This is me right now.

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Sketch of “The Wounded Deer” by Frida Kahlo. You can view the original here.

Hello.

It’s been a while.

I missed you,

And I haven’t been okay.

I started grad school this fall. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that it was going to be stressful, busy, disappointing, and intimidating. However, I had no idea the psychological toll it would have on me. From the first week in, I have been experiencing extreme highs and lows in my psyche. Lately, the lows have become much more frequent, and it’s slowly destroying me.

At first, the stress came from having to join a group. That was all anyone could think about the first few months. Rumors were spread that there were too many students accepted this year and not everyone would get into a group. I spent the first three months agonizing over this. I felt inadequate. My research experience in undergrad was nowhere near as extensive as other people’s. I had no publications, my projects were largely unsuccessful, and my PI was a lecturer, not a tenured professor. I felt I wasn’t as smart as everyone else. They knew more about biology and more about the current research going on. I had recurring nightmares, I chronically clenched my teeth so hard I had headaches, and there was always a tightness in my chest.

I was also struggling with teaching. I taught two general chemistry classes, and I continuously felt lost and unqualified. I had to be an expert at things I hadn’t used or even looked at in years, and my students expected me to know everything off the top of my head. I felt vulnerable around them, like they had found me out and wouldn’t trust me. I felt that they were always looking for weaknesses, and every day felt like I was just narrowly dodging bullets and skirting by. Every day I worried that I would accidentally tell them something wrong and it would either lower their grades or cause them to complain and get me fired.

After I joined a group, I thought the stress would lessen a little bit, but it only intensified. I had to start doing research on my own with a project I knew little about in a lab that was entirely new. I was lost, and I didn’t even know how to get the resources I needed to get started. I still feel lost and like I’m not producing enough. Most of what I do doesn’t work, and it seems like everyone else is being successful and productive and independent, and I’m just quietly sitting at my computer hyperventilating. I feel like I’m in over my head, like I slipped through the cracks or pulled wool over people’s eyes to get myself in here and now I’m being found out. Most of all, I’m terrified.

While a lot of the arrows are from grad school, a lot are also from myself. I’ve been slowly destroying myself from the inside out (and the outside in). I’ve been internalizing my stress in unhealthy ways. I’ve been drinking too much coffee—enough that I shake, get tunnel vision, and hyperventilate more frequently. I go through cycles of starving myself and then binge eating to painful limits. I sometimes take ibuprofen just for the feeling of lightness it gives me. I’ve been shying away from relationships with people close to me. I’ve been drinking repeatedly to a point of blacking out. I get into heated arguments with people over little things. Everything I do in my life outside of research, I take way too far. I have more regrets each week than positive memories, and it’s just become the normal thing.

So that’s me right now, a deer lying in the woods struck with arrows (not to be dramatic or anything).

Posted in Academics, Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health, My life, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Crying Doesn’t Make You Weak

Tissues

When I was little, I was that kid that would cry over everything. Any time I fell down, I cried. If someone yelled at me, I cried. If I was being told to do something that I didn’t want to do, I cried. If someone told me not to cry (regardless of how I was feeling prior), I would start crying. I even cried if a man just talked to me (including my own father).

Over the years, I have gotten a little better, thankfully. However, I still cry when I am overly stressed out or overcome with intense emotion. People don’t really know this, though, because any time I feel it coming on, I get the hell out of there as soon as I can so that I can let it out in private. Only a few times in my adult life have I cried in front of someone, and it has always been because I just couldn’t get away.

The most recent time was a few days ago. I was in my car with my grandparents, driving them to the doctor’s for an appointment. Over the summer, they have been a huge source of stress and anxiety for me. I talked about this a little bit previously. I know they love me, and of course I love them, but I still dread seeing them because of this anxiety. I feel guilty for it, but I really can’t do much to help it. Anyway, I was driving my jeep with both of them in it. My pap started criticizing my driving like he usually does, and it gradually turned into yelling. My grandmother started yelling to, both at him and at me. It got to the point where they were yelling louder and louder in order to be heard over the other person, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I pulled over in a parking lot, and the tears just started coming out of my face.

I’m actually glad that I cried in this moment because I’m certain that if I had tried to hold it in, I would have had a panic attack. Crying was a way to kind of relieve some of the stress before it got to that point. I just shut my eyes and focused on breathing.

My grandparents got quiet for a moment, but then they started up again.

“Iris, are you crying?”

“Why are you crying?”

“Stop crying, you don’t have to do that.”

“We weren’t doing anything.”

“Are you still crying?”

I kept my head down and told them I just needed a minute, but I could feel them staring at me, watching me. I managed to pull myself together after a few minutes, but I felt shaky for the rest of the day, and I couldn’t wait to get home and have a tall glass of wine. They apologized numerous times over the course of that day and the next. They didn’t realize what they were doing, and so I don’t blame them in the slightest for it, but it was an incredibly difficult moment for me.

