We're a little crazy, about science!

Mental health

The legacy we leave behind

Well it’s still that time of the year for me, the time where my anxiety is pegged at an 11, the stupid feelings inside my head keep telling me others would be better off without me, and honestly I start to believe it because who do I have besides myself? It’s exhausting, painful (in the literal sense), and I hate it. This time of the year also seems to come with a fair bit of bad luck. In this case, another death.

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A senseless death

I’m angry. Mostly I’m hurt, but I’m very angry. Angry about misinformation, angry about lies, and people wanting to profit from killing others. I’m angry that there is a small, but incredibly vocal group of anti-vaccine, anti-mask, pro-death cultists basically that are causing people to question if the COVID vaccine is safe. And today I found out we lost someone close to us because of that misinformation.

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The digital disconnect

Some themes just resonate with people because they are universally felt. Feeling like you don’t belong in your own skin isn’t something new. Movies tap into things like this a lot, the Matrix for example gave a sci-fi spin to the feeling. One where you could simply unplug, wake up, reality wasn’t amazing, but it was reality. I think a lot about the handful of suicides that followed the movie, people thought it was a message, a call to action so to speak.

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The death of hope

Maybe I’m being over dramatic, who knows. It’s been a struggle and yes, today is not a good day. Not that many days around this time of the year are good, but today in particular is a bad one. Depression sucks and the thing about depression is that it’s hard to explain to others, especially if you’ve never had to deal with clinical depression or if you’re like me, had to live with chronic treatment resistant depression.

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Madness on the ship of Theseus

Awhile back I made a quick comment on the ship of Theseus problem and left it at that. I guess it’s been rattling around in my head since then because we’re revisiting it. Everything in my life feels like it’s falling apart and for the past month or so I’ve been desperately trying to hold onto any bit of flotsam that I can find. Once again, I’m left to pick up the pieces, try to rebuild, and move on. But if there’s nothing left of the old life, am I still the same person?

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Falling up

Things are still falling apart in my life. My mental health has tanked, and while life never had the shine it should, it looks especially dull at the moment. In short, my world has been steadily unraveling and will probably continue to do so for some time. As painful as all that is the most disorenting thing about my life has been falling up, and it’s happened again.

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They come at night

I once explained to my therapist that I hate going to sleep. Bad dreams and just bad things are there when I’m alone with my brain. She said something though that really stuck with me and it makes me miss her to this day because she really got me. When I said I hated going to sleep she just asked, “because they come at night?”

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The monsters were never under the bed

It’s funny that as children we all have the same strange fears. There’s monsters under the bed, in the closet, hell the feeling that something will take our foot off in the night is so universal there’s comics making fun of will happen if you leave a foot outside of the sheets. Parents happily reassure our childish beliefs, because it’s true, there are no monsters under the bed. What they don’t tell you is the monsters are real, they just live in your head.

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A rough landing

My joints hurt, like all of them. It feels like stabby burny pain. It’s not fun, but I’ve seen this kind of thing happen just once before in my life (here). Spoiler, it’s somehow related to stress, the last time this happened I was very stressed out and this time it’s back, but worse. It’s not a fun time for me obviously, so today is a mixed bag, both good news and bad.

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There’s no such thing as solid ground

I am a private person. Is it then ironic that I blog about my journey? The ups and downs of getting a PhD, the trials and things life throws at me, the interplay of choices I’ve made and their effects decades later. It’s the ship of theseus paradox, how much of me is still me after all the bits and pieces that have been shaved off over the years and replaced. If there’s no one around to see me change, was change even made?

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I wanted to be a scientist

What did five-year-old you want to be when you grew up? I see this question pop up on twitter every so often, or rather the question is often would five-year old you be proud of where you are now. I think it’s hard to judge your five-year-old self when you’re an adult because the world looks a whole lot less polished and magical when you’re an adult. In my experience as you transition to an adult that magic and wonder is slowly replaced with dread, anxiety, and mostly doubt. Imposter syndrome is a real thing that many people, including myself, deal with.

