True Roommates Check Your Hair For Invisible Lice

To put it as mildly as a spring sun strolling through scattered clouds, I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. I took my last final, possibly my final academic test for forever.

My motivation for studying plummeted while my chapped nose, used tissue hoarding, impossibly silent roommate huddled around the cheery music of The Great British Bakeoff. Add that to skirting the dread of fruitless sweat, and it seemed simple as to why I buried the hurried scribbles of corrected calculus to brave the more than evident germs so I could share Netflix and the couch with my sick roommate. I had studied much of the material for the past week so I didn’t have the same anxiety level as being chased by a bear. It didn’t stop my heart from racing at the site of the dangerously thin test either.

Polymer physics is by no means intuitive, the obtuse reasoning left me doubting every decision. Things only got worse when I started writing the wrong numbers. My brain would say one and my hand would write 3. I had no idea why I kept erasing and rewriting the same numbers over and over and over again. The thing that made my skin literally crawl was the slinking dot of friction moving through my hair. It couldn’t be a scary bug like a cockroach (the feeling wasn’t that large or leggy) but more like a single insidious parasite that could have thousands of children on my scalp.

I remembered feeling like this in the other precious vibrating hypomanias. I still couldn’t stop my hand from scratching dead flakes to fill my short fingernails. When I drove my roommate home after the test, I stumbled into a leap of faith and sheeply asked my roommate to check for bugs. Under the harsh bathroom light she patiently waded through the place where I had kept clutching my head the whole ride. She was monastically quiet through the whole thing because of her sore throat, yet that small action and reaction to the situation allowed me to not pander the fear that I was completely losing it. Gratefully the rest of the night has been creepy crawly free.


Avoiding Avoidance Tactics

After politely being declined funding and support to further my graduate degree from the university, wouldn’t you know it’s not exactly great for mental health problems? Actually that shouldn’t be a question mark. Easy fact: massive failure is enough stress to make even the most resilient person depressed.

I’m not exactly falling back into old missteps, but it did become very hard to leave my bed and do anything besides zone out to the soundtrack of six seasons of the Good Wife all with the occasional spurt of suicidal thoughts. So with the insistence of my psychiatrist, we upped my anti-depressant dosage. The results have been the most wild reaction that I’ve had in over a year to meds. I’ve gotten some nice insomnia (expected), loss of appetite (better than nausea?), hot flashes (my newest sleeping habit is covering myself in frozen peas) and paranoia about leaving the house (my personal favorite that I like to label as flavorful safety measures). Yet I’ve never had problems with dissociation during medicine increases or decreases.

I’ve felt a plethora of types of dissociation that are too long to go into now. But this- this is unbelievable. It’s like I can feel everything start to leave my body so I start screaming and trying to grab a disembodied hand. I plead to stay. I try to reason with it. I repeat the address and every fact that surrounds me. And true to over counseled patient form, I even managed to spill out the mantra that these are painful emotions but I cannot leave- dissociation is a coping mechanism and not a useful one.

It terrifies the living shit out of me. There aren’t enough rose colored glasses in existence to make the shrieking tears something that isn’t worrisome. If my therapist sees it as psychosis she’ll refer me to another therapist. I need to tell some one because the silence just amplifies feeling like I’m crazy.

I’m doing everything I can to not ever feel by nerves float away from myself again.

Inconsistent Insecurities?

The same exact joke that made me feel like eating my body weight in pizza five days ago had the miraculous casual tone of sitcom banter today.

There is a joke among my lab mates that my adviser likes me the least. Very reasonably so and not reasonably so.

Reasonably- I completely butchered my first two papers that I wrote in an attempt to summarize literature review. Butchered is putting it nicely because I was factually incorrect, tonally deaf, and had the organization of a toddler who can’t identify colors yet. I failed one of my core courses and dropped out of the other one last semester. I nearly had a break down in her office and I was only a few scratches away from piercing the skin on my left arm (which she was well aware of but decided to ignore). I’m not the best at replying to messages. And most embarrassingly, I tell terrible pun jokes that make her cringe.

And I know COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY. Seriously there are fifty million quotes biblical to Buddhist that share that sentiment. I get it. But for the joke it makes sense.  My other lab mate went to Carnegie Mellon with a double major in material science and chemistry. When I wrote a seven page paper, she wrote a twenty page paper. She fixed a website I had spent a couple weeks trying to fix in a single afternoon. With all the deepest respect and admiration, she is probably the smartest person (and most mentally stable) person I have ever met. The other lab mate is a freshman undergraduate who is sweet, and fulfills all expectations set before her, and has absolutely no strikes against her.

So the running gag becomes that if our adviser has longer meetings with us she likes us more, if our adviser tells us something about herself she likes us more, or even something as dumb as putting emoticons in emails she likes us more.

