A couple weeks ago I tweeted this. I had a meeting that - for reasons I won't go into here - was going to be a rough meeting for me and when I came out I was pretty proud that I hadn't cried.
To answer Dr. ScientistMother's question: I'm not sure if having meditated for 10 minutes a day the past year helped me in not crying in this meeting. Maybe. But the main reason - that is admittedly a bit childish perhaps - was that I promised myself a present if I didn't cry. This way, every time something happened in the meeting that I might cry about, I could focus on my present and divert my attention from what was happening in the meeting. So I politely smiled, talked and nodded while thinking about something else. After this 1,5 hours of not crying, I gave myself the book This is how we rise from Claudia Chen. It is an awesome and empowering book, but more about that some other time.
But I want to come back to crying in meetings. Because cried I have in meetings, as documented on this blog here and here. That last post even drove a commenter to diagnose me with a depression and advise me to seek help. And also at work I've had people ask me if I needed a break or not. But at the same time people praise me for my energy and dedication. And to be honest, this package of energy and passion and dedication for me automatically comes with crying every now and then. Crying because I care, or because I am frustrated to make something happen or because I really appreciate the people I work with. Most of the time, it is not a sign that something is wrong with me, it is actually a sign that I care. Because at the end of the day, I'd rather not zone out and think about something else in a meeting just to make sure I don't cry.
My main reason to leave academia was the short contract I was on, in combination with the difficulty to get funding in order to sustain myself in academia. I wanted stability and be able to think about projects longer than just the year I had funding for. So I left for a position in industry.
However, shortly after I joined the company that I work for, there were rumors that our part of the company would be sold. If that were to happen, it was very unclear what would happen to the employees: would we be asked to move elsewhere, would we be fired? Fortunately that did not happen, but it did reinforce the notion that industry is not synonymous with stability.
And then at the beginning of this year I started an assignment that was supposed to last for six months. Currently, we're near the end of the year and I am still in that assignment. I enjoy it and people around me value what I do. It does however, lead to a whole bunch of uncertainty about what will be next: can I stay in the assignment (which I would like), or do I go back to my actual job? It made me realize all the more that there is uncertainty and change everywhere.
I do feel that I am much better equipped now then when I was a post-doc to deal with change. I know much better what I am good at because people give more feedback here than in academia, and I trust that there will be a job that I like somewhere for me. And it really helps that I have a permanent contract here that is not dependent on whether I find funding to sustain myself.
Most importantly, inside I went from feeling like a tiny boat that could be knocked over by change...
.... to a much more stable rock that stays stable among change, on most days. On other days I REALLY wish I knew what I am going to be doing next year and what I can look forward to.
The first year after BlueEyes was born, I vowed to myself never to take any important decisions in the first year postpartum. I was too tired, emotional and just not myself to be trusted to do anything else than do the work I had thought out before that year and take care of my baby and myself. It was even difficult to decide whether to work during naptime or take a much needed nap myself.
A little over two years later, Little Brother was born and I completely disobeyed my own order not to take any decisions during that first year. We moved, I briefly started a new post-doc job and then decided to leave academia. I still believe that was a really good decision by the way, but I wish there was a good way to figure out if you can be trusted to take decisions at a particular time.
I notice that there are differences during my cycle in terms of feeling confident to take a decision (or not at all), and then there's prodromal migraine phases during which I feel sad and completely incompetent. Usually I only figure out that this brain state was there after it has ended. It makes me realize how nice it would be if there was a little light on the inside of your wrist that would switch on if you are good to make important decisions, or something like that. Or is that what mindfulness is good for...?
What about you? Do you know when your brain can be trusted to take decisions?
It has been much quieter here on the blog than I had hoped, but the first half of this year has significantly kicked my butt. Every time I tried to put my thoughts about that on paper it did not lead to anything coherent and/or blogable. But then I had a really nice break over the summer, which even allowed me to read books!
Living a Feminist Life - Sara Ahmed: I had been following Sara Ahmed on twitter for a while but so far I had never read any feminist literature. Reading Sara's book was great because she is able to put in words what it means to experience sexism and racism and what it feels like to address those issues, sometimes over and over. Her style is interesting, as it very much reads like a flow of thoughts, which made some parts hard to follow at first.
Homo Deus - Yuval Noah Harari: This was a gift from my brother and is actually the sequal to the book Sapiens, but I started with this one and have Sapiens still waiting for me. In this book, Harari talks about how things like famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges for human beings. I thought that the first part of this book sounded a bit 'splainy to me, but I was especially impressed with the second part of the book where Harari talks about how we see the human brain as a collection of algorithms, that cannot compete with the algorithms that humans are creating at the moment, or will create in the future. I was impressed by his ability to think outside of what we currently know and experience and describe what the future might be like when computer-algorithms become better than biological algorithms (which I guess is already the case right now for some specific tasks).