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I’m not okay, but that’s okay.

Still not doing well, but what else is new? The point of this project was to focus on the journey to my PhD. To talk about my education and to share the things I learn along the way so others can survive the journey themselves. This wasn’t a blog so much about me as it was about the things I’ve learned. Well one of the things I’ve learned is that despite my desire to remain anonymous and share purely my education progress, it is difficult, if not impossible, to seperate myself from my education. And right now I’m not okay, but that’s okay.

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Sometimes it rains

Brains are wild. I mean we have this misshapen jello blob stuck in our head and it somehow gives us the ability to be aware. We exist and think, feel, reason, all the stuff that makes us who we are. Brains are great, except when they aren’t. Depression is a horrible thing, which lives in the brain. You can’t “just be happy” anymore than someone could just be rich. Obviously when you live with chronic depression you got a dud of a brain. It may have to do with genetics, environmental factors, the way we were raised, or maybe it’s just horrible luck, but out of all the organs we can fix or replace, the brain is not one of them. You’re stuck as you and sometimes that sucks.

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The end of summer

It’s officially the start of the new school year. I’ve got a lot of anxiety headed into this year, but not for me, for everyone else. This year will be the first year that I’m completely finished with my degree requirements, now I just need to do my research so there’s no real need for me to be inside a packed classroom with others who may or may not be wearing masks or are vaccinated. So instead of being super depressing, let’s look at some of the highlights from this summer and what is just around the corner.

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The stress of change

When I think of change, I think of fall. Maybe it’s an apt time for a change in my life then.

I’m used to things changing. In fact, when things are static it’s actually slightly scary because I never had a stable life growing up. Things were always in flux, from what state I lived in to what school I went to, every few years it was time for a huge change. But things are different now and I prefer consistency, I try to live a structured life. Even if the only reason I do is to keep things simple because I feel like I’m constantly rushing around trying to get stuff done for my degree.

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No tree survives alone in the forest

From season 2 of The OA

Humans are odd creatures. We have weird quarks that make us want to organize the world in ways that make no sense. In this case I’m talking about trees. We have this thing about planting trees in straight lines. I think it’s because it adds a touch of order to something so organic and wild. Being the tiny insignificant things we really are, we cling to that order as a little reminder that we are something special. We don’t often acknowledge the idea that plants are living and intelligent things because they act so differently than things we prescribe intelligence. Put bluntly, the things that act like us. In reality, from what we can tell, trees talk to each other (more) and they know that there is strength in family because the truth is, a tree falls alone.

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I’m still afraid to open my eyes

There are some events in life that will forever change you as a person. I’m not the person I was when I went into the military and I’m certainly not the person I would’ve been had I chose not to enlist. Some things just stick with you for your life. This isn’t a military story though, I don’t particularly like talking about those days. Instead this is yet another story of my transition to civilian life and how difficult it was to make the leap. How even now, the stability I’ve found is only just so.

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Midway through summer

Well in about a month and a half we’re going back to school! Wait… oh no. Okay the good news is I’ve accomplished a lot this summer! The bad news is I had no time for myself yet. That will change though, I plan on taking a few weeks for myself right before classes start back up again and since we’re at about the half way mark, I figured today we can look at what I’ve done and what I plan on doing. Today is where I force myself to take a damned break… eventually.

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The big brick wall

Art by the incredibly talented Lora Zombie (who will never read this, but her art really helped me)

No one likes to think about dying. Death is one of those things that is taboo because we’re alive and don’t need to worry about that sort of thing right now. There’s too much to live for to worry about death, so we tend to ignore the big brick wall we’re headed right for. No one lives forever and frankly I’m not sure that I would want to even if I could, but I can’t help but think about what happens when I get closer to that wall and what life will look like before the day I hit it.

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Recognizing the scars of abuse

I hate being right. We should of course start at the beginning, but the point is that I saw something today that made it very clear that a person close to me had been abused. No one else saw it, but I knew and afterwards a discussion in private made me realize that those scars aren’t always obvious to others who don’t know what they are seeing. But I knew, because I lived that too. I hate that there are so many of us out there, it makes me so fucking angry.

