Fifty One

Within a year,

I have done more than people usually do in a few years, said my mom. She was just trying to make me feel better, I know it. All I’ve done was get married, travel to China and Denmark, and change my career. I guess when you’re in your 20s or at least when you leave school a lot tends to happen within a year.

Currently, I’m in a love-hate relationship with my potential major (product design). Loving doing the thing, but I hate the people in my class. I just dislike people in general and I don’t warm up to strangers very well. The group last semester was fine, but this semester, I have to adjust to a whole new group of people, none of whom are that willing to be close friends with me. After most of my classmates from last semester left, I’m unwilling to make any steady friends until I get in.

Also, my career seems to be a lot of waiting and being on hold. I have classes Tuesday through Saturday except for Wednesday. My Tuesday and Thursday classes barely have any homework but I can never finish my work for Saturday!? That has gotten me down a lot. As a result, I’ve felt so inferior that I was going to quit until an admissions counselor told me I don’t suck. Everyone was happy to hear it, but the effects have worn off on me. Back to being depressed about my life and the increasingly nagging feeling that I should go back to some kind of normal school.

I miss writing. I miss reading. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I also miss science. I look at my old classmates sharing science related stuff on Facebook and I no longer miss science. Or, at least I don’t miss sharing pop science and trivial studies just to legitimize my career choice. At least I am being honest with myself when I say where I am now is leading me to what I want to do.

Forty-Seven: I QUIT/(medically withdrew from) COLLEGE. (Long post)

I have never been happier. I have been avoiding it, but I’m just going to go ahead and reveal what college I attended: Smith College. I don’t regret going there. In fact, I’m wearing my Smith sweater right now, because I almost graduated. I was two semesters away, but I decided that I didn’t want that 3.52 GPA with a B.A. Neuroscience that’s “going to open so many doors for me” (roughly quoting my concerned advisor) or whatever.

Let’s just say my relationship with Smith was toxic, and it was a happy breakup. The before I left, I hung out with my dearest friends I met in Bridge and a dear friend who I only knew for one semester. They were one of the top three reasons I stayed there besides needing to know I can do this college thing and also not knowing what other career I will have than a miserable one in Neuroscience or teaching biology. Might as well stay in miserable Western Massachusetts if I have nowhere else to go.

I learned a lot in my three years there. I might learn a little more if I stayed for one more, but that night, when I was working on a paper for Systems Neuroscience, I decided: I know don’t want to do this in the future now. When I worked on that paper, I got so frustrated that I threw my butcher knife against the wall, my hairbrush, tin jewelry container, etc., screaming. I’m pretty sure I woke up some of my poor floormates. Looking back on my semester, I got dry eye from all the reading I’ve done for the semester and cuts on my shoulder out of self-hating frustration at my Neurophysiolgy professor. I couldn’t live like this anymore.

I guess from the past year of going through all the rough spots with my boyfriend, I learned that life is too precious to be with someone you don’t love and too short to have a career that I am no longer inspired by. I’ve changed so much from that girl who wanted to do research, be a high school biology teacher and eventually, a university professor who cares for her students, because she (still) thinks neuroscience students are very special and intelligent. Being in the neuroscience world, however–the classes, professors, and overall research culture–broke down the last bit of curiosity and drive I had for the subject. I loved neuroscience, once, but I no longer have a future in it. In fact, I might have committed suicide before even getting a job (see previous posts), and my dean knew it. Don’t worry, the school put me on Lamictal (…will write a post later about my meds and being bipolar), thank goodness.

I made the exit the moment my boyfriend suggested I should do something with my artistic talent and taste, so I decided: Design. I have a good eye, and not only would preparing for art school heal me psychologically from three damaging years studying science at Smith, I can help make things instead of being stuck in a dead end job that involves no creativity for the rest of my life. I would work five years to a B.S. in Industrial Design or Product design than get a B.A. in Neuroscience in a year any day.