The angel's game (in Dutch: Het spel van de engel) - Carlos Ruiz Safon - This book had been sitting on my bookshelf for nearly 8 years. Together with my husband and brother I had given it to my grandmother for her 80th birthday. She brought it on vacation with her into the mountains, read until page 28 and died in her sleep of a massive stroke. My mom wrote down where my grandmother was in the book after she passed away when she drove to meet my grandfather at their vacation destination and later gave the book back to me. It took me 8 years to not get so incredibly sad when I picked up this book that I could actually start reading it and think about the awesome person my grandmother was, and how weird it still is that she isn't around anymore. With respect to the book: it is a good vacation book, because the story just pulls you in. But it is not a mind-blowing story and it sounds and feels very similar to Shadow of the Wind, the bestseller Ruiz Safon wrote earlier.
What about you, dear reader of this blog (if you are still around), have you read any of these books or do did you read anything else worth sharing during the summer?
It is the week of the inauguration of the orange overlord and I realize I have not written anything about that here. As someone who doesn't live in the US nor is a US citizen, I don't feel it is my place to comment on US politics to an audience of mostly US people. It feels like trying to explain how MRI works to an audience of MRI experts and before starting knowing that you might get it wrong. At the same time, I'm concerned and sad about the next four years for the US, and as a result the next four years for the climate and the state of the world. And I'm also concerned about our own upcoming elections with a Trump look-a-like who shares many of his ideologies.
So what have I got? Not much I'm afraid, but I wanted to share it anyway. Like I wrote in my new year's resolutions post, I've been meditating using the Headspace app and I really like it. I had tried meditating before, but never really got into it. I always kind of felt like I was faking it when I tried sitting at home and it was hard to establish any kind of practice that I kept up with. Until I tried the Headspace app*.
As you see, the graphics are nice and you can see why I keep up with it: you get stickers for the consecutive days that you use the app. Yup, I meditate for virtual stickers now. Headspace starts with a beginner series of guided meditation that gently teaches you how to recognize thoughts and feelings without judging them. It then continues with different packages of guided meditations on various themes, like patience, creativity, mental health, etc. I like the level of "guidedness" and the voice of Andy, the person who narrates them.
But -judging from the internet- this is people's biggest peeve with Headspace: it costs money. I've doubted for a while if I wanted to pay nearly $100 per year for a subscription but in the end I decided that I would and I agree with one of the commenters in the Reddit thread:
If you compare it to attending a yearly meditation course for 20$ a week it is cheap.
If you compare it to free mediation practice it is really expensive.
If you compare it to one night of fun and drinking I would suggest that you decide for meditation (with or without headspace).
I'm only 15 days away from my next virtual sticker and am definitely experiencing changes, although they are not huge. When I started my new job thing last week, I noticed that where normally I would only realize my level of stress when my shoulders would get really tense or I would get a headache, now I realized much sooner:"I'm really nervous about this". This realization did not change my level of anxiety much, but it did allow me to take a couple breaths and relax my shoulders. Which I'm sure will not hurt over the coming week and months to follow.
*This is not a sponsored post.
I was looking through old blog posts that I wrote and nearly forgot I had written a post with resolutions for 2016. Or actually, tweeted resolutions for 2016. My resolutions were:
- Change my face moisturizer
- Figure out my career path and next steps
- Organize home like I organize work
I did number 1: found out Nivea also makes anti-wrinkle face moisturizer with SPF15. Not sure the anti-wrinkle part actually does something, because I did not use a scientific approach of using it only on one half of my face. (I'm also not sure if I would want to get rid of my wrinkle over my eyebrow that says:"what?! 10 t-tests without correcting for multiple comparison?" or:"did you just cut your brother's drawing in a million pieces?").
I kind of did number 2. At least I blogged a ton about it. Here, here and here for example. But just before the end of the year I found out that however much you think about what you would want, sometimes an unexpected opportunity comes up that may be just what I wanted.
I nearly forgot about number 3, even though at the beginning of the year I made a white board in our kitchen with the coming two weeks so everyone can see what events we'll have, who will take which kid to school and what other things are coming up. It's very useful and because I try to draw some of the things that are relevant for the kids, BlueEyes uses it as well to see when events are coming up. But other than that, I'm still a bit overwhelmed from time to time about all these adult-things, like special events at school, presents that need to be given to daycare teachers, mortgage stuff and choices for our new house that is being built, etc. I feel that the hard part is that because my husband and I try to be equal partners, sometimes nobody is actually the 'owner' of a thing that needs to be done, which usually results in me doing it in the end. And my husband tends to feels less guilty when we don't send Christmas cards or are late in buying treats for school. And then of course there's the fact that we probably both feel we do 50%, but you may need to feel like doing 75% to meet in the middle. Resolution for next year may need to be to outsource more things when both our work is going to be busy + moving to a new house... Stuff to think about.
I am the kind of person that likes to keep little boxes with memories. At my parents’ house, I have a box with letters that my grandmother sent to me when I was studying or working abroad. When she passed away, she had a box with the letters I wrote to her, so now I have a slightly bigger box that contains both our correspondence. I have a similar box with letters from friends in high school. And a box with pictures from the time before digital photography.
