Ships at a distance

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“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

Sometimes I wonder why we wish so often for a different life, as if our own life is in some way leaves us unfulfilled.  Why do we seek greener pastures?  Why do we see our dreams departing for distant shores?  I’d like to offer a reasoning that has been resonating with me over the past few days.

I was a miserly child.  Every penny saved in a piggy bank painted with four leaf clovers hidden in a special place between two suitcases under my bed.  Every dollar folded carefully and placed in an envelope I kept in my dresser drawer.  I couldn’t bring myself to ask for anything in stores, thinking it all too expensive to be reasonable.  Other children asked for toys and candy and basically anything pleasurable they could lay their hands upon, my older brother included.  But not me.  When my mom quit her job, I recycled all of my school supplies and resisted her attempts to buy me new clothes and shoes for the coming year.  There were things I was saving for, for sure, I just didn’t tangibly know what they were.  If asked, I probably would have told you college or some other bogus answer.  The reality of the situation was that I thought money was more important than enjoying new things.  Over the years, my spendthrift attitude has diminished and I’ve become a frequent shopper.  I buy the things I want, within reason, and save very little of my money towards future goals.  It was slow at first; a candy bar here, a tee-shirt there.  But in high school I met my savings match: Drugs.  I won’t get into the details, but I needed painkillers like an infant needs their mother.  They were my respite from the start of the symptoms of my disorder, a problem I was afraid to bring to bear for fear that the whole world would reject me and I would be disowned by my parents.  Anyway, thousands of dollars in savings and tip money from waitressing and lunch allowances went down the hatch as I swallowed pill after pill.  A girl I was in school with was a hockey player and was more often on the bench with injuries than she was on the ice.  When she offered up her extra pills as a solution to my anxieties, I resisted at first.  But there they were.  I could almost hear them calling my name.  Thus, I started down that long and winding road of addiction.  The beginning of the end.

Why am I telling you this, you ask.  Because it drives home a point I’m trying to make.  The grass was always greener on the other side.  Either I spent so little that I found little joy in life, or I drowned myself in an expensive habit to take away the pain I felt.  I lived life at the extremes.  Did I ever find a way to meet in the middle and enjoy things responsibly?  No.  I still haven’t learned to watch my wallet and certainly have no desire to be as much as a tightwad as I was in my youth.  What I need now, what I’ve always needed in life, is balance.  The balance we all seek comes in many forms, not just a monetary budget.  Perhaps the best way to find a balance emotionally and mentally is to take a retreat from your life as it is and look at it from a different perspective.

Sometimes, when I look in the mirror in the morning, I see a fat disgusting woman who has let life get the best of her.  I don’t see my inner beauty staring back at me, or my incredible strength.  I just see a waste of life.  But there are other days when I feel like I look a bit nicer, my hair falls the right way, and I’ve got fewer dark marks on my cheeks.  I see a beautiful woman.  The challenge lies in taking from these two polar extremes and crafting a vision of myself that meets in the middle.  When you look in the mirror what do you see?  A charming, sharp, attractive man or woman with presence and a sense of purpose?  No, I know you probably don’t (for those of you who do, congratulations are in order…).  What if we eliminated the judgement altogether and were objective about ourselves?  Then, we might be satisfied with what we saw because we called it neither “good” or “bad”, but simply observed what we saw objectively.  Then our goals of living a moderate life would be achieved.  We might weigh more (or less) than others, be of clearer complexion, have a little bit of crow’s feet around the eye, but we can say in this moment, “I’m satisfied right now.”  We don’t have to look in the mirror or just at ourselves spiritually/mentally/emotionally and see a quest failed or a victory won.  We can just see ourselves for what we are and make observations without judgement.  That is a victory in and of itself.

