Updated: Aug 25, 2019
This is the third month in a row where I have only posted an update once during that month, so maybe my goal of writing more often has to come down a notch, but I'll still get it done. That seems to be the general pattern of what I tend to get myself into. I've mentioned how many projects I have going on now, but I always seem to feel like there's always room for more. My zeal works for me in that I say yes more often than I probably should, and while a person who is dedicated to one thing could do the work at a faster pace, I just don't want to stop trying out new things. I set a big, lofty goal, reality kicks in, and I have to adjust, but no matter what, I try to keep going. I believe that generally, if you never quit, you'll get there. Within reason, of course. I suppose my updates will be a monthly thing now. Let's see how long I keep it up. It will certainly be interesting to reflect on these entries far into the future.
Speaking of reflection, the past month has been quite an introspective one. I've been diving deep into the literature of PTSD in veterans as I try to formulate the most rigorous study that I can, and the more I read I am seeing two trends: 1) that we seem understand the consequences of traumatic events (psychologically (sort of)), but we don't really know what is going on in the brain, or why it happens the way it does, or what to effectively do about it, and 2) there seems to be little understanding of a difference between what I call combat-associated PTSD and civilian PTSD, for which I believe there is probably a significant difference. Maybe I should start a movement to call it Combat-Associated Reintegration Difficulty, or CARD. I don't know, it's an idea. I'll explain what I mean in detail in my Part 2 of "What PTSD is for me". I will publish that this weekend.
I feel like I'm in such an interesting position. One the one hand, I've taken my experiences and framed them in such a way to allow me to pursue a career in science trying to understand it on a more fundamental level so others who will serve in the future may have a better chance at re-integrating, but on the other hand, I'm still dealing with the effects of that experience myself. I am not immune to the "after-effects" of war. Somehow, by looking at the published data then reflecting back upon my life, I'm reevaluating the interactions I've have had with numerous people in my life since returning, and I am realizing that what I intend to put out there to the world and what my actions are being interpreted as are two separate things. There is disparity, and it's totally due to awareness: my lack of understanding the frame of reference for most other people.
I've discovered recently is that I can come off as very rough and gruff even if I don't intend to be that way. Apparently, my stance, my walk, my whole being exudes dominance and aggression, even when I'm just trying to get from point A to point B. What I have considered "normal" in the Army isn't exactly what most other people in the civilian world believe. Language is another thing. Cursing is entirely too easy for me. I'm good at keeping it out of professional interactions, but even personal ones don't need that additional level of verbal assault. I've especially hurt more women than I'd like to admit with words I've thrown around with complete disregard for any other possible way they could be interpreted. The Sergeant in me pervades my life; I can't shake it. So, naturally, I've isolated and pushed people away when they are trying to reach out to me. I can't say that pattern is a recipe for success. This month, I've really had to think hard about these things and consider if this is the way I want to continue to keep living. Something needs to change.
Upon thinking in this more reflective, abstract manner, I began thinking about how I've treated my experience here at MIT thus far. I have been acting like it's my job. What I mean is I frame it as work, not school. Yes, I'm 35 and going back to school is a little bit of a difficult adjustment, but I should be trying to enjoy this time as a student. It's a different frame of mind. There is so much more that is available here that I am not taking advantage of because I'm so focused on the things I do now. In one way, I can pursue those things I'm interested in, but I can't say that I'm very social outside of the interactions I have through the labs and classes. So again, is this the way I want to keep on living? Do I want to let this time fly by, get to the actual work after graduating, and then realize that I should have done something about it now? I have some work to do. I'm certainly not perfect.
This kind of fundamental questioning of my own existence happens when something significant has happened. I think among all of the things that I heard of when I first started here was that the first year is always the hardest. I was imagining that it meant the classes would be hard, but it's not the classes, not for me at least. Yes, they may be challenging, but that's not it. For me at least, it's the growth of learning where I am in the world, and really trying to decide where I want to go from here, as a person, not as a PhD. Who am I, and who do I want to be? Such simple questions. I wish the answers were as simple.
All of this thinking is helping me bring my life into focus. Just in time too, because Year 2 of my journey begins with the start of classes after Labor Day. I suppose this is a good time to try setting a few personal goals for self-improvement. It wont be easy, and I will fail, guaranteed (sadly), but I will try and keep trying. I think one of my first goals is to smile a bit more. According to the Facial Feedback Hypothesis, smiling will affect your perception of things you encounter in a positive way. It's pretty amazing. Perhaps I can bring that perception of being threatening down a bit. I'll let you know how that goes.
Other updates: I finished my rotation period at Brigham in the focused ultrasound lab. I've learned so much, but I also observed a lot of other really amazing people at Brigham doing some really amazing things. While I felt a little saddened leaving the NTEL, I felt prepared enough to go and start our own focused ultrasound lab at the Martinos Center at MGH. When one door closes, another opens. I feel like this is really the beginning of something big. Hopefully, we'll start assembling testing equipment soon. I'm quite excited. This is going to be a lot of work, but it will be fun.
Someone asked me the other day if I read books, and I said, "not for fun". I can't remember the last time I picked up a paperback and sat down for a good read. The literature review for the many topics I'm finding myself getting involved in is intense. For those who don't know what a literature review is, it is a search in all of the science journals that are pertinent to your field for articles that are experimental reports on the topic you're interested in. While the content is important, a) no one is required to write a captivating story, so it's usually very dry reading, and b) not every study is conducted with the most rigor, so every article must be critically reviewed. That usually means skimming wont cut it. So, after reading about 30 papers this week, I'm tired of reading. I can't imagine picking up anything else and reading "for fun". I have learned a lot though. Seriously, that's probably the best way to learn any topic. Check out PubMed and do a search. You may find the reading is dry, but you may also find much more detail than what you may expect.
Alright, I'm going to leave it there. What do you think? Have you had to question your place in life? Do you feel like you are where you want to be, as a person? Do you think I'm just a super neurotic guy that questions everything way too much? Let me know in the comments!
Summer is coming to a close, and school is about to start again. Next month should be an exciting update. In the meantime, enjoy the weather while you can!