Brandi's Blog

March 10, 2017
Back in the Classroom

It was my first week back in the classroom. It was nice reconnecting with classmates and sharing stories about our individual fieldwork placement experiences. The majority of the feedback was positive. However, others found their placement quite challenging and stressful. I felt as though overall my placement had both positive and negative aspects to it, so I was able to relate to everyone on some level. Although, one thing we all had in common was our lack of interest in starting more coursework.

We are back in the classroom for 3.5 more months and then after that we have two more seven-week fieldwork placements to complete. At that point, as of November, 2017, we will be officially completed the OT program. That will be an exciting day! We will then begin to study for our OT registration exam, which we need to pass in order to actually become recognized as registered occupational therapists. Once we pass that final registration exam, the long tiring road to becoming an OT will finally be over.

Although then perhaps the hardest part begins, as we all need to find jobs. This final employment goal is honestly what worries me the most. Without a job, the hard work, accumulating debt and personal sacrifice would essentially all be for not, potentially a complete waste of time. That would be a hard pill to swallow, so I am hoping that will not be the case. Although as time goes on, I am feeling less sure about job prospects in this field, particularly in the region that is closest to family, which is where I am hoping to be. It worries me, because in the last few months I keep hearing it can be hard to find a job as an OT. This is particularly disheartening, as this was one of the important factors leading me to choose this field. Prior to starting the OT program, I had heard over and over that there were jobs in this field and that I would have no problem finding work, but now that story has changed. So to say the least, now I can finally see the destination on the horizon, but it still looks and feels so far away.

I know this is when it becomes important to not look too far ahead, but instead down at your feet and at the immediate obstacles. I need to focus on the courses I still need to complete, the papers I need to write, the mornings I need to get up, the soups and stews I need to make to give me the energy I need to get me through this last eight months. I need to do all of these things despite the never-ending feeling of exhaustion and constant worry about the future.

So at the moment that is just what I am doing. I have a research project that I am supposed to be working on, which I need to defend in mid-June, so my goal is to tackle that over the next six weeks. I am also currently in four courses. One is in OT program evaluation, which is particularly dry; another one targets working with the geriatric (elderly) population and the nature of aging; another course examines law and occupational therapy; and finally the last course is meant to tie all of our learning together. Projects, papers and assignments have all been introduced and so now I am trying hard to focus on what is directly in front of me, a pile of coursework I need to tackle. Once these courses are completed and my research project is defended, I will be one step closer to at least being able to look for a job and a way to finally move beyond the life as a student.

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March 4, 2017
Fieldwork - Last Week

The last week of fieldwork began on a Tuesday, as Monday was a holiday. It was a short week with a relatively light schedule of approximately three patients per day. It felt like a parting gift to have such a light caseload during the last week. The last day of the week looked particularly calm with no patients at all, just my final presentation first thing in the morning. I went into the week knowing it would be a breeze, especially when compared to the two previous weeks. I was looking forward to finally having some down time to reflect on all that I had learned over the weeks past. I was grateful for the blank blocks of time and the prospect of going home on time and eating dinner before 8:00 p.m. I could not have been more misled.

The sparse schedule was not a good indicator of the upcoming workload. In fact the blocks of unmarked time acted more like an attractant for additional work than dedicated time for calm reflection. The week started like a storm starts with a small wind and subtle change in the smell of the air, and then all of a sudden by Tuesday afternoon it became apparent that I was in the midst of a downpour. My preceptor likely noticed the white space in our schedule and decided she needed to add some color to the page and provided us with more work. The other OT student and I put on our obliging grins of required approval and forced gratefulness when the preceptor was in the room dishing it out, but when she left we both let out a heavy sigh. The week proceeded as every storm does, with thunder, lightening and a deluge of spent energy; uneasiness and stress from working hard trying desperately to not get wet!

Well despite all my efforts, I definitely got soaked. I worked late every single day of the week. The late nights varied from two hours of overtime the first night to a couple of 3.5 hour evenings at the hospital. Finally the last night, before my early morning presentation, I spent a long six hours after work writing discharge summaries, tying up loose ends and reworking my previously completed presentation.

Having to rework the presentation at the last minute was not expected. It was like the surprise of large hailstones suddenly falling from the sky, pummeling you like angry confetti. The presentation was on attention, and I was required to do it with a student partner. She decided to drastically change the presentation last minute, only informing me at the end of the day just prior to our presentation the following morning. In that moment the hail hit hard and I was more than upset, but despite a nearly sleepless night accommodating the tornado that was my partner, I survived the late night and the presentation next morning. In fact, I managed to come out of the stormy last week of my placement with a passing grade and even a compliment.

I am glad it is over, and thankfully overall it was a positive experience, despite the deluge of work and stress that came with it. I gained a lot of confidence and learned an incredible amount about occupational therapy, and I even learned how to survive a storm with tornado thrown in.

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February 21, 2017
Fieldwork - Staying Afloat

It was an incredibly busy week on placement, but once again I pulled it off. I was responsible for over 50 percent of an average patient caseload. In fact, it was likely closer to 65 percent of an average caseload and I somehow managed. I did, however, work late at the hospital for 2-2.5 hours every single day of the week. So I may have pulled it off, but it was by no means a piece of cake. I suppose it was closer to a piece of overcooked, dried out, gristly meat. Cake is definitely more my forte.

Once again, I struggled with completing all of my documentation in the allotted time. This week was particularly difficult as I had many assessments and at least five discharge summaries to complete. A discharge summary is written when a patient is released from OT services, which means their rehabilitation is complete within the hospital setting. The patient is then on their own and encouraged to access other community services, such as day programs, local gyms, etc....

From the time of discharge, it is up to them to maintain their strength and joint range of motion. Rehabilitation is a starting point, a moment in time that helps a person begin to recover from an injury or stroke, or manage the onset of a progressive disease. Rehabilitation is all about recovery and management after a life-changing health event, but it is also about helping people to develop and build new habits and skills to live within a new normal. It is a difficult time for patients, but also potentially an empowering time for people to start to accept and develop a new sense of self and possibility.

As a therapist in training, I am realizing it can be a very rewarding experience for those working within rehabilitation medicine, but it can also be disappointing and even sad. Some people suffer tragic health events and simply do not recover. Others have the potential to recover somewhat, but simply do not have the motivation to even try to move forward and help themselves. Motivation is a critical aspect of rehabilitation, and without it, a person often does not recover to the extent that they could. This is where the notion of client-centered practice comes into play. Patient goals direct rehabilitation therapists and their work. If the patient wants to attain a realistic goal, then therapists will work with that patient to help them reach their potential. If the goals are unrealistic, then therapists will work with a patient to help them form more reasonable goals. As long as a patient is motivated, therapists will advocate for them and work with them as long as possible.

This placement has been a difficult one with respect to overall workload, but I have learned an incredible amount about rehabilitation medicine and the role I will play as an OT. I only have one more week left of fieldwork and then I am back in the classroom for another 3.5 months. It is going to be an interesting transition from a busy hospital environment to a dusty lecture hall. I am mostly looking forward to wearing my favorite baggy, ripped jeans, loose sweaters, and my nice hat, and of course sleeping in an extra three days a week. It will also be nice to sit back and reflect on a whirlwind tour of rehabilitation medicine and all that I am about to embark on as a newly graduated OT.

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February 14, 2017
Getting There!

This was an incredibly busy week, but I some how made it through once again. This was the first week I was required to pull off 50 percent of a regular OT workload. It was difficult to stay on top of things within the allotted work hours and I had to stay quite late on several days, but I completed all of my work.