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The need for support

Yesterday was a big deal for me. I’ve been to conferences, spoke at them, and done all of that, but this was the first time I was selected for an award. Moreover it was the first time since I started my PhD that I got to share some of the stuff I’m working on because of COVID and the transition from mechanical to neuro. Of course I invited everyone (here) to come say hi and I have to say you all did not disappoint! Then the moment passed, I shut off my camera, and had no one to share it with.

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Depression, a tale of hunger

Let’s pretend you have a pet that is constantly hungry. You can’t leave the house, you can’t sleep, you can’t even take a shower because anytime you want to do something for yourself this monster of a pet just won’t allow it to happen. It’s hungry. It wants to be fed and it wants to be fed NOW. Oh you’re exhausted, feed it. You want to do something for yourself? Too bad, feed it. It’s all consuming, it never sleeps, it never is satisfied, and you cannot get rid of it. Chronic depression is the pet you never asked for that demands your attention all day, every day.

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The importance of boundaries

Often times I hear stories about people who feel powerless doing a PhD and I can understand why. You’re given a position with some freedom, certainly more than you had as an undergraduate, but at the same time you have no real power. You’re an adult who is starting a career, but you have very little say in that career. The system is designed in such a way that you need to trust that your PI will take your feelings into consideration, but that doesn’t mean that they have to, are incentivized to, or frankly that they even will.

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On finishing a story

I am an avid reader. I absolutely love books and if I had more time I would probably read even more than I do. Despite being incredibly busy, I read daily and the amount I read varies wildly depending on how much time I have. Still, I manage to read an hour or so a day depending on how I’m feeling. So far this year I’ve read 19 books with a goal of hitting 30 by the end of the year. I would’ve gone for the whole book a week thing, but that felt like too much pressure for something I enjoy doing as a hobby. The problem with all that reading is inevitably stories end.

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On birth and family

Sometimes a topic just rattles around in my head until I get it out. Today is one of those days. A friend recently decided to cut ties with some toxic family and it was probably well overdue. I’m happy for them and I think they are making the right choice, but I know not everyone would see it that way. Sometimes people confuse the idea of family and romanticize it, but the truth of the matter is family isn’t the people who gave birth to you, it’s the people you choose.

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On saying “thank you”

The day to day pleasantries, I’m sure we go through the motions on a regular basis, please, thank you, it’s pretty engrained into most of us. At least I would hope, broad statements like that always have exceptions, but more often than not I would like to believe that the majority of people are decent enough to say thank you to someone who is doing something for them, even if it’s just their job. Sometimes simply saying thank you can have a huge impact to a person, even if you don’t expect it to.

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Half done, or half left?

With the end of the term, I’m dealing with a lot of complex emotions. Maybe it’s the fact that my funding is running out soon and I need to come up with options before I take (at best) a significant pay cut. It could be the fact that my research, the stuff I REALLY want to do seems to keep slipping further away from me. It may even be because I’m still, STILL trying to get my papers published and it’s just disheartening. Whatever the reason, I’m at the halfway point and I’m just not sure what I’m feeling exactly.

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Return of the lazy goals

It’s the end of the term and that means two things. The first is that I no longer have to worry about classes. Actually that’s going to be a permanent shift now that I’m done with the required classes for my degree (aww yeah!), so that’s handy. The second is, of course, taking extra time to focus on my mental health. Hence what I like to call my lazy goals, because let’s face it, goal setting just feels like the adult way to make sure you’re relaxing the way you really want to.

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On the prefrontal cortex and abuse

Adulthood is often thought of as the point where you’re done developing. Most states for example don’t allow anyone under 21 to drink because that was where we drew the line, but we allow people as young as 18 (here in the US) to join the military, vote, etc. You may think that this would be roughly where we stop developing and that would explain the somewhat artificial line we’ve drawn. The truth is much stranger than that and when it comes to the brain you don’t develop evenly.

