Thursday, May 31, 2012


I discovered that Health Neuroscience is an option for a PhD program jointly offered by Pitt's department of psychology and the CNUP. It's like they had me in mind. I discovered this by searching for clinical neuropsychology because that seemed to come close to a way to classify the areas that interest me. I might actually have to talk to a real person to help me sort out the best way to tackle this application process.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Comes Next

In an effort to bring myself out of the slump I've been in for almost a year, I wanted to write about things that make me excited. It seemed easy at first because I know what I like, but when I really thought about how much joy those things have brought to my life in the past year or maybe even longer, I started to question whether they really meant what they had originally. Then I realized something crucial: That's kind of what depression does. Things just aren't as much fun, and even the things that you know you love and have a real passion for--they start to matter less and less. They stop being able to fill that emptiness, and then you eventually stop trying to use them for that purpose, which only makes things worse. I think my situation has gotten worse in the last two weeks because I'm out of medication. There is no Asperger's specialist in this area, according to my doctor from Pittsburgh, and I don't exactly have a primary care doctor anymore. I've been trying to push through without it, but I could tell that even with the medication, this shift to living back east for the first time in 6 years has been difficult. It's making that disconnected feeling a lot worse. That's how this all started, but let me see if I can focus on the things that have had some meaning in my life. Maybe I can reassure myself of some things.

Let's start with a simple list, without going into any explanation. They are in no particular order because I don't think of things in order. They happen all at once, which is why I feel the need to put everything in order outside of myself:

Working Out

I think that everything that I do/like in this world can be traced back to one of those four things.

This started out as a love of words, especially strange and/or archaic terms that my English teachers frowned upon throughout the early years of my schooling. I was told that no one could understand what I was trying to say, and my response was something like this: "I don't write for stupid people." I got a little better about using my vocabulary of peculiar words more sparingly, and once I understood how to manipulate my style for a particular audience, I started to realize how childish that statement of mine had been. For me, words have something that can be described as a kind of flavor. It's not just a connotation. It's something more visceral. Even words that mean the same thing can feel different. And some flavors don't mix very well, even if the definitions indicate that they make perfect sense when placed together. I'm sure you've read something before that has caused you to make the same face you would when smelling something unpleasant. (I just smiled at that, and I am all alone, with no one else to influence that. It came from within. Therefore, I know this is real. And that fact also makes me smile.)

I suppose I also think of words strung together in terms of rhythm. I think I have the rhythm of what I am writing set before I have the actual words. Then it becomes a matter of simply finding the most aesthetically pleasing combination of language elements. For example, in that last sentence, I felt it necessary to add "of language elements" because I felt like stopping at the word "combination" disrupted the natural flow of the sentence. It seemed to just stop. In order for the rhythm to be complete, it needed more, but it couldn't be just anything. I know this seems like a complicated explanation, but this usually happens instantaneously, and I think I have written this way for the majority of my life. I only started thinking about it when I needed to figure out ways to modify my writing.

I used to be able to diagram any sentence you could give me, and I'm sure I could still do that, but I'd probably have to look up a few rules for more obscure things. I was fascinated by the idea that language was so structured, and that every little piece had its place. I would just do this for fun back in grade school. Seeing a sentence like that really helped me to understand the subtle relationships between the various parts of a sentence. It was like math with words, and that is incredibly cool when you think about it.

I don't think I understood how vast the realm of nonverbal communication is until I was in my late teens, which is probably why I felt clueless in a lot of social interactions prior to that. Studying linguistics in college and learning to pay attention to things definitely helped. It's pretty beautiful how languages/systems of communication just seem to develop effortlessly. And no matter what restrictions we come up with, exerting pressure on the system to conform has little to no effect. These systems develop almost like living organisms, and this again is another analogy that makes me smile. Perhaps I'm smiling because of how easy it becomes to understand that everything in this universe is interconnected. I'm also sure that part of that is because everything in this universe is experienced through the same filter, but this doesn't make it any less interesting or awe-inspiring.

