Category Archives: school

Lessons from my dog

Jack is not the kind of dog I wanted.  I had this vision in my mind of the kind of dog I wanted before I adopted Jack.  I wanted this really cool, laid back dog.  An outdoorsy, sporty running and frisbee partner.  I wanted a goofy, friendly, lovable mutt.  Sure, Jack is a few of these things, but far far far from most of these things.  He’s goofy in the sense that one time on a groggy morning jog, we were both not quite awake while running down the road alongside all of the parked cars when I heard a “thunk”.  I looked down to see a dazed Jack who had just run straight into the bumper of a parked car.  He’s not laid back in the slightest.  If I sit with him outside a coffee shop, good luck to the person who dares make direct eye contact with such a lovely pup.  Jack turns from adorable dog to the kraken in a split second. I especially love it when the passersby see this and step back with an audible “woah.”  No pressure there!  This past summer, Jack developed this horrible teenage back-talk in the form of growling, lunging, and nipping to both me and especially boy.  We don’t know what to make of it, where it is coming from, and how to react to it.  We both know it’s 100% unacceptable.  We typically pull his head down to meet the floor until he can calm down, but the stress in this household peaks for a solid 12 hours after those events.  Boy yells at Jack, Jack snarls at boy, and I separate them into different rooms and flutter back and forth trying to make amends and discuss remedies and work to put the household back on the same page of respect and discipline.

Recently, in an unfortunate and lightning fast turn of catastrophes, Jack bit boy.  He has nipped in the past, the easy-to-identify herder’s nip that says “hey, you’re going the wrong way, mister.”  This bite?  This wasn’t a herder’s nip.  This was a sheer white noise panic I don’t know what else to do because you just swatted my rear with your socks and I’m scared bite down and naw until I realize what I’m doing and start hi-pitched yelping and screaming in fear.  I think our neighbors thought we were killing poor Jack that night.  Seemingly unprovoked, Jack worked his way into a blind panic that had him squealing before boy even touched the poor pup.  In a bad decision by boy, he swatted at Jack with a pair of socks and Jack’s squeals turned into a bite which turned into realization of what he was doing which was too late because boy had his face to the ground with blood dripping from his wound all over Jack’s fur.  Jack’s eyes were fully dilated and his teeth were out.  I ran up to both of them and we kept Jack in position until he calmed before boy stood up to wash his wound.  Ears back, shaking, in a half tuck position, Jack had blood spots and fear all over his face.  I took a wet towel and helped him clean himself off as much as he would let me.  I sat with him a good 15-20 minutes before letting him sleep by himself in the living room.  Boy sat with him alone for another 15 minute before coming to bed.  It wasn’t a good night for anyone in this household.

The worst part of this?  Whereas before I felt like I could trust that Jack would not bite, he is now in the category of a dog that can and will bite.  This changes things.   This changes a lot of things.  I always have to be on guard.  I will never fully trust my dog again.  We have stricter limits in the household.  Jack can only come up to snuggle on the couch when he is invited.  He is blocked off from the bedrooms at night.  If he becomes territorial of an area that is not his own bed, he has to leave the room altogether.  He hates it.  We hate it.  Every night we sit on the couch, Jack stares at us from his bed on the floor with big glossy puppy dog eyes.  Every morning at 6:00 am his nose is pressed up to the door waiting for one of us to wake up and open it.  On weekends he lays by the door until 10 or 11 am, whereas before it was a weekend treat for all three of us to indulge in a very long morning snuggle fest.  None of us like it, but it has to be done.  And sometimes I can’t help but think, this is not the kind of dog that I wanted.  And I want to curse and kick rocks about it.

