Fifty Six

For just a little update,

It’s nearly three in the morning, and I refuse to beat myself for my sleep. No, I’m beating myself up for something else (because why else would I be writing here again?).

Sometimes, in art school, I have this sudden panic that I’m not fulfilling my full potential of being someone smarter with a science degree. I learned in art school I am damn good at sketching, drawing, designing, and even writing, but I literally have panic attacks when I encounter something related to science. All my memories flood back leaving me trying to pick up what was left by obsessively reading Nature articles and understanding none of it. It is just like before. I become frustrated and regretful and read even more, looking up terms I don’t have to know anymore on Wikipedia and still not understanding those damn papers. I was used to do this when I was a science major, but now that I had a bad breakup with my last major, that habit usually comes with a pang in my stomach and near asphyxiation. I feel like I have a combination of Alzheimer’s and PTSD symptoms where I am afraid of recognizing the words and figures that caused me so much self-hatred and doubt. Then, I would feel lost when I realize I really forgot them.

Deep down, I have this secret dream that I shot down when I didn’t believe I could do it. I have a secret dream of becoming a doctor. When I was in high school, I had a turbulent personal life and used to print out the Hippocratic Oath and tape it to my wall. Now, through all the withdrawals and “adventures”,  I might be a different kind of doctor whose path to medicine is more curved than the usual “track.” I want to be the doctor who lived a great life and found great love before serving life, death, and wellness. I want to be a doctor who can draw and sing, the type that can tell when patients are thirsty or too cold, or scared or excited. Whenever I look at the possibilities of maybe going back to regular studying and using some of my old science credits to take a shot at medical school, I have this secret smile, because I know, as a designer, I am learning what it means to care for people by creating for them. Then, I am happy, because that girl who used to read the Hippocratic Oath to herself everyday gets a hug.


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 Seven

Although I’m still a rising junior,

I’m already deciding to take a year off after college. I need it. I need to just gather my life together after throwing myself into the sciences and getting out in pieces. Right now, I’m not sure I want to continue on this path of studying neuroscience, at least not in academic research. It’s slow, judgemental, and stifling.

I need a space where I can be creative and productive at the same time, and I need to work with people who I can connect with. I want to work with people who are just as passionate about the biological basis of neural diseases as I am. My idea lab would be a bunch of people with enough background on a subject to understand each other, but regardless of our status or experience, we treat each other and teach each other as equals. I don’t think I can find that in academia, where professors are scrambling for tenure, funding, and paper deadlines.

Yes, I will be dealing with similar things like deadlines and expectations, but I think an industry environment might be more lively. There might be clearer timelines, deadlines, and requirements, and I think a company is more open to change that an old professor stuck in his ways (mine isn’t, but I hear stories about other profs). Actually, I should take two years off before committing myself to a real career. I need two years off to get my masters and work in another lab environment. Not every school has a masters program in neuroscience, and who knows how competitive it will be. I can only hope they will take me as I am as I learn a little more everyday in lab, however painfully.

Mostly, I need space to explore. While taking classes, I can — who knows — work at Francesca’s or Khol’s or Barnes and Nobles or the library or an after school tutoring program. Being in a master’s program can help me look for something I love without feeling like I’m letting myself go (intellectually. Physically? Let’s not talk about that…).


Thirty Six

So it’s been a while,

Because it’s been a while since I sat down with myself like this. This quickly passing summer has been to blur to me. I passed my classes, started a summer program, and most importantly, fell in love. I also called the suicide hotline again, thought about cutting, and cried many many times. And yes, I also had many moments of hating science and research and the whole damn crowd of people in the neurobiology building where I work until I finally got most of my shit done.

So some things haven’t changed at all. I still go to my therapist every other week (except that one week when I called the hotline), write in my diary when I feel like my life is crumbling (again), and fight with my mother (like on Friday). I still hate and love people at the same time and then hate myself for hating them at all. I’m learning to trust people with my secrets and feelings, and I realized that’s what makes me start to love them: trust. The other day, I spilled complaints about my PI and the grad students with some fellow lab members who I felt distant from and they felt the same damn shitty feelings as I did. Instant friendship.