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Mental health and time management

I don’t make the rules. As much as I like to think I’m in charge of my body and that I can will it to do what I want, I’m more of a passenger here. Sure I can make plans, that doesn’t mean my body will agree or that my brain will let me do all the things. It’s a very tense arrangement, I have life stuff to do because I have basic human needs and my body/brain tells me exactly where I can shove all that. Somehow I’ve managed and I figure why not share how I’ve developed work arounds for some of this, maybe it will help someone else in the same boat.

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Not so alone

Of all the odd twists and random occurrences that have happened in my life, I think yesterday was probably in the top ten, if not top five in my most unexpected events list. For those who don’t follow me on Twitter (you totally should FYI), I’ll explain and if you already know what I’m talking about then maybe just skip to the middle/end of the post because that would be for you specifically.

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When the exhaustion hits

Woke up this morning feeling less than stellar. This happens pretty regularly when I push myself for long periods of time. It’s not ideal, since I still have a bunch of stuff to do, but thankfully after living with my limits for so long I have a few back up strategies to help me get through it all. Ideally the school would offer accommodations to people like me, but to get them there is a lot of hoop jumping, enough that it doesn’t make it worth the effort. I suspect that’s the point.

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Mental health in academia

Five years, that’s the average time it takes to finish your PhD. Depending on who you are and how you think, that may be a blink of an eye or forever. I signed away four years of my life early on so five years and frankly the commitments leading up to it didn’t feel like that long at all. In a lot of ways getting a PhD is a lifetime of work and not long at all. I’ve hit the half way point roughly and I can see why so many people drop out of the program. It’s a lot.

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Cracks in the support system

Family, friends, relationships, these are just a few things that provide people with a safety net. How many people, if they lost their job, would be able to rely on family for support? Surely not everyone, but a good portion of people have others to help them if they were in need. Hell, here in the US we’ve made it almost necessary to rely on the kindness of others to crowd fund for healthcare needs. Like it or not, people need people, well most do anyway…

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On failure

Maybe it’s the hangover from yesterday’s news about my fellowship, but I feel like I got backed over repeatedly by a truck. Maybe it’s the uncertainty of the future, or all the work I still need to get done for tomorrow, maybe it’s a lot of things. Somedays I wish I could just pause, but I don’t think I’ve ever been able to stop and don’t really know what I would do with myself if I did. Actually I do know, since I can recall at least one time in my life where I hit the pause button and it didn’t end well.

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Great expectations

What did you want to be when you grew up? Sometimes the question ends in hilarity, a dinosaur, a unicorn, or maybe some other type of animal. Sometimes it leads to dreams of a sci-fi future, deep space traveller, Mars colonist, maybe a superhero. Whatever the answer is, they all have something in common. No one dreams of being average, but the average exists because so many people fall into it. Most of us have our dreams die as the reality of our existence becomes clear. I say fuck that, dream big until your last breath, why not?

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The tightrope of mental health

My mental health is like walking on a tightrope, one slip and I’m done. Getting back up could take years for someone like me. The truth is, things are hard on the best of days. Getting out of bed, shaving, cutting my hair at regular intervals, things that would come easy to some require sheer force of will to accomplish. All the small choices through the day eat away at what little energy I have until I’m drained before breakfast. Yet here I am, pushing forward. It’s days like today remind me that for all the progress I’ve made, it’s still just a tightrope I walk.

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Not cool Robert Frost!

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” starts Frost in a poem that most people are at least familiar with, but typically is misnamed. The poem is typically identified as, “The Road Less Traveled”. This makes sense because the poem talks about the thought process behind why he chose the road less traveled and that it was worth it. That’s not the name of the poem though.

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Book chapter update

It feels like it’s been a while since we talked explicitly about the book chapter I am writing. A lot has happened since that first post, mostly edits and what not. Since the second round of edits was due yesterday (and I hit that goal, thank you!) it won’t hurt to do a bit of a refresh and remind everyone why I took on yet another thing on my long list of to-do tasks.