I'm particularly interested in how the human brain processes meaning. What are the neurological correlates of our understanding of the world? That's an incredibly broad field of research, and I think it would be amazing if you could figure out the exact signals and pathways necessary to produce a meaningful element. I want to know how people understand things in a biological sense. This isn't just fun-fact stuff either. Knowing these pathways can help us create better computer models, in addition to helping us develop better ways to teach the brain new associations. On a somewhat related note, I recently devoured a book called The Symbolic Species. The author's name escapes me right now, but it's a very detailed overview of the theory that what makes human beings unique in their ability to learn language is not a matter of basic intelligence but a matter of the evolution of a brain with an extraordinary capacity to learn symbolic rather than purely referential relationships. Once a basic set of symbolic relationships has been established, it then becomes possible to define symbols in terms of other symbols, and you can extrapolate from there. Again, I'm going to highlight the interconnectedness of everything by pointing out how amazing it would be to know the precise pathways involved in creating this initial symbolic framework. Wow. It really feels good to get to be a nerd again.

I started out with a particular topic in mind for this section, but everything got jumbled up anyway. It's hard to separate everything completely, so I'm just going to leave it how it is.

Random fact: There are sets of neurons in your body that are synchronized. They have a natural rhythm. Rhythm is visceral to the extent that it occurs at a CELLULAR level. I mean, there's also the set in your heart that keeps it beating...

Working out sort of fits into this picture I'm building too. When you're playing a sport, or lifting weights, you need to find the rhythm. Contemporary psychologists will often describe this in terms of "flow" or being in the moment, in the zone, etc. Also, I love being in control of that rhythm and the results my actions will bring. Not much works that way in life. I love being in control of my body, and I love watching other people who have control of their bodies in ways that are different from mine. I love knowing that particular changes will occur with particular types of exercises, and I love learning about the different ways exercise can affect the nervous system in general, not just the brain. The science of sport is something that brings everything together. Nerdy biology things, a passion for fitness, and in writing about it, I get to bring that passion into the mix as well. I don't think I need to say how important music is when it comes to any sort of physical activity, but I suppose it does make sense to mention that people have a hard time NOT moving when there is music playing. People like to be in sync with one another--emotionally, physically, name it. And I really do think this all goes back to the fact that our bodies have a natural rhythm, and it makes sense to want to extend this to other aspects of our lives.

For me, being synchronized with others makes me feel connected to them. I've had a lot of trouble building connections with other human beings, but drumming, dancing, even playing a sport with others and knowing how your teammates work have helped me to make up for what I haven't been able to do through ordinary means. If I can do something like this with someone, I will automatically feel closer to them, and I really do think I understand them better. One of the greatest feelings in the world is playing in a line and really being in the same mental space as everyone around you. It's like you really have created an open pathway that connects your brain to the brains of those around you. I also find it interesting that this is kind of how the brain learns new things. LTP requires synchronization. It's how you build connections inside. Why not again extend this into the physical world?

I could go on about each of these things for hours, but I've been able to remind myself of the things that get me excited. I didn't mention drag here because it is something different. I love my creative side, but that stems from the thinking side as well. You can't be creative if you don't understand relationships between things, and I think I needed to get back in touch with how I understand the world. This is probably why I haven't felt so creative lately. I love performing because it gives me a chance to express to others how I understand the world, and I can do this with music--with rhythm and synchronization. But again, I really need to get back to thinking about how I understand things and what makes me unique. Then I'll really be able to offer something people have never seen or felt before. It's another way of building a connection with people without saying a word. And it's beautiful. I've been able to understand a lot more about some people by watching their performances than by having conversations with them, and sometimes this is the only learning opportunity I have. But I like when people can do that. It takes balls and a lot of thought to show your true colors on stage without making completely obvious. The spice of life is in the subtleties.

