Article Summary:

  • I finished my thesis! FINALLY!
  • My oral defense went really well because I got a lot of GREAT criticism and comments from people before I gave my final talk!
  • I’m finally an actual PhD with LDs! WOO!
  • I visited Cape Town to see my future lab and FELL IN LOVE with the idea of working there!

It has been awhile since I’ve written anything on this blog. I’ve been really busy writing my thesis and trying to finish up all the nonsense silliness associated with graduating and getting a new job. What will follow is a very brief summary of the last few months:

Thesis!

My thesis! Done and done!

I finished writing my thesis (here is the official link: http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/11156/) in early February. The title is, “SIV increases susceptibility to tuberculosis by manipulating M. tuberculosis-specific immunological responses.” It ended up being about 209 pages (this includes the index, reference section, appendix, etc). This took me multiple months to write despite the fact that 3 of the chapters were made up of papers I already wrote throughout my graduate school career. Writing my thesis basically consisted of this: (Write a little, take a short internet break) x 1000(ish) times; then I’d send an individual chapter to my boss, she would go over it and make a MILLION(ish) corrections and send it back to me, I’d make those corrections and move on the next chapter) x dozens of times. During this time it included me freaking out a few times about how I didn’t think I could do it and all those gremlins that try to prevent me from being me. However, I was able to prevail.

A few things that helped me write my thesis were as follows:

1. Outline EVERYTHING- this includes chapters, sub-chapters, sub-sub-chapters and figures I wanted to use. Outlining helps my mind make sense of things. The jumbled up thoughts in my brain finally come together in an outline!

2. Make mini goals- The mini goals were the ones I would set every day, these goals are small and bite sized that can be accomplished in a short period of time. This includes anything from writing a page before dinner to designing a single figure before the next cup of coffee to looking up 5 sources that help explain X, Y or Z. Goals = accomplishments = happy me!

3. Make big goals- Big goals are hard because they’re big. They require a lot of work and the culmination of dozens of mini goals. Big goals for me were: finish the Introduction section in December, write all of chapter X by this date and finish the whole thing at least 3 weeks before I turn it in so I can make last-minute corrections.

4. Balance (a little bit)- What I mean here is that I needed to take some brakes regularly to prevent me from sinking into a depressive state of terrible. I’m horrible at balance, so this is the one issue I’m not very good at. It helps that my wife was able to get me out of the house a couple of times. It really helps not talking about the interaction of T cells and macrophages all the time. Although I took only a few of these longer breaks they really allowed my mind to rest which helped out the next day!

5. Get pumped- This means I always had a little voice in my head saying, “you can do it” even when other thoughts in my head were saying the exact opposite. Hang on to that little voice, as long as that’s there, there will always be hope.

Thesis Defense!

My thesis defense was on February 16th. At Pitt a thesis defense is broken up into two parts. The first is a 1 hour PowerPoint presentation of your work that is open to the public and the second is an hour-long private defense with your committee members. My parents, brother and sister, brother- and sister-in-laws, niece, grandparents and my wife came to my defense! It was wonderful that they were finally able to see me in my element: talking science about a topic I love to people that also love science. I was incredibly happy with my defense so I couldn’t have been more pleased with how it turned out.

My Defense!

Some tips I learned about this part of thesis defenses:

1. Prepare your talk early- I started working on my talk 2 weeks before my defense. That’s about a year in academic research presentation prep time! This allowed me to go through probably 20 versions of my talk before I got everything right.

2. Develop some thick skin and give your talk to people that CARE!- I gave the first version of my talk to my boss a day before I was supposed to give it at lab meeting. She basically kept saying, “I don’t like this” and “This needs to be changed” and “TOO MANY WORDS!” This meant that I needed to change about 80% of my talk a DAY before I was going to give it to my lab members. So I stayed up until 4 in the morning making these changes so I could give a GREAT (so I thought) presentation for my lab members. When I gave my presentation to my lab members the 45 min talk became an 1.5 hour CRITIQUE EVERY SLIDE without MERCY session. Ugh… It was really hard dealing with all of this criticism but it was the BEST thing that could have happened. I got so many ideas from their comments I was able to adjust every single slide so it made more sense. After this lab talk I had about 1.5 weeks to work on finalizing my it.