On an average workday at the hospital an OT in the outpatient rehabilitation area will normally have a total of 5-6 clients, each for one hour. This leaves one hour free in the morning for chart reviews, one hour for lunch and sometimes one hour at the end of the day to catch up on documentation. It seems reasonable, and it must be as all the OTs in the outpatient department seem to leave on time. I, on the other hand, have regularly stayed anywhere from 30 mins to 3.5 hours after work to finish all that I need to do. I am okay with spending extra time on work, particularly when I am learning a new skill, but I am finding it a little alarming the amount of time it is taking me to complete the work for only about half of the regular OT workload. It is one of those experiences on placement that makes me wonder if I have what it takes to do the job.

So, in that all too familiar moment of again second-guessing my ability to be an OT, I sat down and thought about all of the hours in an average day on this placement. I know we are required to complete 50 percent of an OT workload for the last two to three weeks of our placement, and this does not sound too bad, so what is my problem? Why am I unable to go home on time? Well, I realized there are a lot of other extras that would not normally be part of a regular OT job, such as multiple meetings throughout the week with my supervisor and fellow students. We have a minimum of three hours a week just allotted for student meetings and conferences. We also have daily meetings with our supervisor for 30 mins to an hour. We also must document all of our patient interactions, with these notes subsequently being scrutinized by our supervisor. Many of our notes need to be revised and rewritten, which just adds more to the overall daily workload.

The reason I am explaining this is because all of these extra responsibilities just add to the target of 50 percent of an average caseload, thereby actually making the workload likely closer to a 65-75 percent workload depending on the day.

So what, right? Well, I suppose it makes me feel a little better about working overtime and staying late. I realize I am often likely doing what is closer to three quarters of the average OT workload at this particular placement location. Suddenly I feel as though I just might be able to manage this job. I know the first year or two on the job will be tough and I will often have to work late. However, if I can already somehow pull off 65-75 percent of the caseload and I have only been at this for five weeks, I know I will be OK. Although, for now I only have to make it through two more weeks of work and then I will have completed my first physical medicine placement. It is kind of exciting that, despite all the long hours and tiredness, I am doing it - I am slowly becoming an OT!

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February 7, 2017
Fieldwork Turning Point

I am officially over halfway through my placement, and thankfully this week proved to be a more positive experience than expected. I had my mid-term evaluation on Wednesday and it went quite well. I was incredibly worried about the review, as I was sure I was going to be torn to pieces and then somehow expected to walk out of the office with a smile on my face. However, that did not occur and I walked out of the office with a legitimate smile on my face. I even asked my supervisor directly about her thoughts regarding my ability to pass the placement. Surprisingly, she confirmed without hesitation that I was definitely on my way to passing. In that moment a heavy weight of stress drained out of my body and I felt a sense of relief.

There were other unexpected positive aspects of this week as well. I was left completely alone to work with one client, and it was the first time I felt like I might actually be an OT one day. I also felt much more comfortable in that moment than any other in the entire placement. The reason of course is obvious -- I was not being watched and monitored and it felt good. I also was given the opportunity to lead nearly all the sessions I had with clients this week. My supervisor would sit close by and intervene if I needed her assistance, but otherwise I was running the session and providing the treatment. Even these moments were better than all those combined in the previous three weeks of this placement. This is the first week I started to gain a small sliver of confidence in my ability to practice as an OT.

It is funny how in one week everything can shift from worry and stress to a sense of relief. Time passes and with it comes change, bad and good. I would be lying if I said all of my worries have totally dissipated, as the workload is still overwhelming. I stay at the hospital most nights for easily one to two hours after work, just to keep on top of things. I know I still have three intense weeks of learning to go, but at least I know I am on the right track. I can do this, or at least I hope so.

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January 24, 2016
Week Two of Fieldwork

It was another interesting and incredibly busy week at the rehabilitation hospital. There have been some nasty germs sweeping through our area, and unfortunately our clinical supervisor was taken down and was away sick for the entire week. So we had several other occupational therapists (OTs) stand in to help guide us. A lot happened this week, but I will focus on the high notes.

Fieldwork placement can be overwhelming and hard. This particular placement is fast paced and the experience so far has been intense. Aside from staying late many days to complete my work, I am thankfully surviving and I am learning a ton. I attempted many new occupational-therapy-related tasks that will one day become part of my daily practice as an OT.

I led a few individual treatment sessions with patients using the driving simulator. This is a special machine that is essentially a fancy video game set up with a real car seat, a steering wheel and a dashboard and if necessary adaptive equipment. It is equipped with various computer programs that provide the driver with different driving scenarios, such as driving in the city, in the country, in fog or in a snowstorm. When I work with a patient, I try to distract them, to simulate driving with a passenger. Then I monitor all of the errors that the patient makes, such as not shoulder checking, not braking in time, driving up onto curbs or hitting pedestrians or cyclists. The simulator is somewhat realistic and in other ways slightly awkward, although it is an important therapy tool that provides a patient with a driving experience that is similar to those in real life. It allows individuals to practice the rules of the road after a brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, amputation or other injury that may have impacted their ability to drive safely. The only downside of the technology is that it does feel like a game, so even as a therapist it is hard to be serious and focused throughout the session. It seems too fun to be therapy. The other downside is the multiple screens with moving images can make the patient feel nauseous. It is not uncommon for patients to throw up after or during a session. That is what the garbage pail is for, as I recently discovered. I was designated to work with all of the driving simulator patients due to my ability to keep my lunch down during the 45-minute sessions.

I also was able to witness and conduct some of my first upper extremity (shoulders, arms and hands) assessments of patients. Thankfully, these assessments do not induce nausea and vomiting, but rather good ol'fashioned nervousness, particularly the first time you attempt to conduct one. As OTs, we examine the range of motion of different joints in the body and the strength of the muscles that operate those joints. OTs generally focus more on the upper body, particularly the shoulders, elbows, wrists and the hands, while physical therapists tend to focus more on the lower body, at least in this particular hospital setting. So I was able to take measurements on my first patient -- not an actor, not a fellow student, not an imaginary person, a real live person that is seeking help in healing or managing a recent injury or disability. It was an exciting moment, but also incredibly stressful manipulating a person's shoulder, arm and hand with my supervisor watching my every move. Thankfully I did not break the patient in any way or make their current condition worse. I definitely learned a lot and so did the patient. I am officially on my way to becoming a practicing OT.

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January 12, 2016
Winter Break

It was an amazing few weeks off from school. It was filled with copious amounts of delicious food, long nights of sleep, and lots of lovely visits with family and loved ones. There were also unfortunately lots of germs visiting for the holidays. My parents were both sick with a cold when I arrived, and shortly afterwards my partner and I became ill with nasty colds as well. Despite the sore throats, sneezing, nose blowing and incessant coughing, it was a wonderful and extremely relaxing and restful winter break. It was exactly what I needed after the intensity of last semester.

Even while we all were fighting our colds we all somehow managed to get in daily walks, which was great. Although, despite the daily walks, I still put on some of the dreaded holiday pounds. I suppose a 30-minute walk barely chips away at the bags of chips and dip and piles of chocolate I was consuming on a daily basis over the holiday, not to mention all the other amazingly scrumptious food that kept being offered to me throughout my visit at home. It was truly a time of indulgence.

One day, I dismantled the leaning "Tower of Brandi's Junk", as my parents fondly refer to the stacks of boxes and odds and ends that are so neatly and delicately displayed in their garage. I opened up the large boxes labeled "Clothes" and excitedly put them in piles. I then went into the house just to get an idea of which ones looked best, as I had limited space given I was flying back to school. So I tried on some of my nice old sweaters and stood in front of the full-length mirror admiring the old garments. I then happily placed the most appropriate ones in a pile to take back with me. Then I moved on to my lovely old black pin-striped pants. I loved those pants, for a work pant that is - of course, jeans are my second skin during the rest of my non-work life. So I slid my legs into the sleek looking pant legs and remembered how great the pants always looked on me. I then pulled them up and that was the moment the panic set in. What was going on? What happened to my pants? Did they shrink in the garage? Was it too cold and damp in there? Within seconds reality hit me and the sadness and remorse set in. All the blasted chips and chocolate flashed through my mind. I needed new pants again!

