Identity crisis

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the future, and I’m a little lost.

See, I have come to realize that there are four environmental triggers for my depression:

  1. Stress (getting away from grad school should help with that)
  2. Lack of sunlight (moving to California should help with that)
  3. Being alone
  4. Too much unstructured time

Now, while it is true that I will (finally) be moving in with my husband, I will also not be working outside the home once I get to CA.  Therefore, I will be trading spending around 8 hours with people followed by 5 hours of being alone a day for around 8 hours alone and 5 hours with my husband a day.  Also, instead of having a job where people actually expect me to show up and do work, I will have absolutely no obligation to do any one thing at any specific time.  In other words, I will have alone time and unstructured time coming out my ears.

So, it occurred to me that, in order to prevent myself from becoming unhinged (again), I need a plan for my time in CA. I need to build a structure into my day and I need to make sure that I am either around people or talking on the phone to people or in some way interacting with people while my husband is at work.  Also, my psychiatrist has been trying to get me to exercise for years, and exercise is suppose to help your mood, so I am planning on working out three times a week (which will bring me in contact with people).

And then, there’s my thesis.

After brainstorming about what I need to do, looking up times and locations for things like knitting groups and churches and locating a Curves, I sat down with Google calendar and started putting together a weekly schedule, keeping in mind that I need to get sunlight, interact with people, and have a structure for my day every weekday.  Additionally, I wanted to make sure I continue to do all of the little things I find helpful, like being creative (with knitting and other crafts), keeping in touch via email, reading and writing blogs, and reading books.  And, I decided that working on my thesis for four hours a day wouldn’t be too stressful.  I also decided that I would get up when my husband gets up in the morning, that I wouldn’t work on my thesis or read blogs after he comes home (cuz the whole point of living together is to actually spend time interacting with each other) and that I wanted to make an effort to prepare and eat healthy meals.


Folks, there is not enough time in the day for all of this crap.  Seriously.  I tried fitting it all together within the above guidelines and it just doesn’t work.  Which leads me to wonder:

  1. Will I have to choose between staying sane and finishing my thesis in under a year?
  2. If I really need to do all of that crap to stay sane, will I ever be able to work 40 hours/week again?
  3. If I can’t work 40 hours/week, what the hell am I going to do with my life?
  4. How do I fit into society if I’m prohibited from working full time?

These questions have led me to further wonder:  what is my role when I am no longer a grad student and a bench scientist?  What the hell will I be?  I’m hoping a mom.  But that might not happen right away.  In the meantime, I’ll just be a woman with a PhD who can’t work 40 hours/week because she will go off the deep end.  In summary, if I am at a cocktail party and a person asks me, “So, what do you do?” what will my answer be?

I have no clue.

Mothers in science

Over at Mrs. Comet Hunter’s place, I found a link to a free online book: Mothers in Science:  64 Ways to Have it All (pdf download).

The book was put together by the Royal Society with this purpose in mind:

The aim of this book is to illustrate, graphically, that it is perfectly possible to combine a successful and fulfilling career in research science with motherhood, and that there are no rules about how to do this. On each page you will find a timeline showing on one side, the career path of a research group leader in academic science, and on the other side, important events in her family life. Each contributor has also provided a brief text about their research and about how they have combined their career and family commitments.

We hear so many negative things about being a mom and a scientist, it’s nice to see something positive for a change.

An unenviable position

Currently, there is a student in the lab who is preparing to defend in about two weeks.  Then, in the beginning of June, she will be starting a position doing science outreach.  Which is fantastic.  Good for her.

However, she has taken to saying to me (in the presence of most of the rest of the lab) that she really envies me and that she wishes she could have had the option of finishing the way I am doing it (that is, take off from the lab to write her thesis) and how relaxing that would be, and how lucky I am, etc., etc.

If she says any of that to me one more time, I may drop a PCR machine on her head.

I have pointed out to her that she will be graduating long before me (even though she started a year after me).  I have also pointed out that I will not be getting paid while I’m writing my thesis–this is my last quarter to receive a stipend.

What I really want to say is something like this:

“Look, you stupid bitch, I’m not doing this because I have a real choice.  I’m doing this because I am sick in the head and if I don’t do it this way, I’ll never get my degree at all.  God knows when I’ll be able to graduate.  God knows if I will, in fact, be able to function as a normal productive member of society ever again.  So shut the fuck up.”

This is a little unfair.  While everyone in the lab knows I’ll be writing my thesis in California, most people do not know why.  And, it probably wouldn’t bother me so much except that I know this girl and I know that she is deliberately doing this to point out that she is graduating and I am not.  And, that I hate, hate, hate having this stupid disease and I hate that it’s affecting my life so much and I hate that I’m different from everybody else.  But most of, right now, I hate her.

I cannot wait to get out of here.

Giving presentations

Last Friday, I presented at lab meeting for the last time.  I’m happy to say that it went well.  Since I’ve been having some cognitive problems I was a little worried about how it would go, but I was able to answer people’s questions without difficulty.