I withdrew my applications to medical school.  It took a lot of discussion and reaching out to those I trust 100% with my very sensitive emotional self.  And then more discussion with both those who are in medical school, those who aren’t in medical school, and those who want to be in medical school.  You see, in undergrad I knew what I wanted to major in the minute I walked onto campus.  I dove into courses my freshman and sophomore year and was surrounded by juniors and seniors in several of my classes.  Good on me, I thought.  Getting this stuff out of the way so I can get it done.  But in the end?  I always felt a bit slower than everyone in the class.  I struggled.  I stressed.  I felt like I couldn’t keep up.  I didn’t enjoy what I was doing.  And when I look back, there are a few classes I wish I could take again, because if I did?  I would take the time to enjoy them a little bit more.  I would stop worrying about my grade on the next paper and relish the material a bit more.

I could get into medical school for next fall.  It only takes one acceptance, right?  I think I could swing it.  But would I be ready?  And when I asked myself if I would be ready, I meant would I be ready to enjoy it?  To relish it?  To immerse myself in an environment that feels both right for me at the moment?  I prepared for the MCAT and I filled out those applications, and I knew all along I was pushing the envelope of what I was ready to take on.  I don’t want to be scared about anatomy and physiology my first semester in medical school because the only place I have seen it up to this point was a few chapters in the MCAT prep book that told me exactly what I need to memorize without an ounce of context.  I’m not ready.

Sometimes I can’t help but think, this is not the type of person I want to be.  And I want to curse and kick rocks about it.

I wouldn’t choose to adopt another dog if I could go back in time.  Jack’s given me too much.  He’s taught me about myself and despite his poor behavior at times, I am a staunch defender of who he is.  He’s Jack.  He’s scared at times and we all get confused at how to handle it and when we act bad he acts worse.  And some days, we get it right.  We exercise him just enough, we give him just enough discipline, set the limits just right so that he feels safe and protected, and he gives us just enough love to show that we did it right.  We’re figuring it out.  We make mistakes.  A little blood is shed.  We learn.  We move on better than what we were because we have dropped our expectations and accepted what comes.  Good.  Bad.  The in-between.

I’m playing it by ear.  Learning how to keep myself immersed in healthy relationships.  Weeding out the bad.  Dismissing preconceived notions of who I need to be and who I think people expect me to be.  Not taking it personally when people recommend vocational school or nursing school.  Deciding that the in-between is the best place for me.  And letting myself enjoy it.

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The Battle of White Noise

I don’t hide the fact that I go to therapy.  Every Monday I leave work an hour early and commute over to my therapist’s office and for 45 minutes I allow myself to be the most narcissistic person that I will ever allow myself to be.  (As far as I’m concerned, it’s the most selfish thing I will ever do, and paying for it is the only way I can justify it…)  But why do I still need it?  9 months after I started to go?  Especially since I told my boss I’d only be going for a few months back in October and I keep waiting for her to ask “hey, what’s the deal with the leave-early Mondays 9 months later?” but rather I usually get a surprised look when I sweep by at 3:20 and say “see you tomorrow.”

I have to go back to September of last fall to explain.  At the beginning of every Chemistry class this past year we had a 15 minute quiz.  I spent all of my Sundays last year reading Chemistry for Monday night tests.  I’d read over my notes before class, walk into class, take the quiz, and fail.  People would finish in the first 5 minutes, start chatting, the professor would start talking as I tried to finish up my quiz, and I couldn’t focus on anything.  Panic built up and my brain felt like it wanted to explode and I would either spend the rest of the class fighting back tears or, come mid-semester, I started to simply walk out of class after the quiz and walk from campus to boy’s apartment crying.  It sucked and I felt like a loser because I studied, I knew the information, I just couldn’t take the goddamn quizzes.  On top of that, I would come home to boy who had no understanding about the nature of my frustration.  He would tell me over and over to practice with timed quizzes at home not realizing that the time factor wasn’t the issue.  I couldn’t get my brain to relax and focus on the test without everything else in the room going from a soft buzz to a screaming train.