3. Practice, practice, practice- I practiced my talk between 1 and 3 times everyday for about 2 weeks. I memorized all the animations, slide positions, data presented and background info and the time it took on average for each slide. I even practiced drunk a few times just to see if i could do it! I could (kind of). Ha.

Cape Town, South Africa 

Mountains and beaches can’t be beat!

I’m moving to Cape Town for my post doctoral research this May. I’ll be there for 2 years doing HIV/TB clinical immunology-based research. It’s been my dream to do HIV research in Africa since I have been in undergrad, so it’s pretty amazing that this dream is actually coming true! Because I was so nervous about moving to Cape Town (with never visiting) my boss decided to fly me out there so I could visit the lab I’m joining and see the city. Well, Cape Town is magnificent and my future colleagues seem wonderful. This means a lot of the nerves have been replaced with excitement! How could I not love a place that has mountains and beaches?!

In the interim

Right now I am planning on finishing up a few experiments in my current lab to complete a paper I’m working on. I will be working in this lab until April (assuming my paper gets accepted without experimental revisions). I’m also in the process of getting a South African VISA, health insurance and finalizing all my arrangements for Cape Town. In May my wife and I will move to Cape Town so we can start our life out in the opposite hemisphere!

Writing My Dissertation…

December 2, 2011

Article summary:

  • I’m currently writing my dissertation (thesis). 
  • A dissertation is a long report covering your research over your entire graduate career.
  • Writing a dissertation is an incredible amount of work and it sucks a lot!
  • This article is about tips I learned that are helping me write my thesis right now.
  • Published papers can be chapters in your thesis so PUBLISH before you start writing.
  • Break your thesis up into micro-sections. This makes it much more manageable and less intimidating.
  • Start early! The earlier the better! 
  • Go with the flow in your thesis! You are writing a story, so if you need to ‘adjust’ your aims to fit the story a little better feel free to do it!
  • Focus your research! Focus on writing!
  • If you are with someone, please help them understand how important this thesis is to you and hope they understand.
  • What it comes down to is this: JUST WRITE!
  • Also: this post is a little more cranky than my others… a thesis will do that to you :(

Disser-what?!

I’m currently writing my dissertation. Maybe I should amend that… I’m currently [struggling] to write my dissertation.

A dissertation is basically a [ridiculously] long report about your research. It’s a summary of the research that I’ve been doing over the last 5 years of my life. After I write this up I will send it to my committee (which is made up of 5 professors that I’ve reported my research to every 6 months over the last 4ish years). I’m scheduled to orally defend my thesis February 16th. That means that I currently have 6 weeks to submit it to my PI. My PI will correct it and give me suggests before I officially give it to my committee members in 8 weeks. After I give it to them I’ll have 2 weeks to prepare for my oral defense. After the oral defense I’ll have corrections to make on my thesis before I turn it in and officially graduate. Suffice it to say, “I have A LOT to do!”

To make matters a little (or A LOT) more stressful I’m also finishing up more experiments. It really sucks not being done with all of my experiments! That means that I really have to balance my time well between getting my hands dirty in lab and writing. Here are some strategies that I’m using and used to help me get to my goal of PhD my final push at grad school. I hope this is helpful to other people in PhD programs and anyone working on a goal that feels unobtainable:

Publish Publish Publish!

This tip is for PhD students in science: Publish your work in a peer reviewed journal BEFORE you get permission to start writing your thesis! This is SOOOO important, not only does this help you write your thesis (because your published papers will literally be chapters in your thesis) but it will also help you get a job in the future. It’s really hard for graduate students to get work without published papers so make it a priority to get them! I have been incredibly fortunate in my graduate career to have 1 research paper and a review article published. My review is about half of my introduction chapter and my research paper is chapter 2. One of the reasons I wrote the review was because I knew it would be a major chunk of my introduction. I mean, I love the topic and was happy to write it so I could ‘help the scientific community,’ but in the back of my head I was thinking, “hell ya I’ll write this so I won’t have to do much for my thesis’ intro!”

I am currently finishing up my 2nd research article right now (hence all the experiments I’m currently doing) and I’m going to use that as my third chapter of my thesis. Since I did (am doing) all of the writing for these papers at different times it broke the work up into different sections, which leads me to my next tip…

Small bites!

