Let it snow

Sometimes, when I’m pressed for ways to fill my time, I browse through pinterest.  Who am I kidding?  I will press time for Pinterest into a busy day – five minutes in the waiting room here, a half hour before I fall asleep there, you know how it goes…  and I’m always looking for inspiration, wherever I go.  I can’t repin cliche writing prompts, but I can certainly think about them.  I will look at a classic (You’re waking up in the morning and your twin is lying next to you asleep, but…you don’t have a twin.)  and I think of something that seems unconventional (I don’t have a twin. There may have been two of us before the accident, but three days have passed where I’ve woken up in our bedroom alone..).  And then I wonder, “Is this really that original or interesting?”

I bleed into my characters when I’m writing.  They are alcohol and I am dye; a vibrant blotch of color seeping slowly into the transparent vessels of people I’m steadily filling with stories, thoughts, and dreams – dreams I dream and thoughts I’ve had even.  Their clay bodies absorb the mixture of traits and behaviors, lapping up whatever sparse details come from little snippets of story lines, all prompted by my favorite internet muses.    So if I wonder about the authenticity of my ideas, I remind myself of this fact and continue on without reservation.  I am what life has made me.  I am unique.  Being me, my characters will no doubt think and behave as individuals.  They will, however, also be unpredictable in the same way that I am.   They’ve had a taste of me, but they are what life has made them too.  I am continually surprised with what shows up in their little universes.  It’s comparable looking into a snow globe, where the figurines frolic under the showers of flakes.

As I sit and look at the snow falling outside this morning, I’m imagining that God is looking at me from the outside as he shakes my globe, stirring up trouble in every neck of the woods.  When it’s handed back to me, we sit and patiently wait for the scene to appear again and the snow to settle to the bottom again.  It’s not always God shaking up my existence.  From the outside, everything seems outlandish.  But it’s real.  It’s as close to real as it can be when you are pumped full of psychotropic drugs.  Like the characters I write about, I am soaked with stories and dreams.  I’m turning over every stone to look for them.  And I’m waiting patiently by God’s side, feeling blessed to remain grounded in the wild avalanche, and cautiously optimistic in the face of blizzards yet to come.

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I am not my mother.

When it comes to volunteering for church committees, my mother has the job (whatever it is) completely covered.  She and her friends joke that she’ll be driving the bus through the pearly gates for everyone receiving their eternal reward.  She’s not just on a team; she’s the team leader.  She doesn’t just come to meetings; she asks lots of questions and fills the role of secretary whenever needed.  She can’t just express her opinion on a problem or a decision needing to be made; she has to make the decision herself and start executing the action.  A pile of forms, accounting materials, devotionals, and meeting minutes snakes from the kitchen table to her leather recliner in the living room most days, like a papery tripwire looking to snare an unsuspecting passerby or corral the dog to one side of the room.  Though she is officially retired, she is really just an unpaid employee of First United Methodist Church.

I stepped away from being a part of the Church administration several years ago when I felt like I was losing touch with the main reason for being a Christian.  It’s not a good sign when you want to avoid Sunday service because it’s stressful.   I’ve slowly been creeping my way back into the web for the last seven or eight months now, first by becoming a lay servant and now, by becoming the Membership Secretary for our parish.  My job is, at the moment, intricately interwoven with the work being done by ‘the two Debs’.  The Debs were the first members to train on the database software our church is using now to keep both the member rolls and the financials and while neither of them is in charge of my work, things tend trickle down into their laps and then get shoved sideways into the hands of the membership secretary.  Here’s where the fun begins.  I’m the new secretary.  Guess what?  My mom’s name is Deb.  Now I’m another cog in the wheel!  I may be my mother’s daughter, but I refuse to be consumed by the Church’s business so much again that I lose sight of how much I love God and the people I’m in fellowship with because it becomes idle drudgery.  Secular jobs provide enough idle drudgery.  I serve God because He is love itself and he empowers me to love the world, not print meeting agendas and type up minutes.

