Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Boiling over

I have generally tried to stick to the mantra, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" when it comes to big time venting on the blog (recently, anyway). However, the last week has been the pits, and so in an effort to be upfront and honest with myself, I feel like I need to vent a little.

First, my GTT from last week came back borderline. That means that I'm not technically gestationally diabetic. However, because Sophie's test was also borderline, she was 9 lbs (although overdue), and I had a tough delivery, the nurse wants me to follow the diabetic diet as much as I can. I don't need to check sugars, which I guess is a plus.

Problem is, I didn't have a lot of pop/juice/sweets to cut out. I do eat a lot of carbs daily, but I choose whole grain/high fiber options. My English muffins are only 100 calories and have 8-9 grams of dietary fiber. I've been trying very hard to make good choices all the time. I don't eat a ton of meat, so adding protein has actually been difficult for me. And I can only eat so many eggs/grilled chicken breasts. It's only been a week, and I am officially in a rut.

Emotionally, it hasn't been easy for me either. I take the ramifications of high sugars very seriously. There are two clear feelings I've been dealing with: the first is feeling like I've failed my child(ren) before birth, and the second is feeling like all the good choices I've made up to this point were a total waste. The guilt is harder to deal with because it involves others; I hate to think that I've set Sophie and Josh up for a lifetime of increased risk of obesity and diabetes because I had borderline glucose levels while I was pregnant with them. The genetics for those two factors suck on both sides of my family. The only glimmer of hope is that all of the kids born on Tim's side of the family have been very large babies, and they are all very thin in adulthood. I'm praying my kids have Tim's genetics as far as that goes (although I really hope they got my hearing...).

The "woe is me" for myself is easier to get over. I've tried very hard to watch my weight gain this pregnancy. It has been far from easy (more of which I'll get into later). My goal was to gain less weight both for the sake of the baby and for my own good. Granted, I lost all but five pounds within a week of having Sophie (the joy of putting on water weight), but I could've done a better job. And starting out overweight, it's not like I need to add fat reserves. Still, despite my occasional bad day of eating, I am trying hard this time. I still have twelve weeks to go (hopefully less), so if I can keep it to a pound a week from here on out, I'll be under my goal of 25 pounds for the whole pregnancy. I can already tell I'm starting to pick up water weight--that means a pound a week may be unrealistic, but I am going to try. Even though I have days where I want to blow it all for a blizzard (or four), I've managed to keep my cravings on the moderate side. But there are days when junk food calls to me...I'm hoping resisting the call pays off.

So, the glucose issue has been downer number one this week. The second group of frustrations is just day to day stuff. For instance, on Saturday, Tim accidentally locked Sophie and Macgyver in my running car while it was six degrees outside. He felt bad about it, and AAA (and the sheriff's department) were there within ten minutes, but it was probably the most stressful ten minutes of my life. It took everything I had to suppress the urge to break out the window. Sophie was fine--she couldn't figure out why we wouldn't take her out, but she was calm about it. And the heat was running in the car, so they weren't cold. I worked very hard not to scream at Tim about it (it was an accident), and I felt much better once the door was open. I'm making it sound a bit lower key than it was, but you get the idea.

That's been the most extreme case of stress this week, but there have been all sorts of little frustrations. Waiting at the ENT's office over an hour to be seen for three minutes. Unexpected bills and money being paid to me late. The daily morning frustration of trying to get a willful two year old out of the house on time. That one really gets me. I love Sophie dearly, I do, but I am convinced she would have been an only child if we had waited another few months to get pregnant. She can go from being sweet and cuddly to full out tantrum in two seconds. I guess she's that way at school too. I don't want to have "that child" that teachers complain about, and we work hard at home to discipline her when necessary, but I really hope the terrible two's don't last forever (or are at least not an indication of how she will be as a teenager).

The biggest stress recently has been the lab. If you've been around the blog for a while, you know how bad my last lab was. Because of that, I have made a conscious effort to not complain about my current situation. Everyone has bad days now and again, and the worst day in my current lab is still one thousand times better than the best day in my old lab.