Since I cried so much as a child, I usually got yelled at if I started to tear up. I can understand how annoying it must have been to deal with me constantly crying, but I honestly couldn’t help it. I didn’t cry for attention. I cried because I was scared or in order to relieve stress or heavy emotion. Being constantly scolded every time I cried in front of someone made me feel awful and guilty about crying even though I couldn’t do anything about it. Being yelled at only made me cry more, and it made me feel worse at the same time.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels guilt and anxiety about crying. We’re brought up to see crying as a sign of weakness. This is especially true of men, who are told to “man up” and “stop being a baby” when they cry growing up and as adults. Crying in front of people makes everyone uncomfortable. Crying while drunk is an embarrassment. Crying after sex is considered laughable. Crying about a bad breakup gives the other person power. There are so many negative stigmas surrounding the act, even though it is merely a physiological response to intense emotion.

However, crying is actually a good thing, and it is a sign of emotional strength. Crying is healthy for you physically because it flushes out your eyes. It keeps everything from staying bottled up inside, thereby releasing stress. It allows you to acknowledge your emotions so that you can learn more about yourself and make yourself stronger. People who cry together form a strong emotional bond that is based on pure honesty.

Personally, every time I cry in private, I feel significantly better afterward. I’m convinced that if we were all able to do this out in the open instead of in dark rooms behind locked doors, we would be able to better communicate with each other, form stronger bonds, and feel more emotionally at rest, allowing for a higher quality of life.

Posted in Anxiety, Family, Life in general, Mental Health, My life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Still Drinking Year-Old Coffee Grounds!!

The title is actually not a statement on how cheap and unhygienic I am, but a nice way of saying Happy Birthday to my blog, Used Coffee Grounds! I want to give you guys a special thank you, but first let me get a little sentimental.

I fondly remember starting this blog last summer. I wrote most of my early posts while interning because I didn’t have enough work to do. The first post was terrifying to publish. I was incredibly self-conscious about the words I used, the content I chose to write about, and the timing of publication. They were my first posts, and so they would be representations of the entire blog, and they would set the stage regarding what readers would expect from me. It seemed like a make or break situation.

Fortunately for me, it really wasn’t make or break at all. One could argue that they did not affect the fate of my blog in the slightest because I did not get a single view for the first three weeks, even after publishing four posts. No likes, no comments, and only one follower (myself). It was only a little disheartening, though, because I loved writing posts. This was my chance to finally open up to the world in a way that I never really could with people close to me. I can talk about issues that matter to me, complain about awful things without offending those close to me, and connect with others who share my thoughts and ideas or have really interesting thoughts and ideas that I never would have otherwise had a chance to hear.

This has been great for me, but I still wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun without you guys, my readers. Without you, I would probably still be writing, but it would be with the shrill voice of someone trying to make contact from the bottom of a well. And I definitely would not be proofreading anything I post. You guys have been wonderful, and I really appreciate your support.

Thank you, and I’m looking forward to another year of speaking my mind and listening to all of you speak yours. *Raises mug* To us.

Love,

Iris

Posted in My life, Quickies (Less than 500 words) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Wear Short Shorts

Screen shot 2015-07-06 at 4.48.57 PM

I’ve noticed that some people like to hate on short shorts. I don’t know why because, personally, I love them. I’m a believer of that crazy idea that people should wear what they want to wear, and I want to wear shorts that are the shortest they can possibly be without showing my underwear because it is as hot as a bastard outside (and I sweat like a bastard). Here are some other reasons why I love the short shorts:

  • They’re comfy. All winter long, my legs are trapped inside stiff jeans that don’t let them breathe. When summertime comes, it feels so good to give my legs some fresh air and freedom. It’s almost like I’m not even wearing pants, which makes me very happy.
  • They’re easier to find at the store. If you shop in the juniors section of stores, pretty much all of the shorts you find are short shorts. There are a few token longer shorts, but it’s always a very limited selection. I can get my short shorts in any color, any style, any brand, and even on clearance.
  • I like the way I look in them. I have what some people like to call “thunder thighs” and what I like to call “thighs.” Some people think that this means I shouldn’t wear short shorts. I should try to cover my thighs in long, black, pinstriped pants and wear a flashy top to distract as much as possible from my horrid thighs. All I know is that when I look in the mirror, I like what I see.
  • My legs can tan more. I don’t go outside all that much. Since I live in the landlocked state of Pennsylvania, I can’t frequent the beach all that often. When I go outside, it’s usually on a leisure hike, canoe ride, or the park for swings. Wearing short shorts gives me the chance to get my tan on without awkwardly hiking through the woods in a bikini (though I bet that’d be sexy as hell).
  • It’s not hurting anyone. Surprisingly enough, boys don’t turn into sex-obsessed robots that lose all sense of self-control and morals when they see me (despite what the media and school dress code enforcers might think). Actually, people don’t really check me out much at all. Even if they did, as long as they’re not drooling and making obscene gestures, I can just ignore it until we live in a society where human bodies are no longer objectified.