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Time management as a student

AHHHHH! There’s so much going on right now my head feels like it’s going to explode. Still, I am hopeful that today is the day that I check a few of those things off my list. Let me just say, the more I have to remember the more stressed out I get, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll forget something. The solution is simple, don’t try to remember anything, but that is problematic… right?

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Overloading in education

Get your PhD they said! It will be worth it they said. You’ll have a good time they said! They certainly say a lot don’t they? Well I say things shouldn’t be so freaking hard. I get that getting your PhD requires work and frankly, it should require work, I mean it’s a freaking PhD! That said, it shouldn’t be a four to six year gauntlet of torture to see how many times you break down mentally and physically. It doesn’t build character, or better PhD’s, but it is the system we work in.

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How do I relax?

Yes, once again I am trying to force myself to do nothing useful. Or rather to do useful things for myself instead of for others. My mental health has run ragged since the pandemic hit and it only got worse as the year progressed. Since winter time is particularly difficult for me to deal, I plan on some decompression time. I’ve talked about it before, but what’s the point of blogging daily if I can’t talk about it again?

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A Video Game Christmas

Twas the day before Christmas and all through the house, the computer could be heard along with the clicking of a mouse. Sure it’s a cheesy way to start today’s post, but have you seen the rest of the blog? Without all the traditional holiday festivities due to COVID, I’m making a moderately sized dinner tomorrow. Since I don’t need to do a whole lot of prep, I’m free to find other activities for the day.

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The art of doing nothing!

That’s right kids, it’s time to let my hair down and relax! Time to change out of my fancy sweatpants into the causal ones. We’re going all out and I’m moving from the computer next to the couch to the dammmmn couch! I’m going from bare foot to bare foot, I’m talking comfy shirt to pajama shirt, the whole works! Okay so maybe the comfy lifestyle in a pandemic makes taking a break a little less obvious, but it’s still worth it!

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Day 23: I was lucky…

IMG_20130704_221101_377 (2)

This was home, for a while anyway.

Okay, so not every post has to be strictly academic. If my twitter feed is any indication yesterday was world suicide prevention day. So with a heavy heart I have not one, but two very personal stories regarding suicide. Obviously this is a content warning for those wanting to go further, we will be dealing with suicide, death, and suicidal ideation.

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Mental illness genetically linked to drug use and misuse

anxiety depression

anxiety depression

There are many reports of drug use leading to mental health problems, and we all know of someone having a few too many drinks to cope with a bad day. Many people who are diagnosed with a mental health disorder indulge in drugs, and vice versa. As severity of both increase, problems arise and they become more difficult to treat. But why substance involvement and psychiatric disorders often co-occur is not well understood.

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Scientists find new path in brain to ease depression

peter pan come rescue me

peter pan come rescue me

Scientists have discovered a new pathway in the brain that can be manipulated to alleviate depression. The pathway offers a promising new target for developing a drug that could be effective in individuals for whom other antidepressants have failed. New antidepressant options are important because a significant number of patients don’t adequately improve with currently available antidepressant drugs.

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Why do more men than women commit suicide?

Depression

Depression

Why do more men die when they attempt suicide than women? The answer could lie in four traits, finds scientists. There are over 6,000 British lives lost to suicide each year, and nearly 75 per cent of those are male. However, research has found women are more likely to suffer from depression, and to attempt to take their own life.

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Learning to turn down your amygdala can modify your emotions

amygdala depression

amygdala depression

Training the brain to treat itself is a promising therapy for traumatic stress. The training uses an auditory or visual signal that corresponds to the activity of a particular brain region, called neurofeedback, which can guide people to regulate their own brain activity. However, treating stress-related disorders requires accessing the brain’s emotional hub, the amygdala, which is located deep in the brain and difficult to reach with typical neurofeedback methods.

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A microRNA plays role in major depression

mental health

mental health

A tiny RNA appears to play a role in producing major depression, the mental disorder that affects as many as 250 million people a year worldwide. Major depression, formally known as major depressive disorder, or MDD, brings increased risk of suicide and is reported to cause the second-most years of disability after low-back pain.

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