Defense Date?

It’s weird to be at this point when I’m considering being done with my PhD.  I feel like the last five years I’ve never had a hard deadline to meet.  I didn’t have x number of classes to finish or exams to complete.  I just needed to get my research to a point where I know how to think about the problem and come up with a solution (and then publish that solution, finding, etc.).

But suddenly, I have a deadline; I have a date (ish).  And it’s all very overwhelming, but exciting.  I’m both relieved and a bit sad.  Because what am I going to do now?

I don’t have an answer, but the ideas thrown around seem to all contain one thing in common.  Writing.  I guess I have a creative side that desires something more than just hard science.

So I’ve spent a lot of time meeting with different science writers and communicators trying to figure out what I’m passionate about.  I go to networking coffee events.  I’ve even got a science writing workshop lined up this month.

And what I’ve realized is that there is a real need for scientists to communicate with other scientists.  Science is becoming very interdisciplinary.  Often, a biologist and a physicist need to communicate, but they speak different scientific languages.  So how do they communicate?  How do they understand papers from the other field?

But even bigger than that is how do scientists communicate with the general public?  How do we turn the black box of scientific research into an accessible, tangible reality for non-scientists?  That is an important question that I’m not qualified to answer, but I’d like to look into it more.

So here I am (almost) at the end of one road attempting to figure out the next one to turn on.  I’ll be spending lots of time in prayer and reflection, listening and hoping for God’s voice to point me somewhere.  Until then, I could use some prayers for good data, the end of writer’s block, and confidence 🙂

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New Year, New Peace

It’s taken me a long time to write this.

The year only started a month… almost two months ago.

I really struggled with picking my word for the year.  It’s the hip thing to do in the Catholic blogging world.

What if I chose the wrong word?

What if everything I thought this year would be wasn’t?

What if I failed at truly living out my goal for the year?

As my mind churned and churned, my anxiety heightened.  I found myself comparing myself to others – not feeling good enough, feeling like an imposter.  Who am I really to be writing a blog about motherhood, faith, and science?

Then I stopped.  I paused.  I thought about why I started this blog.  And it wasn’t to reach a huge following.  It was for me to share my thoughts.  I began it therapeutically.  So I could feel some peace in my mind and thoughts

And there it was: Peace.

How do I find peace this year?  What will I do to bring about peace in my life and to those around me?

As I thought more about this word, I found myself drawn to the words of Saint Teresa of Calcutta: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”

Peace is simple.  And yet for those who struggle with anxiety, it can be a mountain to climb.  I can go weeks without feeling a sense of peace.  But those moments of peace are beautiful.  It’s waking up before everyone else to sit in the quiet and just be.  It’s waking to nurse a baby in the middle of the night when everything else is still.  It’s the stillness in lab in the early morning when no one else has arrived.

So how do I find peace beyond those still moments even in the hustle and bustle of life?  And how do I share that peace with others around me?

 

 

Why we sometimes need a retreat…

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I’ve been pretty MIA on the blog front these days, so I’m sorry for those of you who keep checking up on me.

I just returned from the Biochemistry Departmental retreat with a big desire to write again, so here it goes.

Everyone needs a retreat.  What type of retreat might vary for each of us, but we all need one.  And then we need a retreat from our retreat. (Very much analogous to a vacation from your vacation, if you’re familiar.)

I just spent a single, exhausting night up in the mountains with a bunch of scientists.  My science brain was on the whole time.  So I feel tired, but oddly invigorated.  Perhaps it was listening to my advisor present my research in such a way that I was actually proud of the work I had done.  Perhaps it’s because I like solving problems.  But I think it really reminded me about how much I love science.  And I got the chance to feel those emotions again, without the pressure of research and career goals.

And as I was driving back with my thoughts, I cannot remember the last time I went on a personal retreat for my own faith.  Because sometimes it’s hard in this world to remember how much God loves us.  To actually feel His love.

And then I returned from the retreat to my usual day-to-day life – a one-year-old that won’t nap, work obligations, house cleaning, etc.  I realized that I wanted time to reflect on the retreat.  I wanted time to think about what I took away from it, what I learned, and how that will change my career directions.  But I didn’t have the time or the lifestyle for that.  So you’ll have to wait on that blog post.

How often does that happen?  We return from a retreat (or adoration, an awesome homily, workshop, talk, or whatever) with renewed desires, only to have our normal life take over.  The grand goals and emotions we had during the retreat take a back seat to our primary worldly obligations.  And it gets pushed aside.  The handouts that you were going to reread and reflect on end up in the pile of junk mail before getting recycled.  It becomes an afterthought.  Then it’s forgotten.

So how do we remember (or not forget)?

We go on another retreat.  We experience it again.  And again.  And again.

Until perhaps, we can recall the emotions of the retreat for moments during our lives.  At 3am, when a teething baby just won’t sleep, we can recall the utter peace we feel in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  When another experiment fails yet again, we can remember why we love science to begin with.

And if we don’t have that, it’s easy to get discouraged.  It’s easy to forget.

So we all need a bit of a retreat sometimes.  Maybe it’s just a few minutes for some people, maybe it’s a whole weekend for others.  But we should all find the time to feel renewed and reinvigorated.  Until the next retreat.

You Don’t See That Very Often

RJ and I just returned from a trip to the Bahamas (sans Lily!).  It was awesome, relaxing, and emotional for me (because who would have thought that I would be more attached to Lily than she is to me!).

I want to share this with all of you because I want to challenge you to do the same.

We were on a private island – CocoCay.  We sat down after getting our lunch at the buffet.  Thinking nothing of it, RJ and I make the sign of the cross and pray before we eat our meal.  For us, no big deal.

There was a man sharing the table with us.  We had just begun eating.  He leans towards us, and says, “No one does that anymore.  You don’t see it very often. Thank you.”

It took me a minute to figure out what he was talking about, but after I did, I had tears in my eyes because that is the first time that a complete stranger has mentioned our praying in public.  And I didn’t even get his name.

So I challenge each of you reading to encourage the people you see praying in public.  Say thank you.  Give them a thumbs up.  Go over and talk to them.  Because we should all support each other.  After all, we’re all sons and daughters of God, and a little encouragement is truly powerful.

God, Graduate School, and Ultimatums

I struggle (as I expect most people do) with waiting for God’s plan. It’s very hard for me to be at peace with the way things are. I’m consistently trying to focus on the next thing, and plan for the next next thing.

So when God left me waiting, I fought back hard. I would cry, begging for something to change. I would sit in anger because I believed I knew better. I would often wonder if He was listening. I even gave ultimatums.

One such ultimatum dealt with my plans for continuing graduate school. My frustrating situation (of being an overwhelmed 4th year graduate student) coupled with my anxiety and depression has left me bewildered about God’s plan for me. Is completing this PhD really what He wants for me? So I laid down an ultimatum.

If I end up needing to teach, I’m done.

It sounds strange because I actually really enjoy teaching, but the workload would be significant. Piling teaching responsibilities on top of research on top of juggling an infant – no fun, high anxiety. The clock was ticking as my funding was limited after this upcoming fall semester. More than likely, I would need to teach in the spring. And with our lab technician leaving, I was taking on even more responsibilities.

I didn’t really think that God would answer my ultimatum. It’s petty and childish of me. I imagine He watches me in the same way I watch Lily when she’s overtired and can’t decide if she’s happy or fussy. He knows better than I do, but I still fight it.

Oddly enough, He responded in a BIG way. Because my advisor called me into his office today to tell me that the biggest grant that we had applied for had been funded. It wasn’t just a small grant to get us through a year; it was five years of funding with the ability to renew. It was a grant where the odds were not in our favor (because we’re a new lab with minimal publication record). So I know that God has a hand in this because I am still in shock.

I also know that God had a hand in it because the first words out of my advisor’s mouth were “So you don’t have to teach ever.” I was floored with those words. I could hear God’s voice, saying, “I have a plan – trust me.”

So I’m giving up the ultimatums to God because He’s been really making things happen for me this month. In really big and unexpected ways.

Giving it all up

Sometimes we have to really let it go and let God.

I’ve always struggled with trust in God.  I hate the fact that I can’t fully let go (Thanks, anxiety).  One day I hope that I won’t struggle as much, but recently, I really hated what God was trying to give me.

It’s been a year and a week in the making, but suddenly, everything makes sense.  I can’t share fully the extent of the new changes, but they are definitely for the better.  And I never thought that they would actually happen.

I actually had thoughts of God abandoning us. Forgetting us.

But He didn’t, and that’s what’s amazing.  The minute I let it all go – He came in, and changed it all.

My Postpartum Depression Story

It’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. I meant to write this post earlier in the month, but better late than never I suppose.

I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety when Lily was 4 months old.

It all began with the thoughts of being inadequate. I felt like I was doing the mom thing wrong – Lily wasn’t sleeping well (Thanks, 4-month sleep regression). I sucked at getting any science done. I was a bad wife – the house was a mess, and meal planning was non-existent. Then came the tears. I cried every morning after getting up. I cried while getting ready. I cried after dropping Lily off at daycare in the privacy of my car. I cried while going to sleep for fear of repeating it all the next day.

But I was in denial that something was wrong. It didn’t matter how many times my husband tried to comfort me, support me, and tell me how great I was doing. I still felt like a failure. I still feared each coming day. I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings.

Then at Lily’s four-month well baby visit, I failed my postpartum depression screening. I broke down in tears in the pediatric office with the sweetest pediatrician ever. She hugged me, talked with me, and told me to contact my OB for some help.

I dreaded making that call. What would they say or think of me? I considered not doing anything, pretending it wasn’t a problem. RJ wouldn’t let me. I needed to get some help for myself and for Lily. It wasn’t healthy for me, and it wasn’t safe for us.

So I scheduled a visit to my OB’s office, and received my diagnosis of postpartum depression.

In some ways, it was a blessing. There was a reason for all my feelings of inadequacy. But in other ways, it served to push me further into depression. I was broken, and now it was official. The anti-depressant prescription was on my fridge for a few weeks. The sign of my mental health issues on display for all to see.

I hated trying to get better. But after a few weeks of a new sleep routine for our family, a supplement plan for me, and therapeutic writing when I’m in a bad place, I realized that I hadn’t cried in a week. Then it was two weeks.  Then I couldn’t recall the last time I cried on the bathroom floor while getting ready in the morning.

I’m still on my supplement plan, but my OB cleared me at my follow-up appointment. That doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days. The day of my committee meeting was one of those, but that’s a story for another day.

So for all of you struggling with postpartum depression or mental illness, you are not alone. You are stronger for it.  I know I am.