Vitamin D

I’ve had low vitamin D levels for a while now, probably exacerbated by living in the Midwest and working in the basement (our lab is there). To help, I take 5000 IU of vitamin D, 3 times a week and a daily vitamin that has an additional 1000 IU. That puts me at 22,000 IU per week.

Because of recent overwhelming exhaustion, my primary care doctor ordered another Vitamin D test. Turns out, I’m still on the low side (34 ng/ml). According to this website, I should take an additional 800 IU per day if I want to raise my vitamin D levels to 40 ng/ml. I’m already taking more than 3000 IU per day just to maintain 34 ng/ml. According to the same website, I would probably be at around 5 ng/ml (“severely deficient in vitamin D by every standard out there”) if I wasn’t already currently taking supplements.

I never asked for my the results of my vitamin D tests when my rheumatologist ordered them and now I’m wondering. How low were they before I started taking vitamin D supplements?

If levels of 60-80 ng/ml can be achieved simply by exposing your skin to the sun, then why is it so difficult for me to produce enough vitamin D?

If vitamin D helps promotes muscle growth, I wonder if this is why I have so much trouble with strength training for climbing?

A year plagued by health issues

This year was characterized by a host of minor health issues, all unrelated. Caught a bad virus in the winter, pulled a quad pretty badly (and probably never really gave it the chance to re-heal properly), on-again off-again stomach problems, welt-like spider bite, etc. Just recently, my neck has been giving me a lot of pain. The muscles around it are so stiff and painful, it feels as if the ache reaches through to my bones. Remembered that the doc prescribed muscle relaxants for the sprained/bruised rotator cuff I suffered my first year, so I self-prescribed the same dose last night. Not surprisingly, it knocked me out for a solid 13 hours. I’m not sure what helped more, the amount of sleep or the medication, but either way, the neck pain is mostly gone.

Please, no more health issues. Seems like once I get rid of one, I get a new one. Sometimes I wonder if the stress is getting to me or if the FMS is getting to me. I’m pretty sure the sudden onset of overwhelming exhaustion (combined with insomnia, natch) is from the FMS, but the neck pain is probably a combination of stress, FMS, and irregular sleep.

I often feel judged for not being able to accomplish as much work as my colleagues, but I know there is nothing I can do about it. After 5 years, my adviser has finally become a little more understanding, but I still fear that he’s merely just written me off. I try not to let that affect me, but it’d be a lie to say that the opinions of an adviser never affected anyone.

Blah. Can’t wait to be away from the paralyzing criticism and the never-ending flow of negativity.

Allergies + Fatigue

I’ve felt extraordinarily tired the last few weeks. Even when I get enough sleep, I seem to sleep an extra two hours. At first, I thought the fatigue was post-finals recuperation, but now I think it might actually be my allergies. I sneeze big sneezes every few minutes, the moment I go outside. Even in doors, the sneezes seem to sneak up on me every so often.

Welcome to the Midwest, where everything actively works against my body functioning adequately. Can’t wait for California.

For me, my biggest struggle against FMS in grad school was the constant fight against fatigue and Fibro Fog. It is hitting me pretty hard, right now.

Placebo sleep

For those of you who have trouble sleeping, it appears that simply thinking that you slept well can reduce the effects of poor sleep quality. See study here. I haven’t had the time to read the entire study, but I think it would be a good thing to practice for people with FMS who do not have the luxury of lots of sleep (i.e. me, during my first through third year of graduate school).

On the plus side, I’ve slept a fair amount the last few years. Once quals are done and classes are over, there really is no reason to get good sleep. Except possibly early morning classes that you have to TA. Why are the professors in this program so intent on teaching undergraduate phonology at 9 am in the morning?!

Unknown emotions

It’s an odd feeling, having to say goodbye to people. Especially when they know they’ll be coming back to school in Fall, while I will no longer be here. Will there be anyone here to say goodbye to when I leave?


Launching a new study is so stressful. I’ve been working almost non-stop this week on this thing. Finally finished one part of it last night and am now working to put together the second half. Granted the second half shouldn’t take quite as long, but the anxiety is taking its toll.

I realized it was the anxiety that contributing to the tightness in my muscles and the sleeplessness. I don’t know if other people with FMS feel this way too, but when I’m anxious, my muscles never seem to be able to stay at rest. I feel like I HAVE to move, which is not so good when I’m trying to fall asleep.

Applied for a job and am waiting to hear back now. I suppose that’s also contributing to the anxiety.

Keep moving. Keep believing.

End of semester blues

Towards the end of the semester, it always gets hard to stay motivated. The sun comes out and suddenly it feels like summer vacation (even though grad students don’t get vacations).

Between summer storms at night waking me up at odd hours and abrupt changes to my sleeping schedule (no more 9 am T/TH! Yay!), I find myself being tired all the time and irritable. Chalk it up to the FMS. Bleh.

