Updated: Jul 26, 2019
I can't believe it. I'm actually starting a blog. It has been something that I've wanted to do for a while now, but either I had never had the motivation to do so, or didn't have a medium when I did. Now I have both. What I'd like to do is get into the habit of writing for you, perhaps on a weekly basis. Today is Friday, the last day of May 2019. Let's start a new habit of posting a new blog entry each Friday. Maybe that will change in the future, but I think it's a good place to start. This first one is a long summary of the past school year, so don't assume all blog posts will be this long, but maybe this will give you a little more insight into my experience.
I finished my first year as a doctoral student last week, and what a year it's been. Someone said at the beginning of the year that Year One is like trying to drink water from a fire hose; lots of information and hardly any time to process it before moving on. It was a challenge, certainly, but not as I had thought it would be.
In my first semester, I needed to drop a class because I couldn't ever get to class early enough to find a seat, and unfortunately they had a classroom too small for the class. I'd have find a place to sit on the ground and try to learn by straining my neck looking up at the projection screen. With two spinal fusions, it became too painful to focus on the class material, and I didn't want to make a big stink about it, so I decided it was worth dropping it.
It gave me more time to be able to adjust to the new environment outside of school. New England is definitely not California. People are so angry here, by default. It's like everyone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed every day. Maybe I'll talk about that another time. By having more free time in the fall semester, I was able to get prepared for the winter, but I also had more time alone by myself and more time to think. I could tell that I was starting to get depressed. I really started to doubt whether or not I had made the right decision by coming to MIT.
Spring semester was a little different.
I signed up for freshman calculus because I wanted to get back into the swing of things with math. It had been quite some time since I was last doing derivations and integrations, so I thought it would be a good idea. A few of the professors here advised against it because they thought it would be a waste of time, but they didn't stop me. I want to learn everything, so it didn't seem like a waste to me at all.
However, this is MIT, and freshman calculus is designed to "weed" people out. Not to mention, those people are usually 18- or 19-year-old college freshmen, who typically have few responsibilities outside of class. I was trying to balance two lab rotations, an ongoing research study, getting another one off the ground, trying to finish writing a publication that I should have finished last year, and, oh yeah, two other graduate-level classes.
By spring break, I was about to break. I just had no time to do anything but calculus homework. I even pulled a few all-nighters. Absolutely horrible. It took nearly a week to recover from one of them. I'm 35, not 19. Apparently, I can't do that anymore. So, in an effort to preserve my physical health and some semblance of sanity, I switched to "listener" status, which essentially means I dropped the class.
Even though the switch gave me more time, I also felt a bit disappointed with myself. I couldn't hack it. Oh well. I don't need the grade, and if I need a particular function or mathematical idea for my research, I'll study just that in detail when the time comes. For example, inverse Laplace transforms, which some say are the language of time-keeping in the brain. Check it out!
Not too long after dropping calculus, I had surgery on my shoulder to repair an injury I had since 2010. The injury is another story for another time, but the surgery went well. However, it knocked me off my rhythm, and I struggled hard to get back into it afterwards. Just a few weeks later, my lumbar spine started acting up again and I had to go to the ER due to severe pain. I thought it was my spinal fusion hardware that was failing. It's been over ten years since they implanted it. They determined it was my SI joint over-compensating for movement my spinal fusion prevents. Great. They want to put in another screw in my spine/hip. That would make a total of 9 in my body. Life, I tell ya. Sometimes I can't catch a break.
Dealing with recovery after the shoulder surgery was (and I guess still is) a little difficult, but the prospect of a major surgery without a support network is just not something I want to do. Honestly, I think I dipped again into a mini depression for a bit. They say that the withdrawal from the drugs after surgery can induce symptoms similar to depression, and depression is definitely something I have to deal with, but the constant barrage of disappointments and physical assaults this year took it's toll. By the end of the semester, I felt like I was falling apart at the seams.
Once class was over, I had a chance to breathe. I reassessed what it is that I am trying to do here. Why did I leave a rather good-paying and very rewarding job to become a student again and be totally broke? Why did I leave my friends who were really my family of choice to become completely isolated in a sea of people? Why did I leave the comfort of familiarity with the Bay Area to come to a strange, cold, dreary, angry, and frankly terrible place? (Maybe my opinion of New England will change over time, but...probably not.)
The reason I made that pretty painful choice is to push the field of neuroscience in the direction I believe it should go: to treat the invisible wounds of war. Why? Because there's no one else that has been in combat and dealt with PTSD that is in the field (that I know of). The types of questions these civilian researchers ask aren't informed by their own wartime experiences. Mine are.
It's my duty as a veteran that has made it this far to reach back and try to grab a few more vets to pull them up. I feel I can do that with scientific investigations into the nature and treatment of PTSD and TBI. The more we know, the better we can treat. We owe that to our country's veterans. I owe that to the thousands of vets who have ended their own lives after fighting a war for this country. They were casualties of the war too. We need something better. Maybe I can bring about that change.
So, with that renewed inspiration, I decided to start my own website and start becoming accountable to all of you.
I want to share my journey, but I also want you to feel like you're a part of it too. I did not get here by myself. There were many who have helped me along the way, and honestly, there was a fair bit of luck mixed in there too. Maybe my way to give back is to share my story with the world along the way. Feel free to comment. I'll try my best to respond as much as possible.