Tuesday, July 31, 2012


This morning I felt perfectly fine. I felt normal. I felt composed, calm, and focused. Now I feel awful: spaced out, tired, sad. Depressed. Unsure of myself, of my identity. The shift happened sometime during therapy today. I could feel it happening, but I still don't know why. It was basically 50 minutes of silence and staring at the carpet punctuated by the occasional attempt to say something and making no sense whatsoever. It's frustrating to be drowning in these incredible, breathtaking waves of deep emotion and have no idea where they're coming from.

There is absolutely nothing in my life right now to feel sad about. I feel guilty for letting myself get this way; other people have far more reasons than I do to feel down. But trying to badger myself into pulling it together never works.

I have learned that the healthiest way for me to deal with this - because it happens a lot - is to just hang on tight and ride it out, and try to find some sort of non-self-destructive distraction.

Right now my distraction is fennel and onions. I'm caramelizing them. For some reason, that's always comforting. I watch them slowly, slowly, slowly turn brown and sticky and sweet. I occasionally stir them around, but not too often. Caramelizing is about patience and walking away for a while and trusting that if you simply keep going, what's supposed to happen will eventually happen.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Lately I've been thinking a lot about habits - good ones, not-so-good ones, ones I have that work for me, ones I'd like to have, ones I'd like to get rid of. "Habits" has been a topic of conversation at home, in therapy, and on some of the blogs I read. One is the blog No Meat Athlete, where Matt has talked about some of the habits he's recently picked up and the potential power inherent in adopting new, beneficial habits - things like making your bed every day, doing a baseline amount of exercise daily, etc.

I can think of a few habits that at this point seem pretty ingrained in my daily routine and that I don't want to drop, ever, because they have made a big difference:

  • Flossing my teeth. It sounds silly, but one time - in my pre-flossing days - I paid $7000 in dental bills and wiped out our entire savings account. My teeth seem prone to developing cavities no matter what I do, but a few minutes of flossing every night has definitely helped counteract that. My teeth were relatively problem-free at my last two cleanings.
  • Bringing my lunch from home. I used to go out for lunch a lot more often, back in the days when I still ate things like sandwiches on wheat bread, pizza, and other inexpensive, gluten-y favorites. Getting rid of gluten from my diet drastically limited my restaurant options at that time and forced me to get cooking. And although it's gotten easier over the past few years to find GF items on most menus, those offerings often seem pretty halfhearted and thoughtless. I've gotten in the habit of eating leftovers for lunch the next day, plus an apple, an energy bar, some nuts and dried fruit, etc. Knowing what is in my food gives me peace of mind... and honestly, I think it tastes pretty decent, too. 
  • Running at least five times a week. This doesn't even feel like a habit anymore. It feels more like a compulsion. When I don't run, I get antsy and worry about declining fitness. I do force myself to take rest weeks every now and then, but that's usually when I'm really busy/distracted and can't worry as much about exercising anyway.

Two habits I am currently trying to cultivate:
  • Drinking 64 ounces of water every day. I've never been a big water drinker, even when I exercise. I think I get a lot of the fluids I need through the food I eat (fruits, veggies, etc.) However, my doctor recently pointed out that because colon cancer runs in my family, I need to do my best to... keep everything moving along. And drinking water is a very good way to do that.
  • Avoiding one-use items. I try to take my Nalgene and my insulated coffee mug to school every day. Sometimes I forget, and then I end up buying coffee in a styrofoam cup from the cafe in my building. Coffee with a side of guilt just isn't that good. Same with grocery shopping: I feel bad when I forget my cloth bags and end up with a trunk full of plastic bags. (For a really great guilt trip about one-use items, see the documentary Trashed. You will look at plastic bags and bottles in a whole new way.)
Habits that I would like to have but don't, and probably won't anytime in the near future:
  • Making my bed in the morning. If I can eat breakfast, get showered and dressed, put together my lunch, get my stuff together, and be in the car by 8 a.m., I feel highly accomplished. Adding bed-making to the list would be like purposely seeking out failure.
  • Cleaning stuff on a regular basis, a la Flylady. I mean, we clean, but not on any regular schedule. I do my best cleaning when I am anxious and/or procrastinating or when I find myself tripping over Legos/cars/random crap that comes in birthday party goodie bags. Or when I can't see out the window because there are too many handprints on the glass.
  • Meditating. I think this will happen at some point, but right now I seem to have a massive mental block when it comes to meditation. Yes, I believe that it can work wonders, but sitting still for five minutes makes me feel like punching a wall. And isn't that kind of NOT the point? I use running, walks outside, and cooking as time for meditation-like brain activity.
A habit I would like to get rid of: Negative thinking. Of course everyone thinks in a negative way sometimes, and perhaps it's occasionally necessary. But I am a glass-half-empty kind of person in pretty much every situation, even situations that are supposed to be fun, happy, lighthearted, etc. Doesn't do much for anxiety or depression. I'm working on replacing negative/useless thoughts with more positive/useful/pragmatic ones. This is such an ingrained habit, though, that I really have to be on top of it, especially on days that are tiring or stressful.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Toying with the possibility of a 50K?