No one can write a good thesis or paper all at once, so break up your long essays, papers and dissertations into a zillion small sections. Here’s an example of what I’m doing: right now I’m also working on my introduction. My project focuses on how HIV increases our susceptibility to TB. So I need to talk a lot about HIV and TB individually and them together. The “co-infection or together stuff” is already published so I will literally copy and paste it from my old word document. However, the HIV and TB individual topics still need to be discussed. So I made an outline of all the things that I think are important in a word document. This includes main topics and sub topics and sub-sub topics (or whatever those are called). Now, when I have time I just say to myself, “Okay, just conquer this sub-sub section today. Only write a few paragraphs and be done with it.” This allows me to break my intro that will be between 60 and 70 pages into small manageable bites. It’s too DAMN intimidating looking at the whole document at once so I sometimes type up each sub section into different word documents. Then I get that AWESOME feeling of satisfaction copying and pasting into my Intro!

Start Early!

This is so obvious and completely ignored by almost every single graduate student! I was told very often by graduate students in my shoes now that I should start working on it before I even ask my committee for permission to start writing! I was like, “Shoot, I’ll be fine. I would rather watch an entire season of 24 and drink beer in a week one weekend than do work!” THAT WAS THE WRONG DECISION! I mean, Jack Bauer is pretty bad ass but he’s not saving me from myself the way he saves the USA from bombs, poison, biological warfare and corrupt politicians. He couldn’t save David Palmer, how the hell could 24 help me?!

As long as you know what your project is, you can write the majority of your introduction way before you graduate. I wish I did more of that. I mean, I am currently writing about HIV proteins, how it replicates, how our white blood cells kick it’s ass, how it kick’s our white blood cell’s asses, how TB gets people sick and how mTB is attacked by our white bloods and blah blah blah. I mean, this general stuff hasn’t changed in the last year. Well, stuff is always changing but the introduction is a GENERAL description that is meant to get the reader informed on your topic. So it doesn’t have to include the most up-to-date information about topics that will not come it in the rest of the chapters.

Be Malleable 

Everything can change in science overnight. All it takes is that one paper to get published that says, “gravity is silly” and all our preconceived notions about gravity will be turned upside down and we’ll start dropping this up. In a graduate students first few years they usually write a thesis proposal that includes ‘specific aims.’ These aims are important because they guide your research because they are basically the goals of what you AIM TO DO as a scientist. However, we make these aims in our 2nd year when we are little puppies excited about all the papers we are going to publish in our first year and we are completely naive to the fact that science is REALLY F*CKING HARD and that SH*T DON’T WORK 90% of the time. Now I feel like one of those depressed and old junk yard dogs with bald spots, droopy crusty eyes and natty fur that’s too tired to stop the burglar from running off with that broken muffler because I spent all day NOT EATING and staring at my dry water bowl. Anyway, some times professors force their students to keep their aims exactly as they were written in their original thesis proposal. That’s crazy talk. If that were the case for me I literally would NEVER graduate (note to self: when my next boss says, “Collin, you can do that if you want. But I hate apoptosis and it’s not going to work.” I should listen, instead of saying, “JoAnne, I’m going to get this to work. You’ll see!” NOPE!!). Anyway, your thesis should read like a story, if you need to modify your specific aims to fit your research you should definitely do it! Besides, your committee won’t remember what your original aims are anyway.

Focus!

This is a 2 part tip. This first is way hard than the 2nd one:

1. If you can help it: please focus your research. What I mean is that when you are a student you need to always think about your thesis and your overall goal. Sometimes we get off track in our work by feeling the need to do side experiments that don’t pan out or working on another person’s project so we can be 5th author on a paper that may or may not ever come out. I have seen so many people spend months working on collaborator’s projects because their PIs think it’s a good idea for their students to broaden their skill set. However, if those projects are not going to flow with your thesis and you don’t think you’re going to get authorship you should spend less time on that than a June bug sliding on an icicle (yup, I June bugged an icicle). I think being a 3+ author is great but it’s really hard justifying those papers as your own for your thesis. Please just be aware that not all of your ‘help’ will be publishable and the stuff that is may not make it into your thesis.