This month we are hosting two families for a week to stay in our church.  We’ll make dinner for them, hang out with them a bit, then they’ll sleep over, have a light breakfast and repeat times seven.  I think it’s amazing that we get to help out by hosting families with Family Promise.  I’ve done all the necessary training in preparation and I’m excited to jump in and get involved in some way.  My mom is equally fired up about being a hosting church and is trying to make preparations in the areas she’s responsible for as a trustee.  She’s not always on board with mission work because of where or how the money is being used, but she’s been a supporter of this program ever since the Trustees were approached by our associate pastor about it.  As the day gets closer and closer, she’s been working hard with a team of other members to get the space ready for hosting and organizing some behind-the-scenes efforts to streamline the process for next time.  With this on top of the usual accounting and managing work, she’ll be pulling all-nighter’s in no time.

Monday, along with my dad and a few others, she also helped move one of the older members of our congregation from her apartment to a nursing home.  Sally, the feisty woman whose belongings were being transferred, also requested that a new TV be purchased and set up as part of the move.  My mom spent more than her fair share of time fiddling with the remotes under Sally’s watchful eye and just nearly got things working.  A work in progress, maybe.  On the way home from Sally’s place, my parents had another misadventure.  This time, a confused woman who couldn’t get her car in gear was stranded in the middle of the intersection and holding up all traffic.  When mom pulled the car around, she found our Lay Leader trying to help the addled senior figure out the malfunction, in addition to who she was and where she lived.  After the parking brake was disengaged, the car was piloted safely to the woman’s home by the gang and her husband called to sort things out.  All in all, a typical Monday for mom.

Training day was today.  Bev, the current Membership Secretary came over to help me learn the system and more about my job so I’m prepared to take over from where she’s left off.  I got up earlier than usual.  I had asked my mom for the cranberry banana bread recipe so I could have a snack for us when we met (mom always does this) and it was sitting on the kitchen counter with a stick of margarine softening next to it.  Other than a slight panic over finding the proper size loaf pan, I mixed the batter and got the bread into the oven without a hitch.  While it baked, I did all the dishes, straightened up the rest of the kitchen, cleared the table to make work space, and yes, took a brief nap.  I even put mugs out by the Keurig, just in case.  After an hour and ten minutes in the oven and lots of nerves, I pulled the bread out and it looked beautiful.  Remove from pan and cool.  But how?  I gently slid a knife between the loaf and the pan around the whole way and tried to tip the loaf out sideways… NO!  The bread started to crack at the middle and stick on a spot at the bottom of the pan.  Finally got it out, in one piece, using a grilling spatula.  I gave it a little press and squish just in case.

When Bev arrived, neither of us were as prepared as we thought we’d be.  She’d forgotten her iPad at home, less than 15 minutes away, and the internet was on the fritz in the house.  Mom wasn’t here yet.  I fiddled with the WiFi while Bev whisked away home to pick up her tablet.  Mom came in, then Bev, then the WiFi and suddenly the party was ready to get started.  Bev and I worked along really well together and I’m having an easy time getting the hang of the database.  As we worked, mom sat across the table ripping seams out of sheer curtains to be re-sewn for the church’s 3rd floor and making various comments or asking questions.  We ate banana bread and had hot beverages (mom switched out Bev’s mug for one of my more delicate ones) and after addressing another issue not pertaining to the secretary position, the session concluded. I’ve already started going through the files she brought me on my own.  I can get behind Holy idle drudgery.

It’s now, while I sit and think over the day, I realize just how very wrong I was and just how much we have to learn about ourselves and each other.  I’d like to think that we’re so different, my mom and I, but we’re not.  Whichever one of us greets you at the door, she will have made an effort to make you feel loved and cared for.  That may be as simple as making snacks when a friend visits or as challenging as sewing two dozen sheer panels in a few days to give homeless families more privacy when they stay overnight at our church.  We’re not just willing to jump into new things and ad lib, we consider it part of the regularly scheduled programming.  Every day, I try to energize my spirit to do a little more outside the house and she spends a little more time getting in touch with her soul and God’s plan for her. So no, I’m not my mother.  In a way, actually, we’re kind of becoming each other.  We are blending our individual strengths – generosity without reserve, incredible strength, heartfelt gratitude, and sky-high dreams for kingdom life – and growing into so much more.