What unreasonably (or maybe reasonably, the jury is still out on a lot of these) I tell myself is a lot less playful and a lot more subjective. I tell myself that I’m too neurotic, I try too hard, and I take up too much effort. If my adviser knew that I had overdosed within the past year or that I used to self harm that she would know that I was too much of a risk. Or my personal favorite my adviser thinks I’m an incompetent idiot and wants me to stop taking money and finally get kicked out of the program.

Last Friday when my lab partner took a picture of my desk with the caption “slacker”, I nearly lost it. I not only when through the usual thoroughfare, but I also threw in some nice new ones to really upset myself. What if my professor starts yelling at me or completely gives up on me? What if I get too upset and she calls the cops on me to have me put in a ward? Why do I always seek the approval of older women? Oh right I had a mildly abusive mother. Man I can’t believe I’m still dealing with that shit. Nothing says fun on a Friday like spiraling through all my insecurities.

But I took the the weekend off. First one in a couple months that I haven’t worked at least ten hours. Watched quiet indie movies that had been cluttering my netflix account. Got my hair cut. Bought girl scout cookies and Ben and Jerry’s half baked. What could have easily been an isolated nightmare was really enjoyable.

Today I tried asking my lab partner about how to confront our professor about her less than stellar poster design. She turned her office chair back away from me muttering, “I’m not going to deal with that now, if not ever…”

I laughed without any guilt, “Well I’m her least favorite anyways, what’s the worst that she could do?”

And I really meant that as a joke and not self deprecation for once. The confidence will probably not last long, but it’s nice that the insecurities are quieter for now.

Sleepless in Not a Romantic Comedy

I’m praying to whatever god or genie or ghost that has full command of my sleep cycle, because I sure as hell don’t. I have memorized every infographic and article about sleep hygiene.

  • Make sure to stop eating, exercising, and ruminating about exes on a very regimented timeline
  • Avoid blue light like a reverse vampire after sunset
  • Calibrate the room temperature with the accuracy of three thermometers and your big toe
  • The use of guided meditation and reading is strictly prohibited because of the risk of subconsciously connecting those vital activities to falling asleep.

And I was convinced that I had this all down to a science. The blind obedience would appease the circadian rhythm. YET HERE I AM singing half portions of Hamlet’s soliloquy in flat warbles with a made up melody. A wonderful activity that would put me in the mildly concerning category to any sensible mental health professional.

I am beyond grateful that I live in a different room and a different apartment and a different city than a year ago. This was the first time that in the swirl of frustration and haunting isolation that I was able to think that life is still a gift. Running my hands over the folds in my bed sheets in the glow of a temperamental streetlight, was feeling that in the smallest speck of the universe I exist. Which even in the most careful words is not completely devoid of gibberish or poorly attempted profoundness.

I know waking up tomorrow will be it’s own nightmare and that fitting Gaussian distributions to polymer dynamics will most likely be even worse. I still have mountains of insecurities and psychological problems to solve. I don’t feel alone for once and it’s not because I regularly share the bed with a cat that refuses to share a quilt with me (although it helps a little). I wonder if there’s something that has grown within me that will finally stay through the pain.

I can only dream.

Avoiding Real Life Word Vomit

These last couple weeks I’ve been a hypomanic mess. No catastrophes of screaming in parked cars or spiraling into some horrible disfigured version of a panic attack that is incapable of being photographed into sympathy. Luckily no one has made me the rabid poster monster of some gruesome zombie asylum first person shooter video game. Yet there have been moments in crowds where I can hear every swallow of spit and feel the coldness radiating from their palms while their existence buzzes like an electron clouds. Entire afternoons wishing I had any ability to chemically inebriate the boiling concrete solidifying and melting continuously right beneath my ears. Yet this has been the first time in a long time that I feel like I’ve had my brain back, where I can listen intently to a lecture and put connections together. Creativity is on a lovely honeymoon with intellect. Absurdly enough I’ve started trying to write a novel again.

Every hint of possible failure paralyzes me none the less. I can’t help but remember that it was only nearly a year ago that I attempted suicide. I don’t feel suicidal. I don’t even have depression’s hotel or room number. But remembering those times is like lightly touching the top of the water and feeling the velvet pressure undulate in saran wrap delicacy. The dangerous thoughts do not reverberate through me but there are quiet whispers that remind me.

You were not meant to live. You should have died with the last overdose. You aren’t doing enough with your life. You still can’t love other people. You aren’t smart enough for grad school. You are a burden to everyone around you. You deserve to eternally suffer in a mental ward. You can’t ever have a normal life. It’s only a matter of time before you try to kill yourself again or are hospitalized again.

And I want to talk about my fears but no one in this city is at the point of emotional trust that I can safely talk with. Sure people know I have bipolar but there’s a completely different dynamic required to casually discuss mental illness.