2. Focus your face! Shit, I’m super duper ADHD when it comes to almost anything that involves words. Words are my kryptonite so I need to go out of my way to get myself to actually write. I mean, it’s been more than a month since my last post and I really like writing for this blog (even if only 4 people read it)so imagine how shitty it must be to write a THESIS?! So, this advice is simple: STOP WHINING ABOUT IT, find a place you can be productive and just write! I can’t write at my house because I have a wife that I like way more than science and I have cats that I have to actively hold onto or they will run away and I have a big TV with a nice sound system that makes: The Office, Community, The Simpsons, Cleveland Show, Parks and Recreation, How I Met Your Mother, 2 Girls and a Dumb, Fringe, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, South Park, Burn Notice, Happy Endings, The Middle, Breaking Bad, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Raising Hope, Louie, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Warehouse 13, American Dad, etc even more addictive. See, I was able to mention 20+ shows (only 1 fake) off the top of my head because I LOVE TV more than my Stupid Stu Kitty likes his deli meats! That’s a shit load! Anyway, so I have to go to lab or the library to write with my internet turned off! No Wifi = Yes Writing!

Be With Someone Understanding!

When I tell people about what I do or what I’m going through a lot of the times they’ll say, “Collin, I know what you mean, I

PhD makes my hair leave…

had to write this 20 page book report” -or- “Ya, I know what you mean. I wrote a Senior thesis in undergrad” -or- “I have Finals too!” Oh my god, stab me in the eyes with shank carved out of a lucky rabbit foot dipped in H2O2 so painful bubbles are the last thing I see! I’m sorry if I sound like a jerk, but most people won’t understand what you are going through. It’s impossible to describe the full effect getting your PhD has on your psyche, receding hairline, muscle tone, cardiovascular health and the happy parts of your brain.   Anyway, you sacrifice a lot during grad school but more when you’re writing. I mean, it’s the last mile of a marathon so you might as well put everything in it that you can. Run till you bleed.

So, I’m running till I bleed. And I could not do it without the full support of my wife Robin. She is being completely understanding of my 12+ hour days, the broken plans and my reduced libido. God bless her. I don’t know how I’d do this on my own, let alone someone that required my attention 24/7. My wife is a lawyer so she understands cramming for the Bar so she has an ‘idea’ of what I need to do for my thesis.When you are writing your thesis, your thesis should be your TOP priority and the person you are with should support you 95%. The 5% is to make sure that you’re not a jerk about it.

Just Write!

What your dissertation or thesis or report or whatever comes down to is this: Write! There is no way around it. Figure out what works best for you and just WRITE! No matter how bad you are at writing you can and WILL get through it. Just don’t ever give you! One of my learning disabilities makes my descriptive writing ability near the bottom of the population, so I hope that my ‘tips’ or ‘story’ help inspire you to just do it! Write like a Champ!

Write Comfortable!

Article summary:

  • People and things that prevent you from succeeding are wallers. 
  • Wallers suck!
  • Jet Packs are people that help you overcome these walls
  • I’ve been fortunate to have grown up with many supportive people
  • These people still help me succeed
  • Everyone needs this support to be happy and successful
  • Find your own Jet Pack! 
  • Be a Jet Pack! 
Jet Packs are Awesome! 

In my last post I talked about how sucky Wallers can be. Wallers are people that prevent you from being YOU! They prevent you from getting where you want to go by building walls in your path. These walls may seem impassable. We kick and punch the wall until our feet are broken and our hands are bloodied. The harder we hit, the harder we hurt ourselves! At various points in my life I realized that I could not overcome these ominous road blocks by myself: I needed my jet packs!

picture by Mike Licht

The people in our lives that help us overcome these obstacles are jet packs! I guess I could have gone with a ladder metaphor: saying something cliché like, “Ladders provide the rungs for us to step over these obstacles. Ladders don’t push you over the top, they just provide you with the ability to climb over the wall!” I thought that was okay, but if you use a ladder to overtake a wall then you will need to get ANOTHER ladder for the OTHER side of the wall (or you will have to pick up the ladder you just used and hang it over the other side! I may be thinking about this metaphor too literally but I think ladders are too much work! So I decided to classify all the awesome people in my life that have helped me over come these WALLERS and other obstacles as JET PACKS! Jet packs are awesome. Period!

Jet packs allow you to over come any wall! Berlin Wall in your way? NOPE, you got a jet pack! Shoot! Is the Great Wall gonna stop you? NO SIR, you can fly over that barrier in no time! No matter what the obstacle is (as long as it’s not equipped with an anti-jet pack shooter) a jet pack can help you over come it!

