

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Exhibit A…

And during this latest flare, that’s exactly what I was tempted to do; however, I had started the Autoimmune Protocol a couple of weeks before and was determined to stay on track. Instead of reaching for the ice cream or pizza, I filled my body with nourishing foods like fruits, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. Instead of lingering on the couch when I started to feel down, I leashed up my dog and went on a long walk to clear my head. Instead of getting lost in Netflix and staying up late, then sleeping in, I intentionally went to bed early and woke up with the sun, ensuring I spent most waking hours in daylight. Instead of shutting people out and sinking into a lonely abyss, I reached out to friends when I needed them and filled my days with activities and uplifting conversation.

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Seeing Matt Nathanson in concert with good friends and amazing weather.

It has been really interesting to see the change in my brain’s response to pain since I’ve made an active effort to be kind to my body. Indulging in certain comfort foods may seem appealing, but it makes you feel sluggish, which (thanks to the beloved biofeedback loop) makes you feel worse and affects your brain’s ability to recover emotionally. Then the cycle continues.

Who knew that being kind to your body could help your mind heal more quickly? I have been able to embrace the pain and achieve clarity. I’ve also been able to listen to both my body and mind more and give them what they need.

So, this is where the idea of Seeking Wellness through Disease originated. I was telling my best friend about my change in mindset and its impact on my healing process, and he summed it up perfectly for me in those four beautiful words.

Be kind to your body, and your mind will follow.

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Nature’s candy > Processed candy.

Posted in Anecdotes, Healthy, Paleo, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Chicken Fried Cauliflower “Rice”

Remember when I posted at the beginning of the semester, terrified about whether I would be able to finish off the semester and actually graduate? Well graduation is 5 weeks away. Can you believe that? FIVE WEEKS.

This semester has been an absolute whirlwind. Statistics has officially taken over my life. Between working as a supplemental statistics instructor, tutoring at my university’s tutoring center, and privately tutoring, it’s safe to say that I spend at least part of every day fully submerged in statistics.

I may be a bit of a nerd though, because I totally love every minute of it.

I actually put this on a handout at the beginning of the semester (original image taken from here).

I actually put this on a handout at the beginning of the semester (original image taken from here).

Because I was so afraid of taking on too much this semester, I allowed my blog to slip from my grasp. With class, work, research, applying to graduate school, and training for a half marathon (more on that later), I had to give up something. But it was only temporary!

And now I am back with a mouthwateringly guilt-free meal that will keep you coming back for more. Seriously. It’s amazing.

Meet Chicken Fried Rice’s fit and healthy first cousin.

ohhhhhhh yeaahhhh.

This cauliflower “rice” will have you thinking you’re eating real rice. In fact, you should put it to the test. Serve it to someone without telling them that it’s not actually rice. They will not be able to tell the difference. Guaranteed. I actually played that trick on my brother. When he found out it wasn’t real rice, he asked for seconds. 😉

It even looks like rice…ish.

Disclaimer: The recipe looks like a lot with complicated steps, but it comes together quickly and easily. Pinky promise.

Chicken Fried Cauliflower “Rice”
Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

The “rice”:
-1 head cauliflower
-2 tablespoons canola oil
-1 teaspoon minced ginger (or powdered ginger)
-2 teaspoons minced garlic or 2 garlic cloves, minced
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
-2 tablespoons soy sauce

The stir fry:
-green beans
-carrots
-broccoli
-green onions (you can use regular onions if you’d like)
-edamame (I used frozen)
-green peas (I used frozen)
-2 chicken breasts*
-1 teaspoon peanut butter or almond butter
-2 tablespoons soy sauce
-2 tablespoons Asian salad dressing of choice, or stir fry sauce
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 teaspoon minced ginger (or powdered ginger)
-2 teaspoons minced garlic or 2 garlic cloves, minced
-1 egg, cracked and beaten in a bowl and mixed with 1/2 tsp soy sauce

*You can prepare the chicken however you prefer. I marinated it overnight in 1 teaspoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons almond butter (or peanut butter), 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, and 1 teaspoon minced ginger, then grilled it and cubed it before adding it to the cooked vegetables. You could just as easily sauté it before you add in the veggies, but I still recommend marinating it however you choose for maximum flavor! Ps. Even if you don’t marinate your chicken with this marinade and grill it for this recipe, you HAVE to do it sometime. It’s the best chicken EVER.