A few days later, I was driving past a small thrift store in my parent's town and I decided I would check it out. I had been there years earlier and I had had some luck. So I thought I would give it another shot. Fifteen minutes into the shopping it suddenly felt like a sympathetic, broke, chip and chocolate loving "Ah man, my pants are too tight" god had just given me an unexpected gift. I had completely lucked out. It was Fill a Basket for $6 day at the store! Every time I went up to pay for the clothes, the lady at the checkout would explain to me that I did not have enough in the basket and send me back to get more. Finally, I had to tell her I was OK with my half-a-basket worth of clothes. So by the end I came out of that lovely little dream of a thrift store with four pairs of roomy work pants, a cardigan, two scarves and a beautiful suit jacket, all for $6. Then I found a barely used travel bag with wheels for $2, so I could carry the clothes back to school. It was one of those magical holiday moments where things just work out and in the best way possible. It was hopefully a good omen about the coming year. Happy New Year!

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December 20, 2016
The All Nighter

It was an intense week of final exams. Aside from the OSCEs, I thankfully only had three other final exams. The week progressed as many final exam weeks do. I started out feeling quite on top of things, somewhat rested, and confident I would be able to somehow cram three entire courses into my tiny head in six days. By midweek things began to shift and I realized just how ridiculous this idea really was. I was supposed to attempt the impossible. How was I going to get all of this information into my brain? By Thursday night, it became apparent that I was slipping into some sort of unexpected stress vortex.

This last final was at 8 a.m. on Friday and it was for a course that focused on children (pediatrics). It was an interesting course overall, but jam packed with a huge amount of information. In fact, there was so much information that I had to make a decision early on to just focus on PowerPoint notes, avoiding the lab materials all together. There just wasn't enough time. I had in total one day and an evening to prepare for the exam. The exam itself was worth 50 percent of the final grade. So to say the least, this was an exam that required some serious studying, or shall I say cramming.

Originally, I had prepared myself for a potential all-nighter, a night without sleep in the hopes of getting through as much of the course material as possible. By 1 a.m., it felt as though someone had thrown bits of sand in my eyes and glued lead fishing weights to my eye lids. It was hard to read the notes through the narrow slits that my eyes increasingly struggled to peer through. It was hopeless, so at 1:15 a.m. I made the responsible decision and decided to go to bed. Knowing I still needed to go through more notes I made a bargain with myself: four hours of sleep with two more hours of studying in the morning. A little sleep was likely to help me more on the exam than bloodshot sliver views of scratchy notes. So feeling good about doing the right thing, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and then crawled into my comfortable single bed and shut my tired eyes. I felt a sense of relief about choosing sleep.

As I was fading into that lovely state of calmness and rest known as sleep, random thoughts were flashing through my mind, like a slow trickling creek. At first they were relatively innocuous, but as time passed, it was as if a dam had fractured, as the thoughts just started to come faster and with more force. I tossed and turned and tried to calm my racing mind. I tried deep breathing and my go-to stress relief image, which is thinking about grass in a sunny field, but suddenly this field was strewn with text books, PowerPoint slides and highlighters. As a result, I tried desperately to place my mind in a less school-occupied scene, so I began to think of a beautiful beach with gentle waves rolling in. It was relaxing for all of 20 seconds, before wet seaweed entangled exams, PowerPoint notes and soggy textbooks began washing up on the shore. Then, sadly, a row boat appeared filled with many of my Occupational Therapy professors and old managers from previous jobs. Then down at the end of the beach, I saw walking towards me some of the people I had gone on awful dates with and of course strewn in the bunch were some of my past romantic partners, but only those in which the relationship had ended on a bad note.

Past awkward and unpleasant conversations with all of these individuals were flooding my mind. The notion of sleep was obviously beyond me. After flipping more in bed than the average gymnastic at a Cirque de Soleil show, I decided to finally check my alarm clock. I was sure it had only been at most two hours since going to bed. To my surprise the time glaringly read 4:27 a.m. I was shocked.

There was no way I was going to get a proper wink of much needed sleep. A heaviness sunk into my chest like an oversized medicine ball. It was suddenly apparent that this was going to be a dreaded all-nighter after all. I lied there for another 35 more minutes with my overextended mind continuing to race. Finally, with no choice I accepted my tired fate and got up and studied for another good hour. Then I got ready and headed out to school to write this last final exam. It was an early morning exam, my least favorite, as I am not a morning person. Although on a positive note, technically I did not have to actually get up that morning as I did not actually sleep. It was more like a moving from a horizontal state of stress to a vertical one. So I left the house at 6:45 a.m. to catch the bus.

The exam itself was OK in the sense that I kept my head up in the air for the duration of it. Basically, I barely got through it. I just remember the exam was written on white paper, but it seemed glaringly white, so white it was almost blinding. I remember having to squint to even look at it. I also kept writing answers under the wrong questions and filling in the wrong letter by the wrong number on the multiple choice section. Fortunately, I had an eraser that came to rescue on several occasions.

Extremely tired and potentially hallucinating on occasion, I eventually finished the exam and then left the room and let out a gigantic sigh of relief. It was over. I had made it through my last final exam. I had to meet with the wheelchair client directly after the exam, so I proceeded to the washroom and quickly splashed some cold water on my face, hoping to wash the dark circles away from my bloodshot eyes. I am not sure it worked, but I finished up my day and eventually went home and slept for 12 hours straight. All-nighters are definitely not the way to go, but sometimes they just happen despite your best intentions. I only hope I passed that last final exam.

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December 12, 2016
The Dreaded OSCE

Well, yesterday I completed two OSCEs (Objective Structured Clinical Examinations) in a row. One is generally quite terrifying, but two in a row is incredibly stressful. These OSCEs provide professors with an opportunity to examine a student's ability to perform like an occupational therapist (OT). It is essentially a 15-30 minute pretend interaction between an OT student and a client in an office setting, much like a doctor's office.

These scenarios always involve actors known as standardized patients, who play a client character that is similar to a client we might one day be working with as practicing OTs. The OSCEs are generally recorded, so that professors can observe your performance. Probably the scariest part about these exams is their overall importance within the OT program. You need 70 percent to pass, and if you fail your OSCE you must retake it, but you can only redo it twice. If on that third attempt you still get below 70 percent, you are asked to leave the OT program. So too say the least, OSCE day is a rough day.

For this term, the first exam focused on mental health and it involved receiving a slip of paper with a client's name, followed by a brief description of their current struggles with mental illness. My client was a young woman who had recently quit her job and was currently struggling with anxiety and depression. She was using alcohol to cope.

I only had 30 minutes to prepare before entering the room with the client. I was in the interview room for a total of 30 minutes, essentially gathering information and trying to understand the client's concerns and their recovery goal(s). Then I left the room and had 30 minutes to type up a document called an Occupational Profile, which essentially outlines all of the information gathered in the interview. Then I had to provide treatment recommendations based on the client's goals. It was essentially a typing extravaganza at that point. There were eight students in the room with timers next to their laptops. It is the moment we went from empathetic interviewers to speed typing demons. I have never typed so fast or so intensely in my life. By the end of it, I was quite shocked at how much you can type at top speed for 30 minutes - if only there had been typing prizes presented at the end of that session, as personally that in and of itself was quite a feat.

After the smoke settled from our frantic typing race, we were then immediately rushed off to do our second OSCE. This one thankfully did not involve any typing, but it did still involve meeting with another client. This time the client was a pregnant woman who also has an 18 month-old infant with cerebral palsy. The incredibly lumpy pillow stuffed belly of the so-called pregnant client was slightly distracting at times. Intermittently throughout the interview I could not help but think to myself "What in the heck is in there?" This pregnant client also has a mother who just recently had a stroke. So in the interview we were discussing treatment plans for both her son and her mother. This OSCE had more of a physical medicine focus, which involved a large neurology component. Of the two OSCEs, this was the one I was most worried about, due to the amount of knowledge required to conduct this interview.

