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Posts tagged “anxiety

Nothing like the first time

There’s nothing like your first time. The first time you accomplish something is new and exciting. Feelings that are hard to capture a second time, much less repeatedly. It’s a magical experience, especially when the first time is good and can be a powerful memory to hold on to no matter how badly things go. When it comes to presentations, in my opinion, everytime is the first time and that can be a point of nervous energy for a lot of people. Next week is presentation time for the summer interns, for their the first time, ever.

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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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The long goodbye

It’s not official, but it kind of is… my Co-PI and I will be parting ways unfortunately. On one hand I’m happy for him, he’s found a better opportunity to help him grow and progress his career. We don’t do research for the money, but we do it for the adventure. We do it for the help we can give people. We do it for the discoveries and friends we make along the way. He has a chance to grow and it looks like he’s taking it. We worked together for over two years now and I didn’t expect it to be coming to a close anytime soon, but plans change and I need to change with it.

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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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An uncertain future…

Surreal door made from a question mark.
Surreal door made from a question mark.

My funding is about to run out. There I’ve said it. The problem is I cannot afford to live without the funding I get from school. If I don’t find someway to gap the issue I could quickly find myself homeless, or worse. I’m trying not to panic, but it is just a little scary to be getting so close to this invisible end. Both my two PI’s have offered workarounds, which may or may not happen. There are some good options, but those may be off the table. It’s complicated, so let’s just lay it all out.

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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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And nothing was wrong with me…

Last summer I had some sort of autoimmune thing kick up. Frankly I’m not sure it was autoimmune or what the hell it was, but it hurt, left me feeling exhausted, and caused my hands, face, and elbows to form raised red spots that later peeled off (here). It was incredibly painful, made me question the minor breakouts of whatever it was that had been going on for a good ten years or so prior, and was a red flag that I was not okay. But the pandemic has been ongoing so getting attention from the VA, which is notoriously awful, had been difficult. Had been, I finally got the chance to see someone.

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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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Path planning

I’m an anxious person, I acknowledge this. PTSD, anxiety, depression, just a few of the things I live with and try to manage daily. To help keep me sane(ish), I have certain things I do. I like making to-do lists, having a well organized calendar, and I like to keep track of where I’ve been and where I’m going. That last one, that’s the topic for the day. With summer here things have changed. I am done with classes, I’m going to be teaching (here), I set my “lazy goals” (here), and it’s the time where I review my progress and plan for the next year. I figure others may benefit from doing something similar, so let’s go over how I do this.

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Presentation anxiety

Today is day two (of three) for the first conference of the year for me (more here). Presenting live is always a challenge and the difference between a good presentation and an okay presentation (any attempt is at least an okay attempt in my opinion) is a combination of planning, practicing, and luck. Of course there are things that can make this particularly difficult, for example one of the issues I have is aphasia, so while I can write normally (mostly), speaking can be a challenge. This is particularly apparent when I’m stressed, so presentations are a challenge.

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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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The transition to summer

Well it’s official, my grades are in. Okay not “official” exactly, but they posted to the class website and I passed, obviously. In hindsight it’s funny because I was constantly worried about how well I would do in the class, especially with this project being worth so much, but I managed to get 100% in the class, so there’s that. Now I am statistics and it bends to my will! That would be a super power for sure, even though the class was a pain, I’m glad I took it. Now I make the slow transition to summer. It’s slow because it doesn’t happen all at once, but I’m excited.

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The end of the term

Time to catch up on my reading… eventually.

It looks like I survived. Another term down and one step closer to the finish line. It’s not quite the clean victory I was hoping for, but after yesterday I now no longer have any class requirements for my PhD. The only requirements I have now are with my dissertation, so now I can focus on that work exclusively. I’m not going to lie it feels pretty good. Since the end of the term isn’t as clean cut as I was hoping for. I figured today we can look at the leftovers from the past week of panic. We might as well after the week I had!

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Major milestone 3 (of 3)

I’m exhausted. Let’s just get that out of the way. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much work to get done in my life. No, scratch that I know I’ve never had this much work to do in such little time in my life. My eyes feel like they are about to bleed and I’m afraid if I turn my head to the side my brain will leak out my ears. The end of the term is usually an academic marathon, but this is ridiculous. It’s just been deadlines left and right. Anyway today is the end of the next set of major milestones, it’s not the victory I was hoping for, but I’m hoping rest will not be too far behind.

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Time for the big finish

Well call me a wizard because not only did I somehow manage to get everything done yesterday that NEEDED to happen, I also somehow managed to make more work for myself. Yeah, the universe hates it when I’m productive apparently. I’m tipping the balance and that’s never a good thing. But seriously, I now have more work to do and a lot of it is due tomorrow. Don’t worry, I’ll explain. Later I’ll probably cry about it too. (not serious) (super serious)

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Major milestone 2 (of 3)

Can’t stop now. We’re at what I’m calling major milestone 2 of 3. Yep, yet another batch of stuff is due today. I’m not super thrilled with all this and I still have so much to do before Friday I want to scream. As with major milestone 1 (here), we’re going over what I have done (spoiler not enough), what I need to do (a whole lot), and the plan to get it finished (cry for a few hours). Let’s just dive into it since there isn’t a whole lot of time (for me anyway).

