Finding what I wanted to do as a career...
I was born and raised in Pittsford, NY, by parents who ran a dental practice together in a rural town outside of Rochester, NY. My mother was a pediatric dentist and my father was an oral surgeon.
Sporadically throughout high school, I'd work for them in their offices at the front desk running insurance payments or in the back office cleaning patient rooms and surgical trays. Looking back now, I probably took for granted how much those experiences would have on my current profession.
As an older teen, I was very interested in creative arts such as painting and photography, but I also grappled with the idea of being a doctor because of what I learned from these experiences in my parents' offices. I entered college at Boston University I declared myself undecided, although I knew in the back of my head I was split between the majors of architectural studies, which offered more artistic expression, and psychology, which students treated as a catch-all for folks who may want to enter the medical realm one day. Being indoctrinated as a “doctors child”, I ultimately ended up being a psychology major, which I knew offered a clinical doctorate that my family would approve of. (Plus, the architectural studies classes were very challenging!)
I quickly gained a lot of experience in my undergraduate program as a psychology major and was able to conduct and present my own research.
I eventually decided to pursue a program in clinical psychology in part because of the path my parents had shaped for me. They influenced many of the aspects of clinical psychology that I love. For instance, its attention to the patient-provider relationship, the part of medicine that I really learned to love through my parents who practiced in a small rural town that lacked specialists, or providers in general. It is in that upbringing that I first cultivated a passion in providing patient-centered care and minimizing issues in access to care.
My interests in women’s holistic health and wellbeing also stems back to working for my mother’s practice. As a pediatric psychologist, she cared for young children and most often interacted with their mothers. I observed that while they were seeking dental services, the other facets of women’s lives would come into play. Not only mothers, these were women with impressive and commendable careers, women who were part of particular religious communities or social groups, women who managed to balance several different aspects of life. In the span of a 20 minute dental cleaning, you'd learn so much about their lives. Perhaps this was also where I first learned that health does not exist in a vacuum.
Moreover, my interests in the particular issues of body image, eating, and chronic pain are tied very closely to my own wellness journey.
Struggling with body image and eating...
By the time I entered the 6th grade, I was 5 feet 10 inches, staggering above classmates of the same age. I also wore a women’s size 12 and cannot remember a single day of my teen years being considered anything smaller than “plus size”.
This was an ostracizing experience that continued throughout middle and high school as I put on more weight. I was raised on diets since this age, if not before. Although, the rules never made much sense to me. For example, I grew up drinking diet coke at breakfast because it was 0 calories but orange juice was banned from the house for being too caloric.
Before entering high school, in an attempt to shed weight, I asked my mom if I could go to a “fat camp” because I thought I was abnormally overweight and she obliged, thinking it’d be good for me. When I got there, other girls thought I was skinny questioning why I was even there. Over two weeks, I lost 7 pounds and immediately put them back on by the end of summer. After that, I tried several different weight loss programs including Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and traditional calorie restriction, often times as a partner-in-diet to my mom. Still, I continued the cycle of minimal weight loss followed by putting back on the weight and an extra few pounds.
My friend and I had decided that senior year of high school was going to be our “glow up” before going off to college. We trained once, if not twice a day at the local gym, and restricted our calorie intake. Years later, we got together and looked back on this period of our lives and admitted to how unhealthy this was, with mixed feelings about our poor methods and yet desirable results.
Still to this day, I am attempting to shed the dieting rules and culture I was raised in, attempting to sort through the mixed feelings I have for having bought into it. Moreover, I’m still attempting to correct the impact to my body image this time period left on my psyche and attempting to re-learn that body image has nothing to do with size, weight or shape. From these experiences, I grew interested in adolescent and young adult body image and maladaptive eating development, especially the role of family members in the process.
My relationship with chronic pain...
It wasn’t until senior year of college when I started to struggle again with my weight. At the time, I had began experiencing severe chronic pain-- seemingly out of no where. People would and still always ask - "Did you injure yourself?" expecting me to report some type of sports injury because I "looked like I played basketball" and I'd say "No, but I guess studying so much and sitting a lot in the library did this?" I, myself, was uncertain about why someone my age would be in so much pain. I attended physical therapy but things didn’t improve much. This was in contrast to previous experiences in physical therapy for my knee that was successful in reducing pain and returning function. This time around, things actually got worse. I continued to have sciatic nerve pain which spread to my toes on both sides of my body. On top of this, my romantic relationship was turning sour, my social life was difficult to maintain, school was an all-time peak of stress as I was applying to and interviewing with graduate programs. All of this really impacted my mood for the worse as the uncertainty of when my pain would end loomed over my head and darkened the view I had for myself and my future. Chronic pain destroyed my self image, made me feel physically and psychologically weak, caused my to put on weight, and extremely tested my body image.
Around the time of graduating college, I made some major life changes by leaving my relationship, ending toxic friendships, and reconnecting with myself and my accomplishments. I felt more free than ever. Despite the fact that I was still struggling with chronic pain on the daily, these life changes substantially shifted my outlook on life. My pain reached its worst in the September that I matriculated to graduate school in 2017.
After about a year and half of experiencing this pain, I finally was re-examined with an MRI and discovered I had spinal stenosis. I had resentments towards providers who had not advocated for testing or pursued other treatment options earlier. While I may have had the "answer" as to why I was in pain that I was searching for, the emotional pain also persisted. I had tried several months of PT and two rounds of oral steroids, which were both largely unsuccessful. Luckily, my graduate mentor, with whom I had only just started to establish a relationship, encouraged me to file for disability accommodations with the school. This challenged my internalized stigma towards disability and what that meant. Instead, this choice to acknowledge my disability for what it is, moved me closer towards acceptance that pain may be with me for my life, which somehow made it easier to live with. Following this, I received three steroid injections in my back over three months and followed up with several more months of PT. Currently, I can finally say my pain is manageable with the help of several integrative and continued practices, like yoga, nutritional changes, massage therapy, foam rolling, chiropractic services, and herbal remedies and life changes - like using a standing desk!
I currently am continuing PT for new findings of degenerative disc disease in my upper back and neck, but these issues are nothing in comparison -- pain is no longer new, scary, or challenging to my identity. Having chronic pain at such a young age is an experience is more profound that I can put into words and has certainly developed my empathy for those who are marginalized because of their visible or invisible identities. Having this invisible condition and my experiences navigating the health care system to find a treatment and life style approach that works has also developed my professional interest in understanding womxn’s experiences with chronic pain and disparities in health care. The more I researched into the issue among other womxn, the more I became aware of how many privileges I've had in my health and healthcare. I started to research more into the pervasive problems with the way healthcare systems are built to hinder access to care and inequitably treat BIPOC womxn. This is why, with the privileges I have, I've grown a passion for raising awareness to this issue and working to reduce disparities in care.
All of that is to say...
As a feminist, the personal is political. The personal experiences I’ve had over my life time have largely informed who I am as a developing professional in psychology. It has informed my areas of interest and has informed the steps I take to better the health and wellbeing of others, and it has informed my activism to speak about and advocate for issues central to women's health. I look forward to using this platform to share the authentic experiences I have had with my own health and wellness, with the intention that these experiences may provide support and validation for other womxn. We are not alone in this.