Thirty

To my surprise,

I finally had an accomplished week without a breakdown. I took two exams (one after asking for an extension), I actually communicated with a professor about my needs by asking for that extension, I didn’t slave over a reflection for a pass/fail class (I was able to let go), I actually understood both genetic lectures this week, and I completed my computer science assignment without any harm to my self-confidence. In genetics lab, I sort of freaked out, because we are going off schedule to try to get positive strands to show in our gels. And when I did, my classmates showed sensitivity and care. They talked to me in a careful and concerned tone, because they hear my frustration whenever a procedure changed from what is written on paper. Their care calmed me down. I wish I thanked them for that, but that thanks has expired.

Today, I spent my day downtown. I ate alone, I shopped for my friend’s gift, and I shopped for myself. It was a wonderful experience where I looked at cheap music, gifts for my friends, and potential places to eat or visit. Most importantly, it gave me the room to reflect how my week changed my attitude and to truly rejuvenate without feeling guilty about it.

I’m not letting my guard down though. My suicidal/self-harm thoughts didn’t just disappear after a positive experience or a smooth week, and I am content with them being there. Forget mindfulness or self-care – these terms are used so much recently that I think they are losing meaning for me. What I am starting to grasp is self-awareness, letting those dark just sit there and be washed away as I gather my mind and body together again. It’s like offering a truce to my dark self. I am not going to fight my suicidal/self-harm thoughts (because that only strengthened them and exhausted me), but I am not going to surrender to them either. Like my prescription taped on my wall for tranquilizers that I never took, I will use them as a reminder of my experiences, my healed scars, and my journey ahead. 

Twenty Two

After spending an entire day indoors,

I should have known that I was going to lose my mind. By 8:30 PM, I wanted to cry or scream and throw myself against a wall and bang my head until I pass out. I took this as a red flag that I need to shower and end my day or my body will end it for me. Now that I’m fresh and ready for bed, I’m still trying to process that familiar trapped, hopeless, frustrated feeling from earlier, because I get it almost every other night. This is a problem and a very dangerous feeling.

There could be several reasons for sitting there dumbly with my mind screaming and buzzing out of control: 1. Hulu 2. Silence 3. Dehydration. Since today is a snow day, I spend my free time catching up on Special Victims, New Girl, Bones, and Modern Family. When it comes to me and TV shows, I’m one of those people who goes through the entire emotional rollercoaster with the characters and laughing and emotionally sniffing for multiple episodes for four TV series may have resulted in emotional exhaustion for me. During the afternoon, I was listening to music while I did my essay, reading, and more reading. After dinner, I neglected to plug in my earphones, and I must have lost track of time completely, which would have caused feelings of self-blame again. Another reason for me being tired is not drinking enough water. Pretty simple.

So I’m going to find a solution to each of those problems: 1. I will just avoid Hulu until Spring Break or something, since I usually don’t watch it when I’m busy anyways. Lesson learned. 2. I will make a habit of listening to music – an activity I enjoy anyways – to avoid losing control of my time and feeling like shit, which happens whenever I study. 3. Drink agua. Again, other than feeling weary, I feel totally safe and normal now. I organized my day tomorrow, and I’m ready to face the cold again (sort of). One more week, and I’m halfway to spring break, which means I’ll be halfway to California. I can do this.

 

Nineteen

Just because I’m back here after taking a medical leave,

The past few days taught me that it doesn’t mean all my mental problems are gone. Unlike physical injuries that can heal, my depression, obsessive compulsiveness, and anxiety would haunt me until I notice one day they are gone. Until then, the best things I can do are waking, waiting, and sleeping and learning a new lesson every day.

Last night, I cried myself to sleep. Like I said, this weather is overwhelming. Also, I was so homesick for California that I started to regret coming back and the thought of quitting again sulked at the back of my head. Homesickness isn’t just a feeling a child gets at a sleepover. To me, homesickness is a morbid soup of not adapting to this cold town, attachment to my hometown, and a feeling of loneliness that not even my best friends can relieve. And to be honest, I’ve been feeling this since I got here, and the weather really pushed me off the edge.

