I feel dead inside.

I’m going through one of those phases where I don’t feel anything except anxiety or nothingness. The anxiety isn’t the productive kind that has fueled most of my productivity in grad school; it’s the kind where all I can do is sit there and hyperventilate. If I’m not doing that, I’m sitting, staring, and waiting for time to go by.

It’s nothing alarming. I get like this pretty regularly. The timing is unfortunate, though, because my parents are coming to visit me soon, and I was super excited about it all spring, but now I don’t care. Once they’re here, hopefully that will change, but it’s sad because they never visit me, so this is a very rare, special event.

It’s also unfortunate because yesterday I found out that I was selected for a very competitive, very prestigious fellowhip, and I felt absolutely no excitement about the news. I put together a 75-page application last December, working with two faculty advisors and at least 4 different administrators. Over the last several months, I’ve worked my way through the various stages of the funding cycle. It was a very drawn out, very intensive process with a lot of work involved. It was a long-shot because last time I applied, I received a very low score and didn’t make it past the first stage of the funding cycle. I had fantasized over and over again about finding out I won the award, and it would bring me to the verge of tears because I was so excited about it.

Now I feel nothing. I don’t care. I read the announcement multiple times, trying to force myself to feel something, and even receiving congratulatory texts and emails meant nothing to me.

It’s one thing to go through phases like this. It’s fine because I know at this point that they’re only phases and if I can just power through I’ll come out of it. It’s sad, though, when special things happen that normally would be so joyful, and the experiences are kind of ruined because I’m not feeling it.

I’m sure when my parents show up, I’ll be super excited to see them, but the anticipation and excitement leading up to it is nonexistent. This fellowship award is permanently on my C.V., so it’ll always be there, but the moment of realization is over and it was wasted.

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Being an introvert isn’t an excuse

I’ve been pretty mopey in a lot of my recent posts because I’ve been left out of things and have been feeling lonely and unwanted. It seemed like people were being especially cold to me, and I didn’t understand why.

At the same time, I’ve been neglecting most social obligations, with the excuse that I just didn’t feel like being around people. This excuse is dangerous because honestly, I almost never feel like being around people. People tend to be understanding, but it has to be annoying hearing that. “Sorry I can’t come because I just don’t want to be around you right now.”

It’s been an easy justification for not going to things, but, as a result, it’s become harder and harder to actually show up to anything. Because of this, I’m helping myself fall out of the loop, and it’s contributing to my loneliness.

On Saturday, I received a text from my roommate, Tonya, asking if I wanted to go get beers with her and Mary. My instinct was to respond with a “no, I’m too tired, but you guys have fun!” Instead, I forced myself to go, and we met up with a bunch of other people and, because it’s never just one thing, we went to a party at someone I don’t know’s house afterwards.

None of it was fun. I spent 2 hours listening to everyone talk about their soccer teams, and then I spent another 2 hours playing endless games of flip cup that were just tedious for everyone involved.

I’m glad I showed up, though. I didn’t spend the night wondering if everyone was having fun without me, and it was just as okay of a way to kill time as watching reruns of Portlandia for the fourth time.

I need to keep forcing myself to do this so that I can stay and touch and keep some sort of social life. If I keep saying no to things because I don’t feel like it, I’ll never feel like it and I’ll never go and I’ll just keep feeling lonely and bored with my life.

I also need to take some responsibility for what’s happening in my social life. I get all mopey, saying people are being mean when I’m not included, but I don’t put any effort into things. I wait for a personal invite from people, and I never invite anyone to do things with me. If I am being excluded from things, maybe it’s because I come across as cold to other people and that’s why they don’t want me there.

I decided I’m going to try to go back to how I was first year of grad school, where I just pretended to be extroverted. I won’t do it to the extent that I did back then because it was exhausting, but I’ll do it just enough to be a good friend and to keep myself from feeling so sad all the time. Hopefully it won’t be as hard as it’s sounding right now…

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Why does this keep happening?

Two weeks ago, the night before I was leaving for the conference, I got home from lab and ran into my roommate. I keep using different names for my roommates, but whatever. In this post, their names are Lisa and Tonya. I run into Lisa, and we have a nice conversation, talking about her new internship, computer programming, the upcoming conference, etc. Tonya was in her room with the door closed. After talking to Lisa in the hallway for a while, I go into my room to start packing (with my door still wide open), and Lisa goes downstairs to get water or something.