A couple posts back, Disgruntled Julie commented:

[F]or me, as long as I have some kind of visual stimulus to help remind me, I am fine. So, while I am utterly useless if someone stops me in the hallway and asks me a question, if I am giving a talk in front of my committee and I have a slide up with general information to jump-start my memory, I am fine. Perhaps you will find something similar, too? Sometimes during my committee meetings if I get stumped on a question I just have to go back in the slides to one that has some information on the topic at hand, and it is enough to get my brain back on track. I’d suggest it if you ever find yourself in a similar position.

This is really good advice, I think, not just for people with memory problems but also for people who get nervous when presenting.  Keeping her comment in mind, I made sure when I put together my powerpoint presentation for my lab meeting that I had enough information on each slide to help me remember what it is I wanted to tell people.  I generally try to do this anyway when giving a formal talk, but I’m not so good about it when slapping together a lab meeting.

This doesn’t mean that I had slide after slide with paragraphs of information.  That’s pretty much considered a no-no as far as presentations go and anyway, if you lose track of what you’re saying mid-sentence, glancing at a paragraph of material is not going to be very useful for you to get on track.  (Unless, of course, you are simply reading the paragraphs off the slide, but that’s a big no-no as well.)  But, I did have bullet points with a few words that highlighted whatever point I was trying to make and that was very helpful.

After having such a successful lab meeting, I feel a lot better about my upcoming committee meeting!

Migraine meds

In case you missed it, there was a pretty good discussion about the migraine med Topomax in the comments of the Things I learned last week post.  It worked well for some people, but the side effects could be quite spectacular (I shudder to think what would happen if my memory loss got any worse!).

I can particularly relate to the problem of aphasia that you guys mentioned because I have it as a side effect of another medication.  Commenter “it’s not all bad” described what I go through as a result of that to a T (because they’ve gone through it as well):

oh yeah, speaking of memory loss from topamax, the one thing i hadin that area, was a little aphasia, where i was always having trouble thinking of *one* particular word in a sentence. it was really frustrating. i felt like i was always playing ‘Taboo’ with people, trying to get them to guess the word i couldn’t think of by defining it for them.

Exactly!  I can’t wait to have my committee meeting while experiencing that little problem!

I think the most important thing to take away from the discussion is that you should always read up on the medications you are prescribed, particularly the list of side effects.  Some doctors are really good at telling you everything you need to know and some doctors aren’t so much.  You need to be proactive.  Ask questions.  Do your own research.

For instance, here’s part of a conversation I had while being examined by the neurologist.  I’m at a teaching hospital, so I’m almost always seen by a resident first and then the attending.

[ATTENDING]:  We’re going to give you a prescription for Elavil to help prevent your migraines.

[ME]:  What kind of medication is that?

[AT]:  It’s a tricyclic antidepressant.

[ME]:  Is it okay for me to take that along with the other antidepressants I’m taking?

[AT] to Resident:  What other antidepressants is she taking?

[RES]:  Wellbutrin and Prozac

[AT] To me:  You’re taking Wellbutrin AND PROZAC?!?!?!??!?!*

[ME]:  nod

[AT]:  Okay, well let’s give you something else, then.

In the end, I got a prescription for Gabapentin.  It seems to be working so far–I’ve only gotten one headache since taking it.  And it makes you sleepy so I take it at night instead of my sleeping med (so, no net gain or loss of pills).

The attending mentioned Topomax which is why I thought that’s what the sample was that he gave me.  But, upon closer examination, I have found that it’s actually Treximet which is a combination of naproxen and imitrex.  In any case, the ibuprofen works for my headaches which are usually not so severe as some of the commenters who took topomax.

It’s amazing to me how many people suffer from debilitating headaches (Zuska also comes to mind in addition to the commenters).  I am constantly thankful that mine are very rarely that bad.  I get about one a year where the pain is so bad I don’t think I can stand it, nothing helps, and I spend the day (or night because sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with one) vomiting.  Not fun at all.  I am so sorry some of you have to deal with that.  And I’m sorry it can be so bad you have to experience nasty side effects in order to get relief from the pain.

*Could he have sounded anymore incredulous?  Way to make me feel like a freak.

Things I learned last week

I have been having headaches 4 or 5 times a week for the last 6 weeks.  Also, I’ve had a decrease in cognitive function.   The headaches at least, did not seem to be related to my pills.  I decided (with much nudging from my psychiatrist) to see the doctor about this.  In the process, I learned the following:

  1. The nurse who draws blood at the student care center knows me on sight.  I found this a tad disconcerting but then I realized that I have been going there for umpteen billion years now.
  2. Also, I’m “the one with good veins.”  See above.
  3. Climbing into a ginormous magnet that seemingly has an interior diameter of about 1 foot is no problem at all if you have taken 2 ativan 30 minutes beforehand.
  4. If you’re going to climb into a ginormous magnet, it is a good idea to take your ID out of your back pocket.  Otherwise, when you go back to your lab building to get your backpack, you will find the card reader does not open the door for you anymore.
  5. If I take 2 ativan, I will sleep for 8 hours straight.  Furthermore, I can then wake up for 1 hour and then sleep another 6 hours.
  6. I have abnormally strong reflexes, particularly in my knees.
  7. Looking at pictures of my brain is super cool!  Everyone should get to see a picture of their own brain.
  8. I don’t have MS (it never occurred to me to be worried about MS until every doctor I encountered mentioned it–then I was scared to death!).
  9. There is nothing structurally wrong with my brain.  (Whew!)

Verdict:  I have migraines.  I would put this in the list of things I learned but I knew that I had migraines prior to going through all of these tests.  True, I had never had them so frequently before, but still, it felt a little anticlimactic.  I had the urge to say, “No shit, Sherlock.  Tell me something I don’t know,”  but I refrained.  I know it’s important to rule out anything serious, but I was really hoping I would get a little more out of it than, “You have migraines.  Here’s a prescription.”*  It feels a lot like when I went to get a sleep study done because I wake up so frequently during the night.  I spent the night in the sleep clinic with 20-odd electrodes stuck to my head and face, my head and face wrapped up in yards and yards of gauze to keep the electrodes on, electrodes on my legs, a strap around my chest, and–my personal favorite–tiny copper electrodes up my nose.  And they woke me up at 5AM to send me home.  Their big conclusion?  “You wake up a lot while you sleep.”  NO!  You don’t say!

Anyhoo, I now have another pill to add to my medicine cabinet.  But, because this drug is known to make people drowsy, I’m no longer taking my sleeping med so there’s no net gain or loss of pills.

P.S.  I realize the headaches are probably mostly due to  stress.

*I know, I know, they don’t know much about what causes migraines and it’s not the doctor’s fault, yadda, yadda, yadda.  That doesn’t mean I can’t be frustrated about spending all that time and energy and money on tests and doctors’ visits only to essentially be back at square one. Although I did get to see pictures of my brain so I guess that counts for something.

And as one the lab cried from the very depths of their souls: OH NOES!!!!!!1!!!!!!11!!!!!!

A new edict has come down from On High (that is, the Advisor).  From now on, complete sequences of every plasmid that is in our papers will be submitted as supplemental material.  Which means we need to have complete, annotated sequence files for every plasmid.

Advisor told me this little tidbit of news when I went in to see him with a few sample paragraphs of my Materials and Methods section which describes plasmid and strain construction.  Advisor had previously told me that he likes a very detailed M and M section.  So, I wanted to know if I had achieved the right amount of detail.  He told me that what I had would be fine because of this new rule had had just devised.  He further went on to tell me that this should not be much of an issue for me since he knows I have been making these sequence files all along, so I’ll just gather them up and if I email them to him he will convert them into genbank format.  He was not being sarcastic, the man honestly believes that I have annotated sequence files for every plasmid I have ever created (there are 62 of them, not that all of them will be in the paper only maybe a quarter of them).  I do have sequence files for most if not all.  But they are not annotated.  And if they are it’s in an obscure shorthand only understandable by me.

I casually mentioned this to a couple people in the lab and there were immediate cries of dismay.  And then I politely suggested to Advisor that he send an email detailing this exceptionally brilliant new planof his so people could start planning ahead.  Also, that I wasn’t going to spread the news because I didn’t want people to shoot the messenger.

The nephews

Last week, I went to Iowa to meet my new nephew (N-2nd) and hang out with his older brother, my first nephew (N-1st, who is 1.5 years old), who was staying at my mom’s (as was I).

N-2nd is really adorable, looks just like N-1st and slept almost the entire time I was there.  It is hard work being born and having to do things that you never had to do  before like breathe and eat and regulate your own body temperature.  Sis is fine, the labor was much easier than with N-1st, or at least went faster.

N-1st isn’t quite sure what to make of N-2nd.  At first, N-1st was studiously avoiding N-2nd.  He became much more interested with N-2nd cried, he wanted to see what was going on.

Since N-1st and I were both staying at my mom’s, we got to spend some quality time together.  I don’t see him that often, so he wasn’t too sure about me when I first got there.  He kept giving me the evil eye and walking really wide around me.  However, my mom’s house only has 2 bedrooms, so N-1st and I were sharing a room and when he woke up at 4AM and started crying, I picked him up and brought him over to sleep with me and he was perfectly okay with that.  So okay, in fact, that he started singing in my ear.  He did not listen to me when I said, “Hey, it’s four in the morning, stop singing and go back to sleep,” he just kept right on singing.  Honestly, though, there are few happier sounds than a toddler singing.  Anyway, eventually, he fell back asleep and all was right with the world.

Until we woke up.  Then he went back to giving me the evil eye and avoiding me for awhile.  Apparently what happened at 4AM was Crisis Situation for which he tolerated me, but in the light of day I was back to being untrustworthy.  After an hour or two of this, he warmed up to me and would let me hold him which was great.  We played on the computer and with this totally annoying toy which he loved but was about to drive me, Mom and Stepdad insane.

Note to self:  Do not get my children talking toys.  If some evil person gives my children talking toys, remove the batteries.  Seriously.  If that bus had said, “Let’s go!” or “Where are we going?” one more time, I was going to go off my rocker.

Anyway, I am back at school now, sadly bereft of small children.  😦