Finding my own path

paths

I’ve been feeling like I’m on the edge of something, like I’m close to finding some sort of path or gaining some insight. Maybe some opportunity is about to come up. Maybe what I can imagine as possible for me is expanding. I’m not sure what’s going on, but the feeling that the potential for some sort of change is there.

  • There was a brief moment of confusion last week in regards to my grant being extended or not. It turned out to be a typo(wrong date) but during that day of uncertainty I wasn’t terribly upset. While it would have complicated things, I also didn’t mind the idea of being forced to make a decision regarding my future.
  • A recent Altucher Confidential post reminded me that people are able to do miraculous things with their lives. He has a book coming out(hopefully not just e-book form) that I plan on getting. I’m also trying to follow part of his Daily Practice, and make lists of ideas that come up or forcing myself to come up with ideas for a list. This post so far is kind of a list!
  • I read an article on Gawker predicting that the current insane increase in housing prices in our area once again is unsustainable. Our neighbors across the street just sold their 2 bedroom house for approx $600,000! It’s a cute house, but the price is nuts. As during the housing boom of the mid 2000’s I had basically accepted the fact that I would never be able to afford a home. Whether I want to or not is still up in the air since there are plenty of arguments against owning, but “knowing” that I would know ever be able to afford a home in the type of places I like to live (large coastal cities) was upsetting. I’m sure there are many arguments against the idea of another bubble but entertaining the possibility that prices will come down again gives me some glimmer of hope, to have the option someday at least.
  • Lastly, my coach/therapist (she’s officially a coach, but I see it as a type of therapy) informed me that her role in our work together was going to have to change.

Several years ago the therapist I was seeing at the time also decided that things had to change. I would come in depressed and most of the session would be her trying to convince me that I wasn’t a terrible person or that I could get better. I would spend most of my time explaining why she was wrong and that I really was screwed and condemned to a life of depression and misery. I think I had grown to really need to hear someone say that I was a good person and had the potential to live a really fulfilling life. I probably put myself in a worse mood to get more of that message. I really wanted to believe it as well, but a larger part of it was getting that message. That day, she announced that things could no longer go on as they had. Our relationship would have to change. This was quite upsetting, I felt abandoned and that she had given up on me. I was also upset because I think hearing her say these positives things about me made me feel cared for and appreciated. Looking back I can see she was correct changing our working relationship, trying to be my cheerleader wasn’t helping.

Last week, my coach effectively said the same thing. She felt that being my cheerleader wasn’t helping me, in fact it was probably counter productive since I was coming to depend on someone else to “fix me” and I was spending more energy proving her wrong than anything else. In her words it was time for her to back off a bit. It’s a bit scary, since I don’t know what this all means yet, but I think she’s right. I’m also not as panicked as last time, I have more context to place this all in. Letting her assume the role of cheerleader is a way of escaping my own responsibilities again(similar to using my depression as in last weeks post). Also, if I’m not getting better(since I’m not necessarily trying), then I start getting upset with her.

This blog is a perfect example of coming to depend on others. I’ve been wrestling with the idea of getting this blog out for others to read. It seems overwhelming so I’ve avoided the issue and secretly hoped that either my coach or wife would find a venue to spread the word. I’m realizing that I really have to do it. I even made a list of possible places(mostly the “other stuff” section of some forums I frequent) I could go to.

I think this feeling of potential is the beginning of an awareness that I need to do more things for myself. I’m the only one who can really figure out what it is that I want to do with my life, I can’t expect someone else to do that for me. Awareness doesn’t always translate into action, but at least it’s a start. To paraphrase the PSAs at the end of each G.I. Joe cartoon in the 80s “Knowing is half the battle”

Lists and Bolts

Bolts

I started off last night trying to write some of the thoughts floating around in my head during the past week, but couldn’t really get anywhere with it. As I started writing I found myself getting into a worse and worse mood. That coupled with the fact that I was overly tired(I’ve been staying up too late at night researching soundcards for digitizing vinyl, which has led me to read up on better cartridges and phono-pre amps and so on) made me decide to go to bed instead.