Moderation, balance, harmony, or whatever you’d like to call it has worked for a lot of people.  I couldn’t name any of them you might know if I tried, but they’re out there all the same.  We must be patient with ourselves in order to live a balanced life.  The grass may look greener elsewhere and the cup might seem half empty, but there is a field of green and a cup on your side of the fence.  That’s all they are.  Take your mental health, for instance.  I’ve gotten rather down on myself about relapses in the past, about opportunities lost because I was too stubborn to change, and things I needed to do that didn’t happen, but I’ve found a way to put my emotional life together in a way that hasn’t yet translated to the rest of my life.  I’ve done it by telling myself that things happen and they are what they are.  When I hear a voice in my head, I observe the witty retort it sends my way, and I let it go out of my mind.  When I remember my accident almost eight years ago, I can find peace in knowing that I will never know what really happened that day and that any memories I have of the incident are irrelevant now.  That day is gone.  Yes, I will live with the consequences of that day for the rest of my life, but there’s nothing to do but adapt now.  I have to live my life in acceptance of what was, wasn’t and could’ve been: moderation in emotion.  I try to keep calm, but not completely sedate or unaware of my surroundings, primed for facing new challenges without living with a sense of constant urgency.  I have to be centered or grounded in this moment because this moment is all that I have right now.  My emotions are not extreme in one direction on the scale or the other.  I have achieved a balance that brings me a quiet satisfaction unlike any other.  Or at least I do on a day when I’ve got more focus and can pay attention to the way I’m thinking about things.  This takes practice, as I’m sure you would know.

So there are a lot of things I don’t know, and as my professor once said, a multitude of things I don’t know I don’t know, but there are some certainties in my life.  I have a loving husband and family that will support me regardless of my struggles.  My excitement about things needs to be balanced with my anger or resentment and I will seek a place where I’ve come to grips with both.  We all need a little calm sometimes.  Take this moment to see yourself objectively and without judgement.  Do you accept who you are right now?  If the answer is yes, then you’re on your way.  If it’s not, then like me, you have more work to do on yourself.  You’ll find the peace you need in life when you’re ready too.  Now all I need to learn is how to apply this to my wallet, right?

Thanks for listening.

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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.

Sunlight

It’s beautiful outside, sun shining down, melting snow and hardly a cloud in the sky.  It’s too bad because I can’t seem to enjoy it for more than a couple minutes before some other part of me takes over that’s angry at the little bunnies and squirrels and birdies that are fully taking advantage of the day’s warmth.  I’ve been angry at the world because there is anger going on inside my head. I’ve pictured some sort of apparatus in there. I keep thinking that the ball will run its course down the corkscrew, light a match by flipping a switch, and cause enough steam to fill the balloon that the needle pops it.  The balloon pops and I am thrown back on track.  Back to optimism.  Back to happiness.  Back to energetically challenging life.  But I read a quote a few minutes ago in a blog post entitled Random Thoughts On Living Authentically In Artificial Times that set something afire within me…

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The person who posted this quote on their blog is decidedly a free spirit in the most traditional terms.  She’s a sexual, passionate, complex, lovely person who has an artistic bent and rejects convention whenever possible.  Lately, I am none of these things.  My muse is gone and she left broken glass from the window she shattered upon her escape at my feet.  These shards are the carpet of my daily walk.  Much like those who have suffered a “living death” before me, I didn’t even realize that my soul had become torn and tattered in the process. I’ve closed my heart off from the world, from the people I love and the places that stir something in me.  I’ve walked blindly on, blood-stained and splintered, until I feel like I can’t take another step.  To think, I’ve almost let them win.  But the ball did spin on down, strike the match and blow up a big old balloon inside my head that woke me up.  “No more walls,” she says.

I’m coming alive as I write this, I can feel the spring going back into my step.  I can feel the fog lifting, the anger settling, the electricity of my being, the sparking synapses.  I am transforming into something marvelous in my mind and that transformation won’t be stopped.  A spirit drifted through the doorway and sat down beside me at the table.  I’ve gathered the folds of her gown, felt their cool softness upon my cheek and smelled her scent in the air.  She is home.  I am awake. I am alive.

Onwards and upwards we go.

Finding myself for the first time.