Overall so far I found out that I passed at least one of the exams, the one involving the lumpy pregnancy. The results for the mental health OSCE have not been posted yet, but hopefully I passed that one as well. Given the time constraints I was unfortunately unable to actually read my frantically speed typed Occupational Profile document.

Hopefully I had my index fingers on the right places the keyboard, because if not, I may have submitted a document filled with unreadable gibberish. Oh well, at least once again I somehow survived the stressful experience. On reflecting on the day and my anxious performance, I realize when I am nervous I tend to talk too much and too fast, and sometimes I find it difficult to leave longer pauses in the conversation. But aside from my auctioneer-like approach in interacting with clients, I am sure it went OK overall. Although I do think given the amount of anxiety, stress and overall emotional meltdowns that coincide with these practical exams, the OSCE acronym needs to be reexamined. It more appropriately seems to stand for Overly Stressful Cauldron of Evil, because that is essentially what it feels like you are immersed in throughout the experience.

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December 5, 2016
Blowing Snow

Well, there is only two more weeks left of school. This afternoon, a bitterly cold wind began whistling through the streets and now it is snowing heavily. Currently, I am sitting in a coffee shop looking out a window, trying desperately to focus amidst the incoming winter storm.The snow is moving fast in horizontal fashion past the window, and the dark grey of the parking lot is almost completely covered in white powder. A blizzard has hit the city.

I feel as though this change in weather parallels the change in the term. Everything is speeding up with OSCEs (Objective Structured Clinical Exams) and finals on the horizon. The amount of work and studying that needs to be done over the next two weeks is going to feel like a rushing wall of white blowing through my mind. Although, before I know it, everything will be calm, the wind will die down and the world will sparkle and look pristine once again. I love the way everything looks and feels after a blizzard has moved through. All the sounds are muffled by the soft layer of snow that blankets the world. It is a reminder of how time always brings change. The two are inextricably linked, but eventually it leaves us with a feeling of relief and tranquility.

This past week we all handed in the last of our group and pair assignments, so from now on I am on my own thankfully. I prefer to work alone, at my own pace and in my own way. In my own way generally means in my pajamas, with messy hair and copious amounts of tea fueling my typing and writing hands. I am an introvert, so I find it hard to be constantly around people all day long. I need time alone after a day of interacting with others. I just need to wind down and contemplate the day, recharge and recuperate. There is a lot of group and pair work in this occupational therapy program, because there are about 125 students admitted each year. The professors tell us that the group work is to help us learn to work with others, but really we all know it is just so they don't have to mark 125 papers, but rather 25 or with pair work, around 62. I understand, but working on every project with another person or sometimes up to four others does add a whole new set of demands on students, especially those that are more introverted by nature. So to say the least, I have spent much of this past weekend just recovering from weeks of constant interaction and group work.

Part of this weekend-long contemplation involved not only reflecting on the weeks past, but dealing with the piles upon piles of papers, articles, books, notes, etc. that were strewn all over my desk and floor. Up until this weekend, I just did not have the time to organize the large amounts of information and materials coming at me everyday in class. It took me about four or five hours just to organize and figure out what was actually in all of those piles. It is quite illuminating what you find. It was almost like an archaeological record of sorts. Sorting through the various layers of papers told a short story about the most recent months of my life. If all a person had were those piles of papers, they could formulate quite an accurate analysis and timeline of what my life might have looked like. The amount of paper and the extreme height of the piles would also provide clues about my extracurricular activities as well, suggesting perhaps that I have none. This would be true.

So the final blizzard of work and studying may be upon us OT students, but the desk and floor for the moment are clear. Over the next two weeks as we all cram our minds with the piles of information that in my case are now neatly stored in binder, we must try to remember one important detail. Before our eyes it may be blow snow, but it can easily go from chaos and white out conditions to a scene of quiet calm and unspoiled beauty. All we have to do is wait and let time pass.

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November 28, 2016
The Final Stretch

There are officially only three weeks left of school this semester. I cannot believe how fast time has been flying this term. It feels as though September was just a couple of weeks ago, but here I am starting to think about the break and studying for finals. It seems the busier you are, the faster time flies.

This semester has really felt like a race of sorts with important assignment checkpoints all along the way. There are two more assignments due this week, and then studying for finals begins. I have my last final on Friday, December 16th, and then I will be off and free to do as I please for three whole weeks. I am very excited about having a break and visiting with family and friends. I am also really looking forward to slipping into a state of hibernation and sleeping for at least eight-10 hours per day. That is what is truly lovely about the break - sleep and more sleep. Of course delicious food, lots of chocolate and cookies are pretty special too.

Amidst my day dreaming I forget however that the intensity of this OT program is a lot like a well-lit house adorned with an overwhelming amount of holiday paraphernalia and lights. It is exciting to see the result of hard work and create a beautiful display of light and be a part of that experience. However, the lights do not disintegrate and dissipate into thin air on their own come January 2nd. Rather they require painstaking hours of dismantling and organizing, and then they need to be neatly packed away until the next holiday season rolls around. The excitement from successfully finishing another term eventually comes with the realization that homework is still waiting to be done. You can put it off until January 2nd, but then you need to open up those heavy textbooks and begin to meticulously pack away all those pieces of information so that you can unpack and present them some day in the near future.

Therefore, the break this year is going to be both a treat and working vacation of sorts. But while working on homework I will not be alone, since I will be surrounded by delicious gingerbread men and women. All that reading and writing will likely coincide with some serious overeating and holiday cheer. So overall it will still be a pleasant experience, unless of course I forget to pack my loose-fitting jeans.

Overall I figure I must work on my final research project for at least five to seven days over the break. A solid draft of this research paper must be submitted by mid-March and I fear after the break, I will not find the time to work on it. This research paper is a requirement that must be completed before graduating. It involves picking a topic related to an occupational therapy theory or intervention and then performing a critical or scoping review of the literature. Finally, we must defend our research to a panel of professors. I am looking forward to the defence about as much as I look forward to a root canal. At least at the defence there won't be any drills or needles involved and hopefully no pain.

For my project, I am focusing on yoga as a way to manage music performance anxiety. It is a topic I am somewhat interested in and it is narrow enough that I am able to do it. I am a musician of sorts and I have always enjoyed yoga, so I thought I would meld the two with the hope that it might motivate me to actually read the literature I find. Despite my interest in the topic, it is still daunting to perform any sort of research. Mostly it is the fact that it is all up to you. There aren't any professors prodding you along for the most part. They are there to support you, but not in a high-end sports bra kind of support, more like a 10-year-old tube top kind of way. Basically, I need to strap myself in and get this project moving in the direction I want it to and that direction will hopefully end with a large sign saying "FINISH."

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November 21, 2016

Every once in a while, we all have a day that is filled with chaos and drama, and Friday was that day for me. I was so happy that it was finally Friday, as it was the last day of school in a week that had been particularly overloaded with exams and assignments. It was a day when I only had one meeting that I had to show up for on time. It was another standardized patient interview at 1 p.m, although my interview partner and I were asked to arrive 15 minutes early. I should have known some strange energy was in the air when I woke up late and struggled more than normal to get ready for school.

My interview partner/friend and I met on the Number 4 bus, and upon sitting down we both looked at each other and quickly realized we had each forgotten our name tags. Personally, I was simply pleased that I had even managed to dress myself properly and somehow make it onto that bus at all. I was exhausted from a week filled with work and studying. I just had to make it through the interview and then I was almost home free. Afterwards, I had plans to work on another paper with the same partner, but overall for me it was almost the end of a daunting week. Distracted by fatigue and the conversation with my friend, I eventually got off only to realize I had left my wallet on the bus.

