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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Where I Start

I wish I was starting this out as some altruistic guide to those looking to start their grad school journey, or as evidence of poignant thoughts that I am narcissistic enough to believe demand to be recorded. Instead, I’m in my living room sitting next to my cat, irritated that I forgot to take my antidepressant, and debating whether it would be too sad to make a grilled cheese sandwich for the third time this week. I skipped classes today because I fell asleep after taking an advil to combat the blood clots from my less than benevolent uterus. The awareness of my inadequacy as a grad student and as a newly minted adult is harder to ignore than my period cramps- it seeps into the eye contact I make with my adviser and the desperate laughter after dark punchlines of my inevitable failure.

There’s no ignoring my past: a degree in mechanical engineering devoid of organic chemistry and quantum mechanics, a couple voluntary hospitalizations, several romantic relationships that ended with me convinced that I was a heartless bitch, and a family with enough health problems to consistently hit max out of pocket for five years now. None of those things were particularly easy, and many of them produced enough anxiety to keep me awake for days on end, but I fear that this may be more difficult. This week alone was it’s own brand of hell, surviving the breakup of the first woman I ever loved and then trying to make it through a meeting with my adviser being able to explain the most basic concepts of my research (a task I had managed to butcher twice already).

So here I am, marking the start line. This is where I admit that I have so much to lose and so much to gain. This is where I allow myself to be every bit as miserable and ecstatic and crazy as I need to be to get through this. And maybe whatever happens I can see the miles I ran in appreciative wonder.