We're a little crazy, about science!

Mental health

Another year of lazy goals

It looks like today is officially the end of the school term for me. It’s somewhat artificial since I was never taking any real classes anyway, but we need to mark time somehow and the school term works as well as anything I guess. But with the end of the semester, we have the start of academic summer, which means it’s time for me to plan out my goals. My lazy goals that is, or how I make sure I take some much needed rest.

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How to save a life

You’re on a boat in the middle of the ocean and you’re taking on water. You suddenly find yourself with your head barely above the water in the middle of nowhere. The depths of the ocean here are unfathomable, you’re tired, you hurt, the ocean keeps fighting your every move. You’re one wave away from death. No salvation is coming because this is depression and to everyone around you, you look perfectly normal.

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Yet another book chapter update!

Well if the universe isn’t apologizing for the last few decades of hell and torment, I’m not sure what’s going on, but good things seem to be happening. I’m not going to question it so when I saw an email recently about the latest with the book chapter I got very excited. It sounds like the book, along with my chapter, will be coming out very soon.

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Mental health and medication

Pills
Pills

Mental illness is like any other issue with the body. There are effects from it, there are treatments for it, and like someone who’s diabetic, you (probably) lack the correct balance of chemicals in the brain and there are medications for that. Of course we live in a society where a small, but vocal, group of people are pushing for “purity.” You don’t need medication, you can just eat healthy, think your way through, change your attitude. That is a lie and one that is deadly. You cannot fix mental illness through diet and exercise anymore than you could ask a diabetic to start producing insulin on their own.

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Another day off

When I started the 365 days of academia project, the goal was simple. Write daily, that was it. In hindsight it was both a lofty goal and one that has been as rewarding as it has been challenging. It turns out I have a lot to say about a lot of topics and despite feeling like I would run out of something to write about, almost three years later I still have things I want to say.

However, we all need a break sometimes. So for my mental and physical health, this is all I’m writing for the day. I hope my little break reminds you to take one as well. Because rest, like food, water, and shelter, is part of the process of living, not separate from it. It is certainly not a reward for doing something, so kick your feet up and take a break. I’m sure you could use one too.


The myth of “better”

It’s somehow Friday, finally. It’s been one hell of a week and things are slowly ramping up so it’s only going to get worse. There are a lot of moving parts happening right now and I’m just trying to keep a handle on things, so if mental health seems to be the theme of the week, then well it’s with good reason. Also it’s mental health awareness month. Which, somewhat ironically, I was not aware of until recently. So the theme of my life fits the month I guess.

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The mental health stigma

You don’t look depressed. Chances are if you struggle with depression you’ve heard that once or twice, or dozens of times on a seemingly never ending loop. If you have a broken bone you can be diagnosed via an x-ray or CT. If you have cancer, there are blood tests or MRI scans that can catch it. If you get sick, rapid tests or PCR will tell you if it’s COVID. But how do you diagnose depression?

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It’s okay to not be okay

It’s okay to not be okay. The world is on fire, almost literally, people are having rights stripped away before our eyes, the environment is a disaster, global warming is going to kill everyone in probably very horrible ways and no one cares, and the pandemic is being ignored, much like everything else on this very long list. In the face of all of this and far more than I can list, I will let you in on a secret. It’s normal to not be okay right now.

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Fighting to live

drowning being pulled underwater by dark tentacles
drowning being pulled underwater by dark tentacles

Medication roulette, it’s what I call the process I started over a decade ago. It’s the process where you start a medication, wait weeks/months for side effects or benefits from it, inevitably stop because something serious happens, and then the painful, literally, process of coming off only to go to the next. If you’re lucky this process is quick, you try your hand at the roulette wheel and you walk away slightly better than when you stepped up. Or if you’re like me, you play like a gambling addict hoping for the magical win. But what if you found it, then had it taken away?

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Education and mental health

In the US, roughly 12% of college students report the occurrence of suicide ideation during their first four years in college, with 2.6% percent reporting persistent suicide ideation.

I write about mental health a lot, full disclosure because my mental health is bad on a good day. I’ve found little respite from the depression, PTSD, etc. via pharmacological means or through therapy. I still try, but the results are the same and what’s that saying about crazy meaning trying the same thing and expecting a different result? In any case, there are few things in this world that tests my mental health like education. Because the system is broken and there’s nothing that can be done.

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The lost children

Can you mourn the loss of something you never had? Imagine for a second you were born without a limb. Can you miss it if you never had it to begin with? I’ve been struggling with this question a lot lately, not because I was born without a limb, but because I was born without a family and in some ways that isn’t too different. Maybe it’s wrong to compare a missing limb to a missing family, but I honestly can’t think of a better way to describe it, because family is an extension of you.