 

530

I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 this morning after staring at the ceiling all night.  Well, honestly, that’s not really true.  I spent the night flipping around in the sheets like a fish out of water, or a worm writhing in pain after having been sprinkled with salt.  Or a girl with a mountain of pain falling down around her ears like an extra large top hat.  I’m the fish, the worm, the girl.  Out of my element and in pain.  I’ve spent some time in therapy and with friends talking about all those things you don’t want to talk about in the past few weeks.  About betrayal and loss, grief and guilt.  We’ve talked about holding someone you love in your arms while they sob and wish to be dead, so only many years later we wish we could die and put that unimaginable pain into their heart.  We talked about our brother coming to the door with a sharpened railroad spike, telling us that he only wants to kill mom, not us because he’d never hurt us.  We talked about abuse, of each other and of drugs.  The drugs we used to take like it was a religion, religious numbing of the mind, body, and spirit.  The abuse we handed out to people who only loved us and wanted nothing else.  The abuse we took from others well-loved and nothing else wanted from.  I’ve sought relief in many ways in the past few weeks.  I’ve tried talking more.  I’ve tried talking honestly more.  I’ve tried medication.  I’ve tried self-medication.  Sometimes, I have come to accept over the years, pain is unavoidable.  You run and duck and cover and all of that and there’s no getting away from the steamroller that’s, well, steamrolling towards you at a rate fast enough to overtake you eventually.  So to let go of some of the pain I was feeling, I decided to write.  But when I sat down at my computer, as I am sitting right now, I found I had so little left to say of meaning.  When I write posts on this blog, I am usually doing so for both my benefit and yours.  Sometimes, you do more for me.  530 views thus far.

Trust yourself to know better

 

I give you advice a lot.  I try to tell you that there is more in store for us than disability and despair for the mentally Ill.  I hope I can inspire you to look at life differently.  But sometimes, we all need to stop and be reminded of what we know about ourselves.  We are sick.  We have dysfunctional brains.  I came across this comic today while I was browsing the web and for some reason, given events of my life recently, it really resonated with me (Source: http://imgur.com/gallery/CWFTYoV).  Trust your intuitions about your illness when you are stable and can think about it clearly.  We can’t think ourselves to a solution.  Mental illness is just that, illness.  I don’t like to talk about the stigma we face, as much as it is plain as day, because somehow I feel like avoiding discussing the subject to much will help us move past it.  Generally, not a realistic expectation, but I suppose part of is that the constant reminders of that stigma I see everyday are as much as I can tolerate.  I don’t want you to think that you can’t change your prognosis by choosing your actions to promote that improvement, but to a certain extent, like a man with a severed arm, our own capacity to change the course of our illness is not entirely under our control.

When I talk to people about my symptoms, they usually do one of two things.  They relate my issues to the problems that they face on an everyday basis (This tends to be frustrating unless they are also mentally ill) or they try to counsel me about how I should take my life back and get over it (Which tends to be both painful and frustrating at the same time).  The people who understand or are just plain caring and hoping there is something they can offer say, “How can I help?  What can I do to make your life easier?”  I honestly wish everyone would do that.  When you have a cold or the flu, your friends and family bring you chicken soup, buy you boxes of tissues and medicine, and offer to walk your dog for the week.  They don’t question whether you’re making yourself worse by lying around the house for days.  They don’t drag you out of the house or chide you for being antisocial.  When you’ve broken your wrist, they whisk you off to the hospital to get x-rays and sign your cast so you can look cool to everybody in school despite being unable to sign your name or write notes in class.  They might even copy their own notes for you.  They don’t ask why you’re using your cast to get out of taking notes or suggest you take an online survey that will indicate whether or not you have a problem.  When you have a visible chronic health problem, like diabetes, they afford you consideration and understanding and should your insulin or sugar levels get out of whack, they will scrounge up a candy bar to put you back on track or give you due privacy to administer an injection.  For those of you reading this post who are caregivers/friends/family of the mentally ill, it is really important to remember that the pathophysiology in mental illness is real.  Our brains actually don’t function like yours.  They might not even look like yours. Many of us living with schizophrenia have reduced white matter in concert with reduced overall cortical surface area, which may be involved in regional reductions in gray matter in the brain.  A few references, in case you’re interested in reading more…