Well, it’s been a few weeks on the new medication regimen and I’m finally getting back to writing.  So much has happened since my last post, and at the same time, so little has really changed.  There’s been a silence inside of my head for these past few weeks, a quiet that I’ve struggled with considerably.  I’m not going to spend this post talking about all the things that are different about walking around all day without little people talking to you.  Most people can probably imagine this would be a big transition.  Over eight years of non-stop hallucinations and then all of a sudden, nothing at all.  What I am going to talk about is what I’ve learned about myself.  There’s so little about my life that I really understand in an unbiased and objective way.  When everything you do is narrated by a bunch of snarky and nasty people, you stop forming opinions of your own about the things around you and, most importantly, the things you do.  This is the crux of probably the rest of my life, discovering what I truly think and feel without the influence of my belligerent snippy companions.  These are my observations this week:

I’m not always the nicest person, deep down.  Sometimes, when people say things to me that are illogical, I have a tendency to judge them harshly.  I’m not sure if it’s arrogance, but what I do know is that it makes me feel very much like I’ve become the people talking in my head.  And I don’t like that feeling.  I was always opposed to the judgmental nature of the voices, to the extent that I refused to entertain negative thoughts about what anyone did.  If they were critical, I was open and welcoming.  If they threatened to harm people, I was all the more kind and caring towards the real people in the equation.  But now I no longer live a life of contradiction.  My thoughts are my own.  I have to learn to get comfortable with them and manage them.  I have to open the doors, so to speak, to the diverse set of people I will encounter throughout my daily walk and accept them as they are.  That’s hard when you struggle to accept who you are at the same time.

I don’t love myself.  I always thought that it was the demeaning nature of the voices that left me completely dry of self-worth.  Now that things are quiet, I need to start building some of that back.  According to my therapist, my perfectionist nature has caused me to torture myself to a greater extent than most of her other clients.  Karen doesn’t ever lie to me in therapy, and I’ve been seeing her for nearly six years, so I’m inclined to believe her when she says something drastic like that.  I’m never satisfied with the work I’ve done; it could have been done better, more quickly, more efficiently, or with less waste.  I’m critical of my schedule, especially the moments when I’ve got nothing planned.  When there isn’t coursework or research to be done, I find my mind wandering and my focus waning.  I don’t like it at all.  I need to be on point all the time while at school or I feel like I’ve wasted the day.  And at the end of that day, when not everything went as planned, I’m cursing myself out over it.  I attack myself over little things, like dishes left dirty that my husband cleans up or having a messy desk in the grad office, and over bigger things, like the fact that I’m horribly overweight and that I’m probably a bad wife.  For each of these situations I see how I “could” have improved the outcome of certain choices I made, blind to the fact that there was indeed very little I could do differently.  Sending punch after punch in my own direction when I supposedly have so much to be proud of.

I can’t take compliments.  I was telling a woman from one of my classes about my illness and my life after having been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia over lunch when we were planning on working on some homework problems for our nanobiology course.  She was, as per usual, dumbstruck by the pervasive influence of hallucinations in my life and my ability to become a somewhat successful graduate student, the somewhat being added by me, and congratulated me on my achievements to date.  I am a modest person, in general, or so it seems to everyone who casually knows me.  The modesty, however, just reflects the lack of satisfaction I find in my own achievements.  No matter what the occasion to celebrate, I can never really be truly happy with what I’ve done.  I’m always trying to do it better than the next guy, to be smarter than everyone I know, to be the most successful scientist, hoping that someday the validation will come and I will feel truly accomplished.  The fact is that validation like that will never come.  I can’t be the best at everything.  All I can do is be as good as I can.  The more I try to sit with that idea, the more it baffles me.  Why must I beat myself up over spilled milk when there are cookies and a half glass of milk still sitting on the table?  Why can’t I just be proud of what I’ve done without “but” or “except” or “if only”?  Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie pop, this is something the world may never know.  But right now, I’ll be damned if I’m going to stop licking.  At its chocolatey core is the holy grail of self-awareness, the understanding I seek that will make all of my self-hatred and abuse dissolve away.  I’ve only just started to make my way there in these past few weeks, there will be plenty of time for more progress.  No reason to beat myself up, is it?