As for the vegetables, you can use whatever you have on hand! I didn’t give any exact measurements because how much you add is really up to you. Just make sure you chop ’em up before you throw it all together!

But I DO recommend cutting all of your vegetables and having them ready because it makes the cooking process quick and easy.

The Cauliflower Rice:

First, break apart the raw cauliflower (removing most of the large stem), then put it into a food processor. I had to do it in two sessions because I couldn’t fit all of the cauliflower in at once. Pulse it only 3-4 times until you see that it has broken down tiny pieces, then set aside.

Warm up the canola oil in a large skillet or wok, then add the cauliflower. Sauté for 2-3 minutes. When smoke starts coming up, add a little more oil, then add the soy sauce. When the cauliflower starts to turn yellow (in the process of browning), add ginger, garlic, and black pepper. After it starts to brown, set aside.

The Stir Fry:

Warm up olive oil in the same skillet (after the cauliflower has been set aside in a bowl or plate), then add all the veggies except for the green onions (if you’re using a regular onion, add it in with the rest of the veggies, but green onions take less time to cook so they would be added near the end). If you are using raw chicken, then you should add it before you add any veggies and then add them in when the chicken is almost cooked.

Sauté veggies for about 3 minutes, then add garlic, ginger, and green onions. After 2 more minutes, add peanut butter/almond butter, soy sauce, and salad dressing/stir fry sauce and stir it all together (if you decide to grill your chicken like I did, this is when you would add it in).

After this is mixed and vegetables are soft, add cauliflower “rice” and mix it all together. If the mixture seems dry, you can add more soy sauce if you want. Push all veggies to the side, forming a circle in the middle of the pan, and pour egg into the center. Quickly scramble the egg, then mix everything together.

So yummy!

So yummy!

Packed with vegetables and extra punches of protein, not to mention incredible flavors, this meal will leave you feeling satisfied and happy…with room for dessert.

I hope you enjoy this meal as much as we have!

Posted in Food, Healthy, Paleo, Recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Living in Fear

Here’s a not-so-secret: Classes start today.

Here’s a secret: I’m terrified.

I’m not terrified of school, of course. I love learning, being actively engaged in class (I’m the annoying student who always sits near the front row and asks a ton of questions), and being productive. I love everything that has to do with Psychology and the prospect of expanding my knowledge of psych always excites me.

So what is it?

Well…this could be my last semester of undergrad. It technically is my last semester of undergrad…I hope.

I know my health has been stable (for the most part) for a year now, but given its instability in the past, I just cannot allow myself to be excited about potentially graduating in December. It doesn’t feel real yet.

I’ve been disappointed and hurt repeatedly, and I’ve had to withdraw from college so many times that I have grown increasingly afraid of this semester. I’m an emotional wreck behind closed doors because I’m scared of the possibility of getting too sick to complete the semester again. The disease I have is way too unpredictable and I know that it’s never smart to get too comfortable with what my immediate plans may be.

On one hand, it’s horrible because the stress of the fear itself may be enough to push me over the edge and back into serious illness.

But on the other hand, it’s a great thing because it forces me to take myself and my body seriously. Instead of taking on too much or not being as careful with what I eat, I’ll be doing the exact opposite. I will take extreme care of myself this semester to ensure (to the best of my ability) that nothing goes wrong. And I will be paying close attention to my body along the way.

I had initially planned on running a marathon or two in the fall, but after much thought and prayer, I have decided against it. My main goal this semester is to graduate; nothing else. I don’t need to put obstacles in my own way right now. It’s my turn to move on with my life and finally be done with my undergraduate career.

But I can’t help but think…is this what it will always be like? Will I forever walk into timely commitments with fear of my health plummeting? Although it can be extremely humbling as well as important to understand that my plans are not the ones that prevail, living in fear is exhausting.