However, logistically, academically, and professionally, today was wonderful. I had two research meetings, braved the cold with no breakdown afterwards, and felt okay after lab, which usually drains me. Now, emotionally, I need to be patient with myself, which I admitted to my counselor. I need to admit to myself that I am still healing everyday through my little victories of focus, forgiveness, and optimism. Even when I make a mistake or have a small case of PMS or SAD, it doesn’t mean I am in relapse. It just means here’s an opportunity for me to see if I can breathe deeply and solve the problem with smarts, bravery, or forgiveness. When I do, I know I am healing.

Eleven

Especially after my last therapy session,

I thought a lot about the past and future as I begin my ten day countdown to my return to the school that I withdrew from last spring. I stopped doing that, since I can’t think about it forever. Looking behind me and way ahead gives me lessons learned and a rough map, but it doesn’t prepare me obstacles and victories that are waiting ahead.

Going back to school should feel like a new start, but it is actually going into a dark and dangerous cave with nothing but a generic guidebook and a small flashlight than a hike. Hiking trails are often exploratory, safe, and mapped, and cave escapes are not. I have to journey through the dark towards graduating with my class, accomplishing all my academic goals, and being admitted to med school or grad school. I will run into professors that underestimate me, people I really don’t want to see again, and, of course, my recurrent depression, and I have to stop blaming myself for it. With the all the uncertainties and dead ends I will encounter, I need luck, reason, and resilience more than a plan and a makeover as I take risks to survive and sacrifice items I can’t carry anymore. In other words, I anticipate letting things go to know what I can gain.

Forget reaching the top of a mountain and enjoying a glorious view, all I want is to survive the darkness and appreciate everything that the sun shines on at ground level. I don’t care about the prestige of the schools on the East Coast or even going somewhere warmer like Texas anymore, because all I am aiming for right now is to come home to my family in Southern California, all grown up and ready to build the rest of my life here. 

Seven

Warning: Longer and more depressing post than usual.  

Last spring,

I cried in front of a teacher, and I have never felt so low. Actually, I started crying and quickly excused myself before I looked as helpless as I felt. At that time, I was sleeping through my classes as a result of depression, and when I finally mustered enough courage and self-worth to go to a professor for help, he told me that he couldn’t help me and referred me to my head resident and health services. It was a responsible and reasonable response. After all, he was just a science professor with research to do and exams to grade–not a therapist. I knew that, but my brain still made my eyes burn with tears. Then, all I could think was dammit I’m crying.

I remind myself of the omens of last spring whenever I start to repeat them, and today was one of those days. I was underprepared (as in less prepared than the meeting before with another professor, which went fine), late, and unenergetic for a meeting with a professor about a research opportunity. During the conversation, I learned that I was unexperienced for the lab, underprepared for the meeting, and overwhelmed when asked questions. I also noticed that my “little girl voice,” which meant that I was scared, and every word I mustered felt like a mistake or an empty gush of air that isn’t helping me. At the end of what I felt like was a very long research overview and rejection speech, he finally said I need to be persistent and acknowledged my initiative to contact him. That polite little mention brought up that heated, bitter feeling underneath my nose that always precedes me crying. After years of muttering, stuttering, and overall avoiding talking to teachers, I can send professors e-mails and walk into random professors’ offices for a conversation without stress that makes my head dizzy. My eyes became hot and my voice became shaky when I explained that, and I quickly made my exit after thanking him for his time.

I should never put any professor or employer in that situation just because I can’t take “no” for answer and think that everything is a pass/fail situation where failure is not an option. My feelings repeatedly get the better of me whenever I encounter or anticipate rejection, and then they spill out when I realize I am not enough for reasons I can’t immediately change: not enough experience, the healing state of my mental health, and my unpredictable anxiety. Then the crying feels as if I’m standing at the threshold of another downward spiral towards another breakdown, and I feel so ashamed of my incapability and irrationality. How can I deal with a challenging external situation when I’m scared that my sanity is slipping away? 

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