I need the people in my life more than I’d like to admit.  So much of my happiness lies in my interaction with other people.  I gave a reading at a wedding this past weekend of two dear friends of mine from my undergrad years at Carnegie Mellon.  Mers, who was the bride, and I have a long history together and I wanted nothing more than for her day to be perfect in every way, shape, and form.  And it truly was.  If there were massive mistakes made on someone’s part, you never would have known it.  It was very important to me to give a good reading during the ceremony and to be there to support her in any way possible.  My husband also attending the wedding with me and I’m sure he felt the same way about his role.  We went to the air and space museum on the way home from DC, where the wedding was held, so Peter could swoon over old jet engines and flying wings.  He thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent there, as did I.  While we drove home, I enjoyed what is the best feeling one can feel, the joy of knowing that I made people happy in some way. Both my husband’s and newlywed friends’ happiness served to magnify my own joy exponentially  I know now that I live for the betterment of those around me, both people I know and those whom I have never met.  If there is indeed any satisfaction to be had in my life, it will be because I have satisfied the needs of someone else, especially the people I love most deeply.

But for now, I’m just trying to live in the moment.  For an easy motivational pick-me-up, try this song.  Music does wonders for the soul.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdo8uORFfRQ
Thanks for listening.

 

 

 

A year older. A year wiser.

Today is my birthday.  I’m twenty-seven years old today.  I’m one year wiser and one year more in awe of the way my life has changed since I was diagnosed with schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder.  It’s been a year full of ups and downs, a rollercoaster ride of sadness, pain, hope, and joy.  I’ve learned new ways to cope with my illness, made new friends I cherish, started a new career and graduate school program, and built a life with the man who makes my world tick, my husband Peter.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; Life is not perfect.  This birthday, while far from perfect, has been the best I ever had.

Earlier in the week, we decided what we would do for my birthday.  Redecorate our bathroom.  We shopped for new towel, art, and a mirror on Tuesday, in addition to choosing a lovely shade of gray for the wall color.  My husband always surprises me with his design sense.  We were at the store looking for artwork and having no luck.  Gray isn’t the easiest color to match artwork to when you don’t want something bold or vibrant or outrageous that will jump off the wall and scream at you.  Or at least, that kind of artwork wasn’t available in that store.  Peter has Asperger’s disorder, which impairs his functioning and comfort in social situations.  As a result of his anxiety, I try not to take him to too many stores in a day.  One-stop shopping is always our goal.  Anyway, we were just about to give up when some plates caught his eye, stark white with black branches.  Perfect for the empty wall we hadn’t yet filled with towel bars or shelves or other framed pieces.  Like I said, he has an eye for these sorts of things.

Last night, he got really motivated and decided he wanted to put in a new toilet.  We had thought about it when we were at the store on Tuesday and even considered models we might choose to replace our dilapidated old one that barely flushes.  So we went to the store and debated between two choices, a traditional look with a trimmed tank cover and a streamline diminutive model with a closed trap-way.  After much ado, I got my way and we picked up the streamlined one and carted it off to the register with a few other things, including two new hoses for the water supply.  Why did we get two hoses, you ask?  Because we forgot that a toilet only takes cold water.

After lugging the beast upstairs, we slid it into the bedroom and opened the box.  It was really heavy.  Really.  Peter started  disassembling the old one as I was reading the instructions.  Seems easy enough.  But first, the old toilet had to go.  After a couple minutes the supply line was disconnected and the tank was off, leaving just the bowl behind.  He unceremoniously yanked the bowl off the floor to reveal a completely disintegrated wax ring and broken floor flange.  No wonder the old one wobbled so much.  We didn’t know how to fix the flange, so we just cleaned away the old wax and tried to resettle the broken piece in the right place.  It was hardly a good solution, but Peter isn’t easily deterred from home projects, even when we’re in over our heads.  New wax ring on the toilet base, line up the toilet with the new bolts and set it in place… seems simple enough, right?  If you have never installed a toilet before, you are certainly ignorant enough to think so.  After some grunting and groaning, we got the toilet seated properly and turned the nuts that were supposed to hold it in place.  Unfortunately, the damn thing rocked all over the place.  No good.  That broken flange was a real problem after all.  Nothing was holding the toilet firmly on the floor on the right side, so it constantly moved around as we tried to install the tank.  But we pressed on, connecting the tank to the base and starting on the supply line.  Wrong size coupling at the source end of the hose.  Back to the home improvement store for new hoses.  In the meantime while he was gone, I started assembling the seat.  Two plugs that held the seat to the base, which we had looked at before, had grown legs and disappeared.  I searched everywhere, but couldn’t find them.  And then I thought, “They’re probably under the toilet.”  Peter returned shortly with new hoses and I broke the news to him.  We searched again in vain, all the while with me saying that they were stuck under the toilet.  He didn’t think that was funny or possible.