My Hotmail account was a box like that. I started using it in the late nineties just before I went to college and continued to use it for almost 10 years, until I switched to gmail. I never deleted anything, except for in the early days when Hotmail only allowed you so much storage and I had to make the difficult decision of which of those precious emails to delete.
I hadn’t logged into my Hotmail account for over a year, and then when I did yesterday, it had switched to being outlook, and to my horror my inbox said: ”You’re all caught up” and it was empty, except for the image of a winner cup. What have you done, Microsoft? Did you just throw away my box of memories?! A quick google search shows me I’m not the only one, but that Microsoft has been an overachieving Marie Kondo for everybody and apparently decided that none of those emails were sparking joy and therefore could all just be deleted.
So now I’ve been preoccupied since yesterday with trying to remember what was in those ten years of emails: the entire electronic correspondence with the person I had a relationship with for more than half of that decade, the email from his mom around the time we broke up about how I needed to make decisions for myself – an email that really upset me when I received it, but that when I re-read it years later finally understood the warmth behind it. Also, emails from my friend when she was abroad for a year when we were 18. Sent emails from myself when I was abroad for work or studying. Very precious emails from the first person I ever dated when I was 14: email did not exist back then for me, but we later found each other back – in an email that kind of changed my life afterwards (yes – dramatic, but that is the case when you’re adolescent right?). Also: pictures from before the digital era that people had scanned and emailed. And probably many other things that I couldn’t remember, but that were in that box as well.
Why did you just throw away my box of memories, Microsoft?
I came back from SfN last week and want to write about some of my observations there, but with little time to sit down and write this, somehow this post came out first.
I’ve been asked a couple of times (both at SfN and elsewhere) what my pseud means. I thought it was an obvious play on words, but I guess it was a very nerdy play on words, so here is some explanation. Before I left academia, I was a post-doc doing electrophysiology doing whole cell recordings in slices. When doing that, before you reach whole cell mode, you are first in cell-attached mode (ie when the pipet is attached to the cell membrane, before you actually break into the cell). A good image on how that works is here.
At the same time, BlueEyes was born, and he was somewhat the opposite of babies that you often see in pictures: relaxing and/or sleeping in a crib or something like that. He was mostly happy when he was being held and even then he was sometimes unhappy *. I quickly discovered babywearing and other types of attachment parenting thingies that seemed to help retain everyone’s sanity.
So when I started tweeting and blogging around that time, babyattachmode seemed a good name. I did not really think ahead to the time when I would no longer be a post-doc doing electrophysiology and no longer have little babies. So I contemplated whether to change my pseud, but since I already find it confusing when people change their avatar on twitter, I’m just going to stay who I am online.
Have you outgrown your pseud and have you changed it because of that?
* I know, this is normal baby behavior too – but we see it much less often in books or on TV…
I just RT'ed this tweet. And as I did that, for a split second there was a voice in my head that said: "but that one time when a boy in high school grabbed your breasts you were drunk." "And that other time when a stranger kissed you on the mouth out of nowhere you were by yourself and wearing a skirt." "And when you're in a club it's nearly normal that guys grab you when you walk by."
Why am I making up excuses for the men who did this? When was I taught that being drunk or wearing a short skirt are consent for sexual assault? Because obviously they are not.
I guess this is how that works: when you hear those kind of excuses often enough you start to think it is normal that these things happen. And even worse: you almost start to believe that your actions cause these things to happen. Which in itself is already #notokay.
For years I have run, mostly as training for other sports, and almost never in races. A couple years ago I ran 10 miles in a race and on the one hand I thought it was awesome, but on the other hand, I had clearly not trained enough because I seriously injured my IT band during that race. I kept running, also when pregnant, but hadn't done a race except a 5k for years. Until my friend texted me - while I was out on a run - if I wanted to do a half marathon. I found it such a funny coincidence that she texted this during my run, that I said yes and increased my weekly mileage a bit to prepare*.
Last Sunday was d-day and as I said before, I was kind of nervous to run further than I had ever run before (18 km was my furthest training) but the atmosphere was great and so was the weather (although maybe a bit hot). I learned the following things:
- When I ran on the beach a couple months ago and thought to myself: this is something I need to train for, as this half marathon has nearly 5 km on the beach, I should have actually done that. Now, I trained mostly on roads and that is certainly VERY different from a sandy beach. Also, the water covered that nice hard sand so you could really only run on the soft sand. Unless you took your shoes off and ran in the sea, which some people did.
- To get off the beach, there was a dune the size of Mt Everest that made every single person walk instead of run.
- I get why people bring their own water and/or sports drink: I spend a lot of time worrying about being too thirsty, too hungry and worried to drink too much not to upset my stomach. I can see now that carrying your own in a race definitely has its advantages.
- I was not very fast, but I finished and did not injure myself. The only pain was being VERY sore the days after.
- I think I can be faster if I make a better training plan so my mouse hovers over the subscribe button of another half marathon early next spring...
*I ran 2-3 times a week for a total of 10-20 km a week. Not a lot, but just to show that it is do-able to finish a half marathon with little kids and work and everything else that takes up time.