Still, the last few months have been very frustrating to me. And it is only intensifying as I approach my next committee meeting on February 24.

I am a thinker. I always have been. And if anything, one of my biggest faults is that I overanalyze and think things to death. I've actually worked very hard since high school to get in touch with my feelings more than my thoughts. In science, thinking is a good thing. Really, it's the only thing. Data are data, but without analysis, you don't know what your experiments are telling you.

I unfortunately haven't ever worked in a lab where time to think is set aside. I know some labs like this do exist--there is time protected for catching up on literature, and sometimes lab meetings are all about discussing ideas. That is probably the environment I needed in order to be content in lab. My current lab, while very busy and constantly producing data, doesn't do things in a linear manner.

I was thinking last night about what I've done in the six months since my last committee meeting. I finished GTT's on my rats, continued and then finished PET scans, spent several weeks troubleshooting homogenization buffers, spent several more weeks getting antibodies to work, went to Utah for a week to learn a new technique, spent about six weeks trying a new detection system that didn't work, went back to the old system, spent a few weeks trying to strip/reprobe blots that wouldn't cooperate, came up with a new way to analyze the data without needing to reprobe, started a new gel system to analyze my Utah data, and am now trying to troubleshoot a new extraction method while using another method to probe for different target proteins.

And in the course of doing this, I've submitted multiple abstracts, presented my data on several occasions (and won an award for it), assisted with day to day activities in the labs like echocardiography and surgery, worked with two different rotation students, and attended an average of 3-6 hours a week of seminars/student meetings. I've been busy--that's what I am trying to say. And I've done this through a terrible first trimester of pregnancy.

So, I know I've done a lot of work. The first issue is that it is never enough for my committee. The second issue is that you don't get credit for troubleshooting--all they care about are the final results. And if you have three million projects in progress, but no results, then those things don't exist. The other issue is that by constantly producing data and never having time to sit and analyze it, I'm not even sure what my entire story is.

I only have three weeks before my meeting. I'm working seven days a week to produce as much data as I can. That is what I am being pushed to do. What I need to do is sit down, analyze my data thus far (including statistics), organize it, and figure out what I want my story to be. There are still key experiments that need to be done, and I know what a few of those are. But what I need to prepare is an outline of other potential experiments my committee may want to see and why they would/would not help my story.

It's frustrating. I wish I could do one group of experiments, analyze them, and then move on to the next. That's the best way to figure out where I need to head. I know my boss is frustrated that the Western blot stuff takes so much troubleshooting, but the postdoc and I both agree that the troubleshooting of Westerns always takes way more time than the data producing. Once you have a protocol that works, it's like a recipe: you can do the same thing over and over and get good, consistent results. Making the recipe is what takes time.

My boss is a very nice person, and I'll be forever grateful for her taking me on. But, she raises my stress level. I KNOW I need to get things working. I am spending every minute I can on it. But doing the same thing over and over won't get me a new result. I need to look up new methods (which involves literature digging). I need to think about which method to try first. And it might take a few tries to find one that works in our system.

I know this, but after being so beaten down by Dr. B, I still have a hard time asserting my own opinions as far as experiments are concerned. So I've been doing everything in the order my boss wants me to, which is the reason I'm trying to finish six things at the same time. And dividing focus almost always leads to mistakes.

What I should have done was stand up and say, "I am doing X now, and when that is done, I will do Y." Utah was a great example of this. The priority was getting one target working, and Utah involved another target we weren't ready to focus on yet. I went to Utah immediately though, did experiments, and got samples, but I wasn't ready to analyze the samples until last week. And that's when we figured out the Utah experiment didn't work. If it had been a linear progression, we could've found that out right away and tried something else. But I caved and diverted attention, and now we are back to square one.