A bolt of panic shot through my veins. I cried out to my friend, "All my cards are in there, how am I going to replace them, how am I going to eat?" In that moment, I dropped my extremely heavy backpack on the ground and proceeded to sprint after the bus, which was now stopped at a traffic light. Sadly, when I was around 50 feet from the back of the bus, its loud engine kicked into gear and it raced through the intersection. I turned around with feelings of sadness, defeat and frustration all over my face. Caught up in the moment and without thinking, I yelled out, "Man, I hate my life right now!"

When I was back at my friend's side, I proceeded to lift my olive green monster of a backpack onto my back. It was filled with various items: a gigantic textbook entitled Occupational Therapy for Children and Adolescents, a laptop, a huge binder filled with papers, a lunch, some computer cables, a full water bottle, pens, hand lotion, glasses and other odds and ends. To say the least, it was ridiculously heavy, probably weighing in at 25 pounds at least. With this weight on my back, I suddenly felt particularly down about the loss of my wallet.

Then out of nowhere I thought to myself, "What are you doing? You can't give up yet!" So despite having the green monster on my back and being the incredibly out of shape constant chair sitter that student life demands, I glanced at the bus moving off into the distance and decided to run after it. As I proceeded to run down the street again, I turned to my friend and screamed, like some messed up lovesick character in a movie about to head to the airport in one last desperate attempt to hold onto the one they truly love, "I have to try to get it back!" My friend replied by running after me. About two blocks later, I heard her say, "I can't make it. School has made me too weak." I turned to her and said, "It's OK. I will come back for you."

Then I remembered that the bus turns and heads back towards my direction on the next street. This thought gave me an extra burst of energy and even more hope. I turned right and ran toward the next street with the green monster banging on my back like some warped version of a whip, trying in some demented way to encourage me to run faster. I tried to ignore its beating. As I was nearing the next street I could see a bus stopped at the lights. Was that my bus? Was it the Number 4? I hoped it would sit there stopped for a little longer. I tried to pick up my speed and then suddenly I felt something very wrong. A twinge of pain seared through my middle back, but I knew I was so close that I had to press on despite the warnings my body was sending me.

As I approached the corner, I could see it was in fact the Number 4, the bus I had so calmly been sitting in just minutes before. I knew in that moment that if there was not a bus stop around the corner, it would be game over. I would not be able to catch it after that. As I ran around the corner worrying about the state of my back, I heard the bus start to move through the intersection. Then, like a beautiful appealing mirage in a desert, I saw a glass cube on the side of the street - a bus stop. I knew I could make it if I kept running! Just seconds ahead of the bus I reached the stop, and the Number 4 put on its brakes. My heart was pounding as the door opened. I said through my gasps for air, "I was just on this bus and I left my wallet in the back." The bus driver then proceeded to pull a black wallet from window ledge beside him. He then said with absolutely no expression on his face, "Is this it?" I said "Yes!" I told him my name and then got my wallet back.

As I stepped off the bus, I saw my friend coming around the corner. She told me she could not run any longer, so instead decided to pray. We both laughed out loud at the thought of me running, and her praying, all amidst a spontaneous, desperate 500-meter dash down the busy street, all while we were supposed to be calmly preparing for our standardized patient interview. Dressed in our business casual clothing trying to look our best, with sweat running down our backs and faces, we walked back to the building we had just previously ran past. My back was in spasms, but my mind was relieved, and my friend was just thankful that her prayers had been answered and we were able to get to where we had to be.

Despite all the adrenaline and adventure running through our veins, we ended up having one of our most successful patient interviews ever. Later, thanks to my wallet, I was able to buy food and coffee, although the odd energy of the day continued as I ended up spilling most of the coffee down my pant leg. However, with another mishap came another good moment, as I found out I got a scholarship shortly after cleaning up the coffee. It was definitely a day filled with ups and downs, chaos, drama and a lot of laughter!

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November 14, 2016
Reading Week

This past week has been Reading Week. I had been looking forward to this week for some time. It is finally a reprieve from the stresses of homework on top of having to attend daily classes. For one glorious nine-day period, there is no more information piling up in your notebooks, binders and exhausted mind. It is a time in the semester where it really feels as though the clouds dissipate and the sun shines bright for a few days. That is at least how I always imagine it will be. Sadly, this Reading Week was nothing but an opportunity to get more work done, only to realize that I was still behind.

My fellow students and I have been on Facebook intermittently chatting about our so-called break and I can tell we are all struggling to keep ourselves together. Despite the time off from classes, we are all feeling overwhelmed and low. In this program no matter how hard you work, you always feel behind. It is the inevitable result of being in an accelerated program, and it is something that eventually brings you down. Many of my friends have been seeking counseling this year, due to feeling overwhelmed and constantly weighted down with stress.

So what do you do to remedy these feelings? I myself recently took a look at counseling services on campus as well, only to realize that all of the things they recommend I already know. The real problem isn't with me - it is with the lack of time available to me in any given day. I wish I could go for a walk, exercise, play my guitar, go to a movie or concert and hang out with friends more regularly. My life as a student, when I am not in a classroom or on a bus, for the most part consists of me sitting at my computer in the 12x12 room I rent. There just isn't the time for anything else. I barely have time to sleep more than six hours on most nights. If I do take any extra time for self-care activities, then I feel guilty as I lose precious hours to work on assignments, study for exams and so on. Taking time off in the moment feels right, but soon afterwards the time taken from school work weighs on your mind and you suddenly feel even more stressed and worried. So even taking time to care for yourself seems to backfire.

On a more positive note, I feel as though there are several things that help me manage and cope. First, I have a very supportive family, partner and landlady that I talk to regularly. Interactions and conversations with fellow students, who are all in the same boat, are also regular events. I talk with my student friends at school or on Facebook or through texts. Conversations with all of these people are critical to keeping me connected to the world outside of my school-drenched mind. These conversations keep me afloat. If I didn't have these lovely people in my life, I would likely be in dire straits when it comes to school and the stresses associated with it. Most of my schoolmates feel the same way.

Another thing thankfully that you must do even when you are a student, is eat, so my recommendation is to eat properly. This is something I have focused on from the beginning of this program. I have tried to eat as healthy as possible and I know this must be contributing somewhat to my ability to cope with the stress. I aim to eat a minimum of three to five fruits and vegetables a day. Who knows if it helps, but I think it does.

So overall I am very grateful for Reading Week, but is it exactly what it sounds like, a week filled with reading, studying and copious amounts of homework. This time around I did sleep on average of eight or nine hours per night, which was a wonderful treat. I may still feel incredibly stressed and behind in school work, but at least winter break it just around the corner!

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November 4, 2016
Actors, Improv and Critics

I am so glad it is now officially reading week. There was a whirlwind of assignments and meetings just before the start of the break. Friday in particular was a very busy day. Shortly after submitting a report for one course, my assignment partner and I had to rush to a different building on campus and conduct what is referred to as a standardized patient interview.

This 30-minute interview session is the beginning of a different assignment for another course that focuses on the area of mental health. A standardized patient (client) is basically an actor that plays a role. They are given a character description and a list of symptoms and facts that they must use to improvise and essentially act out a part in an interview context. We as occupational therapists in training meet with this pretend client and interview them as if they were real clients. The whole point of this fake interview is to help us as students prepare for real client interactions.

It is great practice for the most part, but I would also describe the experience as somewhat odd. First, there are loud buzzers that alert you to open a door and begin. When first buzzer sounded I initially felt this urge to run! It felt like we were about to start some sort of obstacle course or running race. The feeling was strong, but thankfully I somehow was able to switch off my desire to bolt and run down the corridor and instead simply entered the room, smiled and greeted the somber acting client.

