Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Labels Can Be Removed

Tonight, I watched Michael Phelps carry in the US flag representing the American team for the 2016 Olympics. He is seen as a role model, something to strive for, a representative of the great country that is the United States. Seven years ago, in 2009, Michael Phelps was in a much different place. He was known for his recreational and illegal use of marijuana.

During the summer of 2009, I was working my first job as a swim instructor for my hometown’s public pool/recreational center. At one point during the summer, I got a break from the two-year-old beginners and the baby pool that surely contained urine and got to work with a group of fourth grade boys. This was a much different experience. One day, we worked on kicking off the wall to begin the swimming formation. I told them we were going to be “like Michael Phelps.” One of the boys immediately responded “he’s a pothead.” I quickly changed my analogy and tried to derail the snickering boys’ attention.

Michael Phelps made a significant comeback in the 2012 Olympics in London, becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time.

We all make mistakes. As long as we own up to them and bear any possible consequences, they do not have to define us. The same with a diagnosis. It’s something that happens to you and as long as you do not let it define you, everyone else will eventually move on and will similarly not define you by that abnormality. It doesn’t matter how many people know. It’s not about keeping a secret. Sometimes that makes it worse. If Michael Phelps can move from “Pothead” to “Olympian,” I and my peers can certainly move from “Depressed” to “Content.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


I wasn’t warned when I began wearing contacts in the eighth grade to avoid crying while wearing them. Like most things in life, I had to learn that lesson on my own.

It wasn’t until I was working a part-time job in 2013, and I was on the phone with my therapist, crying, during a break in my shift, that (with my therapist’s suggestion) I bought a spare contact lens case and a small bottle of contact lens solution to keep in my car for situations just like this.

For when I unexpectedly begin to cry and the tears are so overwhelming that my vision becomes blurred and the contacts, which are supposed to correct my vision, simply become a hindrance.

I had been warned not to sleep in my contacts (apparently this is a common haphazard), but apparently it’s not so common to sob while wearing your contacts – at least not enough that your doctor gives you fair warning about it.

Just another omittance because the mental health field is not taken into consideration in the broad scope of things.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A MAJOR Change

After my diagnosis of depression in early 2011, I assumed that my current/former dreams/passion of a career in gene therapy were no longer valid. Why? The diagnosis revealed that I had been repressing quite a bit of emotion for the vast majority of my life; didn’t this mean that I must be repressing my true career goal and passion as well? Despite the amazing internship I had in the Bay Area, and the fact that I loved it, I abandoned all ideas of a career in the science field.
About six months later, I took a long series of career interest tests. What were the results? I had a strong interest and strength in science. Shocking. It also said I would be a good librarian. I could see that.

Fast forward to 2013 when I was receiving outpatient treatment in Houston. I decided to dip my toe in the waters of the Real World by taking an online class through Houston Community College. I decided to take Introduction to Psychology because I thought it would be interesting. It was. I learned a lot not only about Psychology, but also about myself.

I decided that this was the field I was supposed to enter. I’ve always wanted to help people, and, in this way, I could help people who have struggled, or are struggling, with depression and/or anxiety as well. Plus the coursework for a degree in Psychology seemed far less daunting than the coursework I had started to pursue at Cal for a degree in Molecular Cell Biology with an emphasis in Genetics. Try saying that five times fast. I was also GENUINELY interested in and passionate about the content, and I had a personal interest in it as well.

I took another Psychology class when I moved back to the Dallas Area and enjoyed it as well. These classes were not super stressful. They were more enjoyable, but I was definitely still learning a lot. It felt like this was what college was supposed to be like.

This past fall I transferred to UNT as a part-time student. I took a required upper-level statistics course, and although it wasn’t quite as interesting because the content wasn’t psychology based, I still enjoyed it. It was particularly easy to find it enjoyable because I had a lot of time to focus on the class since it was the only one I was taking that semester; I could really focus on it and get the most out of it. Also, the professor was really great.

Then this spring semester came; to say the beginning was challenging and overwhelming would be an understatement. I was enrolled in two classes. I had never taken two semesters back to back before. I went through phases where I thought I would drop both courses completely, then I thought I would drop the less interesting course – I cycled through these thoughts quite a bit and reached out to everyone I could think of for their help and opinions, especially because my parents were out of town at the time. I eventually decided to try to tackle both courses, and I’m glad I made that decision.
One day, I had some extra time in the psychology building, where both of my classes are held, so I figured I might as well go to one of the advisors on the third floor and declare my major. It was a quick and easy process. Knowing myself and my proclivity for indeciveness, I made sure that this declaration was not set in stone; the advisor assured me it wasn’t and that students changed their majors all the time.


BECAUSE, I met with my academic advisor about a month ago to plan the classes I would take over the summer and fall semesters. I explained to her that at this time I wasn’t planning on pursuing a doctorate but that I wanted to have the option to do so. Boy did she go into a whirlwind. It meant I needed to take this class and that class, and” Was I comfortable taking two really difficult classes in the same semester?” Utterly flustered, I basically said “No.” And the answer was really No – to all of it. I didn’t want to take these ridiculously difficult, uninteresting classes. It was beginning to become clear to me that this was no longer going to be fun.

This leads me to THE CHANGE. Another reason I strayed from a degree in the hard sciences is because there were quite a few classes that didn’t sound like fun and were going to be quite challenging. Sound familiar? After the meeting with my academic advisor, I realized that I was going to hit this road block with almost any major, Why not confront this road block with the major that would lead me to my dream job – gene therapy? Something that I have quite a bit of experience in. Something where I had an amazing internship that I still dream about and long for. Something that could somewhat realistically get me back to the Bay Area which is so near and dear to my heart. Yes, I wanted to help people by getting a degree in psychology, but by getting a degree in a hard science and working in gene therapy, I would be helping people at a macro level (potentially by the thousands if I found a technique that cured a significant disease) rather than a micro, individual level (individual therapy).

So, I met with a career counselor to see if I was even really thinking clearly. He seemed fairly amused by the whole situation. “Why did you change to Psychology?” “How do you already have all this experience?” “Why do you want to study Biochemistry when Biology would (obviously) be a better fit for you?” “I’m sure you have already looked at the required coursework.” “No.” Quizzical look. “I don’t want to think about how much longer I’m going to be in school.” Anyways the result of this rather interesting meeting was this very nice and empathic man telling me to meet with an advisor to tell them I want to change my major from a B.A. in Psychology to a B.S. in Biology.
An hour later I scheduled the appointment for the following week, and I’m extremely excited about the future. As well as scared as hell. I’m going completely out of my comfort zone. No more “easy,” “fun” classes. This is going to be the real deal, hard core stuff. I will be taking general chemistry (my fourth attempt, that’s another story) this summer. My younger sister, a high school chemistry teacher, has said that she will help me. That will be the first major hurdle – getting through the first class related to the major. If I can do that successfully, in my terms of success, which I’m working with my psychologist to redefine, then I think I will be on a good path for the rest of my degree. ……Not so sure about Organic Chemistry, but we will get there when we get there.

P.S. I’m super proud of myself for coming up with the awesome title of this piece!

P.P.S. After meeting with my psychologist today the whole “change” thing may not even happen….

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My 24th Birthday

I haven’t really celebrated my birthday for the past few years. One year, I believe I deactivated my Facebook around that time so I wouldn’t have to see all the well wishes. One year, I literally told my mom “Don’t tell me Happy Birthday.” I’m pretty sure this devastated her.

Why all this avoidance? In 2011, about two weeks before my nineteenth birthday, I was diagnosed with major depression. Since then, I have associated my birthday with the diagnosis. Also, my birthday has been an annual marker reminding me that I haven’t been where I have wanted to be in my life (graduated from college, secure in a full-time job, in graduate school, etc.)

This year, I’m fully embracing my birthday. I fully acknowledge that I’m being obnoxious about it, but I’m making up for about five years of not really celebrating. This year, I’m in college, on the road to where I want to be in life, though not quite there yet. My depression and anxiety are relatively under control and I’m working on further expanding my support network.

I’m actually looking forward to the future and what it may bring. Despite being a (nearly) 24-year-old undergraduate student, my experiences have been quite positive, and I have made some new, really good friends. All the worries I had about returning to school and living on my own were pretty much debunked, and I’ve already made even more progress this semester on living a more independent life (I’m also kicking butt and taking names when it comes to school).

So come February 23, I will proudly own the fact that it is the day of my birth and not think back to five years previous when I was first diagnosed; instead, I will think of my present life and all that I have accomplished and all the more I have to look forward to.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

An Optimistic Revelation

Optimism is not exactly my natural way of thinking…..I’m much more of a cynic. I blame it on my dad who, when I asked for the definition of optimism for a school assignment in the third grade, told me it is “not knowing all the facts.”

Anyways, here I am today. Reveling in this unfamiliar optimistic revelation:  This will be the first time, EVER, that I have taken two semesters of college coursework in a row.
This is a pretty significant accomplishment for me, at least existentially; I am finally choosing to go down the path of higher education, and I seem to have found the ‘right’ major in Psychology – a sort of agreement between the liberal arts and science.

I do view this ‘accomplishment’ with some hesitation as I only took one class this past semester, but I did simultaneously move out of my parent’s home and into an apartment near campus where I was able to gain some more independence. More significantly, I had to overcome my grandfather’s deterioration and ultimate death during the semester.

The class I took was fairly challenging, and I actually found it to be somewhat enjoyable. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it if I was taking any other classes additionally; I would have been too focused on the stress of the classes and would not have been able to take the time to revel in the content and the analyses of what I was learning.

I did spend a fair amount of time coming back to my parents’ home, but that’s OK. Considering everything that went on this past semester, I think it made sense that I sought comfort in my parents and in the house I was most familiar with. It’s all about baby steps. And the baby step I am taking this upcoming semester is adding on a second class to my workload. I’m pretty certain I will be able to handle it.

Now, I’m even looking forward to graduate school; I have a relatively short-term plan and then a long-term, sort of, back-up plan:  The short term plan is to earn a MSSW. The long-term plan is to earn a Ph.D. in Psychology and use it in some way. As of right now I envision opening my own private practice. But now I have planS and OPTIONS. Things feel right. I don’t feel trapped.
I hope to meet with an advisor tomorrow to figure out exactly how long it will take me to earn my bachelor’s degree, but even though I’m in a bit of a rush to get it, I still want to enjoy my undergraduate experience. I want to become, at least, a little more involved in the school. I pretty much have to if I want to get into graduate school.

Although this whole optimism thing is foreign to me, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Maybe it just means that I know all the relevant facts.