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Burnout and mental health

After yesterday’s post on the whole match situation, I figure it’s probably time to talk about burnout. Because truthfully when you work yourself past your limit and you get even a small rejection, much less a rejection of that magnitude, you’re setting yourself up for a bad time. As a society we are told to push ourselves, to work harder, to “grind” as much as we can because only then will the system acknowledge our worth and reward us for our efforts. It’s a lie and we all know it, but propaganda is a powerful thing.

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Mentoring and mental health

With great power comes great responsibilities. Well as a grad student, you don’t have a whole lot of power (see: none), but you do have responsibilities. You also have more freedom to do the things you want (need) to do the way you want. One of those responsibilities, and my favorite frankly, is mentoring. With all the stress of doing my PhD, being a mentor is something that helps keep me sane, so today I’m going to share some great news along with why I enjoy doing the mentor thing.

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Death and depression

Fair warning, today’s post is heavier than usual. There will be discussion about suicide, death, depression, mental health, etc. If you’re not in a good place, this probably isn’t for you. Never fear, there’s help (suicide prevention hotline for one), you’re not alone, despite what it feels like. For everyone else, welcome to my brain once again, but the content is probably not suitable for anyone, including myself.

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The way through

Well new year, new problems. I’m not super surprised I guess given… life. I’m incredibly tired, like mentally and physically exhausted, but we do what we need to in order to move forward. Like I said yesterday, the only way is through, so today is an example of how I try to cope with living. That’s right, time to plan and figure some things out.

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The only way is through

Well I’ve been on a talking about mental health kick lately and I guess that fits with today’s topic. Sometimes in life we find ourselves out numbered, outmaneuvered, outsmarted, and without any real power. It never feels good to find yourself in that kind of situation. I’m proud of how far I’ve come mentally, because if the situation I’m in now had occurred even just a few years ago, I would be checking myself into a hospital for my own safety again. When the weight of the world presses you down so hard you just want to scream, all you can do is push back.

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Time management and mental health

We’re all super busy… right? I don’t think it’s just me, we feel like there’s a mountain of things to do. Then you try to get through the list and when you look away just for a second, suddenly you have twice the work left. This is particularly troublesome for someone like me who has serious mental health issues (along with physical health issues). I want to do all the things, but my mind and body have other plans for me. Somehow I still manage my deadlines and since I was specifically asked to share, we’ll talk about how I do it.

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The balancing act

With the weekend here, comes time for some school work. School and work is a tough combination, but I did this to myself. The payout is both in experience and security, but the risks are just as high, failure on either end would mean severe disruption to any plans I’ve made. Then there’s the third and fourth pillars to this equation, physical and mental health. Thus a complex balancing act where if one thing becomes too heavy, the whole thing topples over.

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The force of will

The body is stronger than the mind. At least that was what the military drilled in me. Your mind will give up well before your body fails. Because being uncomfortable is, well uncomfortable. We don’t like discomfort and we don’t like pushing ourselves outside a limit we’re comfortable with. But constantly pushing yourself past your established limits… that isn’t good either.

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Insomnia and other sleep disorders

That feeling when you’re tired all day, you lie down to finally get some rest and you’re suddenly wide awake. Hypersomnia, parasomnia, insomnia, why does sleep have to be so complicated? Some days you want your brain to shut off and it fully agrees with you until the second it’s time to do just that. Unfortunately in life there are no easy answers, as much as we wish their were.

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The edge of panic

I’ve got a lot going on at the moment and the more I seem to get done the more I have to do. By Monday I need to have work done that would take me about twice as long to do. If it’s one thing this blog project has taught me, it’s that I’m always one missed deadline from catastrophe. Or at least that’s the way it feels inside my brain and I do not enjoy it!

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Books read in 2021

With the end of the year upon us, I figure it’s time to commit to my books read in 2021 list. Last year I believe I did something similar, if not, I should have. In any case, every year as part of my “lazy goals” I challenge myself to read a certain number of books. The purpose is to stop and relax from time to time. Or just to carve out a couple of hours to enjoy reading a good story, well hopefully good. Want to read something, but aren’t sure what? Don’t worry, I have some recommendations!

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End of the year blues

As the year wraps up, I still feel like there’s quite a bit of work left for me to accomplish. Now to be fair, year end isn’t some magical barrier, but it is a good way to mark the passage of time and I’ve had the opportunity to do some amazing things this year, so I’m not complaining. Still, with all the accomplishments I’ve had, and there were several, why do I feel like I have so much left to do?

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Into the storm

Yep, things are looking gloomy around here. Did I mention I hate this time of the year? It feels like everything conspires to go wrong around this time of year and it just happens to be when my depression and anxiety are cranked up to 11 pretty much all day every day. I don’t enjoy it and I wish I could just hide until the new year rolls around and the feeling passes, but here we are another year where I am super anxious and another year where everything seems to be going wrong.

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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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