But then I also realized, I need to forgive my grad student as well. While he’s supposed to be leading us, he does have moments of weakness that humble me as well. Today, I asked him for some edits on my abstract (due tomorrow, poor guy) and he said some edits and I asked, “So is it okay to say it like this?” and I recited an edited sentence. He mumbled, “Yeah, you’re a native speaker. That sounds good.” Well, at one point I wasn’t a native speaker, so I am not any better than he is. My point is, he let his guard down after he learned that I understood Chinese (when I nosed into a conversation between him and another international student about his crush, “Lemme see! Lemme see!”), and as a result, I feel like I can actually talk to him now. Also, that man needs to lighten up.

Thirty One

It must be that time of the day,

Because I can hardly motivate myself to blow dry my hair, pick up my things, clear my desk, and prepare myself for another hectic week. However, today wasn’t so bad. I actually finished something today and got started on my 10 page double spaced paper (aka 5 pages single spaced). I exercised: 70 squats, 40 sit ups, 2 minutes of planks, and 20 hip extensions. It’s not much, but I’m starting to feel productive and sane again. Plus, I threw together a friend’s birthday present, which took probably three to four hours today in addition to waking up late. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to put a little passion into what I’m learning, because when I write a paper, I’m not satisfied until I put my heart and soul into it. This doesn’t mean, I’m going to slave over it day and night. It just means I’m going to put a little personality into a paper about science.

Speaking of science, I’m starting to not be overwhelmed by scientific papers. I read the reading for genetics today for an idea what it’s going to be about, and I didn’t feel confused or overwhelmed or stupid. It must be because I felt very patient with myself. I know I’m a slow reader, but when I read something carefully, I get it like that. I always hated that, because I wanted to be one of those geniuses who can just flip through academic papers and say something intelligent. I am always a quiet understander and a quiet questioner instead of a loud presenter. Even if I become one of those people, I still don’t be satisfied, because I would want to be the person who wrote the paper, who did the experiment that I’m speed reading about.

So even if I’m smart or whatever, I’ll be bad at acknowledging it. All I know how to do is mesh my actions with my interests and use them to fuel and form my dreams. I tell myself that I’m stupid, ignorant, and I have so much planned for my mind to consume. That is one of the many things keeping me from killing or cutting myself when something goes wrong either inside or outside of my head.  

Twenty One

Thanks to my slowpoke phone,

I didn’t know that it was a snow day until two hours after the admin sent the e-mail notification. Ah well, I guess I needed the sleep, and hey, it’s a snow day! A day where I get an extra four or five hours to get shit done may be the only thing I appreciate about the weather here. This morning, I finished my breakfast and then just sat there, sipping Earl Grey and listening to music. I felt so content that smiled slightly to myself as I looked at where I am versus where I was last spring. Ah, but I don’t want to dwell on the past for this post. Let me talk about something else: study/research buddies.

It may seem like a dull idea, but my past experience with group work has left me bitter, distrusting, and misanthropic until this semester. I was very much the “lets also look at every little detail, so we can get an A” type of person while trying not to dominate the group. This was because in middle school and high school, I tried to take leadership roles, and everything either went to shit or I did all the work. I am still ashamed of those experiences (both my step-back approach last year and my indecisiveness in high school), but I’m glad I went through them.

I learned that I do like taking some sort of leadership role after I adopted this “I don’t give a fuck what you think of me as long as we get this shit done” attitude towards everything. Perhaps it’s because I’m more comfortable with working with first-years as a sophomore, but I like to break down our walls with humor and a “Whoops! We both forgot our textbooks” humility. I speed things along with “No fret! These are all the things we can get done right now without the textbook, and we’ll deal with the rest next time” to avoid the meeting becoming a complete waste of time and self-confidence. For my computer science homework and computational biology lab, I set appointments convenient for both my partners and me, asking them when and where their classes are so we can meet in a building near their classes. After all, as a sophomore with a comfortable single and a comfortable sleep schedule, I need to give my first-year lab partners some convenience.

Our meetings turned out pretty smoothly. My computer science partner and I finished three programs in three hours and as we submitted it, we agreed that we worked well together and it totally depends on who we work with that determines whether if a project is hell or a great learning experience. My research partner and I also break into personal conversations after we finished our tasks for the day to prevent our relationship from growing cold. So far, these projects have taught me that leadership doesn’t mean selfishness or generosity, just productivity and consideration.