My committee will put the blame for diverting my attention on me, and I don't intend to argue with them. I feel like it's my job to do what my boss wants, and so I have. I used to get berated for doing it any other way in my old lab. Old habits die hard, so I am still in boss-pleasing mode. However, I do think I should've asserted myself sooner, and so for that reason, I'll take my lumps at my meeting.

The meeting will be rough, but the day to day stress has been worse for me. I go home with a headache just about every day because of the constant push to get as much done as I can, immediately if not sooner. I'm tired when I get home, and then I spend several hours trying to make dinner, taking care of a toddler, and generally attempting to not make my house more of a mess than it already is. By the time Sophie goes to bed, I'm wiped. I have zero energy to run errands, and I'm mentally drained. I can get absolutely nothing done after 9 PM, and I try to be in bed by ten.

The issue is that going to bed doesn't mean sleeping. For a few weeks, I was doing really well with sleep, getting 5-6 hours a night. I'm back to one to three hours again. I'm so tense and stressed that all I do is alternate between thinking about all I didn't accomplish today/everything I need to do tomorrow and feeling guilty about how bad of a mother/wife I am. Work is completely overtaking my life, and it will have to until I defend. I only get to see Sophie a few hours a day (and most of those hours aren't spent doing fun/quality time/memory making things). The weekend used to be the time that I could catch up on family time. Working seven days a week makes that impossible.

And the house and budget have suffered as well. I have no time to run errands or do chores. That often means there aren't groceries in the house (we always have the stock of semi-prepared food in the pantry, but that's a last resort). Because I have no groceries, I can't just get home and make dinner. This means we eat a lot more of that crappy semi-prepared food, or we pick something up. We don't do the fried/greasy food, but pizza and prepared grocery store food isn't much of a step up. In January, we spent triple what we typically budget on eating out, and our grocery bill was higher too (because I don't have time to hit all the sales). Our budget is stretched to the max anyway. I don't like the idea that work is now costing my family money.

The work stress impacts all phases of my life. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm having trouble eating healthy. There are two parts to that: I'm having trouble eating healthy food, and I'm having trouble eating in a healthy way. The food I've already mentioned; I used to meal plan based on sales and have fresh veggies/meats/etc ready to make healthy meals. I don't have the time or energy for that anymore. The stress also pushes me back towards my disordered eating habits, and the last thing I need in my life is to re-ignite my eating disorder. I don't need the calories, I don't need the weight gain, and I don't need more guilt in my life. I have already felt myself being pulled towards giving in and having an all-out binge, and thus far I've been able to suppress it. I need to find another way to deal with the stress. Whether it's journaling, meditation, or walking, I've got to find the energy and time to let myself decompress in a healthy way.

I guess life in general just has me frustrated. I think part of it is the delayed gratification. There's this voice inside me that would love to tell my committee exactly what I think. I've been in the PhD for almost six years. I've been in three labs in that time: one abandoned me, one tormented me for three years and did absolutely nothing for the advancement of my degree, and my current lab has only been my home for a little over a year. I have people from other labs ask me for help on their techniques, so I'm not incompetent. Other department students have spent six (sometimes more) years in one lab and have produced less than I have. I have done everything ever asked of me, and more. I can think of several students who have gotten their PhD recently in my department who did all of their experiments without putting much effort into developing the projects--they did what they were told. And yet, I am still here, and they are graduated. Give me my damn PhD and let me go already!

The delayed gratification is the toughest part. I don't mean that the idea of putting off enjoyment is bad--I've functioned my entire life that way. I've always been a saver and a planner. It's pathetic, but I take some pride in not having everything I want when I want it. I feel like self-deprivation makes me a stronger person. No, I haven't had time to work that issue out yet :)

Security has always been one of my main core values. I went through not having security financially during a good chunk of my life, and I really believe that has shaped who I am.

The problem is that delayed gratification in my life no longer equals future security. That dissonance bothers me. I have twelve years of post-high school education. Twelve! And I could make more money (and have much less stress) as a waitress. That would give me equal or better ability to provide for my family--and therefore more security. It would also give me more time with them. It wouldn't be as personally fulfilling, but my own needs have always been secondary to the needs of people I care about.