Several months ago one of my favorite running buddies told me that she was interested in ultrarunning. My husband is an ultrarunner, so I told her she should talk to him about it, and she spent hours looking at the various websites and blogs he recommended re: long distance training and races. She got hooked. I encouraged her to go for it but thought to myself, "No way in hell am I running anything longer than a half marathon." (I actually did run a full marathon once, but it was a really long time ago and I didn't train properly. Painful.)

But a seed was planted. Then it was cultivated by several simple changes in my running life and personal life, and by my natural penchant for challenging/torturing myself:
  • I started running with a group. Almost everyone in the group is naturally faster than I am. Although I am still a lackadaisical runner when left to my own devices, and although I often feel like I am on the verge of puking during our group workouts, I can tell that my pace has improved significantly over just a few months. 
  • Running with other people has stripped away a lot of my natural social inhibitions and anxiety (with said people). In other social and professional situations, I find myself trying to be whoever I "need" to be to fit in. That's a long-held habit that I am working to break; it's not conducive to developing solid friendships because people never really get to know me (in fact, I barely know who *I* am in those instances). But when I run, I'm myself. I'm so focused on keeping up and simply getting through the workout that I don't have time to think about how I'm coming across. And sometimes, not thinking is a great thing. I've started to form solid, sincere, and supportive relationships with my running partners. (I'm not saying everything is always hunky dory. I struggle with friendships. But these glimmers of being able to "be real" with people have been encouraging.)
  • I started running outside on a more regular basis. Running on a treadmill is fine for me: I don't usually mind the monotony, and it gives me a chance to listen to music and kind of zone out. But running outside is physically way more challenging. It's also less predictable and therefore way more interesting.
Making these changes leads me to wonder what else I am capable of doing when it comes to my running. And now I, too, find myself thinking about longer distances. I'm toying with the idea of training for a 50K with my afore-mentioned running friend. True, she's speedier than I am, but we share the same drive to challenge ourselves, and we work well as a team. It would be a way for me to push myself as a runner and as a way to strengthen bonds with someone I think I'd really like to know better. 

I think a 50K is doable, especially if I aimed for a race in spring 2013. I could train over the fall when the weather is cooler and have something to look forward to other than school-related stuff. And if we tacked on a couple of extra days, it might be a good mini-getaway. If I used my frequent flier miles, I could do it on the cheap.

Question: Does anyone have a suggestion for a good spring "starter" 50K in the U.S., preferably one that is at least partially on trails?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Seattle in pictures

I'm sitting in the Las Vegas airport, waiting for my (delayed) flight home. Good thing McCarran has free Wi-Fi to go along with its wealth of slot machines.

My time in Seattle in pictures...

We went to Pike Place Market which, while a little touristy, is nevertheless lush, interesting, and colorful. We bought huge, gorgeous bouquets of flowers for only $5 each, which seems unheard of where I live, and we got samples of delicious stinky cheeses at Beecher's Homemade Cheese (I definitely did not stick to a vegan diet on this trip).

Famous fish-throwing locale:

We visited the Chateau St. Michele winery, where we did a tasting and then had a picnic on the lawn.

(I especially liked the 2008 Ethos cabernet sauvignon.)

And my mom and sister-in-law made me go shopping with them. I hate shopping. Detest it. It is a form of torture and punishment for me. However, there was chocolate involved, so it all worked out.

The above picture was taken at Glassybaby. I couldn't tell whether these were drinking tumblers or candle holders, but they were very pretty. I love glasswork. They were just too expensive, too heavy, and too breakable for me to cart home.

I'm glad I went to Pullman. I'm glad I went to Seattle. I'm glad I got to drive across the state of Washington, twice, alone - I think it's good for people to take solo road trips every once in a while - and see the mountains and the flood basalts. I'm glad that the visit with my family was relatively drama-free. And I am very, very glad to be going home. If this plane ever gets here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Family reunion (open bar)

Once I was done with labwork in Pullman, I drove over to Seattle for an impromptu family reunion of sorts. My brother lives there with his wife and son, and my parents flew in from the East Coast.

My brother has several bottles of wine and a case of beer on hand. Plus a full container of Jack Daniels in the fridge.

Being with my parents is difficult for me (and my brother, I think), for reasons that date back to when I was little. At our worst times, our visits have ended in fights suitable for the Jerry Springer Show (I remember being 10 weeks pregnant with my son and getting into an argument with my dad while we were in the car; at one point I was convinced he was going to plow right off the road, we were screaming so much). At best, we can eat dinner together, have a couple glasses of wine, and sit in the same room for a few hours. And even this feels something akin to running a marathon that I haven't adequately trained for.

Sometimes, when I hear about people going on pleasant vacations with their parents or having raucous Thanksgiving meals together or saying that their mom is their best friend or seeing their mom and dad over the weekend just to get that old comfort of home, I feel jealous. It's just not like that for us. The tension never goes away. There is so much unsaid and no-one is going to start that conversation. It would be way too difficult, way too painful.

One thing I have learned - thanks to my parents, but also to my husband and especially my son - is how influential and important family is. I mean, I knew that on an intellectual level, but now it's seeped into my bones. I truly believe there is nothing more important than raising a child as best you can, as lovingly and thoughtfully as you can, because that love (or lack thereof) is the foundation for everything that happens after. I say this as someone who wrestles with parenting on a daily basis. I am not a natural. But I am doing my damnedest to be "good enough" and to change what I need to change to be someone my son can count on.

"Whatever you are, whatever you do, your baby will get it. Anything you eat, any worries that are on your mind will be for him or her. Can you tell me that you cannot smile? Think of the baby, and smile for him, for her, for the future generations. Please don't tell me that a smile and your sorrow just don't go together. It's your sorrow, but what about your baby? It's not his sorrow, it's not her sorrow.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, July 23, 2012

So I have to say that I have really, really enjoyed running during my stay here in Pullman, WA. I was a little worried about this trip because no-one I talked to who has visited or lived in this area had anything particularly glowing to say about it. Here's what I had heard about Pullman before I saw it myself:
  • It's boring.
  • It's small.
  • It's not that pretty. 
  • I'm sorry you have to go there.
You can see why I was hesitant.

BUT! As it turns out, it is a runner's dream. It has an extensive and well maintained trail system, and the weather is generally not too warm (though we did have a couple of hot days while I was here). And although it lacks the mountainy ruggedness of western Washington, it's very pretty: Pullman is surrounded by miles and miles of rolling fields that come in a variety of colors depending on crop type.

I've been running primarily on the Bill Chipman trail, which runs for 7-8 miles between Pullman and Moscow (Mosc-OH, apparently - not like the city in Russia), Idaho. As far as I can tell, some people just use their bikes to commute from one to the other. I'm so jealous of that.

Other things I like about Pullman and Moscow and this area:

  • Great transportation options (like shuttles between here and Spokane, or here and Seattle, plus a city bus route)
  • Moscow Food Co-op - so stupendously awesome
  • Gem State Crystals - also in Moscow. I bought my son a collection of treasures here: some agate, some labradorite, and some staurolite. These are the types of presents you get when both your parents are geologists. ;-)
A few photos of and from the Bill Chipman trail:

Yeah. It was pretty great. The rest of the trip was productive, even fun, but it's the running that helps me stay on track and grounded - and this was a wonderful place to run.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Comfort food

I like to travel and see new places, but I get easily overwhelmed by the novelty and unfamiliarity of everything. Eating well, running, getting enough sleep, and having time to myself all help me deal with that (with varying degrees of success). On this trip, my sleep hasn't been great (the dorm I'm staying in has no AC, and it's been over 90 degrees the past few days) nor have I had a lot of alone time (I'm sharing the dorm space with two other women - which is actually a good thing, as discussed below).

BUT! I'm doing pretty well in the running and food departments. First, the food. Finding stuff I can eat is clearly not difficult here:

One of my roommates is from India. She's here for six months to study plant biology. She is a vegetarian and a wonderful cook. One night she made me veggie pakora: vegetables dredged in chickpea flour and fried:

It was so easy and crunchy and delicious. I'm definitely making this when I get home.

I also splurged on a chocolate milkshake. It was made with dairy milk (organic, from local cows, and the money from this business goes right back into care of said cows). It was delicious. I want to eat vegan, but I don't think I need to be particularly militant about it if there's a situation where having non-vegan food offers a unique opportunity and/or benefit. I guess for me, it doesn't have to be all or nothing - especially when I'm on the road.

Next time: comfort running! I'm hoping to do a short run tonight and take some pictures along the way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Labwork and a long run in the works

I'm currently at a different university in a different city doing labwork. One thing I like about my advisor is that he gives his students many opportunities to travel, work in various labs, and meet a variety of people in my field. Honestly, I really didn't want to go on this particular trip - I've been on the road a lot lately, and I'd love a solid chunk of time at home with my little family - but now that I'm here, I'm enjoying it well enough.

Here's a picture of what my labwork looks like. It's column chemistry, basically, meaning that you follow a very structured chemical recipe and run very specific amounts of liquids through this special resin than hangs on to different ions for different amounts of time depending on the type of acid you... Oh wait. I think this is getting potentially boring (though I think it's exciting... But then again, I think anything pertaining to volcanic rocks is exciting...)

I like the lab. It's quiet. Everything is tidy and organized and well-labeled. Usually there are only one or two other people around. Labs are so much better than, say, shopping malls or the grocery store that I walked into and right back out of the other day just because the person to space ratio seemed a little too high.

Moving on.

One of the best things about this town is that it has an extensive trail system.

And that's exactly where I'm planning to go as soon as I get out of the lab today. I'm hoping to get a good 8 miles in. With scenery like this, it's hard to not have a great run:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In some ways, nothing has changed since I last posted in January:

  • I'm still in grad school and I still love it.
  • I'm still running. In fact, in the past few months I have ramped up my mileage and my pace significantly. That's because I started running with a group of people who are faster than me. Every workout is hard, but I definitely see the results. And that makes me happy.
  • I'm still cooking a lot - because I enjoy the smells and tastes and sounds associated with food, and because that comforts me.
  • I still have my awesomely amazing little family around me. I love them.
Some things, however, have changed:
  • I passed my comprehensive exams, wrote my dissertation proposal, passed my qualifying exams, and am now a full-fledged Ph.D. candidate. This all happened within a span of ~5 months, which is a little hard to believe. But I did it.
  • I went vegan. So now I'm a gluten-free vegan. It's actually been really easy. The only tricky moments are when I am traveling, particularly within the US. We are still a country highly dependent on processed foods. I hope that will change.
  • I started taking medication. The psychiatrist at the student counseling center diagnosed me with PTSD and major depression and then put me on Zoloft. It worked fabulously for about three months. I felt like a new person. I felt like I had come back to myself. I wasn't overly happy, I still got overwhelmed and irritated, but I felt like ME and I was able to let go of things more easily. I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt that way. 
  • I re-started regular therapy sessions with my old therapist. He is charging me an abominably low fee for each session, which I appreciate so much. Now I know why good therapy is so expensive; I wish I could pay him more.
Last week, I had another episode of depression/detachment that lasted for days. I spent the majority of time in bed. I'm not sure what's worse: feeling really, really low, like you are the scum of the universe; or feeling like you are watching life from a distance and can't get yourself integrated into it. For me, I think I struggle more with the latter. Depression is so awful, but I can kind of muddle through it knowing that it will get better. I can usually make myself do things like run, make dinner, and communicate with my son. The detachment, however, is scary because it affects my ability to think rationally, feel secure, or communicate with pretty much anyone. When I am detached, I struggle to put words together. I have a hard time remembering stuff. And I feel like I have little control over anything. Honestly, I feel really stupid when I am that detached. I WANT to get back to myself, but it's not something that I can do just by sheer will.

This episode occurred after I'd attended a pretty big conference in another city. It was weird because from the outside - and even somewhat from the inside - I looked I was doing well. I talked to people, gave a presentation I was proud of, socialized, went for runs with my friend, ate healthy and delicious food... But all the while I could feel the mental seams straining and then suddenly pulling apart. And then I had to rely on the thing I do where part of me is getting things done and looking normal, while another part of me is just trying to survive. It is a weird contrast. It seems like that sort of thing shouldn't be possible, but because I have been doing it for the majority of my life, I'm pretty good at it. Sometimes I hate myself for it. People think I'm fine, and I'm not, and I resent them for not knowing, but I don't WANT them to know, but I want help, but I don't want to appear weak, so I continue on in robot mode... The crazy thing is that I manage to get things done in robot mode, and often I do them well. I don't quite understand how that happens.

I feel like I'm slowly coming out of it now (finally). I've had a lot of support from my family, therapist, and psychiatrist. We increased the antidepressant dosage a bit, which may help (though I guess now I know that medication alone isn't going to fix everything). I told my advisor about the PTSD, which at the time seemed like a good idea but which I am now kind of regretting. (Why is it that when you have pneumonia, or cancer, or some other physical illness/condition, no-one blames you for it, but when you have a mental illness, they think you just aren't trying hard enough to get better? I don't want to be treated any differently, and I don't want him to assume that I can't handle things... I just want him to know that sometimes I might need to take a day off, the way people do when they have chronic migraines or something else along those lines.)

I want to change. I want to believe that I CAN change, that I don't have to live my life feeling like I am in a bubble, separated from everyone else. I've been working on that for more than 2 years now, and sometimes I feel so discouraged that I haven't managed to "fix" myself.