We're a little crazy, about science!

A not so certain future

I have a lot of health problems. If I were to dedicate a post to each we would be here awhile. They affect me in ways that I’m very aware of and sometimes I’m left to wonder if they affect me in ways I don’t always notice. Maybe my communication skills are just that awful or somehow my brain just can’t make sense of things. I feel like I’m going crazy, but it has to be me… right?


I’m chalking my seemingly inability to properly communicate my intentions to aphasia. For those unaware, there are several different types of aphasia and a sliding scale of severity. People with aphasia can have trouble recalling the correct word for something, even though they know it internally, or will use the wrong word in place of the correct word. More specifically I deal with a mild case (at least I hope it’s mild…) of Broca’s aphasia. My writing is thankfully not super effected, again at least I hope it isn’t, but if you pay attention to my speech you’ll catch obvious signs that I’m struggling to pull words out that I wouldn’t normally use when in, say an educational environment.

From a outreach perspective this isn’t so bad because I’m forced to use words I’m comfortable with using and while I know a lot of the neuroscience stuff, the specific word(s) for something can be just out of my reach. I try to work around it, but when I’m at work I need to use the more technical language so I’ll struggle, an example of some words I can effortlessly list here but cannot pull in the moment, volume conduction and refractory period are a few big ones.

If you’re wondering what it feels like to have aphasia, imagine you know the word refractory period, or the period after a neuron fires were it’s unlikely to fire a second time, but you can’t recall it. It’s there, it just won’t fall out of your brain. So I am forced to talk around it as best I can until the other person says refractory period and suddenly I remember the word and feel like an idiot. I don’t know if it’s a real phenomenon or not, but stress makes it worse for me (maybe recall is worse for everyone when stressed though).

For me, my aphasia was the result of a TBI, a somewhat recent (just a few years ago now) MRI confirmed what I already knew. From the MRI it’s pretty obvious and the neurologist walked me through how he thought it happened and why there were two damaged areas. There was glial scarring caused by the incident in both the prefrontal cortex from when my brain ran into my skull and more on the left side of my brain when, like the giant ball of meat jello it is, it bounced back and hit the left side of my skull.

In short, I have trouble communicating. However, I feel like it’s very obvious to me when it happens because I’m normally fully aware it’s occurring and it’s equal parts embarrassing and frustrating. So when I left my meeting with school-PI (here), I felt confident that I had explained the situation and we were in agreement that I could switch projects without any issue.

To recap the conversation, he was initially okay with the idea, saying switching projects wouldn’t be a problem. Then the conversation slowly degraded to I could do the project on the weekends without any issue or work 10 hours a day leaving Friday through Sunday to focus on my PhD. I’m assumed that he understood what I was saying because of this and while we ended the conversation pretty abruptly, I thought we were on the same page.

So it was a bit of a surprise to hear him yesterday in our weekly lab meeting mentioning that I needed to do some work for the project before we get started. Since hospital-PI and the lab coordinator for hospital-PI suggested I send an email so we had the intentions clear and in writing, I did just that last night. I emailed school-PI, hospital-PI, and our coordinator so we were all on the same page.

Late that evening I got a startling response from school-PI saying that what I was proposing was highly unusual, that my work and school need to be two separate things and they cannot overlap. That this arrangement would cause a conflict of interest, and finally that he could not be my mentor under the proposed arrangement.


After spending several hours early this morning trying to calm down enough to sleep, I’ve since had some time to think on the matter and I’m not sure what happens now. I believe the route left to me is to leave hospital-PI’s lab and return to work full-time in school-PI’s lab. The only brightside to this change in arrangement would be that I would no longer have to deal with the drama of being the bridge between school-PI and hospital-PI, whom only speak to each other now when they absolutely need to. So I will probably be unemployed here shortly, or at least switching back to student status again here soon.

I’m not sure if it was a miscommunication or misunderstanding on my part, but here we are. I’m once again left to question just how bad my speech really is and if I should be more worried about it. Maybe I just need to record myself talking one of these days to figure it out. In any case, it has to be me, right? I mean there’s no other explanation for the way he responded to the email.

What’s worse is that now I have to wait to Tuesday at the earliest to resolve this, so for the moment I’m just a giant ball of anxiety wondering what this means for all those plans I just started making with hospital-PI and if I will just be a footnote in all the exciting work that will be coming from my recent big idea (here).

I’m so fucking tired.


2 responses

  1. Aw no 😦 I’m very sorry to hear this.

    You will make it, though. If you return to the school lab it’ll just be a couple more years in the salt mines, and then you can go do the work you really want, right? You’ll make it. (This is a poor substitute for me putting a hand on your shoulder, isn’t it.)

    Miscommunications happen even among people without aphasia, so I wouldn’t be too quick to assume it was all you.

    I think you have a lot to offer your field, health problems and all. You’ll make it.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 11, 2021 at 1:14 pm

    • Thank you, this helps more than you know. It will be okay, I mean it’s all part of the process I guess. It’s just a lot of drama and stress for the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

      December 12, 2021 at 11:20 am

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