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.