Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Terrors of Trying and the Necessity to do it Anyway, damn it

I've pondered, puttered, revised, rewritten, and completely scrapped a ton of blog ideas for this month over the last few weeks, all while preparing for an amazing opportunity and fighting off various illnesses. It appealed to my laziness to write a poem, but I was rather uninspired and figured anyone who reads my blog at all is likely tired of that kind of half-assed nonsense.

Then,I struck on the cheesiest idea ever: let's just write about the vague relatedness of everything going on recently... about the potential for change, and the necessity of putting yourself out there.

For those of you who aren't familiar with me, I'm kind of a huge nerd who fell in love with science and then had a really hard time making headway into future goals. I finished my bachelor's degree with above average marks at a decent university, and then entered a masters program at a rather prestigious university, during which time I struggled with some health issues whilst trying to juggle a brand new location, near-complete social isolation, and a grueling accelerated program that saw me complete 72 graduate credits in 9 months. It was stressful, and I made it through with only a lot of huge changes, but a lot of parts of that experience were really discouraging. I didn't do quit as well as I'd expected myself to do, and I came out of it struggling to find my place in the world (quite literally, as I was whisked away to another state by family so that I wouldn't be homeless and broke on the streets of Baltimore).

After a huge output of resumes, and an equally long list of rejections from applications to jobs and doctoral programs, I was basically feeling just about the lowest I'd felt since I was actually IN grad school. My insomnia worsened, I began to experience anxiety over little things, which was completely new to me. I became very withdrawn and my health waned. I barely left my bed,I barely ate. Even now, despite already being overweight, I lost probably upwards of 15-20 pounds just from lack of taking care of myself. As someone who has always had to contend with the state of their mental health,I saw the worsening of some aspects (social withdrawal, insomnia, headaches) and the addition of new problems (anxiety, mostly) as a kind of wake up call. So, of course, as an idiot, my first real approach was ignoring it until it went away. Which, obviously, it didn't,because that's a stupid idea and I already know that, but the thing about dealing with mental health issues is that,no matter how rational and logical you like to THINK you are, your brain may not see it that way. In fact, I know it doesn't see it that way, because in hind sight it always seems like I was just being silly. And maybe I was, but it was the kind of silly that my brain can process when I'm in a bad head space and really struggling.

Anyway, let's bring this mess current. I started reading way more science. I started going through old notes, reading my graduate textbooks,re-reading my thesis, looking up journals,and bothering my old professors until I thought I was ready. I threw out all of the old rejection letters (which I had mostly kept around to look at when I succeeded, and feel smug despite those institutions having no real knowledge of my success despite them). I revised and rewrote my statement of purpose and resume and CV, reached out to my recommenders, and generally decided that I'd rather continue to feel like a failure than to be the kind of person who gives up on their hopes and dreams.

And trust me, there were times when I came closer than I feel comfortable admitting.

The thing is, in the sense of dealing with bad days, or bad stretches of time, you can definitely work to get out of the funk. It easy. There won't be rainbows and puppies and long walks on white,sandy beaches. It's more like digging your way out of a cave in. It sucks. You're running out o air,and energy,and hope, but I have to say, when fresh air hits your lungs, you feel like a new person. This revitalization is what keeps you going back down into the mines, searching for those precious ores and generally working your ass off for a target. It's not easy for everyone to put themselves out there. I hate talking to strangers so much that I avoid most forms of social contact which I can't control almost entirely. Not that I'm a control freak by any means, but because I don't want to get stuck unable to extricate myself from the social responsibility or obligation. You have to be able to be uncomfortable, and not just step outside the box,but also sometimes burn the box and smear the ashes on your face like war paint. Sometimes, too,it's enough to carry it on your back like a turtle to duck inside when you need to breathe. Whatever you need, just get out there. You don't get any kind of success just dropped on your lap, and like everyone else, you will struggle to attain your variation of mediocrity, but you damn well better own that level and embrace your achievements and goals.

I'm sitting here now, exhausted from the physical strains of sickness and travel, worn down by the mental strain of being on my A-game and the constant feeling of being intellectually behind or below, and honestly, I feel invigorated. As much as my brain keeps telling me that I just need a win in the books to give me something to cling to, I think I needed to just throw myself at the problem again, and present myself in the best way, because knowing I need to adjust my plans still seems a far better option than being way too scared to try. I guess I'm going to blow my own horn a little, but I feel good for having made myself do this, and for how I presented myself. Even better,I just feel a little better about myself, because I think that this whole thing IS a kind of victory I can mark down in the books. Failing again would really suck, and it probably would put me a few steps back from where I am now,but knowing that I can rebound mentally,it's a huge help in playing the waiting game. And,hopefully, in a few years, you'll be calling me doctor, and we'll laugh about this. For the time being, I'm going outside my comfort one and being optimistic.

So go out there, give it a show. Follow your bliss, and don't be afraid to wade through some tough crap to reach the shores of whatever island of the world you view as paradise. It's infinitely better than watching from "not my first choice" island and regretting that you were too scared to swim.