This morning I made the mistake of listening to a show on public radio that was discussing some political topics, but what affected me the most was the reminder that politics has been completely co-opted by the super wealthy in this country and I believe we are headed back into another gilded age. I despair so much every time I think about it too much. So many indignities and abuses going on in this country (and others), it’s overwhelming. A regular trigger for depression is a sense that things are out of control, (for example this country, politics, pollution, poverty, erosion of civil liberties and to a less extreme level my finances, inability to figure out my career path, not teaching my kids Spanish) and feeling either powerless or too overwhelmed to do anything about it.

I ran across a post on reddit that seemed relevant to my condition and the blog in general. The main thread(is that the proper Reddit term?) is someone wondering if they were the only person who didn’t find Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) useful. I tried this out a few years ago through and found that usually it didn’t work for me. However, with my coach last week, having someone help me discover the contradictions in my depressed mind-state was useful. I very effectively craft arguments and reasons for why I can’t do something or what is wrong with me. To defend one belief I had to concoct something else to account for a flaw. In the end, I was still not in a good space, but I was aware of the fact that I had to go through some convoluted mental gymnastics to stay hold on to those beliefs. Back to reddit, in that thread was what I thought a very good list of techniques to deal with depression. Some of those are very similar to the list in my man(bag) of tricks. The self.depression subreddit looks interesting.

Another article that stuck with me was by James Altucher. His website often has what I find at times very irreverant yet inspiring posts. The post in particular was about quitting your job. I’m not looking at a fiery departure, but I have a very real cut-off point and need to do something about it. What I took away from that article was that I should try to meet as many people as possible and to allow myself to indulge my interests or passions from time to time since they can lead to unexpected benefits. I was thinking about that this morning after I went to go pick up some parts from a 3D printing studio. I sent in a resume for some job listings there several months ago and never heard back. Maybe I should have made more of an effort to just get to know the people I interacted with so they would recognize my name in case they ran across my resume.

More generally I think that part of me is scared to leave the depressed state. It’s an escape from having to do what seems like the impossible task of crawling up out of this pit. It’s an escape from having to take responsibility for my behaviors or for neglecting stuff at home or elsewhere. It is so much easier to just give up and wallow in the despair and depression. Once again while writing this I am realizing how much more depressed I am than I normally realize.

To close, I will go over the positive experiences this week.
1) We had a nice family nature outing on Sunday. I enjoyed the change of scenery and being outdoors. I also feel that it’s important for the kids to get a better sense of nature, and living in an urban environment it can be tough to get out enough.
2)Work has been a bit more involved this week. I still wasted a lot of time on the internet, but I ran several experiments and got to do some basic data processing. I feel better when I am actively doing something, it makes me feel productive and useful. Also, I finally got a physical copy of the journal with my latest scientific manuscript. It’s my second first-author manuscript(not a lot for someone in my position), but it’s something.
3)I started the process of re-capping the stereo I’m working on. It’s a small step in that I just labeled the capacitors to prevent mix ups, but it’s something. It makes finishing this thing seem more manageable.

On that reddit list of things to help combat depression was getting small tasks done. I actually do feel better now that I finished this post. Now off to eat my lunch(thanks goodness for leftovers) out in the sun.

Fix the damn stereo already

caps-1

The stereo, whose insides are in the picture above, has been sitting on my desk for months now. Every time I see it I feel guilty for not getting it back to the friend who asked if I would fix it. Have I had it a year already? I replaced a few transistors and all the light bulbs a few months ago but it still has some problems. I finally ordered new parts and have kept meaning to get around to replacing them, but for one reason or another I can’t seem to get to it. This evening I was going to heat up the soldering iron and replace some capacitors(“re-cap”) and transistors(“re-trans” is not used), but I decided to write a blog post instead. I need to flesh out what I’ve been thinking today. I’ve been feeling okay this week(had a wonderful time with the family on Mother’s Day), but going to a colleague’s medical school graduation ceremony this afternoon made me reflective and that made me start worrying about my future again.

This colleague is incredibly smart and also a real people-person. I met him when he came to the research group as a graduate student. He had worked in industry for a while before coming back to school. While finishing his PhD he decided to attend medical school. He got a scholarship to go to our local (highly prestigious) medical school, and more recently was assigned his internship and residency in the same city. I always enjoy talking with him, and besides his hard work and intelligence, I’ve also admired his ability to strike up conversations with anyone. His outgoing and warm personality, projection of confidence and fearlessness in striking up conversations has led him to meet so many women that it’s mind boggling. I’m happily married now, but for a long time my fear of talking to women that I was interested during school and college was a constant source of anguish and I would get depressed over all the opportunities and experiences I missed because I was too afraid of rejection. That’s another blog post though. Anyhow, I appreciate that ability in him.

Yesterday I read a New Yorker article about Dr. Steven Zeitels who has pioneered all kinds of advances in vocal cord surgery and has operated on famous singers. His background was interesting, with a stint doing leatherwork while in his teens(supposedly that is where he gained his ambidexterity). What stuck with me, beside the leatherwork, was the creativity and passion he put into his work. He was constantly innovating and coming up with new ways of doing things. Then today, on the way home from the graduation party, I listened to a radio story about Bob Harris who became interested in helping the poor while on a travel writing assignment in Dubai,and just wrote a book about it. The lead into the story was talking about what many consider “dream jobs” and then saying that Bob Harris had done a lot of them (stand-up comedian, successful Jeopardy! contestant, radio host, travel writer and now author).

My colleague’s graduation and the two stories on interesting careers started me thinking about my possibilities once again. I’m surrounded by very intelligent people who seem to put more into their work than I do. I used to think I was good with people in a professional setting, but more recently I’ve found myself lacking in that area as well. I’m only in my late 30s, but I’m feeling slow witted and lacking energy. At home I have a list of things that I keep putting off. For example, I’ve wanted to learn some songs on guitar via youtube videos for some time now but I just can’t seem focus enough to do it. The stereo repair also falls into that category. At work, I am easily frustrated by tasks that require some serious thought/analysis or coming up with creative solutions to problems. My coach says that the lack of energy is because I am not inspired by my work, but I’m not so sure. My ongoing fear is that no matter how wonderful the job or opportunity I won’t be able to rise to the occasion and take advantage of it.

I have good benefits at work, a ridiculously flexible schedule, a quite reasonable salary and I really like the people I work with. Part of me feels it is foolish to expect a better position and really wish I could just adapt or turn on some switch to make me thrive in the lab. My wife’s colleague sent her some warm words telling of his own story of really not finding his calling of school psychology until he was about 40 as a way of suggesting I not lose hope. I thought it was a nice gesture, but with the family to worry about and the high cost of living in this area I don’t feel like there are that many options left for me (not to mention the ongoing fear that I don’t have the energy or drive for anything). As time goes on I am less and less convinced that I will find this fantasy job or career.

A couple of years ago I was looking back at my time in graduate school and realized there were so many amazing research projects going on that I could have been part of or even how my thesis could have been so much better. I feel that I wasted so many opportunities that were open to me then. I’m afraid that a couple of years from now I will look back at my time in my current lab and feel the same thing. What’s upsetting is that I can’t seem to do anything about it.

I just spoke to my wife (she wanted me to lay with her while she went to bed and I’m working on communicating my moods and feelings more) and she reminded me that I’ve been here a million times before, and that I seem to forget how frustrated and restless I get at work. I was also reminded of my need for structure and deadlines. I know the depression is casting a negative pall on everything, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am not good at much that would help me get a job. I feel like that dismantled stereo that has been sitting on a desk for too long. If I could get re-capped and swap some transistors out maybe I would function a bit better.

Rowing and Reality

rowing-1
This week has been interesting. Despite some downtime at work which has led to the yucky “I-have-nothing-to-do-or-contribute” feeling, overall it’s been pretty good. Similarly to the last post, I’m going to focus on the events that perhaps helped me.

First, I had an amazing time with the kids and some friends over the weekend. My wife’s friend organized a picnic with her family and us at a large urban park in the area. My wife also invited a friend who came with his son. The idea was to picnic outdoors. I was a bit suspect about how that would end up given the weather we traditionally have around here. Sure enough, it was a bit cold and it looked like it would rain. We all met up and ended up eating in a pagoda since it started drizzling and there was thunder. It never rained hard, but it was still exciting for the kids(and me). We ate and talked, the kids run were running around doing their own thing. With the girls and our friend’s son we did a mini-hike which led to some great views.

The organizing family left and the rest of us crammed into a rented row boat and went out on the lake. The kids wanted paddle boats, but being that they must be the most inefficient method of transportation, and since we all couldn’t fit in one, we overruled them. The kids all took turns rowing, requiring a few interventions on my part to keep us from crashing into other boats or the underside of bridges. I was surprised to see how much my daughters really wanted to keep at it. It was much more fun that I would have suspected. I guess what I found so special about the day was the fact that we were all doing something enjoyable as a group, and that it was outdoors. Normally I tend to do things by myself, surfing, reading, whatever. I play with the kids at home and take them to parks, but I still often find myself distracted. But there was something different about a group of us being outside where the kids could play, and then doing a specific group activity(in this case rowing a boat). Thank goodness my wife is so much better at getting invited to or coming up with these events.

The other interesting event was a conversation I had with my wife. The past week I had been feeling down. The previous weekend my wife and I had the night off and went out to eat. Among the topics of conversation was my last blog post. We had a good time at dinner and then went to a small house party at one of her co-workers. As an aside, I was surprised to see that they had the second Neurosis album on vinyl! Anyhow, we had fun, met some new people and just enjoyed doing activities that we used to do before kids.

A few days later my main memory of that night was the conversation regarding the blog. What I was focusing on was a comment from by my wife suggesting that I find additional activities to help me feel the way surfing does since I can’t get to the beach very often. Looking back I took it as a reminder that I was off in the clouds and my daydreams were exactly that. Since I tend to catrastrophize everything(ha! yet another example), it ended up meaning I should probably give up surfing, since I will never be close enough to the ocean. I felt a bit crushed, not by my wife, but by reality. I guess deep down I believed that there was some way to get more surfing in, find a job that feels really fulfilling( or least that I feel competent and useful at), and still be close to friends and family. This was a slap of reality.

After the fun day out with the kids I spoke to my wife and said that I had been kind of down that week(her response was essentially “duh!”). I told her how much fun I’d had in the park that day, and went on to share my belief that the conversation about the blog had been the trigger. She asked for clarification and then was surprised by how I remembered it, and then proceeded to fill me in on the rest of the conversation that I had somehow forgotten. To simplify the story, after expressing my desires for more surf, fulfilling work and still being close to family she repeated the long standing offer of either moving by her parents or moving closer to the beach somehow. I shot down those suggestions one way or another(jobs, lifestyle, rent, etc). From there she had suggested I find additional activities to help me feel better, since it seemed like I couldn’t get enough surfing in if we stay where we are.

The rest of the conversation came back to me, and I was really shocked about how much I had forgotten. I still harbor some of the thoughts that my dreams of beach, work and family are just that, dreams. However, it was illuminating to see how I managed to change up the story in my head so that external forces are what keep me from making those dreams happen, rather than my own fears. It’s something to think about going forward.

I think sharing my feelings with my wife, and getting some important feedback helped. I felt connected to her, and I was reminded about what a huge support and how amazing she is with me. I still don’t know what I’m doing in life, but it helps to know that I don’t have to figure out completely on my own. Similarly, feeling connected to my kids and other friends at the park was comforting. Now if I could just get the family to take up surfing I would be set!