And even if I wanted to have a personally fulfilling career, I could be part way through fellowship by now if I had just done medical school. I never did the dual degree program just for the monetary benefits--trust me, practicing medicine for six years (instead of doing a PhD for six) would more than pay off med school loans and cover the piddly stipend I get.

I didn't know all of this when I joined the program. I made the best decision I could at the time. But looking back, I wish I would've just done medical school. If I decided that research was something I wanted to do, I could've picked up a project in fellowship. My PhD has been so emotionally, mentally, and financially draining that I would never do it again if I had the choice. I am sure others have had better experiences--I know other people in my program have had great experiences. But if I could've looked in a crystal ball and seen what was ahead, I would've passed.

I'm going to be 30 in a few months. This is the part of my life where I was hoping all of that delayed gratification from 10-15 years ago would start paying off. It's not that I need all of the latest toys. I've never been very attached to things. But if we need to buy a car, I would like to feel like we could get a $150 a month car loan and not kill ourselves trying to pay it. I'd love to have one couch in the house that isn't 15 years (or almost 30 years) old. I wish we could afford a vacation--just enough to drive to a beach and rent a little place for a week. I don't want anything extravagant. I just want a little bit to enjoy now and again. I am glad we have made retirement saving a priority, but I wish we could be doing the same thing for Sophie and Josh's future college expenses.

I try very hard not to look at what others have around me, and I am very thankful for all of the wonderful gifts we have been given. It makes me feel very ungrateful when I wish we had more money--especially since we both have jobs, food, and a roof over our head. I just wish I had made a career choice that would have me actually contributing to the household budget in a meaningful way.

I work seven days a week, come home worn out and exhausted, contribute little to the family's finances, and have very little quality time with my family. That's why I feel like I have no control over any aspect of my life right now. I read these magazines about work-life balance, and I think about how my balance is non-existent. I am doing nothing well right now. Thank God Tim is as good with house stuff as he is. He's really doing much more than his share right now (and he's got an insane time at work right now too). I really don't know what I would do without him.

I guess at the heart of the issue is that I am too stressed to do anything well, I feel guilty about it, that stresses me more, and the frustration just builds. I know this won't last forever. I'm going back to med school in the fall, no matter what my committee might say. I'll be a little flexible on exact timing, but I will go back this year. I've earned my PhD, and even if they don't want to give it to me, my life can't handle any more delayed progress. I need to finish med school, do residency and fellowship, and move on with my life. I've been swimming against the current for six years, and I feel as though I've moved only inches. I need to break free.

The next few weeks before my meeting are going to be crazy, so this blog may be sparse. And really, you don't want to hear me be Polly Pissypants until then anyway. I'll try and post when I can (say, an evening when I haven't passed out). Just keep your fingers crossed for me. I could use all the prayers/luck/wishes that I can get.


  1. Hang in there Bridgette!! I hope the meeting isn't as bad as you might think it will be; it sounds like you have been crazy busy in the lab, and I know firsthand the pain of Western blotting and troubleshooting problematic antibodies, etc. I know you can do it! :)

  2. bridgette! i really do believe that things are going to fall into place for you and that you will be so much happier once you are back in med school (and i KNOW you're close!).

    you have an amazing husband and beautiful daughter -- those are the most important things, right? and from an endo standpoint, i want you to stop blaming yourself for the borderline high sugars -- remember that gestational diabetes is a whole different animal and there may be absolutely nothing you are doing wrong. just do the best you can and let the OBs worry about the rest!

    finally -- love the name you picked out!!! obviously :)

    sending supportive vibes your way!!!!

  3. If it makes you (and Tim) feel any mom once locked me in the car too (in FL!)!

    I feel you on the stress thing and when I get stressed all I want to do is hang out in my pjs and avoid human contact - not so good for the productivity in the lab (usually the cause for the stress).

    I'll be thinking about you! Oh maybe we can open a restaruant when we graduate!