I think a lot of this has helped me to decide that I really do belong back in academia. I'm a thinker by nature. Sometimes I can't turn it off. Actually, that's most of the time, unfortunately. This is what I do best, and it would be amazing to be able to do it for a living. But I don't want to just write research articles. I have a real desire to write informative pieces for the public because what good is the research if no one knows about it?! I like making science accessible to people. I like making overly complicated things a little simpler.

If I apply to grad school, I'm going to have to do this anyway, so I might as well give it a shot here. What would I study? What seems most applicable and still gets me nerdhigh? I want to know how the brain responds to physical exercise. I want to know how thinking changes during exercise, in the short term and in the long term. I want to understand the cognitive benefits as well as the physical ones. I want to work with people who are developing programs that utilize physical activity to treat mental issues. And I want to teach people about how their brains and bodies have to work in conjunction with one another in order to maximize one's potential and happiness. I learned a lot about this through transition--how important it was for the mind and body to work in harmony. A lot of things today interfere with that. I want to get my certification so I can train young people and perhaps whole families. There's a lot more to exercise than physical exertion. It's a social activity, and this is something that needs to be explored too. How cool would it be to base a social skills program around an exercise program? The brain will change its structure in response to physical activity, and I want to know more about this. I want to know how to utilize this in what I do. I know this sounds like a lot, but I think it all fits together. And it makes me happy thinking about all the good things that can come from it. I'm crying right now because I think I have it figured out, but I've said that before. But I've never written this extensively about any of the other things. I've never taken the time to put it all out there, so I must have thought it was important enough to devote all of this time to it. I'll never be 100 percent certain, and maybe I already had this in my head, but I think I need to go for this. I can never be sure it will lead to ultimate happiness for the rest of my life, but I will be happy on the journey. I will be doing things I love. And that is better than doing nothing at all, which is what I feel I am doing right now. I've been afraid of moving because I don't want to go in the wrong direction. But there may not be a wrong direction. I see a lot of GOOD things in front of me, and I can pick from any one of them, and I will probably be happy with any choice that I make. And perhaps I will think a little about what it would have been like to make a different choice, but I'm also doing that right now. I don't have to do anything. I don't need to do anything. But I think this is what I want to do. And maybe I want to do more than one thing, and that is probably normal. But I can't avoid making a choice because I like too many things. I would've starved by now if everything worked that way.

I think the hardest part about this is going to be getting the process started, and I'm going to worry if I'm good enough. I hope this is one of those decisions that becomes life-changing. I hope it's something I remember as one of the greatest decisions I have ever made. But for right now, it's just what comes next.