Lisa comes back up a few minutes later, knocks on Tonya’s door and calls “Ton, do you want to go on a walk with me?” Pause. “Ton? Want to go for a walk?”

Tonya answers, “Yeah!” and opens the door. “Give me five minutes to get ready!” They talk about how nice and refreshing a walk will be, and I wait patiently in my room (which is about 5 paces away from them) for them to ask me if I want to go. They never do.

As Tonya is putting her shoes on, she starts talking about something that happened to a lab-mate recently. I had heard part of this story before, so I joined into the conversation, asking follow-up details. We talk about it for just a few minutes, then Tonya says, “Okay, I’m ready to go.” They continue the topic as they’re walking down the stairs, and Tonya says something about a health condition.

I say (while they’re still at the top of the stairs and I’m standing in the hallway) “Wait, is Judy okay?”

The two of them continue talking without acknowledging me.

“Wait, real quick before you go, what’s going on with Judy?”

Again, they continue talking without any indication that they even heard me, while I’m literally just a few feet away.

I try one more time. “Tonya, before you guys go, can you tell me what happened with Judy?”

Still no response, and by this time, they’re at the bottom of the stairs still carrying on their conversation.

I go back into my room, and I feel like I can’t breathe. I can’t even describe how terrible that feeling was. I was blatantly ignored by them and excluded from their walk. This is one of those many instances where it’s not just in my head. The exclusion is tangible and unexplainable by anything rational. I just stood in my room, my body numb, as I hear the front door open and them slam shut.

Then I started to cry.

I’m almost about to cry now just writing about it, two weeks later. It’s such a terrible feeling when my two closest friends treat me like this. I don’t understand why because we seemed to be on good terms since I had talked to them both quite a bit in the days leading up to this, and nothing seemed to be wrong. If you’re reading this narrative, it might sound like there was something wrong with Tonya that she needed to talk about alone with Lisa, but I don’t think that’s it because I had talked to Tonya a lot through the week, and she acted totally fine and happy and she normally tells me everything. And right before they left for the walk, she was talking all excitedly and smiling a lot, and after living with her for 3 years, I can usually tell when something is off, so I’m sure it’s not that.

They came back from their walk about an hour later. I was sitting on the couch in the living room. I had just ordered food, so I was waiting for it to be delivered. Lisa sits down in the chair next to me and starts talking to me about something. As we’re talking, she suddenly stops, looks at me, and says “Is everything okay?”

I nod and just say that I’m a little distracted, and then I continue the conversation. I knew that eventually I would need to confront them about what’s been going on, but I was just too tired and sad and I had to get up at 2:30am for an early-morning flight, so I just didn’t have the strength or mental capacity to talk about something that makes me so vulnerable.

My food eventually get delivered, and I’m like, “yay, finally!”

“Oh, I was wondering why you were down here,” Lisa says flatly.

What does that even mean? It was such a small, insignificant comment, but after everything that had just happened between us, it was the final nail in the coffin. I took my food into my room and ate in there alone while watching old episodes of Portlandia because I just felt so sad and rejected in my own home.

I guess it was good timing that we were going away for a week, but the three of us were all going to the same conference, so I’d still be seeing them, and it’d be in a context where I couldn’t really talk about what was bothering me, so it made things difficult. It was a nice distraction, though, I guess.

They got back last Friday. When I got back on Sunday, Tonya was home, so I talked to her for a bit, and then I went to bed because I was so damn tired. Monday, we all went to a movie together, which was very fun, and everything seemed to be back to normal. I hadn’t thought about the previous events in a while, so I was feeling pretty good.

Tuesday, I came home around eight and no one was home. Immediately, I get a panick that they’re hanging out without me, and I’m bothered by it the entire night until they both come home together at 9:30 pm, talking loudly, laughing, etc. They walk past me in the living room, say hello, and then go upstairs, talk a bit, and then go to their respective rooms. It bothers me because I have no idea where they were together. It could be any of like a million perfectly normal reasons, but all I can think is Here it goes again.

Wednesday, I come home around 7:30 and neither of them are home again. Again, I panic. Why do they keep going out at night without me? Why am I never invited? Where the fuck are they going? After about 30 minutes, Tonya comes in. She had been out running. We have a delightful conversation, and then she goes to her room. About 10 minutes later, Lisa comes in from a completely separate run, and we have a nice conversation before I go to my room.