My Jet Packs!

I’ve been so fortunate to have so many supportive people in my life. I literally would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for EVERY jet pack in my life. My jet packs have helped me see my true potential as a student, good person and scientist. They’ve given me the courage to stand up for myself  when I felt small in front of reinforced concrete walls. As I stood at the base of every single wall in my life: a variety of people have helped me defy gravity by helping me propel over so many stupid walls.

Here is a short description of a few people who were (and continue to be) my jet packs.

My Parents!

My parents have always been incredibly supportive of me and my abilities. One example of their unconditional support occurred a few years after I was initially diagnosed with LDs. In middle school my district did not want to test me for LDs because I got good grades. I always studied really hard and because of the hours of homework I would do every night I would get A’s and B’s. So when my mom went to the school to get me retested so I could get accommodations on test, they told her that I did not qualify. The councilor actually told my mom (OFF THE RECORD) that I should get tested for LDs by a private psychologist. I would then have a documented medical condition and then the school would have to comply. She told my mom this off the record because if a teacher/councilor tells a parent that their child may have LDs or ADHD then the school is on the hook for paying for that testing! Schools don’t like to pay for things! My mom and dad had to pay for a private psychologist to administer the test. I eventually got re-certified as LD and I was able to get accommodations!  It was horrible that the school did not want to believe that I had a learning disability because I was not failing any of my classes! It makes me want to scream, “LD DOES NOT EQUAL STUPID!” My parents went about this the right way all while supporting me! Sometimes you need Jet Packs to work around the system to help you become your best! I literally could talk about how great my parents were in helping me overcome my LDs for hours (or pages), but that would make this long post unbearable! Suffice it to say, “My parents gave me the courage and desire to excel in school and in life.” Thanks mom and dad!

Tutors!

A variety of instrumental Jet Packs in my life have been my tutors. I’ve been getting tutored for almost my whole life. I literally saw a tutor, almost weekly, from 1st grade all through my freshman year of undergrad. From 3rd to 12th grade I actually saw the same tutor, Kathy. Not only did she help teach me how to study, she always believed in my abilities. When I’d tell her that I hate reading, she’d reassure me that just because it was hard didn’t mean that I should give up. She taught me a variety of highlighting methods that help me organize information in my head. Yellow = general info; Blue/purple = vocab words/important people/important things; Orange/pink = definitions or descriptions of blue or yellow highlighted words. She also taught me the glory of the 3×5 index card! I have literally used tens of thousands of these cards in almost every class. Out of everything that she taught me, I really feel like Kathy prepared me the most for college out of any of my other teachers. She showed me that I was smart and gave me the confidence and the skill set to push myself academically. Kathy helped guide an academically frightened 3rd grader that hated to read into a PhD in microbiology (that still hates to read)! Thanks a lot Kathy!

Life Coach!

After I failed my first comprehensive exam I pretty much hated myself and was convinced I was going to fail out of school. My mom was working one day when a family friend (Linda) casually asked about how I was doing. My mom was honest and said, “He’s not doing very good right now… here’s the story…” My mom ended up calling me when Linda was at her store and gave the phone to Linda. Linda told me that she was recently certified as a life coach and would love to help me. At first I thought it was silly and I only agreed to it because Linda is literally one of the nicest people I have ever met in my entire life! Linda ended up coaching me through my second attempt at my exam and for about another year or so. She helped me be more comfortable with myself as an LD PhD candidate. She NEVER questioned my abilities and whenever I did she would say, “Collin, that’s a Gremlin! You know that!” She used the term Gremlin to refer to myself questioning my abilities. Anyway, she really helped me see the importance of having balance in my life and she helped show me how to address multiple issues in my life that had nothing to do with work or school. Linda, you are a champ. Thank you!

Wombmate and Older Brother!