We hit yet another snag around 10 pm.  The new hose was too short to reach the water shutoff.  Strike two.  I told Peter it was time to throw in the towel and call a professional.  I was tired.  He was tired.  We needed to clear our heads and clean up the mess and have someone fix the floor flange before anything could be done with the toilet.  The problem with that is we only have one bathroom.  One toilet.  Our only toilet now lay in pieces in the bathtub.  “I guess we’ll be peeing in cups tonight then,”  I said with a sigh.  He was so apologetic that you couldn’t really be angry with him, though I wasn’t angry in the first place.  I’m used to hitting roadblocks.  I’ve learned to be patient with life.  Peter, on the other hand, hasn’t gained the wisdom of years about patience yet.  He is five years younger than me, after all…

We cleaned up the mess and scheduled an appointment with a plumber in the morning.  At that, he decided he wanted to start painting.  I gave up and went to bed.  It was 2 am.  I fell soundly asleep quite quickly and don’t recall what he did for the rest of the night, but when I woke up two walls were painted and he looked a bit tired.  Then the plumber called.  “Not available to come until between 4 and 6 pm.  Huh.”  We decided to call another person and they agreed to come out in two hours.  Problem solved.  My husband went back to the store to return the first set of hoses and buy new wax rings and flanges and a hose of the appropriate length.  The plumber arrived shortly after he returned, huffing and puffing up the stairs and smelling of beeswax and booze.  I suppose that’s the best you can do with such short notice.  He got right down to it though, bracing the broken floor flange and setting a new wax ring in place.  He and my husband had the bowl down securely after a little fussing to line up the bolts with the holes in the base and tightened down the bolts to hold it in place.  The coveted hose, which was supposed to be the perfect diameter and length, was a bust, however.  “It’s for a faucet,” the plumber said with little enthusiasm.  The color drained completely from Peter’s face and then returned replaced with scarlet red.  Strike three.  With the difficult part having been completed, the plumber took his payment and hit the road after providing a few helpful tips about adjusting the water level before he left.  Peter and I returned to the store again.  Correct hose in hand finally, we returned home and finished the toilet install.  By the way, the plugs were indeed under the toilet, just as I predicted.  Peter decided to finish the painting after cooking lunch for us.  Chicken quesadillas.  So good.  Feeling under the weather with a sore throat and the sniffles, I decided to take a nap on the couch with the cats while he finished up.  When I woke up, the bathroom was a cool shade of gray and the toilet a pristine white.  It looked fantastic.  Final touches were in order.

We rehung the bars and shelves, hung the new mirror, and the plates (after a heated argument over how they should be oriented on the wall), followed by the new towels and shower curtain.  Everything looked absolutely perfect.  I placed the porcelain box with the elephant on the lid atop the toilet lid with a flourish and stepped back to admire the new look.  Here are some pics:

That’s my husband yawning after a long night of remodeling.  He looks like he’s trying to eat the camera, to me.  Notice the lovely shower curtain in the background?  Love it.

Apparently our cat likes the new toilet as well.  What’s not to like about a chair height eco-saver with power flush and modern styling?  I don’t know.

So that was my birthday.  After a nice dinner of steak and broccoli cheese rice  I’m sitting here telling this story to all of you.  I’m twenty-seven today.  And I got a toilet for my birthday.

Thank you for listening and goodnight.