Thursday, I come home around 7:30 and again no one is home. Again, I get into an irrational panic, but they come home separately, Tonya at 8-ish, Lisa at 10-ish.

I’m describing all of this because nothing is adding up, and it’s sending me into an irrational panic on a daily basis. It doesn’t make sense because nothing seems to be wrong, yet it’s clear that I am being excluded, but I’m not being excluded completely, so I don’t know what’s going on. I need to confront them about it because the irrational panic is by no means sustainable and I can’t be worrying every evening about whether or not they’re hanging out without me.

I hate writing about this because, even though it might be making me feel better, it hurts bringing everything up again and I’m on the verge of tears, and I still have to get through the rest of the day. I’m so worried I’ll get home tonight and no one will be home and I won’t know where they are and they’ll be out having Friday-night fun and I’ll just be sitting at home alone and confused.

I don’t know what’s going on, but I hate it and it’s making me so fucking sad.

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Conferences: get used to being uncomfortable

This is my fifth national conference since being in grad school, and my third week-long intensive conference. This one is the big boy that happens once a year that everyone in my field goes all out at. It’s been referred to as the “Wolf of Wall Street” of conferences.

Since this is my third year coming to this conference, I’m coming in with experience, and I have a better idea of what to do and not to do. My first year was awful. I was exhausted all the time, lost, in pain in my feet, head, shoulders, and every other body part, I felt fat, and I was super socially awkward the whole time.

They’re long days—breakfast meetings start at 7am, there are talks, posters, workshops, and lectures book solid until 7pm. Then there is an hour lunch break and then the corporate social hours until 11pm. My first year I was stupid and went to everything, meaning I wasn’t getting back to my hotel room until 11:30pm and waking up the next morning at 6:00am. Oh, and that’s a hotel room that I’m sharing with 2 or 3 other people.

Each year, I learned from my mistakes and made changes to try to improve. I switched from wearing khakis and dress pants to skirts and dresses because they’re more conformable and more slimming. I started going home right after dinner (which still ends up being around 9 or 9:30 because I’m a 25 minute walk from the hotel this year, but it’s an improvement). I started planning ahead of time the posters I would look at instead of blindly running around a sea of 500 posters each day. I stopped earing contacts. I brought multiple pairs of shoes so I could change them each day to alternate blister spots. I started carrying around a water bottle to drink lots and lots of water to reduce stomach bloating. (I don’t know why, but every time I’m at one of these conferences, I just feel so round.)

Still, with all of these changes, I feel so uncomfortable constantly. My feet are on fire right now, and the water isn’t helping with the bloating but instead giving me severe bladder cramps because I have to piss buckets constantly. My shoulders and neck are still killing me, I’m getting no sleep, and my face and hair feel super greasy and oily. I can’t network like this. I feel like I’ve been run over seven times. How could I possibly summon up the energy to network with royalty in the field?

On top of that, I can’t even get a fucking break while I’m here. I step out of the poster session for twenty fucking minutes to catch a breath and write this, and just now someone from my group comes up.

“Hey, Iris! Uh… what are you doing?”

“Oh, uh, just typing up my notes…”

“What notes? Why aren’t you at the poster session?”

“Oh yeah, I just stepped out for a quick break.”

“But the poster session is down there on the other side, isn’t it? Why are you all the way down here?”

How about you leave me the fuck alone. All of you. Ugh…

All of this makes me realize that, no matter what I try to do, I will always be uncomfortable at conferences. No matter how much alcohol or healthy food I consume, I’ll feel like garbage. It’s something I just have to accept. When it comes time to network for jobs, I’ll have to take care of that some other way because this won’t work. I can present my research because then I’m just riding an adrenaline high, and I can listen to talks because then I just sit there and listen and it’s pretty minimum requirement. Anything other than that can’t be done. Including enjoying the city.

I still like conferences because they’re a nice way to get new ideas and kickstart my research when I’m going through a dry path like I was this past month, but that’s all they’ll be for me.

It’s disappointing, but part of being successful is knowing your limits and capitalizing on your strengths. I’ll do what I do even better, and that will makeup for the rest.

But it’s only Wednesday and the conference isn’t even halfway over. This is going to be rough.