My brother and sister have also been a huge help along the path to my PhD. My brother and sister are both probably geniuses. If they aren’t geniuses, they definitely have IQs that are in the superior range. My brother is almost 2 years older than my sister and me (my sister and I are twins). My brother was an overachiever that basically got perfect grades, did the student government stuff and started his own after school club called The Acoustic Cafe. He was the perfect kid. My sister was so freaking smart it was stupid! She had above a 4.0 without trying (she made the century club our senior year by missing more than 100 class periods)! She loved art and was/is a phenomenal artist and spent most of her time drawing/sketching/painting/building. I think that their could have been a lot of resentment growing up. However, that was not the case. I remember talking to my dad and mom about how great Carrie and Justin were at multiple things and asking, “What am I good at?” I wanted to be as good as them and THEY WANTED ME TO BE THAT GOOD TOO! We were always so happy to hear about each other’s accomplishments. We genuinely wanted (and want) each other to be happy. They made a point to never compete with our accomplishments.  My brother and sister are a consistent inspiration to me. Thanks a lot!

The TB Queen!

My current boss helps me out more than she’ll ever know. I literally joined her lab because she made me feel comfortable when I told her about my learning disabilities. Despite her being a top TB immunologist she always has time for me. She pushes me to be a great scientist and will not settle for a half-assed approach to anything. She pushed me to write my first two papers and she is pushing me to complete my third. She never looks down on me when it takes me more time than average to answer scientific questions. Her patients with my learning style is also remarkable. She also helped me get a post doctoral position in a new lab and she helps convince me that I’m ready to move on even when I’m SCARED! Thank you!

My Buddy!

One of my current co-workers has helped me excel as a scientist is a post doc named Josh. Josh and I worked on the same project for the first 2 years of my lab work. Josh and I became close over our time in lab and he has helped me through a lot of emotional times (in lab and at home). He would also continually tell me that I could do the work that was in front of me. He never questioned my ability to be a scientist or as one of his coworkers. It’s people like Josh that make work a lot of fun every day. He helped me see that I had the ability to tackle my workload, despite what other’s thought. Thank you!

My family reading the Ketubah at my wedding. They are my jet packs!

My Wife!

My wife is pretty good too! She has helped me in countless ways. She has showed me that science is not everything. She provides balance in my lopsided life. She helps convince me that I can succeed as a post doc when I’m literally breaking down in terror over the idea of doing something new. She calms me when I’m scared and she excites me when I need a pick me up. She has never questioned my intellectual abilities despite the fact that it took me more than a year to learn most of her friend’s names, that I don’t understand 14% of what her and friends talk about because they use BIG WORDS that go over my head and that I mix up words so often that I say things that I don’t mean like, “I’m so depraved” when I mean deprived! Ugh… I hate words! Thank you!

Help Each other! 

There are so many other people that have helped me through my life’s journey that I just don’t have time to mention. These people have helped me overcome Wallers and my own shortcomings. They provide the solid foundation that I needed to succeed. We cannot succeed on our own. We need people to lean on when we question our abilities.

Help your peers. Help your family. Help your co-workers. Help your friends. Help a stranger! A small amount of kindness goes a long way with people with LD and ADHD. Sometimes, all we need is someone to believe in us to succeed. Be a Jet Pack!

Article Summary:

  • People that prevent you from succeeding are Wallers.
  • Wallers suck!
  • Wallers can actively stop you or indirectly stop you. 
  • I’ve dealt with Wallers my whole life.
  • Wallers have told me: I’m dumb. I should quit grad school and change professions. I will be a terrible scientist!
  • They are wrong!
  • Use their negative words to help fuel your fire to succeed.
  • Try not to dwell on their negativity too long. Find people who will help propel you to be successful! 

Wallers

In running, there is a term called ‘hitting the wall.’ It occurs in endurance sports when your body basically runs out of its primary energy stores (glycogen). The wall creeps up on you at about the 20 mile mark in marathons (26.2 miles). When you hit the wall… YOU HIT THE WALL. The wall causes you to feel horrible.

I’ve hit the wall in 1 marathon. My legs basically cramped up so much that I literally could not run any more. The wall forced me to limp the last 6 miles (with ice packs on my hamstrings and knees) to the finish! It sucked! Walls SUCK! Walls basically stop you in your path. They demoralize; they break you down; and they mock you while you’re curled in the fetal position.

A lack of glycogen in your muscles and liver is not the only wall. People can be walls too! These people are the ones who question your abilities, they will tell you not to try, they will make you feel horrible and they basically go out of their way to make you hate yourself. I call this obnoxious group of people, Wallers.

photo by Mark Hillary

Wallers. Are. Jerks!