Gotta find a schedule again. Gotta hit the gym at least four times a week. Climb two days, run two days. I don’t know why but the pain doesn’t seem to surface when I’m on the rock wall. Maybe because it’s a matter of redirected focus?


My adviser brought back one of our favorite alums to do an ultrasound training session. It’s been every day this week and ridiculously fascinating. So interesting to be able to see ultrasound images of my tongue in real time!

Right after, I went to my dance class. On my way in, the instructor asked me what I did today and I said “I got to see my tongue moving with ultrasound.” Everyone around me went “WOAH!” Guess I’m not the only who thinks it’s pretty cool.

Post-prelim, post-data collection, the world is so beautiful and so bright. I’ve really been enjoying learning new articulatory techniques while hanging out with my juniors. Really truly feels like a “lab” now!

FMS tip of the day:
To help with tight muscles from studying too long, I recommend a rumble roller. Lie down on the ground, place the rumble roller behind your neck, and gently roll your head left to right. I find it much better than a massage; massages don’t really release my muscles as well as daily stretches. Plus massages cost way too much.

Almost done

I’m so close to the finish and yet I’ve seriously neglected this blog. I’ve decided that I’ll try to do short updates every few days until the day I defend.

When you’re finally post-prelim and post-data collection, the world suddenly seems so much brighter and hopeful. The arrival of spring helps too. I’m literally dancing all the time, these days.


I’ll be honest, I didn’t think the PhD process would be such an ordeal. I knew it would be difficult, but I’d always excelled in school. I’m not saying this to brag, because pretty much every doctorate hopeful has typically excelled in school. And in some ways, I believe we entered the PhD not just because we did well academically, but because that seemed to be the only thing we did well. If I take a look around my department, we’re chock full of anxious perfectionists with extreme OCD and more than one social inadequacy. Many of us take attacks to our work personally, because our work is the only thing defines us.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from having FMS, it’s this: no one thing defines the whole of you. When you begin to let one aspect of your life dominate and control who you are, that is when you lose. To give a FMS-related metaphor, the pain and the fibro fog does not dictate who I am; i.e. reduced output, quality of work, and productivity does not define who I am as a person.  But perhaps this is something easier for me to identify and address than for others. Since a child, I’ve consciously struggled with outlining my identity as an Asian-American female. I use the word “struggle” not in the sense that it was an affliction, but rather a conscious effort to wrest control of my identity. I choose who I am and who I get to be. Even in the face of opposition, I have to be strong in knowing that the whole of me is not defined by what other people think of me.

In this way, I find the PhD difficult and tedious not because of the work, but because of the playground politics. Here, the environment is literally littered with colleagues who believe that it is okay to rip someone apart for really minor mistakes or harmless errors in judgement. They do this because they see their predecessors, the professors and their advisers, doing the very same thing and in doing so, they are perceived as smarter and more successful. I’ve seen favors demanded by students who believe they have the power to do so because their adviser holds power. In a sense, they do hold a portion of that power by proxy, but it is incredibly archaic (and not to mention unfair) that this is considered acceptable and the norm. I find myself appalled by the behavior of both professors and students, who still act as if bullying and hazing is an appropriate response to the mistakes made by fellow scientists and budding scientists. How can we progress if mistakes are not accepted as part and parcel in the pursuit of scientific knowledge?

I entered academia because I loved that thrill of gaining new knowledge (even if it was useless) and the satisfaction of being able to answer a long-bothering question. The ordeal I face now is not the struggle to answer those questions, but rather the attitudes of those around me and their arrogance. However, I know that this ordeal has changed me and helped me to grow as a person: I’ve learned far more about my abilities and my endurance in the face of a multitude of difficulties. I’ve also been pushed to the boundary of how much I can abuse my body before the FMS reminds me, ever so gently, that I must stop. Because of that, I’ve learned which sacrifices are bearable and which are not worth the effort. I’ve learned this lesson and many others a decade earlier than many of my colleagues and even the faculty.

It is worthwhile. If you’re debating whether to enter a PhD program, I will tell you this: It is worthwhile. While you may not gain the doctorate degree at the end, I still believe it’s been worthwhile. During this time, I learned how to rise above my FMS and how to not let it control my life. In learning to do, I’ve learned to distance myself emotionally from the boorish behavior that I observe and experience at school. These are lessons that are hard to learn but difficult to forget. I’ve grown as a person through this adversity and while I would never wish it on another person or willingly choose to perpetuate the system, I do encourage prospective doctoral candidates to seek out that challenge, even if you are struggling with a chronic condition like me. The most important thing to remember is that even when faced with failure (and most likely, the scornful pity of those who have succeeded), that your failure does not define your worth or who you are as a person. The most important thing is that you were brave enough to try.