Throughout the interview, my partner and I tried to stay in character and ask all the questions we needed to for the purposes of our assignment. Intermittently throughout the interview, I kept thinking to myself, "Wow, they are good, really quite good. If there are standardized patient Oscars, this person should definitely be nominated." These thoughts were obviously quite distracting, but I did my best to stay in character. Overall our client did a great job and was more believable than the last pretend client I had. Although, I also wondered, "How much do they get paid?" I have no idea of course, but I am curious.

Anyways, after 25 minutes, another loud buzzer sounded and the actor suddenly dropped the character act. All of a sudden, it was much more comfortable in the room. The improv play was over, the curtains closed and we started to converse as our usual selves. The actor then proceeded to tell us how we did in the interview. It was a strange moment to go from feeling empathetic and trying to help a person to suddenly having that same individual change their entire demeanor and launch into a critique of me and my ways. However, it was an important part of the learning experience.

We were complimented for our empathy, but slammed for bringing in clipboards and taking notes. The actor said it created a barrier between the therapist and the client, which I can appreciate. It makes perfect sense, as suddenly there is an observer and a person being observed. The therapist and the client are not on equal footing in that sort of situation, and occupational therapy is all about collaboration and working with clients.

Overall, it is an artificial scenario, and in the end it felt just like that, artificial, like a plastic cup. The standardized patient idea sort of works, but like a plastic cup, it seems off, lacking substance, kind of unappealing, cold and fake. However, a cup, despite it being plastic, still allows you to drink water in an efficient way. So perhaps these standardized patient scenarios will still help me to act the part of a real therapist one day. Minimally, it might turn me on to the idea of participating in a community theatre troupe.

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October 30, 2016
The Waiting Game

Over the next couple of weeks, there will be a lot of things happening, all of which involve waiting patiently. I applied for a bursary last month and I will likely hear about the results in the next couple of weeks. The deadline for scholarships is fast approaching as well, with the outcomes soon to follow. In addition, next week we start our fieldwork selection process, which also involves waiting for results.

The bursary and scholarships are something I normally do not apply for, but this year I decided it was likely worth my while to spend the extra effort and apply for at least one. The one I applied for is the only one I felt I might have a chance of receiving, as it is directed at women in financial need. This is definitely my situation, as school is expensive, particularly graduate programs in rehabilitation medicine.

Basically, if you are not able to save up enough money prior to attending school, you will need to get student loans. Graduate programs tend to have higher tuitions costs, and occupational therapy, which is in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, has even more elevated costs. The tuition costs are so high, that even after receiving the maximum amount of student loan funding, the average student is still short easily $10,000 per year. My student loan last year covered my tuition and books and that was about it. It is pretty hard to eat a book or sleep under one, so it was obviously necessary to allocate more funds elsewhere. So, needless to say, I could use a little extra cash this year and obviously it would be particularly nice if I did not have to pay it back, unlike a student loan. I am waiting patiently to see if I will qualify for any extra funding this year. I am crossing my fingers and my toes. Well, I cannot actually cross my toes, but if I could I would.

Next week, the fieldwork placement process begins once again. How it works is quite simple. My fellow students and I will be given access to a list of fieldwork placement opportunities. These placements are in hospitals, out-patient facilities, long-term care facilities, home-care companies, schools and various other community centers offering occupational therapy services. In this program, we have four seven-week placements to complete. Over the course of these four placements, we must complete one placement in physical medicine, one in mental health, one in the community and one in a rural location. So the process of being assigned to a particular placement starts with each student surveying the full list of all the placements available. After examining all the placement opportunities, each student then chooses their top 10 choices and enters them into a computer system. We have two days to make these choices. Then at some unknown time the computer randomly selects a placement for you, while supposedly taking into consideration your top 10 choices.

The majority of students will get one of the 10 placements they chose, but before we find out exactly where we are going, we must wait. Usually it takes about a week to find out which placement you have. During the days leading up to that announcement, the air is thick with anticipation. We are all waiting and wondering, where will we be in January and February?

Essentially over the next while it is a bit of a waiting game. The uncertainty over the next couple of weeks will follow me everywhere. Will I receive extra funding to help me get through this last year of school? Where will I be working for those 7 intense weeks of my fieldwork placement? What area of occupational therapy will I have to work in while I am on my placement? Will I like it? Will my supervisor (preceptor) be nice? Will it all turn out to be a good experience? Who knows! School like life is filled with uncertainty and the hardest part is often waiting patiently.

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October 23, 2016
Cool Conference, Hot Food and Inspired Thought

This week was an interesting one, as it ended with an occupational therapy conference. The conference focused on mental health and the use of art in therapy. Occupational therapy is a health care profession that is diverse and broad in scope. Occupational therapists (OTs) work in both physical medicine and mental health. We help clients recover and manage all sorts of injuries and illnesses. The comprehensive nature of our practice can be somewhat overwhelming as a student, as you need to know about the physical and mental health aspects of people. This broad holistic approach to practice is one reason I was attracted to this profession. We as therapists take the whole person into consideration when we are setting recovery goals with our clients.

Yesterday was a day that focused on mental health and art.

Outside of the school context, I would describe myself as an artist and musician of sorts. I play the guitar, ukulele and harmonica, and sing too. In terms of visual art, I enjoy delving into the creative realms of painting, collage and sculpture. As a student, I am overloaded with schoolwork, so I rarely have a chance to pick up my guitar let alone paint a picture. It is an aspect of my life that has disappeared since becoming a graduate student. It is also one reason I can't wait to be finished with school, as I miss making art.

A conference focusing on expressive arts was understandably of great interest to me. The early 6 a.m. alarm was, however, not so appealing, but somehow I pulled my tired self out of my comfortable, warm bed and made it to the conference on time.

I am glad I attended for so many reasons. The topics focused on drawing and the use of clay as a means for individuals to express, communicate and connect with themselves and their therapist. Sometimes individuals living with a mental illness find it difficult to communicate their feelings, thoughts and ideas surrounding their struggles and current state of mind. This is where art comes into play. Often ideas appear on paper or in clay that help both the therapist and the client discover the nature, and sometimes even the source of, their pain, habits and overall difficulties. It also can help those individuals express their desires and goals. Art accesses and activates different centers in the brain and provides different pathways and perspectives to help individuals understand, manage and recover from mental illness. It is a powerful medium that has the potential to foster contemplation and ultimately healing.

Overall, I really enjoyed the conference and all it brought to light. I loved the copious amount of delicious food, tea, coffee and treats that were included in the conference fees. There were also musicians playing music in the background while attendees browsed books and art created by those recovering from mental illness. The event was in a theatre situated in a local hospital. It was a nice way to end the week.

Following the conference, some of my schoolmates and I decided to extend our conference camaraderie into a spicy extravaganza at a local Thai restaurant in Chinatown. It was definitely a menu that perfectly paralleled the fiery conversations and thoughts instigated by the conference. The hot spices ignited our senses and faces into rosy, inspired versions of ourselves. We talked about being OTs one day and the creative potential required to change the lives of those most in need. Eventually we left the Thai restaurant and headed home with the warmth from our digestive tracts keeping our faces flushed, our stimulated minds content, and the cold night air at bay.

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October 14, 2016
Trying to Be a Keener

Being in a graduate program can be fun, exciting and difficult all at the same time. It is hard to find time to hang out with friends, let alone take on other responsibilities. Compared with an undergraduate program, there are higher expectations regarding your overall abilities as a student, as the course load is heavier and your overall professionalism is important as well.

Despite the intensity of school, throughout the first year we were constantly sent emails from the faculty regarding opportunities for volunteering to assist professors, participate in research, part-time work, conferences, extra learning modules and so forth. I was feeling more than overwhelmed with the amount of schoolwork and as a result I deleted most of the emails. I must say I always felt a little guilty about not taking advantage of these extra learning opportunities, such as attending extra events or volunteering to assist professors.