The frustration trickled into my studying.  Doing physics homework became an inevitable cry it out session that lasted about 4 hours each time.  I couldn’t get through a problem without breaking down and losing sight of what was even being asked of me.  I had hints of this the year before in Biology.  At one point I approached my Biology professor and confessed that I thought I had a learning disorder because I had no idea how to take a test.  (Taking tests – a guaranteed area where your overly-liberal arts undergraduate education will fail you.)  I just felt plain stupid.  I had flash backs to my college roommate who, being the same major as me, was in at least 1 class with me every semester since our freshman year.  The girl’s a whiz.  Ask her today and she can still remember every piece of literature we read and the theme of each title as well as every article she read in Foreign Policy magazine during our study abroad and will challenge you to recent political trivia like it’s the latest entertainment news.  For someone who had to read and reread to grasp at just what exactly was going on, I remember often feeling stupid and unable to participate in class discussions.  I completely read over a rape scene in my women’s literature class.  (Try explaining to a class of 15 feminists that you didn’t think the rape scene constituted rape because, fact is, you just didn’t recall what you read.)  Feeling stupid is a terrible feeling.  It leads people to act out of sorts; some people get angry, some people become overly proud, some people get depressed.  My esteem crashed.  I took it personally when people suggested nursing school or told me that some people just don’t have the aptitude to become doctors.  Convinced I was going to have low grades for that semester, I started to look at certification schools for surgical techs and physician’s assistants.

So, I went to counseling.  Talked about what I was feeling.  Talked about methods that helped some people.  I used a few, but I mostly got through the semester out of fear.  I have a few methods I use (mostly meditative visualizations prior to sitting down and studying or test taking), but part of me still wonders if they’re good enough.  Half way though spring semester a girl in class behind me mumbled “I have got to take more adderall before this class, I am falling asleep.”  Huh.  I guess that’s one way to get through it.  I wasn’t sure what it even was, so I looked it up when I got home and found this article in The New Yorker.  It’s an enlightening read.  My counselor had suggested prescription meds.  I missed a few days of work this year after endless nights of panic attacks and rather than relaxing I would spend the day worrying that my boss would expect a doctor’s note or a deathly cold that I was martyring my way through upon returning to work the following day.  But I didn’t want meds.  That was the point of counseling, right?  to avoid meds?  to talk my way through this and nip it in the bud?

I met with my premed adviser for the first time recently.  Yes, my GPA is low (3.3 is low for premed.)  He asked how I am at standardized testing.  I told him the problem, the white noise that creates a fuzz in my mind, the panic, the fact that I know the information and it has nothing to do with whether I know the information and everything to do with focusing.  He told me about his personal experience with this problem.  The lack of retention of what he’d read, the same panic, the fact that testing didn’t reflect what he knew.  But what did he suggest?  Adderall.  (To his credit, he offered several solutions and was happy to hear I was seeing a counselor about this, but what stood out in my mind was the Adderall.)

I’ve had the conversation with boy about this – if we had easy access to this drug, would we use it?  How prevalent is it in the premed community?  Well, premeds are of a certain sort and I was embarassed at even admitting to getting panic attacks because it’s what you’d expect from a premed student, right?  I found this article on the student doctor network.  More interesting than the article itself is the comment section.  Where does adderall cross the line and become a neuroenhancer verses a helpful drug to those who need it?  What are the side effects on creativity?  How far behind will I be in my application process next summer when held up against my peers, several of whom take adderall?

A bigger problem for me is the white noise is spreading.  I now struggle with this more at work than in my studies.  Part of my job encourages me to be on social networks tracking and participating in the trends of social outreach and engagement.  This involvement has created enough white noise to turn my days into project-hopping madness mixed with an over-caffeinated effort to GTD (get things done.)  I dread interruptions because I have enough in front of me.  I fret over wasting time and have trained my visualizations for studying, not for work.  Even when studying, however, I sometimes require a good few hours of mental prep before tackling the material.  And after cracking open a book, I don’t really hit the meat of the material until hours 2-4.  I am not a study on the train and during lunch type of person.  Rather, I do study marathons that leave me buzzed on focus and usually I have to channel any remaining energy into Sudoku puzzles to wind down afterward.  It’s a great feeling actually, but one that I have to work hard for.

So what’s the answer?  I don’t know.  Maybe I am a good candidate for adderall.  But part of me would still feel like it’s a cheat.  Of course I want good grades and recognition at work for being the person who is always on top of my work load.  But at what cost?

I’m exploring osteopathic medicine and philosophy.  Not only because of my low GPA, but mostly because of my personal philosophy on this subject alone.  I want to believe I’m more capable than a pill will ever make me, I just have to learn how to exercise my capabilities.  The awareness of this white noise problem seems to be making it worse, but I can at least say the edge of panic has been removed.  I don’t slip into the freight train mode despite the white noise mode becoming more constant and present.  And I’ll accept that as improvement with more to go.  In the end, who knows.  I suspect it will seep in and out of our culture similar to restless leg syndrome – an awareness will slip into an obsession that requires medication, and as soon as the obsession fades so do the symptoms.  Let’s hope the obsession doesn’t last until the end of my current class, because I really want to up my GPA.

Update: How timely that I should wake up to this article.

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the girl who called fail

I never let on to my family how tough a class is because I always get the same response – “honey, I’m sure you’ll do fine.”  And I’m always thinking in my head no!  I will not be fine!  I will not always be fine! So I tried not to let on how tough physics was for me this past fall.  I hinted around at it.  Told them I was preparing for the worst.  Emphasizing that I will have to retake this course elsewhere.  Somewhere where they can tone it down to my level.  I sat in counseling week after week and talked through how to deal with the anxiety physics caused me.  The anxiety that kept me from even so much as studying at times, because I was too scared to crack the book open.  I stayed up until 2 am each night the week of the final, littering the pages with multi-colored tabs with notes and focusing on keeping an open mind so that I wouldn’t get that tense frustration of just not understanding.  And the evening of the exam, I stood in the kitchen for 2 hours eating crackers nervously reviewing notes and then went to class.  First problem – rocked it, 100%.  Second problem – I know what the concept is but I can’t quite figure it out, I’ll come back to it.  Third problem – score, this was a homework problem, but wait.  What?  Why can’t I figure this out?  I should be able to figure this out!  What the hell?!  Fourth problem – crap crap crap, 2 hours in, 1 hour to go. I went to the bathroom to get the panic out and then came back and just wrote derivations.  Tons of derivations.  A page worth of derivations.  Problem 5&6 – are you kidding me?!  Well, here’s a good guess.

I never did get back to the second problem.  I came home.  Really thought about how I did.  Really really thought about the possible outcomes.  I only actually answered one problem.   I couldn’t imagine anything other than an F.  A big fat F that would be 2/3 of my final grade.  The other third was my midterm.  Which was… ahem….a big fat 60%. So people asked how it went, and I was honest.  The course kicked my ass.  And there was no curve since the grades were already scaled grades down 5%, so a 75% was still somehow a B.  And still, I couldn’t cut it.  Ugh.  I could deal.

So the professor emailed me today.  I made a B.  In the class.  B.  I KNOW!  I’m happy.  Ecstatic.  But more upset that no one will ever believe me again when I say that  a course kicked my ass!  I am now known as the girl who cried fail.

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for the sake of not disappearing altogether

Needless to say, it has been busy.  And this is a quickie.

Consumer free Christmas? Well, not by choice.  I haven’t bought or given a single gift yet.  And I have no plans on cramming in last minute shopping.  When the idea of shopping stresses me out, why would I go do it?  Totally planning on hitting up colleagues and family with Happy 2009! gifts 🙂

Or make that no Christmas? Gasp! Never! However, I’ve had the same question from several people – do boy and I celebrate Christmas since we’re atheist?  Are you KIDDING me?! OF COURSE!  Silly geeses.  What do we celebrate?  Each other.  Family.  Our good fortune.  And oddly enough, our favorite television show is Eli Stone.  We’ve been following this one from the start (and too soon end) and it centers around a Christian man who believes he’s God’s prophet.  We ENJOY the show, the very Christian show, that America has decided to cancel.

Dog is still freak. Why? because last Friday, after finding a sugar ant invasion in our new apartment after the first hard rain, I suffocated drowned a trail of ants across the hallway with a giant puddle of Raid ant killer.  I was proud of myself, too.  I hate hate hate bugs which is why boy usually handles bug situations before I get a chance to even see them, hence the drowning.  I was making a little swimming pool of Raid in the kitchen when I heard a tongue lapping in the hallway.   Jack found the puddle, and the little guy has such an oral fixation he has to put his tongue on everything!  And he doesn’t just lick, he goes to town savouring things such as poop, garbage, and apparently Raid.  I had a fit that sent Jack into an all-day pouty mood and called the ASPCA poison control to go over the ingredients and how Jack might react (and let me tell you, unlike the human poison control center, the ASPCA poison control center is not free.  $60 per consultation which is unfortunate in case someone chooses NOT to pay the fee and take the risk of waiting it out…)  Jack was fine, but I spent a whole day wondering if he was lethargic or just pouting because I used my mean voice at him.  And the advice from poison control?  Give him a treat so he can get the bad taste out of his mouth otherwise he’ll drool and foam at the mouth because he can’t spit.  Dear Jack, if it tastes bad, maybe you should have your tongue all over it!!!

and lastly.  I haven’t slept since Saturday night.  Last night I pulled my first all-nighter since those good ‘ole college days to get through my last final this evening.  I have a lot to say about this semester, but I’m not sure I’m ready to say.  Some of it is humiliating but most of it is frustrating.  Lessons learned – I will not be taking two 4 credit classes alongside working full time, and I will not beat myself up to the point of paralyzing anxiety over not understanding completely new and unfamiliar material.  Unfortunately, I’ve earned a few scars physically, emotionally, and on my transcript.  Nothing that can’t be undone, but it will require 2-3 times the effort and a complete fear of physics.

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I don’t understand the question

Remember those required school tests for vision and hearing?  Once a year during an English class, we were all herded into the library to look through equipment from the 1970s and answer questions about what direction the “E” was facing using 3 fingers and to raise our hand corresponding to the ear we hear the beep in.  And then there was the part I always dreaded because I failed it EVERY time.  The red ball.  Is it inside the box or outside the box.  Simple, right?  No.  Because I never understood the question.  Up until high school, instead of thinking the question was about if the red ball was within the lines of the square or outside the lines of the square, I thought they were asking if the ball was IN the box or OUT of the box.  Like in 3d space.  So the ball was in the middle of the square and I’d be debating where it was in space.  And they passed me every time.  Probably thinking they’ll pass the dumb girl because obviously something’s not right because she can SEE the ball.

Then in high school chemistry we had to make an edible 3d model of an atom.  I spent hours with my mom at Michael’s craft store perplexed by this.  I didn’t understand why this was so difficult for me to figure out and what were the other students doing?  In the end I showed up to class with orbits of twizzlers suspended with fishing wire from a marshmallow ball nucleus and life saver electrons.  What did everyone else do?  Sheet cakes with a frosted atom design.  This never even phased me.  Because frosting on a sheet cake as 3d?  That makes no sense.

This not understanding the question is a repeated theme in my life.  The smallest request becomes a brain teaser because I can distort questions in my head to mean something entirely different.  And most of these questions involve spatial things.  In high school geometry we had a test question that featured 90 feet long howling coyote-like wiener dogs in the desert.  And, no lie, I asked my english teacher (who was the then wife of the geometry teacher) if she really did see these dogs on her honeymoon.  Why did I ask this?  Because spatially, I had no idea how long 90 feet was.

Yeah.  You say I’m a retard, I say my imagination is spatially challenged.  (but really, I can’t be alone in this.)

So I am having the problem again in chemistry.  And I sit in class with a nuclear chemist of a professor who understands numbers and physics as translates into graphs and orbits and my eyes fill up with tears over and over again because I can’t SEE it.  I have no idea what he is talking about because there is no picture in my head and the numbers and letters of the 3 axes we’re dealing with mean NOTHING to me.  Absolutely NOTHING.

And I come home in near tears, again, with boy trying to fix everything.  But he doesn’t understand.  He just wants to fix it.

So I may or may not have heated up some marshmallows in the oven on some foil (I know, but neither of us has a microwave and we were soaking the burner pans in easy off and I was desperate) and may or may not have dumped roasted marshmallows into a bowl of cookie crisp (I would never buy cookie crisp but boy did because of a 2fer at Target he couldn’t resist.)  And I sat in front of the television eating marshmallow and cookie crisp watching Stealing Beauty explaining to boy that for a girl of 15, this was by far the sexiest most romantic movie EVER.  A girl who writes haikus at the top of old newspaper and looks straight into the camera and turns away to inhale a cigarette before tearing off the haiku and holding above a flame and letting her words burn and then, and THEN!  she loses her virginity to the shy Italian boy who wrote her anonymous love letters!  OMG.  How I wish I was Liv Tyler in that movie.  But instead, I am 27 years old, frustrated with learning the stuff I remember learning in high school, eating a bowl of marshmallow and cookie crisp, with a dog wearing a cone around his neck resting his head on my lap.  So to take the humiliation off of me, I will instead put it on Jack.

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Perfectionism comes in different flavors

I never really thought of myself as a perfectionist.  Mostly because I am only an average student, and aren’t perfectionists supposed to be straight A students?  I have managed to convince myself that being an average student rather than the straight A student will give me an upper hand when applying to medical schools.  I’m trying to think of what my argument to myself was, but it’s sounding pretty lame now.  Maybe my application would get scrutinized more because why the average person would want to go to medical school is less obvious than the straight A student.  Yeah, I know, who am I kidding.

I have trouble identifying why this semester is particularly tough, but it is.  Unlike biology and calculus, I don’t consider physics and chemistry intuitive subjects (I know what you’re thinking with calculus, but seriously, I loved it.  Everything worked out so perfectly.)  I’ve been experiencing 2 types of perfectionism quirks.  And it boggles me how the desire to perform perfectly has resulted in complete opposite reactions.

The first was in chemistry.  Every week I read the chapters, spent a good 2-3 hours on the homework (usually 10 questions.)  I prepared ahead of time and read the chapter we were discussing.  But for the life of me, I COULDN’T get a 10/10 on a quiz.  I was so frustrated after one quiz that I walked out of class in tears right afterward and didn’t stay for the lecture because I knew I understood this stuff, I was just unable to prove it.  So the weekend before the mid term, I studied 3 days straight, taking off the Monday of the quiz to study.  I had my dry erase board where I worked through problem after problem memorizing compounds of ions and acids.  Everytime I left the apartment boy had the stack of flash cards and called them out to me.  It felt good.  I was extremely focused and did well on the mid term.  (I could have done better, but I scored 10pts above the class avg, so I’ll take it.)

Then physics.  I went to class, followed the derivations of equations, thought I knew what was happening.  Then came the homework.  And I would sit in front of one problem for an hour and a half not knowing what was going on and end it in tears.  So I gave up.  I knew I wasn’t going to get a good grade, and if I couldn’t get a good grade I didn’t want to do it.  I would sit in front of my homework and shut down completely.  I kept going to class, but I was too terrified to approach the subject on my own because I couldn’t perform perfectly.

My struggle for perfectionism led me to study my ass off in chemistry and to give up on physics.  I didn’t know that such performance anxiety could solicit such opposite responses.

So I bought 2 physics study guides, sat through student study sessions with tears welling up in my eyes, read through chapters and attempted problem after problem to only get frustrated when I set it up wrong.  And then I sat through a 3.5 hour physics mid term last night and left with a smile on my face.  I know I didn’t get and A.  I may have even gotten a C.  But that’s okay with me.  Because I didn’t totally give up.  I worked through all the problems except for one (because, really, if I know the time it takes for earth to go around the sun, and it takes another planet twice that time, how am I supposed to figure out the distance from the sun to the other planet?  I don’t get it.)  Now if I get a D or lower, I will be upset.  Fingers crossed a solid B.

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