I think it’s a fact of life that their will always be Wallers in the world. Some Wallers are small potatoes: people who won’t loan you a pencil in math class on the hope that you’ll get behind; while other’s are Berlin Wall Sized: Constantly telling you how stupid you are and that you should just give up. In my life I unfortunately had to deal with both types of walls.

Stop Stopping Me! A Few of My Wallers…

I’ve had to deal with a psychologist in High School that basically told my mom that I just had a below average intelligence and that my mom was just a stuck up mother that couldn’t deal with that. My mom, my ROCK in my fight for intellectual-acceptance, didn’t take to kindly to this Waller. She actually filed a complaint with one of the heads of the Parkway School District because this psychologist did not want me to get accommodations for my LDs. How could a psychologist think I’m dumb? Am I?

After I failed my comprehensive exam my second year of graduate school I decided to meet with the head of the LD services at school. When I met with the head of the program they told me that I may want to look into a new career! They told me that most people with my LDs cannot do that much reading and it would be easier to just do something ‘business-related.’ At first I thought they were just trying to put everything into perspective, until I recently found out that they told that same thing to another person with LDs and ADHD in my graduate program 3 years later! How can a person like this, that is supposed to understand learning disabilities and ADHD, tell people with these issues to give up?! It doesn’t make sense? I don’t think they are trying to be malicious but I know how horrible even the slightest remarks about my intelligence can mess with my self esteem (especially when it comes from a professional)! Am I fighting a battle that cannot be won?! Should I go into business (VOMIT)?!

I’ve also dealt with co-workers that have made me feel so horrible about my abilities that I hated going to work! There was a time when I would get in trouble any time ANYTHING went wrong in lab. It didn’t matter if I was even in on those days, in their eye’s it was always my fault. The person that shamed me on a daily basis had a history of treating other people terribly because this Waller took issue with new comers to the lab. This person made me feel so horrible about myself that I broke down one day in lab. Yup! I started to cry while working in aBSL3 with this Waller. How many people can say that?! I started to yell saying things like, “What did I ever do to you?” and “Why do you hate me so much?” and finally, “Look, you don’t have to like me but this harassment has to stop. Like it or not we have to work together and this not okay!” This response to the belittlement was building for more than a year and was actually the perfect one, because it dramatically changed our relationship in a good way. It took years to get over how this person treated me. I was holding on to so much anger that it affected my daily lab life. Eventually I was able to let go of that anger and my work life and productivity increased dramatically. Anger sucks. Let it go.

The worst Waller of them all is me. “I’m Stupid! I suck! I can’t do it! Why is everything so hard?! I hate everything! I’m not going to try anymore!” I’ve stopped myself from trying countless things in my life because I was afraid of failure. I used to be so afraid of failure that I’d feel paralyzed to take on a new class, project, book, research experiment and writing papers. I’d think to myself, “If all these other people think I will fail, they must be right!” Ugh! I have feelings like this all the time. But the only thing that is different now is that I tell myself that I’d rather try and fail than never try. Stop convincing yourself that your Waller’s are right!

Scaling the Wall

I guess I used to hate you, jerk Waller! I hated you with every part of my soul. I’d grind my teeth when I thought your name! I’d scream when I was alone and I’d picture your face. I hated you! And I hate that part of myself! Wallers, like everyone, have their own issues. For whatever reason they think everyone with LDs or ADHD are stupid. We need to not be so closed off every time some Waller tells us that we should give up. We should prove them wrong! Use their words against them!

Wall X said, “you’re dumb” - You prove Wall X wrong by kicking ass at your next project!

Wall Y said, “you should quit” - Forget that jazz by adding that fuel to your fire!

Every time they say, “Can’t; Won’t; Quit; Loser; Dumb” – Turn their words into, “Can; Will; Continue; Winner; Smart.”

You know yourself better than any Waller will ever know you! Don’t ever forget that!

Don’t Dwell: Find Your Support!

One thing I do want to note is that proving Wallers wrong will only go so far. Success cannot be born out of spite. Because of this it is really important to find those people that support you! Support from your peers, friends, co-workers, family and classmates will help you more than anything else. Image a world where everyone helps everyone else succeed! Supportive people will help you through any task! Supportive people are jet packs! Jet packs help you fly over those pesky walls!

My next post will be about the Jet Packs in my life!