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I fangirl so hard

I mentioned this before, but I’m at a week-long national conference right now, and I presented my research yesterday as a poster. I was just hanging out, talking to a slow trickle of passers-by who were vaguely interested in what I was doing. There was a slight lull, and then, out from the horizon walks Bill Chen (name changed to not further embarrass myself), a prominent up-and-coming professor in my niche field. He’s only like thirty something but has pioneered so much in the field, and I’ve poured over all of his recent publications.

He walks up all casually, smiles politely, and starts reading over my poster.

I don’t know what to do, so I just keep staring at his face and his name tag, grinning like an idiot.

He glances at me and smiles politely. “This is interesting work you’re doing.”

“Oh, thank you,” I say, feeling my face get hot, probably turning bright red. “I’m a little nervous because I’ve read all of your papers and I feel like I’m in the presence of royalty.” This last part comes out all in one frantic breath.

He laughs politely, but awkwardly, then goes on to ask me some questions about the research. I have a hard time listening to what he’s saying because in my head I just keep screeching “oh my god oh my god it’s bill chen bill chen bill chen it’s bill chen oh god oh god…”

My advisor walks up while we’re talking and quietly starts taking pictures. Bill Chen’s back is to her, so she can’t see who I’m talking to, but I’m looking at the camera, making the face you make when you’re getting your photograph taken with a celebrity, while Bill Chen is still asking me what the detection limit of my method is.

My advisor then comes over to say hello to me, sees it’s Bill Chen, and then starts talking about some award she nominated him for or something, I don’t know. All that’s going through my head is calculating how long it’ll take for my advisor to send me the picture she took of me with Bill Chen.

She leaves, Bill Chen asks me a few more questions, we have a light conversation, and then he leaves. I watch him walk away, still grinning like an idiot.

I fangirl like this all the time, anytime I meet anyone vaguely famous or admirable in some way. I met David Sedaris twice. The second time, I was a 22-year-old adult, and I turned into this little pig-tailed baby with big watery puppy eyes that gushed “I wanna be a writer like you when I grow up!”

My advanced poetry professor in undergrad was a truly amazing professor, and he talked about his own poetry a bit, so I looked him up and saw he had a book of poems published. I bought the book and brought it into class one day. Remember, I saw this man two or three times a week for class, we talked during office hours, he critiqued numerous deeply personal poems I had written, and we got into occasional arguments about stupid things. However, when I approached him after class that one day with the poetry book in my hands, I melted into a soft puddle of 100% certified organic fangirl.

“Hi, um, Professor? I was wondering if you could…” I dig through my bag, though the book was carefully placed right on top. “Could you sign my book?” He chuckles, and signs it. “I started reading it and I really like the poems and you do such a great job capturing the uh… uh… moment,” I’m gushing as he signs it. “I totally understand how the stuff you talk about it class comes through in your writing and it makes total sense now.”

“Ah, that’s good. Here you go.” He hands me my book, and I repeat “thank you” over and over as I back out of the room.

Again, I see this guy all the time. Why do I do this?

A few years ago, there was a Thomas Jefferson impersonator giving a lecture at the local public library. I went to that, and guess what? Fangirl Iris came with me.

After his talk, I go up to him. “Uh… uh… President Jefferson? Could I get a picture with you? Your one of my favorite president and I really like how you took a stance against monarchies and you’re such a fantastic writer and you passed a lot of really powerful legislation while president…” My face again getting hot and probably very, very red.

This guy isn’t even anyone. He’s an impersonator. I talked to him like I was talking to the real Thomas fucking Jefferson.

Why am I like this? Why can’t I have normal conversations with admirable people? Why do I always end up sounding like a babbling idiot who can’t form coherent sentences?

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Travel Anxiety Part 2: It’s happening…

So I leave for a week-long conference tomorrow morning, and I just now found out that my credit card has been de-activated. The reason is because I was supposed to receive a new credit card by now, but I haven’t, and so now I’m getting a teensy bit nervous because I leave at 3am tomorrow and will apparently have to spend the entire week without a credit card. That was a lie. I’m actually really freaking out because all week it felt like my body was preparing for something really awful to happen, and now it’s happening.

Maybe it’s not a big deal. There’s probably a way I can contact my bank today and ask them to re-activate my old one for a week. I could also just go the whole week with a debit card, but spending a week on the other side of the country when my bank is a local credit union that clearly won’t be there scares me a little. It’s putting all of my eggs in one basket, and if I lose my debit card I’m mega-fucked.