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One major milestone down

Yesterday was sort of a cliffhanger. Everything was due, not a lot was fully complete and I had not one, but two things that my main-PI needed to urgently respond to and he was MIA. I swear you couldn’t write something with more drama if you tried (at least for a PhD candidate). Never fear today I’m taking a brief respite from the work I need to get done today to share what happened yesterday. As the usual this week, it was a wild ride all the way to the end.

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Major milestone 1 (of 3)

The good news, like it or not today I will have less work to do! The bad news is that I’m sort of up against the wire here. As promised, it’s all deadlines all the time for the next week. While this may not be the most useful or exciting read, it certainly is going to be a dramatic finish (see: train wreak). Today for simplicity since there’s so much to do and literally only days to do it, let’s go over what I have to do today and exactly where I am in all of that work. Spoiler, it’s not looking pretty.

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The first major deadline

Well tomorrow is the deadline for several of the things I’m working on, including but not limited to things I still need to get done today! Fun times for sure (not really). As promised yesterday we’re pretty much just watching the super slow train wreck that is occurring. To be fair it’s either going to be an extremely close call or a complete disaster, but that’s just how these things go sometimes. Let’s dive into what’s due tomorrow and where I am exactly in the process.

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The game plan

A pirate's treasure map
A pirate's treasure map.

Well I’ve got two days (not counting today) to get so much stuff done I don’t even know where to start. The good news is I’m feeling slightly better about my odds. The bad news is nothing is done so there’s nothing to celebrate just yet. I have a plan though and I feel good about the way I laid out my work, if I’m careful (and lucky) I’ll be able to get it all done. We’ll see, it’s going to be tough, but today let’s cover why I plan my work when I get swamped like this and how you can do it too.

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The thing about deadlines

Man pressed against glass in office. The entire office is full of papers pressing against him. He's drowning in work.

It’s no secret I’m running around trying to finish everything I need to do lately. Deadlines for just about everything all fall within a few days of each other. I literally have a about a dozen things all due next week plus or minus two days. I’ve been trying to remain calm and remind myself that I’ve been in this situation before and it always works out in the end. That doesn’t stop me from stressing out and yesterday I got an email that could derail a lot of the planning I’ve been doing to make certain that all the work gets taken care of. Yep, I got another job to do.

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An end in sight

Hourglass on laptop counting down
Hourglass on laptop counting down

Well I had an awkward conversation with my main-PI yesterday about some of the progress I had made and while he seemed generally supportive, it unfortunately wasn’t particularly helpful. All that work I had hoped to finish over the weekend? Still going, but there’s other things going on too so we’re counting down to the end of the term now and there’s an end to a lot of this, but it’s going to be (as always) a race to finish.

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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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The homework rush

Not the most exciting of topics, especially after yesterdays news that I’m giving a presentation at the BRAIN conference, but my homework is due tomorrow. This will be the first time this term that I haven’t finished it early. Normally I will have turned it in days in advance to get it off my plate, but there’s so much going on that I’m not even certain that I will have the chance to finish it. What do I do in that situation? Well keep calm and carry on… I’m not British, but I think that’s how the phrase goes.

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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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Another approaching deadline!

Well it’s going to be down to the wire this week. It’s good to know we’re keeping the theme, if you’ve been following along for awhile you already know it’s always down to the wire. This week is particularly challenging because I have competing interests for the time I have. There’s only 24 hours in a day, so there’s only so much work that can get done. I would prefer to not do it at the last minute, but here we are… again.

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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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Caution: under pressure

For a third week in a row I’ve been instructed by my main-PI to give our lab virtual presentations on the work I’ve been doing. It’s been a point of stress now for almost a full month and doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon. After every meeting I get a list of things I need to do before the following meeting and this time was no different, so today I guess we’re going to take a look at what exactly is next on my to-do list.

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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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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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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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Happy Holidays!

If you read my blog, it’s no secret I celebrate a non-religious Christmas, but no matter what you celebrate I hope you and your loved ones have a happy holiday season. While the pandemic means that things may look different for a lot of us, we shouldn’t need a holiday to remind us to be kind and love one another. The holiday season may be a good time to remember that lesson, but it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate any time of the year. When this is all over we can mourn the loss of loved ones and celebrate being able to be close once again properly. For now, stay safe, stay vigilant, and hopefully the new year will bring some good changes.


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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It’s Christmas so why shouldn’t everything break?

It’s the holiday season, for me that means Christmas. I’m not religious and while the holiday has religious undertones, let’s face it, a lot of people celebrate it who aren’t religious. Regardless of what you celebrate, there is probably some expense attached to it. For some it may be more than others, if you’re like me and are a poor college student your budget is pretty tiny to begin with, but you save over the year and manage to eek out a little something to make the season magic. Of course, that means you have no savings, but what could go wrong?

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The pandemic, holidays, and your mental health

When was the last time you thought about your own mental health? I mean really thought about how you’re doing right now, not the typical, “Huh, I think things are going to hell, but I’ll worry about it later” kind of thinking about things. Maybe it’s just me, but this time of year is hard to begin with, add to that the fact that we’re almost a full year into the pandemic and I would think this time of year would be overwhelming for the majority of people.

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Time off!

Today was the last experiment that I’ll be doing for the next couple of weeks and since classes are over it’s time to kick my feet up and relax. Okay, not really. There are still some odds and ends that I will probably be working on while I’m “taking a break,” but overall I’m excited to not have things I NEED to do. I’ll probably be doing some house stuff too, but hey at least its a change.

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