Monday, May 21, 2012


I'm having a hard time trying not to compare myself to other people lately, particularly friends from college. So many of them already have their lives established, and while things may not be perfect for them, they're starting to improve. My situation, however, is just getting worse. It's hard not to feel like I'm missing out or like I have somehow failed to grow up. I mean, I'm living in my parents' house without a job right now, and I can't even drive to the bar when I do manage to go out. For some reason, I've been struggling with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness for the past week or so. Everything just seems pointless. Since I know this is all in my head, I'm just driven further into panic mode because I think that I'm falling back into a severe depression. I wouldn't be able to tell you if that were true. I'm not sure what level of misery is justifed given the circumstances. I'm not where I want to be, and what's worse is that I have no idea where I do want to be. Even worse than that is this thought that keeps occurring at the most inopportune times--the thought that I may never know the answer. I suppose I might be afraid to make a decision (any decision) because I'm worried about being even more miserable than I am now. That's kind of stupid. I'm worried that I have no real human connections anymore. Since I've been away from Pittsburgh, I've started to notice people's attitudes change. It seems like I just matter less to people I thought really cared about me. And once again, I've gotten close to a few people that now want nothing to do with me. I'm getting tired of getting hurt, and I just keep wanting to invest less and less in personal relationships. This is also pretty stupid since I'm lonely as all hell. It's been so long since I've had a really meaningful, thought-provking conversation with someone. Maybe that's my fault for not having felt comfortable enough to do it. I wonder if I'll ever have that kind of connection with someone again. I wonder if I'll let myself have it again, and I wonder if people will be patient enough to let that happen. The odds definitely aren't in my favor. I feel so strange. I know I'm a capable person. I know I'm not stupid. But I also know that I'm not doing a very good job of managing my life. I wouldn't be in this position if I knew what I were doing. And I just don't see a way out of it that allows me to keep my sanity and feel good about what I'm doing--or at least feel confident that good things will come. I don't want this to be as good as it gets. I don't want to live like this for the rest of my life. I want to be self-sufficient, but I don't want to be alone. I want to have an emotional life outside of myself, if that makes any sense. Sometimes I feel like a fraud because there are a lot of people who look up to me, and they think I have my shit together, when I know that I don't. But I guess that's what being a good role model is all about. Maybe it's better that they don't know how miserable things can be. Granted, I'm not living in complete misery. I'm not unhappy with who I am or the things that I am doing. I am unhappy with the things I am not doing and do not have. There are things missing, and the emptiness is something I can feel in a physical sense. Fucked if I know what they are or where to find them. I don't really enjoy discussing this with people because it always turns into a discussion about the options I have available. I know my options, and reminding me of things I already know and am trying not to think about just makes me even nuttier. The problem I have is in the process of making the decision. What is preventing me from completing that process? Why can't I just pick a goal and go for it like I've always done? Well, maybe that's because it didn't work out the last time. Doing that is what landed me where I am now. Maybe I don't want to make the same mistake again. How do I know that I won't? Shit. That might be it. I don't even know. Sometimes I just need an excuse to get my mind going on something and my fingers moving. I couldn't sleep at all last night, and I feel like I'm going to throw up and wish I could cry. If only I could separate these physical reactions from the mental processes. It's hard to focus on anything when your body is doing the screaming for your brain. And maybe I'm just whining. I don't know. Definitely not going to kill myself. Should I just be happy with what I've got? Should I just accept that this may very well be as good as it gets and not worry about it? I don't know. I've never been an expert at navigating this kind of crap. I feel like it's something new every time. I don't have a library of experiential references or anything like that. I can't give a decent answer when someone asks me what's wrong. If things are too complicated I usually just say that I don't know. Or I'll tell them nothing is wrong because it's easier than trying to translate what is going on in my head. I feel like I am doing something wrong. I don't know what that is, though. I don't want you to tell me what the answer is or give me multiple choice options. I want to know how to answer the question for myself. I want to know the formula, the secret, the trick. I want to be able to do this whenever I have to in the future. I want to know if I did the right thing. It's still bugging me. I really do want to believe that things are going to be fine. I don't really look forward to things. I just constantly worry about getting through them. And I know this is not right. And my own family has enough shit to deal with right now. And I'm trying to deal with all of that extra shit too. Not working. I have a few other thoughts I don't feel like sharing because they might bother some people. I think they'd come across the wrong way, so I'm not even going to attempt to defend what I've been thinking. I really hope to write something happy here soon. This is getting a little old for me. I'm pretty sure that's why people have stopped reading/commenting, but then again, this is mostly for my sake anyway. Later.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Disconnected thoughts

Single isn't that bad if you try not to think about it. I feel like everyone at home is starting to forget about me or worse. Having a job will probably make things go a lot faster around here, but I still wish I could make more money. I'm back to seriously considering porn. I don't even want to go upstairs right now because I don't want anything to start. But I'm hungry and I need batteries. I am seriously having trouble remembering which things happened in dreams and which did not. I don't think that's a good thing. I could either be doing very well or very poorly very soon, so I hope that nothing bad happens to tip me back over the edge. I feel like I'm constantly holding my breath again. It sucks being out of Xanax.