On love

Today, my husband Peter and I are celebrating our first wedding anniversary.  This is obviously a momentous occasion.  This day has been nearly three years in the making and deserves some storytelling.  The day after Christmas in 2010, my cousin, who was visiting the United States while attending university in Indiana, and I headed over to the mall to enjoy some post-holiday window shopping and complete the necessary returns and exchanges of gifts for our family members who were too lazy or too busy to do so themselves.  Anggi and I decided to hit up Borders bookstore while we were out.  An important note: I loved this store to death and had no real reason to be there other than an unending thirst for new reading material.  I did not plan on buying anything, having just bought a boat-load of gifts for everyone and being relatively poor as a result.  As ritual dictates, I browsed the literature section briefly then headed over to the small science section in hopes of finding a new addition to the collection I had perused many times before.  There were indeed a few new additions.  Most notably, a set of scientifically-inspired coloring books which I assume were not actually meant for children but rather as a study tool for adults.  The cover says it all about the first volume I picked up from the rack.  The Microbiology Coloring Book‘s cover depicts the extraction of bacteria, in this case anthrax bacilli, from a dead cow, culturing the organisms on dishes and finally, in a mouse before purifying the desired strain.  This is not a pretty looking book for some child to mar with a rainbow of waxy shades, this is a book requiring fine motor skills, artist’s markers and a penchant for bacteria and viruses.  While my cousin and I had a good laugh about the contents, a young guy approached us and we all started chuckling about the book.  His name was Peter Uusitalo, which I found out after about a half hour of conversation there in the bookstore.  Shockingly blond hair and watery blue eyes, glasses, drab striped polo shirt and khakis, olive green winter jacket.  He looked like a dork to me, and after he opened his mouth, he sounded like one too.  Thankfully for both of us, I am equally geeky.  We chatted casually about the books we were interested in, our occupations, and other general catgories which are appropriate to discuss at a first meeting.  Anggi disappeared somewhere else in the store while we talked, presumably to a section more in keeping with her personal interests (she was a finance major at the time).  I gave Peter my number on a scrap of paper I had and he gave me his, along with his first and last name.  “Larissa,” I replied when asked my own moniker and suggested that we might get coffee together sometime.  That was that.

The very next day, Peter called to suggest a meetup at Starbucks to continue our conversation started the day before.  I agreed and  we met sometime around 2:00 pm.  We selected beverages, mine a caramel frappachino and his a white chocolate mocha, and sat down at a small cozy table to get acquainted.  His selection of drink reminded me of someone I once cared a great deal for, I made note of it but didn’t make much of it either.  We started talking about mundane topics; graduate school for me, undergrad for him (at the same College, mind you) including coursework and professors, personal interests and hobbies, etc.  Quickly things were becoming more personal.  Politics and religion.  Life views.  We were sizing each other up, or so it seemed.  Then the most personal of things, my mental illness.  I told him about my schizophrenia, and to my surprise, he didn’t bat an eye.  “Bipolar for me,” he replied.  The conversation continued on to family and friends without so much as a hiccup.  Relief.  He was young though.  How young?  Born in ’89 apparently.  Four, almost five years seemed like a large gap to span but I was okay with it.  Robbing the cradle, or so they say.  He and I talked for the better part of three hours before my family started to get concerned with my whereabouts.  We called it a night and walked to our respective cars after agreeing to meet again.  He was so easy to talk to, so academic, so interesting.  I could feel myself becoming attracted to him as the conversation progressed, but I wrote it off, citing the issue that my 4-year reprieve from dating had made me lonely and that I would probably be attracted to Stick Stickley should he have been worth talking to.  A second meeting seemed like a good first move.  The next time we got together was at a basketball game at our school to which I had been given free tickets by a student of mine.  The game was embarrassing for our team, but Peter and I were more interested in talking to really care about the devastating loss.  We moved on to coffee again.  After this meeting, I knew I had something for him.  Next time it was dinner.  Peter doesn’t like salad, but due to my enthusiasm about the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday, he decided to order it with his cheeseburger.  I can’t remember if I had a cheeseburger as well (most likely), but I do remember his salad plate.  Cauliflower, radishes, a small pinch of greens, and croutons.  Lots more croutons than anything else.  “Apparently he doesn’t like salad,” I noted.  Dinner was fun and full of conversation as before.  We hugged goodbye.  I was estatic.  He accompanied me on a visit to my good friend Elizabeth’s place, where we played Apples to Apples and drank some beer.  I didn’t drink, on account of the fact that I was driving, and on account of my medication.  He didn’t drink much either.  Another score for me.  Elizabeth later said that I seemed very attracted to him and that she expected something to happen.  She was right.  On our next date, he wanted to show me where he lived across the river.  We arrived in the condo he shared with his mother around dinnertime.  She was not at home.  After a tense moment of embracing tightly in the hallway, we started kissing and flinging clothes in every direction.  You and I both know what happened after that.  In the flurry of activity I barely took much note of his pale and well-muscled body, only the emotions and sensations flowing through me that I thought had long ago died.  Having sex after four years of celibacy is an interesting experience, to say the least.  We didn’t linger in bed, fearing his mother would come home and also being hungry, so we got dressed and headed off to find food.  Eventually Peter started spending the nights at my parent’s house with me.  He was there so much that his mother hardly saw him at all.