In fact, I kind of avoid the professors. I suppose I feel intimidated by many of them and honestly most seem quite nice, but somewhat unapproachable. Although, really I suppose I am just a bit of a chicken when it comes to one-on-one interactions with those individuals who hold my future in their hands. I mean, really, when it comes down to it they have the power to pass or fail me. So I suppose a tiny part of me figures the less they know about me, the better. I know this sounds strange, but too much information can sometimes be a bad thing and can potentially backfire. I have had this experience in the context of dating. I suppose instinctually I figure all sorts of relationships with people you barely know are covered under similar tenets. Anyways, I sometimes talk too much and share too much. Being open and honest is a good thing for the most part, until you share thoughts about a subject and your thoughts contradict theirs. This is when things can get awkward.

Despite all these underlying ideas and currently being immersed in another intense semester, I know that the faculty is deciding upon grants and scholarships later this October. So, since I am running out of money, I thought perhaps I should challenge myself and try to look keen and volunteer some of my time. Recently I decided to go outside my comfort zone and offer to help one of my professors with a wheelchair assessment. The request for students' help looked quite tame: a meeting with a client to assess their power-wheelchair driving abilities. Plus, it was assisting a professor whom I respect and who seems quite relaxed overall. Initially I hesitated in responding to the request, secretly hoping another student had snatched up the opportunity. I would have looked keen, but then be off the hook workwise. That would be the ideal in my overworked, overwhelmed headspace. But no, that was not the case. I received a response from my professor and was somewhat surprised to find out that the assessment opportunity had not been scooped up by some other overzealous student. Now I had to follow through. I was suddenly nervous about the whole meeting, as I did not know what to expect. Anxiety plagued me a bit the night before, but I knew I could get through the meeting and interaction, particularly because it was a one-time thing. Also, there was a chance it would help my image as a hardworking, gung-ho, capable student.

Well, the meeting with the client went fairly well, I thought. I was somewhat clueless, due to my overall lack of experience, but I had made it through. Then to my surprise, it became clear that this was not going to be the only meeting. There were plans for a second meeting the next week. My professor turned to me after the fact, saying, "Does that work for you?" Somewhat taken aback, but feeling put on the spot, I replied, "That sounds perfect!"

I was thinking to myself, well one more meeting will be fine, as it's only once more. Walking back down the hall with my professor, she turned to me and said with a barely noticeable smirk on her face, "I am going to get you to do the assessment." Again trying to hide my anxiety about the whole situation, I replied, "Sounds good!" Before the second meeting, again I was fraught with worry and stress about performing well and making a good impression. The second interaction with the client went OK, but it soon became apparent that this was not the last that I would see of the client or my professor. It was suggested that we meet with the client many more times, once or perhaps even twice a week. My heart slightly sank, as I knew my homework woes were weighing heavily on me, and now I was locked into a weekly volunteer commitment.

So what I have learned, when it comes to school, is that everything takes at least three times as long as you initially expect. Overall, I know working with this client and my professor is a great opportunity and I have already learned so much. I suppose I am now deeply in the thick of it, as they say. The more we all meet up, the more I learn about the client and my professor, and the more they learn about me. My only hope now is that the client truly gains something positive and useful from our weekly interactions and that my overall attempt to appear keen and capable does not backfire.

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October 10, 2016
Snowy But Productive Weekend

It's mid-October and the leaves are changing color and falling to the ground. Halloween is just around the corner. It is also the time of the school year when lots of assignments are suddenly due and mid-term exams are all around. This weekend brought the first snowfall of the year. As the city turned white, my student partner and I worked diligently to complete a report based on our observations and evaluation of a child with cerebral palsy. It is just one of two reports due this week. Plus on Thursday there is the dreaded mid-term exam on neurology, the subject that my own neurons struggle with. As a result I have been on a mission to complete all the writing assignments in record time, in the hopes that it will leave me enough hours to study properly for the upcoming exam.

>The pressure of deadlines and homework can seem overwhelming, but even amidst these harder moments I find that I can still find some pleasure. Thankfully my student partner for the evaluation assignment is also my friend. We met in the occupational therapy program. We agreed to be partners based on the fact that we both prefer to work late into the evening on projects, rather than rising early in the morning. It is these sorts of work habits that are important to consider when choosing a partner for assignments. Due to our similar approach and nighttime determination, we somehow were able to turn a hard-core writing session into a unique weekend experience.

We started the writing process in a coffee shop earlier in the evening at 6 p.m. and eventually at 10 p.m., the establishment closed and we were forced to move elsewhere. So my friend suggested we move our tired minds and well-used laptops to her favorite Lebanese restaurant downtown. It was a lovely place. The dark reddish orange walls and the Arabic music playing in the background soothed our tired bodies and provided the perfect atmosphere to work on our assignment. So for several more hours we worked diligently and at one point ate fattoush salad with chicken. It is a delicious Lebanese salad that I had not known about until last night. The owners of the restaurant were wonderful and let us take all the time we needed. We were there until 2 a.m. when yet again the establishment closed its doors. It was a productive night and it felt good to have nearly completed the assignment.

I realized as my friend drove me home through the snowy streets, that despite the long night of work I had a great night.

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October 4, 2016
Blowing off Steam

In occupational therapy, we focus on function - by function, I mean all of the activities a person does in any given day. Eventually my job as an occupational therapist (OT) will be to help people function with an injury, disability or mental illness. It is going to be a really rewarding career. I will be helping people do the things they want to do with a focus on activities that are meaningful to them. There are many important areas of functional performance, but one area that is fundamental is that of self-care.

In occupational therapy, self-care can mean anything from getting dressed, brushing your teeth, preparing and eating food to finding down time to sleep and ways to relax and calm your mind. As a student, I reflect on this idea of self-care a lot, mostly because during school my self-care goes out the window. The stresses and demands of school life just build up and eventually take over. Before you know it, you sit back in your desk chair and you realize you have not showered, brushed your teeth or combed your hair and it is seven o'clock in the evening and you are eating cereal again for the third time that day. It is in these moments that I realize I need to take better care of myself.

I think this notion of self-care is particularly important when you recognize the level of stress you experience as a student. Stress responses are normal, but if experienced for long periods of time, it is not good for you or your body. Stress impacts all sorts of mental processes and bodily functions, and in cases of prolonged high levels of stress, it can predispose us to disease. We need to learn how to decompress, relax and lower our levels of stress. Of course, this is hard to do with a constant onslaught of exams, assignments and deadlines, but it is something all students must prioritize. However, I, like many students, forget the importance of practicing good habits of self-care.

So what does self-care look like?

Well, for me last night it was unexpected. It looked like a plate of fries and onion rings and table full of friends from my program. We talked and laughed for hours. We discussed school, relationships, food, travels, the state of the world, robots and what it might be like in the future when we are all working as OTs. The fries and onion rings eventually led to not only heavy grease filled stomachs, but a pile of energy, which we burnt off at a dance club downtown. We immersed our tired student minds and bodies in the loud thumping sounds of the club and joyously whirled about the dance floor for several hours. We felt right at home in the unfamiliar dark lit room that was interestingly decorated like an old-fashioned elegant study or library. With every burst of laugher and movement of an arm or a leg, it felt as though we were shaking off all the stress we had accumulated from our first month back in school. By the end of the night I was tired, but relaxed and grateful for the unexpected moment of some quality self-care.

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September 23, 2016
Why a Bicycle is a Student's Best Friend

This week I rode my bicycle to school three days in a row. It was awesome! I am grateful for the recent nice weather, as fairly soon fall will take its hold with the morning frosts and negative temperatures. Then will come winter with the extreme cold and the snow. I like all seasons for the most part, except for the fact that certain seasons make commuting by bicycling more difficult, especially here at these higher latitudes.

