Sunday, September 1, 2019

Week One of Grad School

So I've finished my first week of grad school, which I feel has been one of the most productive weeks I've had in a very long time. I've wavered between feeling completely overwhelmed and feeling slightly confident. It's definitely a challenge for me, but I know I'm going to have to communicate with everyone in my program to make sure I do as well as I can. We all have different areas and levels of expertise. I've already noticed how different this is from undergrad, where you could just go to class, keep to yourself, study, and excel. Speaking of Excel, I realized today just how much I've forgotten about using the program for stats/visual data when trying to work on an assignment for my Experimental Approaches class. I got it done, but I'm sure there is a much easier way to do everything. The assignment isn't graded, but it does give me an idea of what I need to do to get back up to speed. On the other hand, it's amazing how much simply working on a dataset will help you remember.

I'm finally facing real challenges academically, and that's kind of scary. But I've managed some pretty crazy shit before, so maybe I can do this.

Thanks to everyone who continues to support me in all of this. Every little reassurance has helped in some way. I never thought I'd be able to handle all of this while trying to move into and organize an apartment. I never thought I'd be able to deal with the long commute. But I feel energized, even when I'm exhausted. I feel both disorganized and organized at the same time, but I'm sure that will get sorted out as I settle into my routine. I'm still sad in a lot of ways. I'm worried about a lot of things, and doing a distance relationship is extremely difficult emotionally. But I know we will be okay as long as we prioritize communication and cherish the time we do get to spend together.

I'm not sure what tomorrow holds, but I may try to tackle the figures for the Journal Club article, even though I have one more week to take care of that. This semester is focused on molecular stuff, while next semester is focused on cognitive, which I would prefer. There's that need to collaborate to make sure I'm really getting the right ideas. I'm figuring out my weaknesses early on to make sure I can focus on them before they cause any problems.

I just might be able to pull this off. I'm sure getting back to the gym yesterday has helped to shift my mindset. I've been studying all morning, but I'm planning on heading to Freddie's tonight if anyone wants to join me, if I can get a ride home since the bus stops running pretty early (11 pm or so). I'm hoping to reschedule performances this week now that I have my exam/assignment schedules.

Monday, June 17, 2019


About two weeks ago, I opened an email that may change my life. Or it may not. I've been accepted into the MS program in Integrative Neuroscience at Georgetown. Most people would be ecstatic, and I am to a degree. But I'm overwhelmed. I'm terrified. 

There's no guarantee that I'll get the financial aid I need to attend.
The commute is going to be almost if not more than 2 hours every day, each way, unless we can find a way to get additional funds to support living at least a little closer to the city.
I haven't been in school in nearly a decade. What if I can't do it anymore?
There are so many little details to navigate before school starts (waiving health insurance, random forms, getting a school ID, meeting with people, orientation), and not knowing whether I'll even be able to attend is making all of that rather difficult.

I'm still trying to proceed as if everything is going to work out, but knowing that it may not is really taking its toll on me. 
That and I've been sick all weekend. 

If things do work out, my schedule will look like this before research hours (12-15 each week) are added:

Basic Neuroscience I (MW 9:00-10:40 am)
Journal Club (M 11:00-11:50 am)
Translational Neuroscience (Th 11:00 am-12:40 pm)
Experimental Approaches and Techniques (F 10:00 am-11:40 am)
Public Policy for Scientists (T Th 6:00 pm-7:30 pm)

I keep wondering if I'm ready for this. But I have to keep trying. I've waited almost a decade for this opportunity, and I can't just let it go now. The worst part about this is waiting for everything to come through (or not). It's hard to focus on anything else right now, including work, which is becoming a problem. I usually get perfect ratings on my jobs, but I've gotten two less-than-stellar ones in the past few weeks. 

I don't really even have much more to say. I just can't stop thinking about everything and needed to get it out.

Thursday, April 25, 2019


Months have gone by since I've written. It's not that these last few months haven't been eventful. It's just that my brain is way better at focusing on the negative than the positive. The highlight of April has been my Mr. Freddie's victory, which is also terrifying because I'm in the Pride show at a major queer destination in DC, and I know I have to knock it out of the park with this one. However, I've also noticed my mental health deteriorating rather quickly. If I'm not actively engaged with something or someone, I feel the immediate urge to scream/cry/harm myself in some way. That harm sometimes takes the form of considering drastic decisions, while it sometimes manifests more physically. Even when trying to engage in tasks, I'm incredibly distracted and unfocused. I feel like I'm constantly battling my emotions, and I need some kind of break. I was looking forward to this weekend to get that chance, but I will most likely be working instead. I'm trying to avoid going to the hospital until after Pride. I feel like I can do this, somehow. I've made it this far, and I consider these few months to have been a success. I'll be reaching out to some support systems soon enough because I know I won't be able to keep doing this on my own.

I'm trying to figure out the factors contributing to these semi-recent changes. I'm getting bored with my job, and there is no guarantee that this last round of applications to grad school will work out for me. Even if I am accepted, most of these programs don't provide funding, which means I will have to figure out a way to pay for it. I'm not even sure I'll be allowed to get additional loans, but I wanted to avoid thinking about that until I receive a decision. I work from home, so I'm isolated all the time. I feel no connection to this place, although there are a few people who make it worthwhile. Part of me fears that I'll never feel as connected to my home as I used to. I feel stuck. Life feels stagnant at best. What should excite me just terrifies me most of the time. These feelings are so strong that they interfere with almost everything I do. I haven't been processing speech well lately either. I keep asking people to repeat themselves or missing key conversation points. That alone makes me wonder if I'd even be able to handle grad school. I'm feeling overwhelmed at this very moment, and I just had to remind myself to breathe normally. The feeling in my chest/stomach just won't go away. I'm having a harder and harder time knocking myself out at night. Most of all, I fear talking about these things because there isn't really a good "reason" for any of these feelings. They just are, and I feel like there is very little I or anyone else can do at this point. The only thing that I seem to know is that going to the hospital has always provided at least some relief. If I do end up going, I won't be doing ECT anymore. I like my memories, even if a lot of them are pretty terrible. I don't want to lose any more parts of my life.

I want to keep writing because it's something to do to keep the feelings at bay, but what else can I say that I haven't already? I feel like I say the same things over and over again, year after year. I know I will never "get better", but isn't some level of recovery possible? I don't want to feel this terrible for the rest of my life. I want to feel in control again. I want to feel motivated and excited. I don't want to feel paralyzed or be incapable of doing the smallest tasks or making the simplest of decisions. I want to stop lying to everyone about how I feel. I want them to actually know that I've been doing pretty shitty, and that any help at all is appreciated. I want to find a therapist that doesn't suck. I want to find a doctor whose office I can actually get to during the day. My fiance's schedule has shifted, so I may be able to make another appointment with my old doctor. He's nice enough, but I don't think he really knows enough about me or what I've been feeling to help me. I always struggle with words during appointments, and most therapists/doctors have refused to read things I've written to describe my symptoms. Living in this area has proven rather stressful when trying to deal with my mental health. Transportation also kind of blows, but it's nice enough now where I can get to a few places on my bike, provided I don't get hit by a car. Having my gym right across the street has definitely saved me on more than one occasion. I'm doing better now, but I was starting to lose focus in the gym too. I'm still not where I feel like my mind should be, and that's how I know things aren't right. I've always been able to escape from the world for that little bit of time. It's always been calming. Now it just doesn't seem to be enough. I worry about medication changes, especially right before big events like Pride. I don't know how to deal with all of this.

Maybe this is the first step in dealing with it. I'm not trying to hide the fact that I'm not okay. I'm not going to be unflinchingly optimistic anymore. I need to be honest with myself if I have any hope of avoiding the worst. I need to be honest with the people who care about me. I do have some hope. I haven't gone this long without hospitalization in 5 years. Getting to that 2-year mark in November would mean quite a bit to me, but I won't be upset if that doesn't happen. Sometimes it's just necessary. I have my shows to keep me going right now. I may be terrified, but focusing on my performances and costumes lets me make it through some of the harder parts of the day. I just have to learn to manage the terror I feel about not being good enough.

I think I'm done rambling for now. I keep saying that I will write more, so maybe I should actually start doing that.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Just a Thought

Maybe this is as far as this journey is meant to go.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Inevitable

It happened again.

I just learned that November 1st is Autistics Speaking Day. And that's when it happened.

I had been getting increasingly anxious about transitioning from tap class to jazz class for the next month. We knew this was happening, and I'd been anxious to learn a new style. I've only ever been instructed in hip hop, and I'll admit my technique is a bit messy due to my original learning environment, but I don't think I'm too bad considering I learned to dance under a bridge with a bunch of kids from around the city as a teenager, all while hiding this from the people I knew because I didn't want to appear feminine in any way. I hid it for a long time because I still wasn't as good as I feel like I should have been. I've always had pretty unrealistic standards for myself, and that's what set me up for failure this time.

I couldn't visualize the class going well, which should have been a sign for me. I knew that a meltdown was likely. It was all so new, and with my brother's accident, the Pittsburgh incident, and the general stress of work and life hitting me all at once in the days preceding, I was probably at my limit. I went anyway.

The beginning of the class actually went pretty well. We warmed up a bit and stretched, and I'm pretty damn flexible, so it felt good to actually be good at something. But things got complicated quickly. Maybe that wording isn't quite right. The steps were easy enough, but my brain couldn't work to put them together in the moment, which only made me more frustrated and embarrassed. When we got to completely new things, I just couldn't even make my body move to try. I was apparently digging at my head, and I know I went to the corner and stopped making eye contact altogether. Jackson tried to help by telling me to "get water", which usually means I should step outside to collect myself, but I wasn't able to get that, or maybe I refused to. I was afraid that leaving the room would actually make it worse. I knew I needed to stay even if I didn't do anything. I was still taking in the information even if I couldn't move. I was still processing, still trying. There is effort even in stillness, even in chaos. That's one of the things that's been most difficult to explain. You may not see anything happening, but--in these situations--I'm honestly trying as hard as I can. Some of that energy goes into the task at hand, while some of it goes into making sure I don't completely fall apart.

The worst of it came at the end of class, when everyone started talking. There was a loud burst of laughter that startled me. I slammed my hands against the wall without being able to even think about it. I had no time to stop myself. I scared everyone. And then when they left, we fought. We'd made a plan to stay and practice afterwards, but he wanted to go home. Given the state I was in, all I wanted to do was stick to the plan. To finish what needed to be finished and feel like something had gone right. I didn't pay attention to his emotional needs because I was too focused on my own, and I made things worse. Maybe I shouldn't be saying this. But it's important to know that these things happen. We talked it out, and we both learned a few new things. But here's the thing. These situations, however infrequent they become, are absolutely going to happen. I can't change the way my brain works. I can only change how I prepare for situations and how I respond to them. In the moment, it's impossible to make those changes.

In spite of everything that went on, I'm trying to focus on what went right. I did not become entirely disruptive. I may have clawed at my head and stood in the corner, but there was no screaming. There was no banging until the very end, just that one time. More importantly, I'm not deterred from going back, and I am not afraid that it will happen again. It's almost as if I feel that the worst has already happened--that I can never look any worse than that. I have nothing to lose, and I still want to try. I still want to learn. I accept that things will feel awkward at first. I'm ready to try again. To start over. And I don't feel like running away or giving up. In addition, while my mood may have been off that night, I didn't stay in the "meltdown/shutdown state" for long. By this morning, I was mostly fine. This is progress. I know the things I need to work on, but I really have to acknowledge the things that I have been able to improve.

I also need to mention this before I forget. It's been a few days since I've had my lithium due to some issues with the pharmacy. And, other than the incident Thursday, I've felt fine. Not just fine. Better than fine. I have more energy overall, I feel more focused, and I'm generally happier. This happened the last two times we had pharmacy hiccups. I'm worried that the lithium is making things worse, but I'm hesitant to stop. I did stop taking both medications for a few weeks last winter, and that went VERY poorly, but I did so without talking to my doctor. I may mention it this time to get his thoughts. I've accepted that I may need the medication, but given how I've felt, it's worth asking.

My head is still spinning. One post-meltdown side-effect that I'm experiencing is this sort of eerie silence in my mind. It's not complete or ever-present. I can't tell if it's clarity or numbness, or a little of both. It still hasn't detracted from the overall positive feeling I've been experiencing. Needless to say, I've been a bit confused by my own emotions for the past few days. I'm hoping to get more words out as they come. I spend far too little time writing for myself these days. I'm sure I'll have plenty of time after surgery, which is in 67 days. Get ready for all the shirtless pictures. I've got 10 years of them to make up for.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Processing Attempt

This weekend, eleven people were murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue. My brain is still processing everything that has happened. Maybe there are no words anymore. Maybe there never will be. What do you say when you're starting to lose count of the number of times you've had to check to make sure your friends are alive? Welcome to Trump's America.

It's hard to balance my emotions right now. The weight of this tragedy, this administration's persistence in denying the existence and rights of trans people, and the emboldening of hate groups around the country have drawn my attention away from some very positive things going on in my life. As difficult as it is, I want to focus on those things for a moment.

Last week, on my mother's birthday, I had my top surgery consult with Dr. Ramineni in D.C. The process was almost effortless, and the entire staff couldn't have been more professional. I walked out with a surgery date. All I need to do is submit my letter. Here's the interesting part. Throughout the process, I've felt relatively subdued. I know that I am excited, but it's definitely not showing through. Maybe I'm worried that something will happen to alter my plans. Or maybe it's just been so long--so overdue--that it just needs to happen like any other medical procedure. Maybe I'm just ready. Ready to take my final step toward living my truth. Ready to feel the sun on my skin in the summer. Ready to see myself for what will feel like the first time, I'm sure. I don't think it will fully sink in until that day, or until I see the final result. The emotions will come in time. Knowing me, they'll hit me all at once.

I've talked with two potential grad school mentors on opposite sides of the country, and both conversations went exceedingly well. The researcher at UMD wants me to come up for a visit to the lab after I submit my application. I finally feel like I'm moving forward with my career plans, and I do have a good feeling about at least one program. I'm worried about the financial burden of taking a drastic cut in pay to attend school again, but I know that will be temporary.

I'm 30 years old, and I decided to learn something new. I started learning to tap, and after four classes, there are some things I can do up to speed with everyone else, and many of these people have been doing this their whole lives. I'm still a beginner, clearly. But I've learned a hell of a lot in a short amount of time, and my focus has increased overall. I'm doing more. I'm getting more done in general, and I'm slowly getting better at regulating my emotions. I've been on the edge recently, contemplating whether I should return to the hospital almost daily. The only reason I hadn't? Grad school applications and those phone calls. I needed to make it at least that far. Now, I can take a break from work to tap for 20 or 30 minutes, feeling refocused and energized afterwards. I want to see how far I can get. However, the class is shifting to jazz for the next month, so it looks like I'll be on my own for the most part, at least for a little while. If I had the extra money, I'd pay for private lessons. I expected to enjoy it, but I've fallen in love with it, and I really want to get better.

All of this has happened within this past year, and I think that's something to be thankful for. Right now, I'm also thankful that my brother is alive. He was in an accident last night and had to have surgery this afternoon. With all the plates, screws, and bone grafts, I'm worried that he may not have full function in his wrist/hand ever again, but it looks like he's going to be okay for the most part. I'll know more tomorrow.

I feel like I'm still trying to synthesize everything that's been going on. I still sort of feel like I'm struggling to keep my head above water, but it's manageable right now. Taking this break from performing to focus on school and my own life has helped, and it's given me the opportunity to plan some really awesome numbers for my comeback after surgery.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Grad School, Mental Health

It's been an exhausting weekend of performing and meeting with old professors/advisers to discuss my plans for graduate school. Luckily, my Sunday evening plans had been canceled, saving me the trouble of using spoons I just don't have right now. I have a lot to think about, and some of this feels like starting the process all over again.

My former research adviser noted that the main weakness in my application would be my lack of research experience beyond undergrad--pretty much what I expected as well. She also made the point that my research interests and desire to see my work put into practice when working with individuals with disabilities may align well with certain rehabilitation sciences programs, which may place less of an emphasis on extensive research experience during the admissions process. I've identified a few more program options over the past several days, but I honestly didn't expect to have to shift directions this much. I think I am still going to apply to my top choices in neuroscience/psychology while exploring these other programs.

I know I have a little less than 2 months to get everything in, but that honestly feels like such a short amount of time given everything that I have going on, especially if I have to contact a dozen or so additional people. I suppose I know what I'll be doing in my spare time this week.

Shifting gears a little...

I spent a lot of Saturday night following the show in a sort of trance, though I descended towards full-blown meltdown territory on the car ride back to the hotel. We had planned on staying out a little later, and I felt like I was fighting myself the whole time. I struggled to sit still and avoid screaming. I'm nowhere near that point this evening, but the urge to scream and thrash tends to come and go these days. I know I need a break. I'm taking one as soon as I can, while trying to avoid the need to say yes to everyone about everything. I'm scared that I won't make it. I'm scared that everything will fall apart again. I normally wouldn't even care, but I'm finally working towards something that matters to me instead of just getting through each day. But that's proving more taxing than I thought. I don't think it would be nearly as bad without the travel every weekend, and I know that's something that I'll have to consider in the coming months.

I feel like I keep losing my train of thought. I'm tired all the time but can't sleep. I wonder if this increase in medication dosage has actually made things worse. It doesn't feel any better, but I don't want to keep increasing doses because that's what always seems to happen, with pretty dismal consequences. I still wonder if I really need the medication--if I can resolve my issues by taking control of my environment more effectively--but I don't think that's a decision I can make right now. If the medication worked in a way that allowed me to do that, I could understand. It just seems to get me moving and out of bed, but with all the same mental anguish and anxiety. I'm so over all of this that I want to give up, but I also know that that leads to its own set of problems.

I don't know what the hell is going on in my life anymore.