Monday, January 27, 2014

When I snap my fingers you will cluck like a chicken

Last week I wrote about depression. It's a difficult struggle to win, like trying to clean your hands of glue. Sometimes a single, bad experience or time can throw you into it. But sometimes the reverse is true, and a seemingly unimportant occurrence can help to pop you back out.

I had a lovely experience this weekend seeing Rich Guzzi perform a comedy hypnosis show. I'd never seen a hypnosis act before, in part because I'd skipped the events in college due to a fear that I would be peer pressured into volunteering and then be hypnotized against my will. Of course now I know that you can't be hypnotized involuntarily, as the whole point is to put one into a state open to suggestions; this was clear during the show as the volunteers who were clearly not under hypnosis were removed from the stage.

Spending over an hour laughing, clapping, and banging on the table along with an entire roomful of other people was a great experience in itself. Seeing a comedy hypnotist is different from seeing a stand-up comedian is that with the latter, audience members tend to stay always slightly on the offensive, fearful that they will be picked out as the subject of the next joke. On the other hand, as an audience member at a hypnosis show, it was a different experience. All of us in the audience who declined the invitation to be hypnotized could relax. In addition, the volunteers or "performers" allowed for a higher level of connection between the crowd and performers; they were normal people being honest and open- and funny.

Towards the end of the show, Rich Guzzi said that he wanted to bestow some positive energy on the volunteers and invited the audience to participate as well. As we closed our eyes, he intoned encouraging statements and images. "You feel that every day is better than the last, so that every day is the best day of your life," he suggested. He encouraged us to be reminded of new opportunities in our everyday lives, to appreciate ourselves, and to have confidence, determination, and contentment.

Strangely (or perhaps not) this short positive-thinking seminar had a powerful effect on me. I realized that I've been waiting for everyone else to tell me that I'm worthwhile, that I'm doing a good job, that I'm enough. And while it's nice to have other people recognize this, I had forgotten that I don't need them to. I'd gotten into the habit of not telling myself these things as a form of protection, so that I wouldn't be hurt when others didn't affirm my worth. What a mistake that was.

Ever since that night I've been intoning some of those things in my head before I go to sleep. And I believe them. I like myself. I'm worthwhile. My life is good and tomorrow will be good. There are possibilities everywhere, some that I can't even imagine now. And you know what? It works. I've been sleeping better, and getting up earlier. Two out of three days since I've gotten up to go to the gym in the morning- something I haven't been able to do in months (although I go in the evenings, a morning workout is a marvelous way to start the day). I've felt better about myself and have been able to cut down on my nervous snacking, a habit that's literally been automatic whenever I've had a bad thought in the past 12 months. I feel peaceful and motivated (something else that has been frustratingly lacking).

I'm not crediting all of this to the magic of a comedian/hypnotist. But I'm definitely crediting him with reminding me of the things I need to claim for myself. I'm feeling these things now because I believe that I deserve them and that I can hold on to them. Problems are merely obstacles and are not equatable to a dark future. The future is unresolved, but not cloudy. It's like a night sky, full of distant stars we can't resolve, but which are beautiful and become stunning the closer they become.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Depression is stupid

Depression is stupid. So is anxiety. In fact, half the time I can't even tell the difference between the two. That in itself is stupid, because it seems that they should be complete opposites of one another; the former being stereotyped as a person moving and making decisions slowly and the latter lightning fast thoughts peppering one's consciousness. The common ground between them is that both are overwhelmingly paralyzing when they grip your life.

I revisit this topic in part due to my own experiences, and partially because of the wonderful blog by the author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened (well, really it's more a book written by the author of the blog, The Bloggess), in particular this insightful and sensitive entry about depression; Most people don't understand depression or anxiety, which is probably why so many cases go untreated. (I honestly think this is a huge factor in the level of unhappiness in the United States, but that's another topic.) It's also very hard to explain the experience of depression and anxiety to others, even if they care about you and want to understand.

Depression and anxiety are both categorized as mental illnesses. This label carries a lot of baggage with it. I yearned to be an astronaut for a very long time, and worried that my eyesight (terrible by any standard) would be a barrier; in reality my family and personal history of depression would be much more likely to hinder my ambitions. A few months ago I read that in the northwest, some political candidate running for a state position accused his opponent of being crazy, evidenced, he claimed, by her diagnosis of depression several years past.

The world's view of depression is disgusting, especially considering that it afflicts millions of people. Depression does not make you crazy. Most people who are depressed are not suicidal. The overwhelming majority of people with depression do function normally, if not as well as they otherwise might.

That's not to say that being depressed doesn't MAKE you feel crazy. It's a chemical imbalance in your brain, which causes you to feel things inappropriate to your situation. You feel disconnected, and frustrated. You're sad and nervous even though everything is fine. I'm trying to graduate this spring, and facing that, during a time of the year that's personally difficult, has caused my brain to go into anxiety/depression overload. Plus, my boyfriend is away this week, which is a huge help. (NOT that I'm saying he should have skipped his work/band trip just to support me; he should have brought me along.) So here I am, trying to crunch data, and my brain is saying, What if this doesn't lead to any conclusions? What if my study shows that all of the differences in my data are insignificant and essentially a big jumble of shades of gray? What if we DO find something but no one will publish the paper so I never get a job and my landlord kicks me out and I run out of money because of the vet bill when my cat at the two feet of fishing line and I have to move back in with my parents and there's a nuclear apocalypse and I'm one of the only ones left and I can't find my boyfriend and my glasses are broken and all of the Sephoras burn down?????!!!!! And then I need to take a break and I text my boyfriend and he doesn't respond and my brain says that he takes me for granted and that I NEED LOVE RIGHT NOW OR EVERYTHING IS DOOMED TO FALL APART BECAUSE IF MY BOYFRIEND CAN'T EVEN TAKE THE TIME TO ANSWER A TEXT WHILE (KIND OF) ON VACATION THEN IT'S NEVER GOING TO WORK OUT WHEN I'M A FAMOUS SCIENTIST AND HAVE TO TAKE THE SPACE ELEVATOR TO THE MOON EVERY TUESDAY TO HOLD MY LAB MEETINGS OMG!!!!!!


And that's why it's so hard to control depression and anxiety; it's all these "logical" thoughts screaming at you while you're unable to make a stance firm enough to make a decision. But all the while you also realize that your brain isn't working in the way that it normally does and if you can just ride it out, all this will pass. Which it does. Sometimes some tissues and kitty hugs are required. But when you're depressed, as when you're drunk, the person who you are is still there underneath, and in both cases your state of mind doesn't change who you are. You're responsible for the consequences of your actions. And no matter how hard you try, you can't make yourself sober just by wanting to be.

I'm not sure what the moral of this entry is. Depression and anxiety are difficult to deal with and an involuntary burden of those who suffer them. But it doesn't make those afflicted unfit to hold responsibilities or allow them to carry on a normal life. It's a fine line to walk, to insist that we are responsible but need help, are suffering but are still the same people. One thing that I've done to help myself lately is to inscribe valued advice I've been given by people I respect and care for- including "Just keep chipping away and it will get done," and "Don't take shit from anybody, including me" (my boyfriend is the best). It helps to hold on to these truths, not only because they remind me to be positive, but also because they keep me from withdrawing into myself and surrounding myself with only my own confusing thoughts and feelings. That just amplifies the despair. Rather, I try to stay grounded in this tangible evidence that people care for me and understand me, even if they might not understand what I'm going through.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lies are ok....right?

So my landlord sent me an email "reminding" me that my lease dictates that only one person can live in the apartment, implying that my boyfriend has been living here for the past two months. Now, if my boyfriend had been living here for the last two months I sure as hell would have been collecting rent from him, whioch I have not, because he does not live here. Yes, he stays here sometimes and I guess my landlord is aware of this fact (which is none of his business) because he sees my boyfriend's car in the driveway. However, assuming that someone has moved in because an extra car is in the driveway every few days is a liiiiiittttle bit of an overreaction- I guess my landlord assumes that he moved in in secret, without any furniture or clothing, and stays at work 4 or 5 nights a week. Because you know, that makes sense. Admittedly, my boyfriend's car has been in my parking lot for a few days now, because he's in freaking California (how much I hate him right now, as I listen to the snow and ice peppering my windows, is another story), which means that my landlord thinks I'm stupid enough to date a unemployed freeloader.

Anyway, after meeting with several advisers including my boyfriend, my cat, and one of the wisest men in my department (the delivery man/stock room point person/fix-it guy/TASCA certified staff individual and resident Jamacian- also a landlord on the side), these are the options I've come up with, in order of increasing appeal to myself:

1-Respond with an email explaining that there is a misunderstanding and offer to remedy the situation.

2-Email my landlord back with a lie saying that a friend has been coming to visit to help me finish my thesis.

3-Concede that my landlord was correct, and that my boyfriend HAD moved in, but that we have since broken up. Tragically, it was a difficult breakup, as I found out that he has an abnormal fondness for professional ice hockey mascots in costume, causing me to go into a rage and steal his car, explaining why it's in the driveway. I've decided to take a leave of absence from graduate school and see if I have what it takes to follow my first and true love; food sculpture (see picture). I can understand why he is concerned, and apologize for misleading him, but assure my landlord that I will sell the car and clear everything else up and ask that he not bring it up again, since it's such a painful topic.

This is an actual sculpture of a toilet that I made from stale marshmallows. I sent it as a surprise gift to my short best friend.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Males only have two useful genes

The mammalian Y chromosome is a symbol of maleness and encodes genes important for male reproduction. Various deletions of the Y chromosome result in sperm defects and infertility. When haploid male germ cells were injected directly into oocytes, Yamauchi et al. (p. 69, published online 21 November; see the Perspective by Capel) found that living offspring could be derived from male mice whose Y chromosome contribution was limited to only two genes. These two genes are the testis determinant factorSry and the spermatogonial proliferation factor Eif2s3y.

Ok so the title oversimplifies it a bit but still.... this is pretty amazing and amusing :P

Other scientific discoveries pertinent to your life:

Neuroethology: Lemon-Fresh Scent Makes Flies Lay Eggs

...better stop grabbing those lemon-scented cleaning products....
Many sensory cues have been shown
to influence egg-laying behavior in fruit
flies, including types of scent, color,
taste and texture, to name just a few.
For instance, temperature has shown
to be an important cue for egg
deposition [7], and flies prefer the
color green [8]. Chemosensory cues
are particularly important for
egg-laying. The smell of acetic acid is a
strong stimulant for egg-laying [9], and
the presence of sugar has also shown
to be important [10]. By contrast,
emission of Geosmin from moldy fruit
deters ovipositing females [11]. In the
new study [6], Dweck, Stensmyr and
colleagues identify the fruit volatiles
emitted that flies prefer in their choice
of egg-laying substrate. Although
D. melanogaster is a generalist, they
find that it exhibits marked preferences
for Citrus fruits (Figure 1). In a series of
multiple choice assays, flies were
allowed to oviposit on different types of
fruit and showed overwhelming
preference for non-acidic Citrus.
Current Biology Vol 23 No 24