I should be figuring this out instead of panicking about it on WordPress, but I can’t think straight right now. My thoughts are racing in whirlwind, and writing it out is helping me process things and figure out a game plan. However, time is of the essence. It’s 12:12pm right now, and I’m pretty sure the bank closes at 4pm, and buses are running on a weird summer schedule right now, so I’ll need buffer time to get there if I have to show up in person.

But also, it’s not as easy as just re-activating my old card I don’t think because my new credit card is supposed to be an upgrade from my old one, so now online my old one says that the credit limit is $0.00 and there’s a new account listed there with my theoretical new credit card that has yet to make a goddamn appearance.

Maybe I’ll head home early today and check the mailbox again. Sometimes mail gets stuck in the bottom of the box and we don’t see it, but an envelope should be big enough to show up so I’m not optimistic but maybe also it’s hidden in with the junk mail but what if it accidentally got thrown away and trash day is today so it’s already collected but I forgot to take out the bins but maybe one of my roommates did and oh god there’s just too many variables to process…

Also, I’m getting scared because I need to do laundry today, find an ATM to get cash out (which feels even more important in light of recent circumstances), figure out what I’m wearing while I’m there, pack, bus to a store to get travel-size contact solution, find something for dinner tonight, shave my legs (which takes a long time to because I only do it twice a year), and wrap up everything in lab.

Ugh, the stress. I should get started figuring all of this out because publicly having a meltdown online isn’t helping.

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Travel anxiety

I always extra anxious both right before I’m about to travel somewhere and when I’m making the final booking arrangements for traveling (like booking nonrefundable plane tickets and such). Unfortunately, today is a day for both because I’m leaving for a week-long in two days, and I’m booking my flight and hotel for a two-week trip I’m going on in August.

I’ve traveled pretty frequently over the past 4 years, anywhere from 3 to 8 times per year, so I would think it’d get easier, but it doesn’t. Right before I leave, I get worried about all the things I need to finish up before I leave, all the planning I have to do, and of course, packing. There is the intense fear of forgetting something or accidentally taking something you’re not allowed to in the airport. You have to be prepared for everything, but also you can’t over-pack because it might not fit on the way back. You have to make sure your clothes are appropriate and they fit, and You need to be prepared for all sorts of weather because you never know. And what if you forget an important document like your ID or credit card?

Once, when I was going through some rough times financially, I accidentally went to Vegas for 4 days with only $36 to my name. Luckily, it was for my cousin’s wedding, so I was around some distant family that could spot me, but my cell phone service ended up getting cancelled while I was there because the payment didn’t go through, and I almost lost my phone number. On top of that, I got my period on the plane, so I had to use what little money I had to buy over-priced pads and pain reliever at the airport during my layover. It was a nightmare.

Just last November, I went on another trip, but I didn’t realize until the week before I left that my driver’s license was set to expire while I was there, so I wouldn’t be able to use it to get through airport security on the way back. I rushed to renew it, and they voided it on the spot, promising me my new one would arrive in time for me to take it with me. Of course it didn’t, and I had to worm my way through security both leaving and returning from my trip with an expired ID and a printed temporary ID from different states. I had to get long, annoyed lectures from both TSA agents about how I should have had a passport, need to be more responsible, and they don’t have to let me through an other agents wouldn’t but they guess they’ll let it slide this one time. I was so worried I’d be stuck halfway across the country in a strange city with nowhere to stay, and I felt really bad about myself for not having taken care of things earlier.

All of this is to say, there are so many things that can go wrong while traveling. You’re left in a vulnerable position—strange location, not knowing anyone really, and without your safety net of possessions or the comfort of your own home. There’s no way to think of everything, and I’m not one of those people that is good at being prepared.

Typically every night for the week before a trip, I get nightmares about having forgotten something, being completely disoriented, getting lost, getting separated from the group, not having a place to stay, etc. This time, I don’t know why, but I started getting these nightmares back in March. I think it’s worse for work-related travel because you can’t just get by with what you have. You have to look presentable enough to be seen around colleagues, you usually have to present something (and oh my fucking god my biggest fear is losing the poster I need to present), and there are certain places you have to be at certain times. Furthermore, since my boss is paying for the traveling, I worry that I’ll screw something up and waste that huge chunk of money she is investing in me.

All of this is to say that traveling is just as much scary as it is fun. There are a lot of rewarding experiences you can have, but also so many bad things can happen.

And now I’m getting all worried about the list of things I still need to do before I leave, so I’m going to end this post here.

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