As a student, I have always ridden a bicycle, even in winter for the most part. In fact, I suppose I have prioritized it in a way. I have always chosen apartments within biking distance of school. Biking distance for me is generally no longer than nine km, but five to seven usually prove to be the perfect length. It is not too short and not too long.

So what do I mean by that? Well, I guess I prefer bicycling to school for a variety of reasons. First, I just love bicycles! Second, I suppose I am a bit of an environmentalist. I am worried about the state of the world and the future of our planet and I try to contribute in any way I can by making greener choices. Besides walking, you can't get much greener than commuting by bike. Third, when you get on a bike you feel like you are 10 years old again, without a care in the world. The wind hits your face and rushes through your hair and suddenly everything is OK. It is freeing to be on a bike, whether riding past traffic in the streets or beautiful tall trees and scenery on the bike paths. Simply put, it is whole lot of fun and a perfect place to relax and think, especially when compared with a stuffy crowded bus. Another reason, besides feeling better mentally when I bike, is to get some exercise on my way to and from school. Finally, biking is a reliable, cheap form of transportation, especially when compared with driving a car. This financial aspect is obviously a big deal for a broke, cash-strapped student such as myself.

Exercise is arguably one of the more important reasons to ride your bicycle to school. The exercise you get on a bike is much needed after hours upon hours of sitting in lecture halls and working on homework in front of a computer.

A student's life for the most part is extremely sedentary. My body, like so many student bodies goes through a change over the span of two semesters. It goes from a taut, strong and relatively appealing summer physique to a soft, weak, mushy, muffin-topped mess of loose fleshy rolls and sad abandonment. Yeah, it is true, as a student there really isn't enough time in the day to do all you need to do. Grades, exams, assignments, and the unavoidable precursory procrastination before completing these, often trumps a healthy routine of self-care. This is the part of being a student that I find the hardest. But this is when the bicycle can come in to save the day! It is not only reliable and saves you money, but it keeps you in shape both mentally and physically. Overall, it is a healthy and environmental choice that is not only good for you but good for the planet too.

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September 8, 2016
First Class

Summer is over and school is officially in session. The first day back is always filled with a sense of excitement, anticipation and restlessness, all wrapped in a thin layer of anxiety.

For me, it is also a day that often starts with a mysterious headache and some underlying worries. I wonder to myself, will I be able to remember the terminology, the acronyms, the theories? Will I remember people's names, bus times, passwords and various other everyday things? Will I make it through the next year? What will this year be like? Mostly I suppose I worry about my brain and its ability to do all that I will need it to in the coming months.

The feeling may be similar to attempting to start an old car that has been sitting for months in storage. Will I be able to start this dusty, stagnant old machine? Has it been sitting still for too long? Is there enough gas in its tank to even start? Will it need a serious jumpstart? If so, how do you even jumpstart a brain? Is there a book on that?

Well, the first class went fairly well overall. First of all, I was simply happy that I had made it to class on time. I have never been a morning person, so that alone was a major accomplishment on my part. In terms of the class itself, its focus is on neurology, a complicated and fascinating subject that examines disorders of the nervous system, which includes of course the brain, the same organ that I was worried about. I am interested in the course, but feel intimidated by its difficulty after having studied some neurology the previous year. I have never studied so hard for a mid-term as I did for that one.

The professor introduced the course and then proceeded to ask review questions that I was unfortunately unable to answer off the top of my head. My thoughts were a jumble of flashing images, of pages upon pages of blurry, faded notes and PowerPoint slides. This did not help my anxiety and my worries about needing a cognitive jumpstart of some kind. I could sense that my brain was on and functioning, as I was alive and awake, but it was definitely sputtering and backfiring. It is amazing how much information can fall from your mind by simply taking seven weeks off to sleep, relax and enjoy the sunny outdoors. Could it be that all of last year's efforts and newfound knowledge are lost for good?

A slight bolt of panic shot through my body. Were others feeling the same? I looked around the room and noticed others shifting in their seats and avoiding eye contact with the professor. I could see that many of my classmates were in the same boat. The class eventually came to a close and I turned to my friend and said with an exaggerated smile on my face "Welcome back!" She smiled and then we both laughed and I could feel some of the anxiety and worry leave my body and my mind.

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August 23, 2016
Student Loan Life

This was an important week, as it was the pivotal week in which I filled out some forms for my student loans. The result determines whether or not I can attend school this year.

As I filled out the forms, once again I wondered what I always wonder in that moment: what would I do if I was denied a loan? It would definitely be a shock! I am sure a wave of panic would wash over me, perhaps I would cry a little and maybe move into eating copious amounts of ice-cream and/or chocolate in an attempt to remedy the situation.

It would be more than sad, as I suppose it would mean I could not finish my program, unless I could learn how to successfully rob a bank. That would be difficult to accomplish, especially on such short notice, as classes begin in a mere 10 days. Not having a student loan would be a hard pill to swallow -- I would surely choke.

I would be back to work, perhaps selling coffee or insurance or any other desired consumer product for that matter. Being denied a student loan would mean I would lose a sense of control over my life, as it would be impossible to attend university without it. Although, would it all be bad? Not being able to attend university would also mean more free time, more fun, carefree weekends filled with outdoor adventures, regular long nights of sleep, absolutely no homework, and the ability to live back near my beloved friends and family. Actually, no student loan would essentially mean I could have a life again! Perhaps it wouldn't be that awful of an outcome after all.

This thought experiment makes me realize there are shiny aspects to both sides of most coins. Many outcomes in life that seem negative likely have the potential to be positive in some way, as long as we choose to look for the good in any given situation, no matter how dark it may seem.So despite the tiny bit of imbedded fear regarding being denied a student loan, I completed and submitted the necessary forms.

Five days later to my relief I found out I was approved! I am grateful, although aware that in some ways it would have been OK to have been denied the loan as well. There are positives in both scenarios if I am open to them.

Also, a student loan can be relatively easy and even somewhat exciting to obtain and spend, but it can have an unfortunate side effect of coming back to haunt you. One day, I will ultimately have to pay back the debt after receiving my degree. I suppose even the shiniest of coins over time can become tarnished.

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August 16, 2016
School - A Meaningful Adventure

Well, it is almost that time of year when the warm, carefree summer comes to an unfortunate close. My mind has already started wandering to thoughts of school and all that I need to do to get ready for the upcoming semester.

This September, I will begin my second year as a student in occupational therapy. Last year was my first year in this 26-month master's program. It was an intense year with a heavy course load of six courses per semester, in addition to a final seven-week long full-time fieldwork placement. I really enjoyed learning about the field of rehabilitation medicine. It is a holistic area of health care that delves into both the mental and physical aspects of health, with client goals at the heart of the practice. It is a field aimed at helping those with injuries and/or disabilities along a journey of recovery and rehabilitation. Occupational therapists ultimately want to help individuals function in ways that are meaningful to them.

These ideas, such as functioning in meaningful ways and being on a journey, cause me to reflect on my summer adventures. Just a few days ago I finished a world famous canoe circuit. It is a circuit of 11 lakes, seven portages and three rivers. It took my friend and I eight days of paddling and portaging to complete. It was a beautiful, although sometimes challenging, trip through the wilderness. Every once in a while I questioned my ability and reasoning behind even doing the trip. Despite the dangers and intermittent struggles that my friend and I encountered along this journey, it was an incredibly rewarding and meaningful experience to be able to complete the entire circuit all on our own.

This makes me reflect on the nature of school. I suppose it could also be thought of as a journey, although perhaps more of an academic adventure with a chain of courses to tackle and complete along the way. It is an educational trip that is filled with all sorts of physical and mental challenges, which can definitely cause one to doubt them self along the way. However, school, like many other adventures, naturally brings with it some risks and thankfully also some rewards, one of which comes with completing a program of study and earning a degree. That moment will make the whole journey all the more worthwhile.

On that note, I suppose I should be off to buy some new notebooks and pens for the start of classes!

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