Therefore, I’m going to wear my short shorts. I’m going to wear whatever I want regardless of my body shape. Now is an important time to remember this with bikini season going on. Don’t ever let someone else tell you how to dress, unless they’re a fashion consultant and you’ve asked for their advice, and never ever think that just because someone else doesn’t think you have the right body for a particular garment that means you can’t wear it. Remember, the best way to get a bikini body is by putting a bikini on your body. The best way to get a beach body is by taking your body to the beach. Also remember, you’re beautiful, and what you wear will never affect that.

Posted in Beauty/Body Image, Gender and Sexuality, Life in general, My life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Magic

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Toy Story.”

Today’s Blogging101 assignment is to respond to the prompt on The Daily Post. The prompt is “What was your favorite plaything as a child? Do you see any connection between your life now, and your favorite childhood toy?”

When I was in third grade, I started reading the Harry Potter series, and I absolutely loved it. I devoured the books as they came out, but that wasn’t enough for me. The idea of a world where magic existed and mystical creatures lurked everywhere was so alluring, I needed more. I played pretend Harry Potter with my friends. My grandma made us cloaks, and my dad made us wands out of wooden rods. We’d run around the yard yelling spells and reenacting scenes and pretending my dog had three heads. I went to a Harry Potter themed Girl Scout camp for a week and loved it. I wrote fanfiction. I secretly hoped that one day, my letter from Hogwarts would come and finally let me into this beautifully exotic world.

In the meantime, I craved more. My parents gave me a book called The Book of Wizard Craft. They thought it had something to do with Harry Potter, but it was a generic book filled with various “magical” experiments utilizing common household supplies. I loved this book for the same reason I loved Harry Potter. It gave me access to a world previous undiscovered. It opened up so many more possibilities for me than my small collection of experiences promised. Furthermore, instead of just pretending, I really was doing magic. I followed the instructions and there it was before my own eyes.

However, simply performing the experiments and observing the magic still wasn’t enough for me. I now wanted to know how these phenomena happened. I wanted to know why the “Fizzing Phantom Potion” bubbled violently when I added baking powder and vinegar and how “Presto Change-o Chameleon Water” changed back and forth from clear to bluish black. Countless hours were spent working through each experiment over and over, closely watching the transformations take place, examining the ingredients, and trying different approaching to determine the change in results. I didn’t realize until later that my fascination wasn’t with magic, but with the reality of matter itself and how different substances interacted to create the colorful, explosive, or otherwise surprising reactions we observe. Even at this young age, I was an analytical chemist at heart, and so I eventually grew tired of the magic book because it didn’t offer the answers I craved.

I realize that what I do now is exactly the same thing I did back then except with more expensive instrumentation and slightly less common household supplies. It all boils down to me doing an experiment, wondering what in God’s name just happened, and then repeating the experiment or doing more experiments until I can figure out what happened. I still love magic, but I’m not satisfied until I understand the magic. I guess as grown-ups we call that science.

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Thursday Night Dinner

I had a panic attack last Thursday. It was the first one I’ve had since the beginning of April.

I’m not doing anything this summer except hanging around at home, and so I don’t have nearly as much stress as I had while I was in college. However, I’m with my family now, which creates a much different kind of stress.

My grandparents are getting to be pretty up there in age. They can’t drive anymore, and they have doctor appointments very frequently. My pap has been diagnosed with dementia, though it’s still very, very mild, and you can’t tell at all just by talking to him. Furthermore, everything they say to each other is in anger or annoyance. They fight or they don’t talk. I guess this is the typical old couple bickering, but it’s all they do, and it gets to the point where they’ll yell at each other and say hurtful things. My grandma had her hip replaced two weeks ago, and she has been in rehab since. I take my pap up to visit her for an hour or so each day, and so I’m constantly dealing with their dynamic.

I’m living with my parents this summer. My brother bought a house and moved out months ago, and so it’s just them and me. My dad has a sort of explosive temper where, if something makes him mad, he gets damn mad. My mom has been the one taking care of my grandparents before I came home, and she has to balance this with a part-time job. I’ve been trying to take a lot of the burden off of her so that she can relax for a change.