Colibazzi, Tiziano, et al. “Anatomical Abnormalities in Gray and White Matter of the Cortical Surface in Persons with Schizophrenia.” PloS one 8.2 (2013): e55783.
Chan, Raymond CK, et al. “Brain anatomical abnormalities in high-risk individuals, first-episode, and chronic schizophrenia: an activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis of illness progression.” Schizophrenia bulletin 37.1 (2011): 177-188.
My point, without getting too fancy into the science, is that we are biologically different.  We are physiologically different, meaning that we have not only structural differences, but differences in how our neurons communicate with each other in different parts of the brain.  I will probably devote a few posts to talking about pathological anatomy and physiology in the near future, but that’s not the focus here.  When you talk to a person living with mental illness, you could imagine that they are missing a limb.  Mental illnesses are life-altering.  Maybe they have been there for a long time, maybe not, but all have a significant detrimental impact on our daily lives.  Because we are biologically different from people who do not suffer from mental illness, we must be treated medically in order to improve the regulation of our brain functions.  And there are side effects, to be sure.  When a soldier loses his leg in battle, his new prosthesis will be tailored to fit their remaining anatomy (stump, as one might say), but they will still suffer from discomfort due to the prosthesis rubbing against their skin and the pressure between the synthetic material and their own tissues.  Treatment plans are tailored to fit each person living with mental illness, just like the amputee’s, but there are invariably consequences of treatment.
One thing that is not a negative side effect of treatment, which I have myself often wondered about, is that the treated person becomes a different person entirely.  The illness is responsible for that.  The person inside possesses the same soul, the same passions, the same capacity to make an impact.  There is no change in who the person really is.  The point of treatment is to expose that person, to take away the negative aspects of the disorder and let the person’s real spirit shine through.  We are not our illness, but we are hidden from the world by it.  If someone has cancer and receives chemotherapy or radiotherapy, they may lose their hair and lots of weight because they are having difficulty keeping food down.  They will be tired often, struggle to perform everyday tasks that they previously did with ease, and may even be sad or lose hope.  But they are still the same person.  They are not their illness, but their true spirit is hidden from the world by it.  The treatment is a necessary part of making their body whole, just as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and anxiety medications make people whole mentally.  There are always consequences, but clinicians make every effort to minimize those consequences that impact a person’s daily life.  If you’ve ever read the information about the medication you are taking, you’ll recognize phrases like this…
     “Your doctor has deemed the benefit of this medication to be higher than the potential risks associated with this treatment.”
I know that this was more of a rant than a cohesive narrative, but I want you to take away a couple of things:
1.  If you live with a mental illness, know that it is NOT your fault.  You, at some point during your life, were made this way.  You are not weak or lazy or over-dramatic.  Trust yourself to know better than the people who might tell you otherwise.  You have an illness that makes functioning everyday difficult and there are options to find ways to live with it, therapy and medication, just like there are ways to minimize the symptoms of most chronic illnesses.
2.  If you do not live with a mental illness, be sensitive to the fact that your friend/co-worker/relative/acquaintance has an illness.  A chronic illness.  If they have not sought treatment, get them to a doctor if you are able to do so or try to find someone that can.  If they are in treatment, ask them how you can help them to feel better and if there is anything that would make things harder for them.  Be the kind of support they need, without judgement or criticism.
Thanks for listening.

Writing is therapy

As I sit here at my computer fairly early on a Friday morning at work, I am trying to decide how to move forward with my grant proposal.  I know it doesn’t seem early to you probably, but normally I would just be rolling out of bed around this time.  I can write with my head.  My physics teacher in high school, Mr. Neff, was a scary and intimidating man.  He was my very first swim coach for a short time.  He is commanding.  His height, his gait, his presence; all of it frightened me.  And his obsession with physics, a subject I have never particularly enjoyed.  He said something to me once that I thought might be the nicest thing he could have ever said.  It was the nicest thing he ever said, at least to me.  “You will write textbooks someday, Larissa.”  He recognized that even then, I had a gift for explaining scientific concepts in a way that was accessible to the average person but didn’t miss the mark of details relevant and important to the question at hand.  I was proud of that.  So here I sit, mind devoid of ideas about how to construct a description of my research plans for the next three years that can be distilled into four pages.  Grant writing is really a bummer.  I don’t want to write with my head today.  I want to write with my heart.

Sometimes, it seems to me that our lives are laid out for us beforehand.  We’re just turning pages in a book, waiting for the afterword where we sum up all of our hopes, dreams, fears joys and, most importantly, our advice for others in a single page.  What would be on that page for me?  For you?  I know what it would not include.  It would not include the people lamenting the loss of a fallen hero.  Because I’m no hero.  It would not include a description of the factors that lead to my eventual demise.  Because most people wouldn’t know what they were even if they knew me my whole life.  I hope that it would entertain readers with the wisdom gained from a life well lived.  When I look at my life today, I have little regret.  Guilt is a ailment I’m trying to find a cure to.  I have been honest in many respects.  Perhaps more so in writing than I ever have in conversation.  I have hidden things I shouldn’t have, but hindsight is 20-20.  Part of my reasons for writing this blog is to share with you that you can get by with schizophrenia, that it’s not a life sentence in a jail created by your mind.  The other reason for this blog is me and my own sanity.  Writing is therapy.  We all need to get our thoughts out on paper (or virtual paper, in my case) once in a while.  Many of my dearest friends and family will never see these writings and many of you who do read them may be unable to stomach the contents or find them trite.  But writing is my way of turning both the agony and ecstasy of my life into something beautiful.  And it’s better accomplished by doing so from your heart.

When I’m feeling sentimental, I watch my favorite episode of my favorite TV show, “Vincent and the Doctor” from Doctor Who.  I watched it a couple days ago and though I’ve watched it dozens of times, something really popped out at me this time.  Vincent Van Gogh, as portrayed, was a sensitive man who was prone to fits of depression and anger who derived comfort and meaning for his life in his paintings.  He was not mad, he was troubled by the blindness of the others he knew to the beauty that surrounds us.  He was tormented by it.  He was misunderstood.  He was a beautiful soul.  I may not have such a beautiful soul as he did, but I still feel misunderstood as he did.  I’m working towards a PhD in nanoscale engineering right now; I’m living in a world where your logic and intellectual mettle are more important than anything else.  I’d like to be doing more with my heart.  I’d like to be writing full time about the things that are really important to me.  Instead, I’m writing a grant application.  Maybe the only therapy my constrained and reasonable mind needs is a vehicle to embrace my own madness.  My torment.  My soul.  Where I stand right now, writing as therapy can only be a small part of my life.  Everybody’s got to make a living, right?

Thanks for listening.

Back to basics

So, like usual, I’ve taken a long hiatus from posting.  I’ve gotten complacent about managing my symptoms without the constant voices in my head.  But I watched a short video made by someone across the pond who is dealing with a lot of the things I typically deal with and felt inspired to start writing again.  There’s been a lot going on since we last talked, deaths and births, joys and sorrow, and stress.  Oh, the stress.  At some point in my life, around the time I was diagnosed with schizophrenia initially, stress grabbed me up and swallowed me whole.  The world closed in.  The ceilings seemed lower, walls closer.  I ceased to understand how anyone could just keep living.  There were the endless days, those endless numbered days (to quote a line from a song I particularly like by Iron and Wine).  The days were numbered to my own destruction, either by my hand or someone else.  I am surrounded now by a considerable amount of stress and I am managing as best as I can right now.  It’s not the stress it was then, in a sense, but the pain of discovering a large part of my life may be an absolute lie. 

My therapist and I had a frank discussion the other day about my feelings about and understanding of the beginning of my illness. She would like to try EMDR therapy at some point soon to address some of the very traumatic events in my life, this not being a trivial number. Part of our discussion about my perception of the origins of my disorder was going over the initial phase of my illness, which I have persistently believed that was not a quirk of my own biology.   I won’t get into the details, as surely they are too complex and painful to include here (maybe some other day), but apparently I am still living with a persistent delusion.  I struggle with delusions because, well, they are delusions.  Like I’ve always said, I never imagine myself to be famous or important.  I fear persecution.  I feel like the world is designed specifically for my own torture and that of those I care for.  I know I am not unique in this respect but my understanding of the role I play in the world, in my secret and mysterious world, is decidedly different than the average person’s.  My therapist suggested I not share with anyone my understanding of why I act and feel the way I do.  For this moment, I will exercise restraint.  It’s not because I think it’s going to change how people look at me, it’s because I don’t want to experience the pain of people not believing me again.  I’ve kept it to myself for over 10 years now and it took a lot to bring it into the light of day, even with just one person.  She didn’t believe me.  She believed that I believed it, but she didn’t.  I was crushed.  That’s the problem with delusions.  Deep inside, somewhere, I know that there are real biological reasons for the way I act and think.  But the rest of me feels controlled, constrained, with a path already chosen for me that I will walk without any sort of deviation or delay.  I am walking towards an eternity of pain, for both me and the ones I love, and I can barely stand it.  It’s not intrusive thoughts or hallucinations, be they auditory or visual, that really get to me.  I have learned to accept that most people don’t see the same things or hear the same things I do, but the concept that my overwhelming understanding of my world and all the things in it is in some way flawed is truly disturbing.  For now, I will try to keep living in that bizarre and unbelievable world I’ve always inhabited, without the fear that it may implode any minute.  I will blindly hope that my life is constructed of the same building blocks it always has, I will go back to the basics.  I do not have schizoaffective disorder.  I am you and you are me.

Thanks for listening.

The first day of school

As I attempt to type this post, my hands are jitterbugging around the keys uncontrollably and my patience is wearing thin.  Today was the first day of classes for the spring semester.  I couldn’t sleep a wink last night just mulling over the possible outcomes of today’s encounters with a whole new set of professors.  After a long night of tossing and turning, I finally resolved to just stay awake for the rest of the wee morning hours.  I said goodbye to my husband, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and nervous as could be.  I laid in bed for a few more hours until the alarm went off and I needed to start in earnest getting ready for the day.  Hot shower.  Very hot shower.  Brush teeth, take meds, blow-dry hair, get dressed for the cold since it’s freezing here right now.  And then breakfast.  What to have, what to have, hmmm, meatloaf?  Leftovers, the breakfast of champions.  Now a clinch decision, do I or don’t I drink some coffee?  Today, the answer was yes, I think I will have a cup before I go.  Time ran short so I threw what was left in the mug into a thermos and ran, literally ran, out the door and let the storm door bang shut.  It was frigid, the snot-freezing-in-nose kind of cold, and I didn’t waste time brushing the thin film of snow off the windshields.  Now I kicked into high gear, sipped some joe, and drove off to school not more than a five minute drive away.  I’m so glad I’ve got a car on days like this and equally glad that I’m allowed to drive it.  I arrived good and early so as not to be the last one straggling in for our 8:15 am class.  Surfaces and interfaces with Rich Matyi.  I sat there at my desk, coffee in hand, computer booting, just waiting for the festivities to begin.  It’s like a class reunion now, everyone who was away over break is hugging and and fist-bumping like they haven’t seen each other in a decade or more.  Eventually, we all get seated and the class starts.  Rich is an engaging professor; everyone laughs at the jokes and refrains from asking any questions.  Until Dee raises his hand.  This kid is wicked annoying.  Every time I have a class with him, he starts out by asking the professor if we’re going to cover some obscure and only partly relevant topic, just so he can look his smartest for the new guy.  It raises the hair on the back of my neck every time.  If he didn’t box for pleasure I might seriously think about pummeling him in some dark alley incognito.  When he’s done, there’s his partner in crime, Tee, making uncalled for jokes from the back of the room.  This guy seriously thinks he’s funny, but the truth of the matter is that a lot of the time it just shows his total ignorance of the subject at hand.  He’s the kind of person you pity, not hate, because someday he will wake up and realize how truly small he is in the world.  No one else is any bigger.  So he will start acting according to his relative size.  But I like this class so far, despite the rate that Rich is flying through the intro material.  At least the homeworks aren’t graded….

We adjourn and I go to talk to Rich about my inability to stay awake because of my narcolepsy condition.  Mind you, I don’t actually a diagnosis of narcolepsy, but no other circumstance would explain the rate that I fall asleep if not completely dialed into doing something.  He was happy I told him, impressed with my honesty even, and said that he would cut me as much slack as possible.  One victory for me accomplished.

I chatted it up with other first year students in the hour between Surfaces and Interfaces and cellular signaling, my next course.  It’s an upper-level elective but my adviser is teaching the course so naturally I’m taking it and paying extra-special attention to all the material.  But Nadine is at a conference today in San Diego, so Tom fills in for her.  The lecture is pretty basic and there’s no reason to spend more than the required time there.  I’m hoping it will get more interesting a few classes in. 

By this point, I am shaking from the caffeine and can barely hold a pen.  I’m dreading changing the media on my cells later because I’m not sure I’ll be able to use the pipette.  Anyway, no reason to worry right now, because Optics is coming up in a few hours.  I wile the time away talking to a friend who has just returned from India and wants to hear about the goings-on while he was away.  We head off to Optics, where Dr. Denbeaux, a very good-natured, young-looking, senior professor informed us that the course would be attended by both graduate and undergraduate students.  I’m a bit confused by the whole thing, two syllabi, different lecture days, lots of homework and quizzes.  I’m sure he’ll manage somehow, but what about me?  I immediately like Greg’s style and that puts me at ease while he spends some time addressing basics about the electromagnetic spectrum and electron excitation.  The material is comfortable to me, like a broken-in shoe.  I’m sure it will get harder soon enough, but right now I’m happy to be there. 

Last thing for the day: split the cells.  I had put the media and trypsin in the warmer before class so it would be ready when I arrived.  James was back at his usual post in front of one of the computers trying to wrap his mind around a new protocol and his new cell line’s quirks.  I got the flask out of the incubator, turned on the scope and took a look.  Just right.  Not over-confluent and not under-confluent either.  As I dump the media into the waste, the flask flaps uncontrollably back and forth, spraying cells and media everywhere in the hood.  My hands just will not cooperate.  Why did I drink that coffee again?  I chat with James about his time spent at home while the cells cook and then make the transfer and pack up to leave.  2:30 pm.  I’m on my way back out into the cold to drive home.  Day accomplished.  I survived the first day of school of the new semester.

But now I’m home, quite a few hours later, and I’m anxious again.  There’s a quiz in Optics on Monday.  The notes aren’t out yet.  I’m hyped up on coffee, feeling the caffeine humming through my veins.  I’m not hungry because I’ve had too much coffee.  Peter came home and ate his own dinner because I wasn’t interested in anything.  I’m sitting here with my stomach churning its acid without a scrap of food to digest and typing this post.  Even though the coffee should have worn off long before now, my hands still show its effects.  At least I can be satisfied with the first day, as there are countless more to come before this year’s end, and rest easy tonight.  Lulled to sleep by the sense of peace that comes with a mountain climbed and conquered.  Tomorrow, I will be ready for more.

“Who has never…

“Who has never killed an hour? Not casually or without thought, but carefully: a premeditated murder of minutes. The violence comes from a combination of giving up, not caring, and a resignation that getting past it is all you can hope to accomplish. So you kill the hour. You do not work, you do not read, you do not daydream. If you sleep it is not because you need to sleep. And when at last it is over, there is no evidence: no weapon, no blood, and no body. The only clue might be the shadows beneath your eyes or a terribly thin line near the corner of your mouth indicating something has been suffered, that in the privacy of your life you have lost something and the loss is too empty to share.” — Mark Z. Danielewski

For those of you who haven’t read Mark’s work, it’s time to put on your reading glasses and settle into a comfy chair.  They’re really great books an experience.

Never judge a book by its cover? Not true.

I’ve got a love for book covers that runs almost fanatical.  I always choose my books by their covers.  In fact, I have a whole collection of penguin classics deluxe editions purchased simply because of their cover art and rough cut pages.  In light of my bent towards nicely designed work, I’ve decided to change the format of my site a bit.  Let me know what you think! 

Serenity

I’m here in the lab on a Saturday.  No, I’m not complaining.  I’m actually overjoyed to be here on a quiet Saturday morning, just me and my cells.  Just me, the mostly empty space that separates each atom I am made of with the fibers of my being loosely coalesced into one body.  I am in control.  I can use the microscope for as long as I want.  I can linger in the safety hood, savor the methodical portioning of media into wells and breathe in sterilized air.  When I don my nitrile gloves and warm up the culture medium on a Saturday, I am at peace.  There are few other places where I find this sort of peace.  The work is simply mechanical, but I focus on every depression of the pipette, every drip of cell suspension into the dish, every bubble in the swirling flask.  My hands become steady.  I am calm.  I’ve long since forgotten the troubles I carried in the door, things that may have haunted me for hours beforehand.  There is good music coming from my computer and I’m waiting for the media to stabilize in the water bath.  I just wanted to share this moment of peace with you.  Because there has to be somewhere where everyone finds peace at some point in their day.  Before I started doing research, my mind was constantly clouded with self-doubt, criticism, pain, and anguish.  I couldn’t find respite anywhere I looked.  I still struggle to get up and come to the lab, as if the journey was not worth the destination.  On Saturdays, we have a required seminar to attend, so I’m here on campus in the first place.  It’s an easy walk to the next building to be in my lab.  My escape.

I’ve been reinvigorating myself these past few days.  I’m in the process of making myself better everyday.  With the voices back, however, I’m far from satisfaction with my progress.  They doubt me, assail me with their negativity, coerce me into only seeing the evil in myself.  I’ve been working hard though.  I’ve made progress.  I’m going to squash my judgmental alter ego.  I recently watched a video provided by my therapist about mindfulness (not without considerable resistance on my part).  I’ve been familiar with mindfulness for quite some time now, since I was last in the hospital.  A year later though, I’ve lapsed in my focus quite a bit.  I haven’t been grounding myself on a regular basis or acknowledging painful thoughts while letting them pass by.  Obviously the letting-them-pass-by concept has not been going so well, considering my recent depression.  But that’s where Saturdays in the lab come into play.  I can focus on all the thoughts creeping in, notice their presence, and let them go out the door as fast as they came in.  I can feel my hands moving according to my will alone and I can take in these moments of peace with open arms.  “I will stop judging myself,” I say convincingly.  In this cold sterile room filled with humming freezers and chiming incubators and gently shaking flasks, I find the will to take care of myself again.  I am inspired by this place of logic and reason, and also hope and promise.  There are so many opportunities for change here, so much promise in fighting cancer, so much discovery and exploration.  My spirit warms when I walk in the door.  It is my fervent prayer that every troubled soul can find a laboratory of their own where they find sanctuary.  Maybe even more than one, if you’re that lucky…

Thanks for listening.