Good interaction

Me: Yeah I’ve been freaking out lately thinking about how I tried to kill myself last year and how precarious life is in general. But like I know all of this stuff is unreasonable so it’s mainly just wanting to talk to some one about it.

Them: That’s super shitty. The guilt with that stuff can really wreck havoc. I know you’re not going to kill yourself and I’m glad you could talk to me about this stuff.

Me: Thanks I really appreciate it.


Most probable interaction

Me: So I don’t want you to worry and I don’t want you to freak out. I know I haven’t shared a lot about my experience with bipolar but last year I tried to- attempted to take my life. And it was a really awful time and things aren’t like that at all now. So many things have changed since then. Which makes explaining this kind of hard but a part me remembers that experience very vividly and knowing that I’ve been there before makes me scared that I’ll go back there again. I know this is really oversharing and I’m sorry but it is something that has really been bothering me. I’m so sorry. Thank you for listening.

Them: Uhhhhhhhh yeah. No problem. Slow crawl into a subject change with at least one minimally invasive question…

And I don’t blame them. It’s like trying to get change for a hundred dollar bill at a pop up fruit stand on the side of the road. Neither party is well equipped for the exchange.

The problem that arises then is trying to compartmentalize all parts of my new life away from the old one. The neurotic tendencies don’t go away though, it just translates into me trying to turn everything into a joke, or heaps of irritability, and an almost obsessive longing to have anyone look me in the face and comfort you. These days it takes all my emotional energy to hide my present and past mental state.

Do PhD Students Dream of Free Energy?

Trying to get an intuitive feel for Gibbs free energy is like trying to dream in another language. Sure I can mimic some sounds and I understand a few words but it’s a long stretch from literature. In mechanical engineering, there’s very little reason for anyone to understand the nuances between different types of free energy- hell there’s very little reason for a majority of people to even know what free energy is.

For many reasons I was not the best student in under grad, and I had the studying finesse of a toddler matching shapes. All I would do was memorize as many situations as possible hoping that I would have memorized what the teacher asked with relative success. It wasn’t because I lacked interest; I lacked time, money, and mental energy. So many alumni and professors would joke with the casualty of dulled war wounds that can’t be covered, “You don’t end up using any theory once you start your job anyway”. Reasonably, the herd mentality of futility was palpable in every classroom. My rudimentary learning style wasn’t frowned upon as long as I passed my classes.

I always had the mental energy for dancing though, maybe because there was the possibility of no thought, but I put a lot of time and effort learning how to dance. Learning tango wasn’t easy but the progression felt inevitable- realizations could reliably be born of nothing. I had to build the skill and strength- my thighs were always burning, my ankles felt like they were going to fracture if the wind shifted too quickly, and the blisters on my feet ruined so many pairs of socks and hose with so much blood and puss that I questioned if I finally had the mental fortitude to become a doctor. And in all the pain and practice there were still moments were it would all make sense. I would piece together how to change my center of gravity and what was initially forced muscle strain became a fluid control of momentum. And there are no words for it- I sound like some horrible combination of white person who thinks they’ve discovered Korean BBQ and a person who lost 30 pounds from cross fit. All attempts to recount these moments incremental universal alignment sound overly pretentious and emotional and not an ounce as eloquent as I would hope for it to be.

Yet here I am wanting to try to feel math and science. I want to understand thermodynamic equations like mixing paint to create passable masterpieces. And statements like that make me sound like my roommate has been force feeding me pot brownies for two months, instead of a semi-competent woman who got into one of the top PhD programs in the country. So much of it hurts right now trudging through calculus and chemistry for glimmers of comprehension. I think there is a shred of insanity required to endlessly hope for something like a PhD. So I will roll with the obvious craziness; I will eat, sleep, and breathe these dense papers and textbooks until I can speak them all in my sleep.

Arts and Crafts for Sad People

I’ve been here before. Not on this sofa or tip toeing around paper mache and styrofoam- but I’ve done this before, trying to invoke some rush of productive hypomania to push away the feeling of loneliness. Who else wakes up on a Saturday morning to drive across town to go to Home Depot to buy six dollars worth of rocks to build a lightbulb terrarium? No matter what Pinterest or Etsy or Instagram sells you, no sane woman does arts and crafts without having a very thinly veiled pit of depression. The more time I spent sitting on the floor waiting for the craft paint to dry, the more I felt silly putty over saturated with newspaper ink slowly losing all elastic properties and  sticking into all the fibers in the carpet.

There’s more than twelve chores I could easily hop up and hum into productivity to shake off this slump. My current activity of binging A Girlfriends guide to Divorce fits into no one’s cutesy self care regime. I have to be at least ten years too young to find any of these women relatable but here I am moving four and a half muscles to smile at Lisa Eldestein. There’s probably a half an hour long window before the sun sets that I might be able to salvage the last half of this day for work.

Even my grey Garfield has gotten up to try and drink paint water. Might as well try and clean up.