I want to be excited about graduation. I want to shout from the rooftops that this is my last semester as an undergraduate.

But I am terrified.

Posted in Anecdotes, Hidradenitis Suppurativa, Marathon Mondays, Misc | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

10 Questions to Never Ask a Marathon Runner

Happy Marathon Monday!!

My friend Monica and I sat down to dinner last fall and had a good laugh over the various questions we’ve received as marathon runners, either while training or post-race. We compiled some of our favorites and I’ve been dying to share them with you!

  1. “So do you actually run, or is it more of a jog?”
    Usually, this question is asked in a more condescending manner. Like “how can you call yourself a runner if you’re just jogging?” Here’s the thing: no, I’m not in an all-out sprint the entire time. Most of us are not professional runners. Honestly, the only time I’m sprinting is when the finish line is in sight. I want to cross that thing!!

  2. “Did you run the whole time?”
    Um, who cares? I just traveled 26.2 miles by foot!

  3. “How long was this marathon?”
    26.2 miles. Always. Unless it has the prefix “Ultra” tacked on…then it’s even more than that.

  4. “Do you eat a ton of carbs?”
    I eat more carbs than normal, but only slightly. We don’t stuff our faces with pasta and bread, as many people may imagine. We may carb load a little the night before a long run, but even that means eating one serving of pasta with vegetables and plenty of protein, not just a huge bowl of neverending pasta. Also, we get lots of  good carbs from vegetables, so piling on the pasta/bread is not necessary, nor is it beneficial.

  5. “Is it hard?”
    Absolutely. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Every time. It never gets easier. A coach Dean Karnazes had in junior high, Jack McTavish, once told him, “If it felt good, you didn’t push hard enough. It’s supposed to hurt like hell.” We push ourselves until we hurt.

  6. “I want to sign up for an upcoming marathon but I haven’t trained. Do you think I’ll be okay?”
    Unless you are a professional long distance runner, this is the worst idea ever. Ever ever ever. Training for a marathon isn’t just about getting your body ready–it’s about mental preparation as well. I spoke to a friend recently who had considered running a marathon last year without training, but ended up running one this year instead, fully trained. She said that she would not have been nearly prepared if she had run it last year. It’s about the focus, the research, the understanding, the preparation. When we cross that finish line, we don’t just cheers to the 26.2 miles we just ran; we cheers to the months of training, tears, blood, time, sweat, and dedication we poured into accomplishing our goal. Training is everything.

  7. “Do you think you’ll run any more marathons?”
      Nine times out of ten, the answer is yes. Once you’ve caught the marathon bug, there’s no going back. In fact, most of us start planning for the next marathon while we’re still sore from our previous!

  8. “How much time did it take you/Did you PR?”
    If I’m not bragging about my time, chances are it wasn’t great. And even if it was great, I want to focus on the fact that I finished the race. And setting a PR (personal record) is much more difficult than it seems. Even shaving a minute off of your time means running a completely different race. It’s not just about running the last mile faster–it’s about running the whole thing faster. So, if we want to talk about our time, we’ll do it regardless of whether or not we’re asked.

  9. “Did you know that running is a high impact sport?”
    Yes. We know a lot about running. We also take precautionary measures and make sure we have the right shoes and socks, as well as additional equipment such as compression sleeves, etc. We know to ice and to listen to our bodies (though we tend to ignore them sometimes…like at mile 24). Marathon running requires extreme commitment, and most of us do as much research as possible to ensure that we are nursing our bodies the proper way.

    And, my ultimate favorite question:

  10. “Did you win the marathon?”
    No. I…no. The person who wins the marathon can usually run it in under 2 1/2 hours…that’s an average pace below a 6 minute mile! Those are the people who sprint the entire distance. So no, I will never win a marathon. In fact, in the last race I ran, I was one of the last people to finish–and I was okay with that. Because my goal will always be to cross the finish line.

Questions for you:
What odd (to you) questions have you been asked while doing something you love? Are there any that I missed?

Posted in Fitness, Marathon Mondays, Running | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments