On Mattering.

What matters?

What counts?

How can I help you and myself to lift us both up?

I’ve been thinking about things like this lately  as I’ve been trying to evolve myself professionally into a writer/editor of some kind (and I seem to be making some progress there, still seems like small drops in a large bucket.).

There’s also a sense that my plate is overflowing with projects to do, things to try to do well, and some things have fallen by the wayside as lower priorities. Which is hard.

Loss aversion, where humans take losses a lot harder than gains, means we tend to avoid losses as much as possible. It’s why letting go can be hard.

If you asked me in my fully clinically depressed mind of a few years ago if anything I did mattered, if I mattered, I’d say “no, I don’t, my work doesn’t, and the world- even my small world of immediate people I interact with and like- would do fine without me”.

I’m a little beyond that low point now, though far from thinking my writing, the things I try to do for friends (largely seems to be listening), the editing I do, is essential. It’s still hard for me to consider myself a talented human being in an area of life. Or I can dismiss the skills I do have as not valuable to the world.

I’m academic.

This may be the cost of doing basic research and being an academic scientist or a symptom of seeing the world through social media. The first takes a long time to pay off, the second reveals a world where lots of people show all sorts of things they are doing that really matter.

As I was drafting this post, I attended a friend’s wedding. I caught up with old friends, most of whom are moving into new things in their lives, at least relatively speaking. That seems to matter. They’ve grown. Are growing.

No sooner was I done with the wedding than I was off to the National Association of Science Writers conference. And the science writers…all fantastic people I met, all seeming to do a lot of hard work to communicate science well, to tell good stories, to hold people and institutions accountable, doing important work of making the connections that link scientists to one another, and scientists to the wider world.

It’s important work. Is that what I do? I’m not sure. A lot of the time, it feels as though all I’m doing is putting words on the page, perhaps relating a decent story, but one that isn’t essential. I realize it takes time to get to the point of realizing a story that matters. The last thing I want to be is an empty bloviator, however.

What problem do I help people solve? And is it possible I can get paid to do that?

The science writers I met the past two days are a really great bunch of people. Enthusiastic, caring, considerate, open to experiences, curious, and it sounds like from the first two days of workshops I couldn’t be present for (b/c friend’s wedding), passionate about their craft and working to make themselves and the community of science writers better.

There was an amendment up for vote this time around at NASW that was contentious, a vote to allow PIOs and other writers that aren’t what might be considered journalists to hold offices within the NASW.

In the complex media world of today, there may need to be two organizations; one for journalists that is more specialized and the more general NASW because most people practicing science writing professionally may well hop back and forth between the promotional and journalistic roles of science writing/communication– going where the work is (until a standardized minimum income is a reality- which may never happen- we all have to make a living somehow). Even here though, it sounds like everyone wants to do the best by the profession of science writing.

The #nextflint session really drove home how non-traditional journalists (one working for the ACLU) working with scientists (and local citizen scientists) could hold accountable the government charged with keeping drinking water of Flint, MI safe and not doing its job, even covering up and denying the problem. This while the traditional press went along with the authorities public claims until evidence became so clear it couldn’t be ignored by reporters.

Perhaps sub-sectioning is the solution. The NASJ would be a subsection of NASW and could have their own meeting in addition to the broader NASW (and the PIOs could be a subsection too). So even if PIOs and others are allowed to be officers, some independence of journalists is maintained (as each subsection would have its own officers). Other societies have zsections, often based on geographic regions, for instance.

However it resolves (I’m way too new a member of NASW to have voted; so I didn’t). The point is, the issue of whether NASW is a broadly or narrowly defined organization does matter. The people on either side of the amendment think it matters.

Perhaps that’s the key. Individuals think it matters and so it does.

Thinking I matter, matters. And yet it’s hard for me to think I do, even if progressing the past few years.

Does mattering matter to you? What’s a way you go forward and know that you matter (because you do, really)?

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11/1/2016 This post has been updated to clarify some of the writing.

 

 

 

 

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Enjoying Nature.

A friend of mine took me out to see the sunset the other night.

It was a gorgeous night.  But I was distracted. Not really present. Thoughts kept interfering. I have things to write. Stuff to learn, like coding and R stats. Things along these lines (superimposed on actual images of the sunset):

YouShouldBeWritingSunsetFallingbehindNextJobStudyNatureOutHereDidntGetEnoughDone

When people talk about the all consuming nature of working in science, this is what it looks like. Time away feels wasted. There’s never enough time spent. And especially as I’m trying to transition to a new career this year, down time feels like an unaffordable luxury. That even taking care of myself is impermissible too (and that one goes beyond just the sunset…I resent having to take time to go to the Dr.).

And it’s not as if I am exactly enjoying work either. I still feel burned out a lot of the time. Still, after a few hours, and eating something, this time lapse my friend Holly Pierce took is pretty incredible:

I know time away is important, but it’s hard to feel that it’s OK to take time away until I get my life more settled. I hope that happens, but it’s still hard to see how it happens. I hope there’s a time when I don’t feel like I’m burning my candle at both ends.

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Staying, Connecting, Asking.

The New PI (@ThenewPI) posted this today, about some of her recent bout of depressive thinking (and cites me and a few tweeps I like @Dr24hours, @psychgrrl as bold for speaking up about our brains and the things they do to us– I hope we are all doing some good for those who don’t feel they can speak out).

On Being recently re-ran their interview with Jennifer Hecht, mainly about her book ‘Stay’ that makes the secular case for not committing suicide (if you are having suicidal thoughts, this is the number for the National Suicide hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255).

And connection and asking are two things I’ve been struggling with lately in part because of being overly occupied with things means there’s not a lot of time to connect, and feeling like we can’t ask because we’re all busy, and there doesn’t seem to be time to formulate good questions worthy of someone’s time (plus the internet has all the answers anyway, right?).

And then perfectionism, impostorism and the anxiety produced because of them are there, the fear that it’s not OK to be who you are right now. That you’re not enough (relative to the other 7 billion people you share the planet with).

And of course, depression is a positive feedback loop imposing isolation.

I’ve been working hard to burst the bubble I feel I’ve been in for years. Though I may have poked a few holes in it, the bubble is made of metal and still there. In some ways I am better than I have ever been, but life isn’t suddenly awesome either. And the narrative my brain weaves lately about whatever I am doing is that it is the wrong thing to be doing at that moment.

Time writing this blog, writing my science blog, learning new digital skills/data analysis I want to explore because I find them fun, and having time to dedicate to them are slow. A lot o it feels like shouting into a void and only hearing a faint signal back.

I need sleep. I have trouble waking up. Exercise needs to happen more. Life maintenance things too. Do I even have time for myself? How do I carve out a social life?

Is it possible to live well anymore or should I give up now?

Stay.

I ask myself what I’m staying for, and the answer that always echoes back is that there are people that care about me in the world. If I ever get convinced that that is not the case, well, I will be in trouble.

I stay because of them. I care about them too, even if I don’t or can’t express it often enough or well. I listen well even if I don’t always speak up. I usually put things in writing.

That’s come to include much of my Twitter network (and other social media too) and can include people I work with, do projects with too (on top of the friends/family).

Sparking connections is hard. Asking is hard. Staying can be hard too.

I have to believe that all three are worthwhile pursuits. That I am worth it.

I keep trying because of the application of something I truly believe I am good at: persistence.

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Writing is life.

A few weeks ago, Lisa Munro wrote “Writing as Self-care” on her blog and this follow-up on focusing/actually writing when you dedicate time to doing it.

Jennifer Polk also referred to the Lisa’s post in her latest University Affairs column.

And it’s exactly right (write?). Prioritizing writing means prioritizing yourself and that is hard for a lot of people, including me. One of the biggest things I say about depression is that it makes it that much harder to consider yourself a priority.

I’ve often thought of it this way: it’s not even necessarily that I’m not a priority, it’s just that everyone else is more of a priority than I am.

In academia, and many other competitive fields, there need to be at least some moments of self-prioritization, otherwise careers and other things can stagnate.

In some ways, I’m doing better at saying I belong on Earth, being a person and trying to be OK taking up space.

I started this blog because I had nothing else going well in my life at the time. Writing has done more for my mental health than almost anything else. I’m trying to transition into a job where I get to write a lot for my job (that isn’t the traditional tenure-track academia). My science blog has done pretty well in its first year, beyond my expectations.

Writing is not just priority for me, even though the last few months it’s gotten harder to maintain a daily practice. And I need to make it more of a habit as well as incorporating the trappings that go along with writing: research, graphics/art, and editing (ideally separating those tasks in time).

Writing is life.

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On Standby.

My writing brain has been broken lately.

Maybe more than just my writing brain. My capacity to engage has been low for the last few months. Everything feels heavy, like it’s an obligation, and voices that used to work to bring me out

I’ve felt stuck in what other people think, my own perfectionism about what to write about and whether I can do a subject justice or not, whether I can do sufficient research for a post, etc.

I’m paralyzed and basically refuse to pitch ideas, I’m just so certain none of my ideas are that good, that I’m not that good. Or that I’m not up to the challenge of writing well enough.

I just read Randal Munroe’s brilliant essay in The New Yorker explaining Einstein’s scientific contributions using the ten-hundred most common words in the English language, which is a bit of a contrast to what would normally appear in the New Yorker that may be associated with $20 words. That said, good writing communicates complex ideas in the most straight-forward way possible. In that sense, Munroe’s essay fits perfectly there (Munroe is also the person behind the great web comic XKCD).

My brain acts as a black hole. Ideas pop up, seem good, but then disappear, get buried in gravity of questioning them, even if I write them down. There’s no drive to get them out there.

There seems to be a chasm opening, a crack on the wall. On one side, is the me that’s vital and vibrant and the other is the one that seems most visible to others. The drab, the dull, the dis-engaged. The exhausted. The aimless. The dispassionate (that I know means rational/cool as well as emotionless, but I feel the latter).

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has an entry nodus tollens, the realization that the plot of your life no longer makes sense to you.

Very little makes sense to me. Everything makes me feel worse, it seems, despite trying to be efficient, close loops, improve my skills, etc.

What’s missing? Part of it is still the feeling of not being connected to a community, or that I’m not good at building that in my life, or even speaking. I like writing, but am not yet really a paid writer. I like science and education, but don’t feel like either.

Where do I fit? What community do I belong to? How can I bring some enjoyment back? Does my narrative make sense? Can I communicate with people, especially through writing (b/c it’s my preferred medium)?

The dream would be to publish an article in the New Yorker or similar, I think, or feel? I am no longer sure which way growth lies.

 

Getting Convinced.

Last month I was really depressed. I was burned out. I wasn’t excited to do the things that people do. The dark thoughts were there.

Unfortunately, a lot of that is still true this month. I’ve been taking steps to mitigate these feelings. I’ve kept going, despite not wanting to. And there are projects that I am making progress on. It’s slowly moving me towards a better version of life, but I still am not able to break out of the depressive thinking– at least not fully.

I submitted a manuscript. I’m not excited about it, though.

I co-wrote an article for the National Postdoc Association Newsletter. I’m a little more excited about that.

I wrote one of my more ambitious posts on Quiet Branches, linking the past to the present. I sought input from an author of a study and did a lot more research than I have put in the past. I’m pretty proud of it.

And I got asked to have my blog brought into a blog network, which is exciting. It does feel validating, that maybe I am a “real” science writer.

I went to the Future of Research Conference for a day in Boston, which was really good. I networked! (I got a free book on storytelling in scientific publications from Rafael Luna of Harvard Med School!). I’m glad I took a long day to go.

I even applied for something, putting together a cover letter, resume, and a writing sample in a few hours. Whether I get the gig or not, I feel like putting that together that quickly is real progress.

These are the good things that happened last month and a half. I’m sure there are others, but as you can see, a lot of them still revolve around work, side projects (that I do love), and little outside of that.

How do I move forward from here? Where do I go? I’m still frazzled.

I’ve tried taking care of myself better with some success. I’m not exercising enough, running hasn’t happened other than a few short runs and one short race on a perfect fall day.

And as both commenters to my last blog post here noted, this is a long battle. Self-compassion matters. Having access to a therapist is important too (I am lucky in this regard). And taking time off, which I have done a bit of, feels more like my body telling my brain to take a break. And I even have a tiny in-real-life social life.

I have gotten better about asking for things and I don’t really fear rejection in most contexts, it’s just something that I find likely to occur still and am pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t.

Hopefully, I am learning. I hope I’m putting better content into my brain than bad. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say. It doesn’t help that the garbage can come from inside my own brain at times.

Am I just being busy for the sake of busy? Am I just distracting myself from what I should be doing? Am I just stubborn (tenacious maybe the more positive spin on that)? These are questions I keep asking myself.

Life goes on. I am trying to keep up. And keep swimming.

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Ian 3.0, stalled? or just slow?

I’m frustrated with myself for not making Ian3.0 happen already. I’ve been working on various projects around communicating science (have you seen The Quiet Branches?), getting involved in voicing my views on the biomedical workforce and diversity  (still a topic I’m learning more about– I will probably never say I’m an expert on it, but it’s been good to listen and learn as a moderator for the Diversity Journal Club. And there’ve been some minor successes of science too.

I’ve even started to learn some new things, trying to extend myself a little bit at least. Writing, Adobe Creative Cloud software, statistics, R, command line code, science communication & story telling, more are on my list too. I’m not sure I’m rapidly progressing in any of them.

Then there are the things I fall down on. Feeling organized, feel energized, motivated, and excited about life. And I’ve basically failed to find a ton of joy in anything. Sleeping has been hard. Staying on top of everything has gotten harder, though I feel good that I’m pushing myself in some ways on that front; doing to many things may mean I’m building skills (& hopefully not busy for the sake of busy).

It is hard to tell. Could I be more productive? More on top of things? Smarter about work? Do I still need to talk to more of the right people? Yes. I’ve averaged 1 information interview each month this summer.  And yet I seem to insist on a glacial pace of doing things. I feel like I react more than calmly respond lately too.

I think I have a future. That wasn’t true a year or so ago. And I still get flashes of the depressive mindset. A way of thinking that doesn’t work well.

I’m at least a little satisfied with the work I’ve done, even if it is all small-scale, informal, and perhaps nothing to write home about to most people (referring to my writing and content creation on the internet). I hope I’m building something good for my future. Because I do like the quieter activities in life. Writing, reading, researching, creating content quietly in my apartment.

I just hope it leads somewhere. I hope I’m more often successfully managing my depression than not, though again, it’s really hard to tell. I go back to “I don’t have anything in particular to be really depressed about”; though feeling stuck may be sufficient. Most of the people I know are all undergoing transitions this year it seems. Am I going to remain stagnant again? Doing the things I do, but it leading nowhere in particular because I’m too what? Slow? Stubborn? Depressed? Anxious?

Change is inevitable, and maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit. It’s just frustrating thinking of possibilities, sort of seeing them, but then my brain seems to refuse to take steps towards making them actually happen. Something that’s in the air lately is the idea of working hard, hustling, to eventually make it. I appreciate being able to do something quickly and move onto the next thing, but I also seem to require deliberation, consideration, before moving forward.

On her Talk Nerdy podcast this week, Cara Santa Maria  this week had on Marga Gual Soler, a science diplomat working at AAAS. She’s a molecular biology Ph.D. that got into her new role by asking (it’s worth listening to). Something I’m still not good at doing. And in a way, this is exactly the muscle I’m trying to build. Ask myself things like “Maybe I could make a version of that?”, “Can I ask that person for something?”, “Why not me?”.

Hopefully writing out some of these thoughts will help me take action and move towards a better system that works for me. To get me to Ian 3.0.