Thoughts From My Desk

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Once again, graduate school has been taking a toll on my mental, physical, and emotional health. I know that I’ve been extraordinarily blessed – I have a fellowship for the summer, so I can solely focus on my research, and I have an amazing support system around me to encourage me when I’m down. At the same time, I just feel tired. A deep, in my bones exhaustion that doesn’t seem to go away no matter how much I sleep or coffee I drink. It’s frustrating and it feels like there’s nothing I can do to escape it.

So, I keep on trucking. I write, and rewrite, and scribble down proofs that turn out to be incorrect from the smallest missed detail. I meet with my advisor, who looks at me with a disappointed expression, and feel down. I try to distract myself with books or time with those I love and feel empty because I know I should be writing.

I know this problem isn’t unique to me. My colleagues are in a similar situation; my roommate and I have talked about it extensively. My partner is in a similar boat, modulo  the pushing of his advisor to get things done. There’s even a bunch of Twitter feeds that I follow that give a glimpse into the life of an academic and 95% of the posts contain the phrase “I should be writing.” That doesn’t stop it from taking it’s toll.

Lord, give me strength and energy to make it through today, this week, this month, this summer, and this next (hopefully last) year of grad school. I cannot do this without you.

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A Holiday Hodgepodge

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Prompt courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. Where have you found unexpected magic or delight this holiday season?

The weather has been exceptionally warm in Iowa lately. Since it’s December, that’s been completely unexpected, but at the same time pretty great. We got to take some nice walks without putting on a bajillion layers, which was pretty magical, in my opinion.

2. What’s your favorite type of holiday gathering? Will you/have you gathered in your favorite way this month?

I love small, very cozy holiday gatherings with food, laughter, and warm blankets. I had a couple of these with my fiancé as the semester wrapped up, which was magical. Now that I’m back in New England (without said fiancé) to visit my family, I don’t really see that happening too much.

3. Time has named ‘The Silence Breakers’ (women who came forward with stories of harassment)  ‘person of the year’ for 2017. Would you agree? If not, who do you think deserves the title?

It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to a person in power, so I greatly admire that they did so. I can’t think of anyone (or any group) more deserving of being person of the year.

4. How did you spend your time this year? Are you happy about that? Elaborate.

This year, I spent the majority of my time working on research and becoming a better teacher. I also spent time at the Johnson County Crisis Center, answering their crisis line. I can’t think of better things to commit my time to. That being said, these wonderful uses of my time were interspaced with binge watching Netflix and reading copious amounts of fan fiction; I could probably stand to do those less.

5. Bid farewell to 2017 in ten words or less.

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

6. Insert your own random thought here.

My grandfather passed away this weekend, causing me to push up my departure from Iowa by a couple days. I’m grateful that my grandfather knew the Father, and that he’s now chilling up in heaven without pain. I can’t wait to hang out with him up there one day. That being said, he definitely left a void here on earth with his absence that nothing can fill. Being home doesn’t really make me feel any less useless in this situation; it just means I’m here, praying, alone, without my fiancé or church family or anyone I rely on to help me get through tough things except for God.

I Don’t Have Enough Words

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I don’t have enough words to describe how I feel right now.

I don’t have enough words to talk about the hopelessness that comes with doing math research, the joy that comes with having a breakthrough, and the inspiration that comes when my advisor says “Good job. Keep going.”

I don’t have enough words to explain how my College Algebra kids inspire me every day, how their struggles to understand, their triumph in a passing grade, and their defeat in missing yet another opportunity to show me that they understand makes me realize that I’m just like them.

I don’t have enough words to describe the heartbreak when I realize that, while I’m here in my graduate school bubble, people are dying in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas and across the world and there’s nothing that I can do about it.

I don’t have enough words, but when I get on my knees and pray and beg my Heavenly Father to save us all, He understands.

That’s at least a start.

Hodgepodge – An Attempt to End Procrastination

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Greetings, all!

As usual, I’m having difficulties focusing on my studies. Thus, I’m doing this; maybe expressing my feelings and words will help start my brain up!

One of my professors from undergrad, Dr. Huggins, regularly posts his thoughts on Wednesdays (ish) in response to a prompt from From This Side of the Pond. Since I’m no where near a regular blogger, I need some prompting to help me develop the habit! Hence my taking a leaf out of his book and trying it out myself. Let’s see if it sticks…

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  1. February ended with an extra 24 hours in 2016. What did you do with your bonus day?

    I wouldn’t call it a “bonus” day; it was just like any other day in grad school for me. I taught College Algebra, had four hours of class, dealt with inter-departamental drama, and worked in the math lab for three hours.

  2. What’s something in your life that’s grown by leaps and bounds in recent days, weeks, months, or years? I’m giving you lots of room to come up with an answer here, so no fair passing on this one.

    In recent years, my self confidence and willingness to be myself has grown by leaps and bounds. While I still suffer somewhat from social anxiety, for the most part I’m okay (even excited!) to be my crazy self when around new people.

  3. Do you read reviews about a film before deciding if you’ll see it? Did you watch The Oscars this year, and if so your thoughts on the program? How many of the Best Picture nominees had you seen prior to the broadcast? (Spotlight, The Martian, The Big Short, The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, Room, and Brooklyn) If you watched The Oscars who gets your award for ‘best dressed’?

    Not usually, no. Generally, when I go to see a movie, it’s because someone else wants a buddy to go with them. Otherwise, it’s something I’m obsessed with and will go to regardless of the reviews, such as The Force Awakens or the remake of Annie that came out a few years ago. To that end, I haven’t seen any of the “Best Picture” nominees, nor did I watch the Oscars.

  4. When did you last have overnight houseguests? Give us your top three tips on being a good houseguest.

    Hmm… the last time I had an overnight houseguest was when my mom visited me in Iowa last August. To be a good houseguest, generally I try to clean up after myself, not interfere with the general running of a household, and always always always say thank you as you leave.

  5. March 2nd is Peanut Butter Lover’s Day. Will you be celebrating? If so, would you prefer a home made peanut butter cookie, a Reese’s peanut butter cup, an old fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or shall I just hand you a jar and a tablespoon?

    Well, I totally missed this. Give me a PB&J any day; it’s basically my favorite snack that I eat on a regular basis.

  6. Why is failure important? Or isn’t it?

    Failure is totally important because that is how you learn. We’re trained from a young age to expect perfection, settle for nothing less than an A, and be as perfect as humanly possible. That’s poppycock; while it’s important to try your best, it’s even more important to fail and learn from your mistakes. That’s where the real growth takes place; if you’re too afraid to fail, you’ll never break out of the mould and try something new.

    These past couple weeks, my advisor has been really pushing me to learn how to write clearer. If you know me, you know I pride myself on my writing and grammar skills, so this has been an exceptionally difficult challenge, especially since I don’t completely understand the material I’m taking notes on. It’s a frustrating experience, but it’s also been wicked enlightening to see that I really do have room for dramatic growth in this area. It’s almost like my advisor knows what he’s doing… crazy.

  7. Share with us one fun thing on your March calendar.

    Spring break!!! Nothing crazy will happen, but I cannot wait until next week when I get the chance to relax and catch up on all of my work, taxes, and leisure reading that I have on backlog. It’s going to be magical.

  8. Insert your own random thought here.

    Grad school has been tough these last few weeks. I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of work that I have to do that I, quite honestly, don’t understand to the point where I can’t seem to get started on anything. It’s a really frustrating experience, especially because I gave up coffee for Lent. Coffee has been my go-to beverage since my senior year of undergrad, comforting in its warmth and invigorating in its caffeine content. However, that comfort turned into an unhealthy obsession; I was drinking between four and six cups a day! So, I’ve given it up for the period of Lent, meaning I have to rely on Christ to comfort and fuel me through these stressful experiences. I know through Him, I can accomplish anything if it is His will, but man. The struggle bus is real. 

Quals are Over! Time to Celebrate!

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You know, I really do not understand how people get through life, or even graduate school, without God.

I spent this summer studying for qualifying exams. For those of you who’ve avoided academia, qualifying exams are the first step towards being a PhD candidate. I had to sit three 3-hour exams in each algebra, analysis, and topology; if I passed them sufficiently well, I’m considered an official PhD candidate. Great success, hopefully.

Since so much rides on these exams, my cohort and I spent literally three months studying for these tests in an effort not to embarrass ourselves. This was a long, stressful process that ultimately led me to a mild mental breakdown. Thankfully, my friends supported me as I sought psychiatric care and I’m doing much better now that I have medicine to regulate my mental stability. I’m not super thrilled to be dependent on medication to function like a normal human being, but hey – a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

What’s truly made a difference in my life, though, is my new roommate. Melanie is literally one of the most inspirational Christ followers that I know, and she’s totally responsible for keeping me on track when stress got to be too much. I remember one of the first few days after she had moved in, we were studying in the living room and I was freaking out because I didn’t understand something. Mel just turned to me and said the following:

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Those words really resonated with me – why was I so worried about my exams? Yes, they are important, but my worth as a person, my success, isn’t rooted in how much I study or how well I do on a math test; rather, everything is rooted in Christ. It’s only through Him that I am capable of doing anything, whether it be study, teach, or live. If He wants me to get my PhD, it’s going to happen. I still have to work for it, but if God’s there to support me in my mission, nothing can ever stop me.

Believing that takes so much pressure off of me as a student. The Lord knows I’m going to screw up; I’m imperfect, sinful, human. Yet, He loves me anyway. He sees the potential in me that I don’t see myself. He saved me, and put me here in an effort to use me for His will.

That’s pretty rockin’. 🙂

A bunch of people from the math department went out last night to celebrate the end of quals (for 2nd years), the successful completion of the first week of school (for 1st years), and the general awesomeness of all of us being back in the same place again. As somehow always happens, the topic of religion came up, and someone asked me what exactly I believe. I realized that I didn’t actually have an eloquent answer for that, so I thought and prayed about it and decided to include a brief description here, in case I ever need to reference it again.

I identify as an Evangelical Christian. Wikipedia has a decent description of the history and general beliefs of evangelicals, but let me break it down for you:

  1. The Bible is the absolute authority. It’s the divinely inspired Word of God, the way that we learn about His character and desires for us, everything.
  2. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The Bible says that whoever believes that Chirst became man on Earth, died for our sins, and rose from the dead will have everlasting life. Belief is the essential component of salvation. While good works, baptism, etc should follow from the life changing experience of being saved, they are not a requirement for salvation. Some people refer to this as being “born again”.
  3. I dedicate myself to being as Christ-like as humanly possible. This involves reading from the Bible daily to better understand what that means, spending time in prayer to build my relationship with God, consciously turning away from temptation and sin, and spreading God’s message to anyone who will hear it.

That doesn’t mean that I’m perfect at it in the slightest – there are days I sleep in instead of reading the Bible, choose to indulge in a sin rather than abstain, and ignore that which God is calling me to do. I’m a sinner, just like everyone else. That’s why I need Christ in my life – to save me from my sin. This life we live on Earth isn’t the end; it’s just a blip in the radar of eternity.

Now that we’ve gotten that straightened out, here’s to another semester of life, of walking with God, and of awesome math. I know I’m ready for it; are you?

Tea and math shirt

Let the Lord Be Your Pillow

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The important parts of life are not those that are readily apparent. God, family, and friends should rank high up there, but what do the majority of us prioritize? Things. Work. Getting that next big promotion or the new iPhone 26q. The internet, including Netflix and Facebook. Rocking out to music. Being liked/loved by your Twitter followers. Getting the perfect angle for that selfie.

When’s the last time you just… were?

I know it’s been a while for me. Time to fix that.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;

Psalm 23:1-3a (NKJV)

Shatterglass

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Today, in therapy, my therapist suggested something that I had never considered before yet, in retrospect, seems to fit so well into my life that I can’t believe that I never thought about it.

She told me that she thinks I have ADHD.

Now, as a 23 year old woman, this sounded a tad ridiculous at first. I’m generally successful in life, given that I have made a decent start into my graduate school career and currently live alone approximately 22 hours away from my parents. ADHD is something that small children are diagnosed with when they can’t sit still in class and run around the room during arts and crafts time with scissors and give the room monitor a heart attack.

And then I remembered…

  • I have trouble sitting still, always have.
  • I’m more hyper if I skip my morning coffee than if I have my usual 2 cups.
  • I forget almost everything that I don’t write down.
  • If I don’t make a detailed, hour by hour schedule of my day, I get essentially nothing done.
  • I can’t concentrate on my homework for more than an hour at a time before I get distracted by the internet or stray thoughts in my head.
  • Two hour classes were the bane of my existence in college because I couldn’t pay attention for that long.
  • Chores get half started and then abandoned in my apartment on a regular basis until they absolutely have to get done.
  • My babysitter when I was a kid called me “rambunctious” before I even knew what the word meant.

And then I think, maybe she has a point.

I feel relieved. I’m not a huge “label” person; I don’t like being put in a box or told that I’m a specific thing. Yet, having an explanation for my brain that’s not that I’m lazy, have a horrible work ethic, or am not trying hard enough to focus is an amazing feeling. It’s not my fault; at least, not completely.

This isn’t a firm diagnosis, other than reading through the criterion and recognizing that I identify with all but 2 of them. Since I seem to be functioning fine with my detailed schedules and coffee intake, we’re putting off in depth testing until after this semester is over so I can focus on school for the moment. So, for right now, we just have this idea.

Regardless, I feel relieved, because finally, I have an idea why I’m me.