Fast-forward about six months.  Peter and I watched a wedding show after dinner one night.  Before drifting off to sleep, we joked about the ridiculous behavior of the bride as she selected her wedding dress, planned a menu, and tasted cakes.  And then we started to discuss what kind of weddings we both wanted.  The seed was planted.  The next day, as I was working on some homework with him, he casually asked what I thought of the engagement ring he had on his computer screen.  He has good taste, it was beautiful.  I admitted that I too had been looking at rings earlier that day.  He asked me if he could take me to look at some rings.  With trepidation, I agreed.  It wasn’t marrying him that scared me, it was marrying anyone.  Could I ever make a decent wife?  Mother?  Everyone questions these things, but when you have schizophrenia, the prospect can be more daunting than usual.  Will he be okay if I get psychotic?  Will he just leave me?  But I was too excited about the prospect to think much about it at the time.  I casually dropped a hint to my mother that he wanted to go ring shopping.  She seemed surprised but played it cool, probably because she knew how nervous about it I already was.  On Saturday, we went to Northeastern Fine Jewelry to browse their selection.  Forty-five minutes later, we emerged with a receipt and loan papers.  The ring was beautiful.  Three stones, two smaller than the middle stone, and a trellis setting in white gold.  It would be a couple weeks before it would be ready to pick up.  I was absolutely glowing inside, but told my mother that I had just shown him the ones I liked.  I didn’t want to reveal the surprise.  After Peter picked up the ring from the store, he was bursting at the seams with excitement, as was I.  We wanted to get engaged as soon as possible.  Peter, however, had no real plan in mind.  He suggested we go to the park after dinner and I assumed this was the big moment.  But it was late and he asked if there was another park nearby.  I didn’t know what to say.  Had he not thought this out?  There was a park not too far away and we pulled into the parking lot.  Right there, in the hot parking lot in his car, he started to take out the ring.  “This isn’t the place,” I told him, but I was deeply hurt by his lack of planning.  I demanded that he take me home and think about what he was doing before he did it next time.  Sobbing, I ran into the house and into the arms of my mother.  She calmed me down and reasoned with me about the situation.  “Peter doesn’t have very good role models for romance, you know that.  I’ll make sure he thinks about what he’s doing before he tries it again.”  I was upset for sure, but Peter was in a Wal-Mart parking lot up the road crying his eyes out.  It would be hours before he returned to his mom’s condo.  He crept in unnoticed in the dark, feeling as though he would never be forgiven.  A desperate apology on my phone’s voice mail.  An e-mail expressing how sorry he was and how he planned to rectify the situation.  I managed to forgive him in a couple days’ time and we tried to act as if nothing had happened.  But we don’t tell anyone about that whole episode.  Because it is messy and unromantic, it gets hidden away with all the bad eggs of life to rot in its quiet corner.  I tell you about this horrible episode because it is life.  Life isn’t always a fairy-tale romance with flowers and chocolates and lace negliges and radiance.  Sometimes life is just that messy.  We would all do well to remember that fact.

On the fourth of July, Peter and I planned to attend the fireworks at the capital.  We were going to make a day of it.  After packing up a picnic lunch of chicken sandwiches, pasta salad, fruit, and brownies, we drove off to find a nice spot in the veterans’ park across the street and set up our blanket.  It was a perfect day, sunny and warm but not oppressively hot.  We laid out on the blanket and sipped iced tea, munched on our lunch over several hours and just waited for the festivities to start.  People continued to come and go but this park happens to be a relatively quiet spot to spend the day outside of the plaza itself.  Peter would later reflect that he was terribly nervous I would notice the ring box in his pocket, having nowhere else to keep it.  I noticed a bulge there, but honestly thought nothing of it.  Must be his keys.  I was oblivious, having almost forgotten entirely about the ring in the month that had passed since his botched proposal attempt.  As the skies grew dark around 9:00 pm, the first few rockets went off and everyone gathered as close as possible to see the show.  It was probably a little over halfway through the fireworks that he gathered the courage to pull the box out of his pocket and whisper those sweet words into my ear.  It wasn’t a gushing proposal, just simple and straightforward, so like its author.  “I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  Will you marry me?”  I grinned and happily said yes, the ring sparkling with each burst of color exploding overhead.  It was that special moment I wanted to have.  It was perfect.

That’s been me and Peter the whole time we’ve been together.  Sometimes it’s messy and you’d like to sweep a bunch of it under the rug, but there are sparkling moments where you wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  As we grow together, those moments become more and more frequent.  Throughout our time together, including the purchase of our first home (August 17, 2010) and our wedding this time last year, our relationship has been tested and cemented by countless trials and celebrations.  For better and for worse.  For sicker or poorer.  ‘Til death do us part.   But certainly not the end.

Victory cookies

There’s something in the air today that is making it a particularly pleasant time to be alive.  Or maybe it was today’s news.  A month ago, my advisor and I submitted a review paper for publication in an international journal with a decent readership.  I worked hard on it, read up on the literature long before I actually started working in the lab this summer, and I had high hopes for my first real publication.  Well, it turns out that our paper about nanoparticles and nanotubes used for reactive oxygen species sensing was a hit with the reviewers.  This publication, while being my first and establishing me as a real scientist, is more than a career milestone; it’s a personal milestone.  It’s been nine years since I began on this road, nine years since I graduated from high school and headed off to enter the world of higher learning.  It’s been a rollercoaster for me, as it is for most young people who are leaving the nest and going off to make something of themselves.  I’ve fallen off a bridge, been locked up in mental hospitals, killed thousands of fruit flies, had more surgeries than the average person has in a lifetime (and more x-rays too), and taken control of my life back from a handful of little people who populate my mind and pollute my every waking moment with nonsense.  I am proud of my paper, yes, but considerably more proud of how I have lived my life.  I am deeply flawed, as anyone who knows me knows, and frequently fumble through my days rather than march in an orderly fashion towards tomorrow, but I feel good about what I’ve done these past few years.  In 2009, I graduated from college with a bachelor of science degree in biology.  As I proudly limped across the stage to receive my scroll of congratulations, the only thing on my mind was not tripping and falling before I reached the department chair fifteen feet away.  When I gave the closing speech, my only thoughts were that I should avoid saying “ummmm” and speak clearly with appreciable volume.  But when I walked off the stage and back to my family in the lobby, all I could think about were the years of blood, sweat, and tears that went by while I pursued this degree.  Today I am reminded again of that feeling, the glimmer of pride that accompanies a hard-won battle.  Like all victories, this one is sweet and satisfying.  If someone made a very large chocolate chip cookie mounded with buttercream frosting (which someone has), they might consider calling it “The Victory Cookie”.  They might even turn that mound of buttercream into some sort of design of affirmation, maybe related to the particular occasion.  A cake would do nicely as well, for larger affirmations and those that require sharing.  Just a suggestion for all those industrious pastry chefs out there.  My victory confection would likely involve a large stack of paper and a highlighter.  Anyone interested in making my dream a reality?  I think I smell those cookies baking right now.  Or is it my imagination?