With all of this surrounding me, I have become the obsessive peacekeeper. I tiptoe around my dad so that I don’t make him mad, I force a smile and laugh at everything my pap says, I nod and sympathetically agree with everything my grandma says, and I try my best to alleviate all the worries my mom has. When there is a fight between any two of them, I’m the one that gets eaten up the most by it. I say whatever I have to and do whatever I have to in order to calm them and keep everyone functioning peacefully. If I can’t do this, my insides feel like they’re undergoing a meltdown, like it’s my fault this is happening.

This puts an overwhelming amount of pressure on me that is so much different than the pressure I get at school. At school, I control everything in my life, I don’t have to take care of anyone else, and I have my own space that I can retreat to. When something comes up, I deal with it or adapt to it. Here at home, everything is based on these other people in my life. I don’t really control anything, and I can’t get away from them because I live with them and have to do things on their schedules.

Last Thursday, I was making dinner for my parents and my pap. We were supposed to eat once my mom came back from visiting my grandma at rehab. I was making stir fry, which is pretty simple. I put the rice in the steamer and started cooking an hour before we were supposed to eat. Everything was coming along fine, and it was ready to go fifteen minutes prior to dinnertime. I checked on the rice and felt the first signs of panic. The rice hadn’t cooked at all. I had thought I had done everything right, and it had ample time to cook, but the rice still looked like it had come straight from the bag.

I checked the bag to see if there was a faster way to make it. The stovetop directions and microwave directions each took forty-five minutes. We needed the rice or else we’d just have a bowl of soggy vegetables and tofu.

My dad came upstairs and angrily vented about one of our dogs peeing downstairs. I nodded and apologized and offered to clean it up, all while trying to focus on breathing.

He went back downstairs, and I leaned against the counter. My heart was pounding, and no matter how much I breathed, I felt like I couldn’t get any air into my lungs. And I kept staring at that damn steamer that wasn’t doing its job.

I just couldn’t take it. I had to go into the living room, sit down, close my eyes, and wait for it to pass.

Soon after that, my mom and pap pulled into the driveway.

We had to wait an extra forty-five minutes for the rice to cook on the stovetop since the steamer just wasn’t working. I guess they could tell that I was worked up because they all waited patiently in the living room.

Apparently, I hadn’t made enough rice either, and so I received complaints about that during dinner. They weren’t angry complaints, just the typical family nagging, but I was so on edge that I didn’t entirely recover from the panic attack until after everyone went to bed that night and I was left alone.

I don’t think it’s that my family is any more stressful that others. I just have a difficulty handling these situations, and my anxiety only makes it harder. I really need to figure out a way to cope with this because I’m going to be living with them until the middle of August, and I can’t spend the entire summer on edge like this.

If any of you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Posted in Anxiety, Family, Mental Health, My life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

We Need to Have Conversations about Mental Health

Today’s Blogging 101 assignment is to write a post expanding on a comment I left on another blogger’s post yesterday. I’ve been thinking about mental health a lot lately, and Annabelle wrote a fantastic post yesterday on her blog clouds in the head that was a sort of mission statement for herself. Basically, she’s gearing her blog toward helping people with mental illnesses feel less alone.

The other day, I wrote a post about how I didn’t feel like doing anything. At the time, my sole reason for posting was to fulfill an obligation I made to my readers and myself to post at least once a week. I really didn’t want to, it was a struggle to do, and it was a very short post. I didn’t realize until later how important it was that I wrote about this. One reason was that it allowed for self-evaluation, which is crucial for making improvements in one’s life. Second, it let others who felt the same way feel less alone, and it made me feel less alone knowing those other people were out there. This is a huge deal, and we need to do this more often.

For whatever reason, mental illnesses have had a stigma associated with them that is so strong that it keeps suffering people from talking about theirs. When people don’t talk about things important to them, they miss out on that connection with other people. They feel like they’re the only ones going through this and that no one can help them.

We need to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness so that people no longer need to suffer in silence. The easiest way to get rid of a taboo is to talk about it.

However, talking about it isn’t enough. We also need to listen. There needs to be a comfortable dialogue between people, both in close relationships and in large spaces like the media. We need to stop judging people or labeling them “psychos” and instead focus on listening to them and understanding who they really are and what they are struggling with.

Since I missed the assignment last week of embedding something into a post (I had no wifi at the time so it wasn’t my fault I skipped assignments…), I’m going to do it this time.

Another part of getting rid of the mental health stigma is to stop incorrectly diagnosing people with mental illnesses. We shouldn’t be diagnosing people at all unless we’re professionals, and we definitely should not be using them to insult people or discredit how people are feeling or *sigh* describe the stock market. Here is a helpful video that explains some of the commonly misused psychological terms.

If we can talk and listen to each other, we will be able to understand each other’s situations, feel better about our own, and create a safe network of communication for those who need it.

Posted in Blogging101, Life in general, Mental Health, Quickies (Less than 500 words) | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments