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.

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Stress Resistant PhD

This may just be a rant from a young female graduate student because an older male professor made a statement about who should be “qualified” to get a PhD.  You’ve been warned appropriately.

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During a panel on the issues in graduate education, I believe the statement was along the lines of “The goal of a PhD is to teach students to be stress resistant. Students who excel in their programs can work 17-20 hours, and still keep going.”

What?

If that’s the “goal” of a PhD program, then forget it.  I agreed with the other goals – problem-solving, critical thinking, learning how to communicate effectively.  But becoming “stress resistant?”

First of all, what does that even mean?  Should I stop being human while I’m at it?  Have no emotions whatsoever?  Handle everything that comes at me flawlessly?

Getting a PhD has predominantly been about failure for me (which I’m told is normal).  So yeah, I get stressed often.  I get emotional often, which may or may not have to do with the postpartum hormones (not to mention the depression and anxiety).  I’ve even sobbed in my advisor’s office for a good hour (before I was even pregnant, so I can’t even blame the hormones on that one).  So if I’m supposed to be learning how to be “stress resistant,” I missed that class.  Forget that many graduate students have some degree of mental health issues.  Perhaps we should support the students better rather than presume that only the ones capable of handling stress will survive.

Second, apparently, to excel in my PhD, I need have the energy to work 17-20 hours and keep going.  I should apparently be breathing and sleeping science.  And of course, I should be dreaming about my project ALL THE TIME.  Because no one has ever heard of having a life outside of graduate school, much less a family.

End of rant.

Now for some more positive points…

I don’t believe that this professor meant that students with mental health issues shouldn’t pursue a PhD.  But his comments echo the sentiment surrounding academia – the idea that if you are struggling emotionally you don’t have what it takes to be in this field.  Because to be in academia, you have to be hardcore and assertive.  You can’t be emotional and show your struggles.

And this is exactly why women are driven away from academia and science.  Not that men don’t have these issues as well, but I can only speak as a woman in the academic setting.  We, as women, are in tune with our emotions, and they spill into everything we do.    It’s hard for me to split what’s happening with me emotionally with the rigors and stress of the day-to-day.

The lack of mental health support is not surprising, but with the increase of graduate students that struggle with this, you would think that we would try to solve the problem (after all, we are scientists), rather than tell students they need to learn to be stress resistant.  Let’s give them some resources at least.

You definitely need some amount of thick skin to get through a PhD.  You are faced with criticism and failure constantly.  But claiming that the answer is to throw yourself into your research to the tune of 17-20 hours per day is counterproductive.  Taking care of myself first, my family second, then focusing on my research has made for a much more productive researcher.  The reason being that I have the mental space to focus on research when I know that I’ve given to myself and to my family.  I don’t spend my time at work worrying about my daughter or worrying about my constant hunger.  I spend my time focused on the task at hand.

So I don’t think I’ll come out of my PhD stress resistant.  But I’ll at least be confident that I’ve given the most important things in my life the time they deserve.

 

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.

Babies, Stillness, and Jesus

Lily is quite the wriggly six month old these days.  The hour we spend at mass is spent attempting to keep her occupied so she doesn’t get too antsy and fussy.  So when we get to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, she tends to be pretty sick of sitting in the same spot.  Who would have thought that someone so interested in exploring could get bored?

So imagine my surprise this Sunday when the most beautiful thing happened.  It was my first Sunday mass alone with Lily, since RJ was home sick with the stomach flu.  So I was completely on my own.  She did well before mass started and through the Liturgy of the Word.  By then, we had read “Let’s Go to Mass” half a dozen times.  Right before the Consecration, she got really restless, looking around and arching her back, which are all signs of her becoming fussy.  Wrangling her while kneeling isn’t the easiest feat.

But just as the priest consecrates the bread into the Body of Christ, lifting it above his head, she pauses and turns towards the altar.  Utterly still, not blinking.  Then a few seconds later, she jerks her head and continues to look around the sanctuary.  I thought I imagined it.  But when the priest raised the Blood of Christ, the same thing happened.

Now I will admit that the bells may have helped gain her attention.  But the complete stillness in her eyes and body as she looked towards Jesus at the altar was the most amazing moment I’ve experienced with her during mass.  It makes me a proud Catholic mama.

She looked at the Body of Christ like she had seen it for the first time.  Like she was seeing Jesus for the first time.  She discovered the beauty of the mass without even understanding why it’s the center of our liturgy.  How awesome is that?

This little girl is teaching me a lot about appreciating these moments.  I’m constantly amazed by her uninhibited discovery and faith in this new world.  I wonder if she can see Jesus during consecration in a way we can’t.  Her innocence and ability to believe without inhibition is so powerful.  I want to be there, with that faith that doesn’t doubt yet.

I’ll remember this beautiful moment for a long time.  And I hope that her innocent faith continues for many years.  This Catholic mama is smiling because of it 🙂

Broken and Hurting

Note: This was written months before I even started this blog.  But I think that admitting to my brokenness is something that’s very important to share, as we women often don’t.  It’s easy to think, “Hey, she’s got it together,” but really she’s crying on the inside each morning.  So I want people to know my story about the mom who still cries sometimes when she drops her child off with caring strangers.

20160328_103623I’m writing. I think I need to write because this time has been super hard for me. I really struggled going back to work – and I can feel the Devil working on me from the inside. I feel the envy that he’s instilling in me as I look at other moms who stay home and look more put together than I do. The ones who don’t have to leave their child with strangers three days a week and pump in an environment that is male-dominated.

Don’t let me forget my blessings. I’m actually one of the lucky ones. I have a daycare that’s five minutes from my place of work with awesome teachers. I’m able to nurse my baby on my lunch break. I have access to a private pumping room, shared with other women in science. I also have an amazingly supportive PI that gave me a key to his office so I could pump if the other room is busy. And it’s a flexible work environment. So working only four days in the lab and from home the rest is a possibility.

But I’m not happy.  And perhaps that’s for many reasons – specifically the biggest one being my lack of trust in God and our broken relationship (entirely my fault, I admit). I stopped praying – really praying – months ago. Sure, I go through the motions sometimes, and I’m definitely still attending mass weekly. But I’ve forgotten how to connect with God, and that’s created some resentment. Resentment with the state of my life, specifically going back to work and leaving my baby with strangers.

There are a number of things I struggle with. And I think writing about them, even informally, is therapeutic. I’ve always struggled with journaling, perhaps because it’s almost too private. I need something more fulfilling, more substantial than just venting to myself. I don’t want an obligation to write, but I want to WANT to write. I don’t really know what’s going to come from this, but I think this is how it’s going to start.