Article Summary:

  • I embrace my disabilities.
  • One thing I haven’t embraced are my night terrors.
  • Night terror frequency increases with stress.
  • They prevent my wife and me from sleeping well.
  • I definitely don’t ‘have it all together.’ But I’m trying!
  • We must not let the unfortunate consequences of trying hard and being stressed prevent us from doing what we want to do!
  • Some day I’ll embrace them!

Embrace it!

My brain is a big dumb idiot sometimes! I KNOW I’m not supposed to say that but that’s how I feel. I think that’s how a lot of people with LDs and ADHD feel! I feel like EVERYONE reads faster than me, learns easier than me and processes information more quickly than me. For years I wanted to pull out my hair and scream at the top of my lungs, “Why is everything so f***ing hard?!” That is so exhausting! I still do that regularly… I wish I didn’t but I want to be honest in this blog. The only thing that is different now is that when I hate my brain and I start yelling out loud about all my ‘suckiness’ and running doesn’t help the anxiety and all I want to do is cry and feel sorry for myself I stop and say, “Embrace it, Collin!” I usually curse a lot more to pump myself up, but suffice it to say, I convince myself that I’m okay.

Embrace! Photo by Mel B.

Over the years, I’ve become better at embracing my difficulties. I’ve embraced the fact that reading is really hard for me! I’ve embraced the fact that learning new things is incredibly difficult for me! I’ve embraced the fact that my processing speed is in the bottom quartile of the population! I’ve embraced the fact that I used to wet bed ALL THE TIME!

However…

I can’t embrace this!

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m completely fine with myself and that I’ve overcome all of my difficulties in life. So I feel like it’s important for me to talk about something ‘brain-related’ that I HATE about myself. I wish I didn’t, but I do and it sucks!

One thing that I have not embraced about myself are my night terrors! I HATE THEM! I’m not sure if this is related to my medication, LDs or just stress. But, I feel like I got the short end of the stick on this nonsense. Let me explain:

For those of you who don’t know, a night terror is distinctly different from a nightmare. A night terror is a condition where an individual has a semi-luscent nightmare-like dream that turns into feelings of extreme terror, which result in screaming/punching/kicking/etc. My night terrors basically consist of me becoming semi-conscious during the night, where I SCREAM at the top of my lungs and I point to things/people/monsters that are not there. I basically pseudo-wake up during the night screaming about some fictitious threat that I believe is going to kill me or hurt my wife while we sleep. The more stressed I get, the more frequent my night terrors. I’ve been more stressed now than I ever have in my entire life so I’ve been having night terrors almost every night since July… BOO!

Danger!

My night terrors usually follow a theme: Something or someone is coming toward me. I’m in danger. We need to leave the bed now! Simple, right?! Well, the following abridged list is to help you understand the ludicrous nature of my night terrors (I promise on everything that this is not made up):

I semi-conciously woke up screaming about:

  1. an octopus-like monster was coming thru the wall toward me (I punched air).
  2. that a monster made up of beans was reaching for my face (I reached and grabbed air).
  3. a tribal child standing over my bed with a spear (I threw my pillow at him).
  4. a monster made of crystals began to form above my head (I stared in terror!).
  5. snakes in my bed (I jumped out of bed and ran to my bathroom… I fully woke up in my bathroom holding my cat! I’m not sure if I grabbed my cat to save him or to protect me!)
  6. a 2 foot LEGO man repelling from the ceiling (my favorite night terror)
  7. microscopic-sized pollen growing to the size of a baseball above me (even my night terrors are science related… lame)
  8. my arms being stricken with gangrene overnight (they were completely blue when I looked at them! I actually was yelling at my wife to tell me why my hands and arms were blue! She told me they were not… I didn’t listen)
  9. my wife’s face covered in blue paint (I remember touching her face and smearing the blue paint and getting it on my fingers! The only problem is that there was no paint.)
  10. my arm falling off (I actually jumped out of bed and frantically felt my arm to make sure it was not a nub)

    photo by far-NCIS

  11. bugs flying in swarms overhead getting ready to attack (this is the most common one I have).
What’s unusual about my night terrors is that I’m an adult (parasomnia’s occur in less the 4% of the adult population) and that I remember most of them (most people don’t). I used to think they were funny. I’d have a night terror and get really excited to tell everyone at work about the human sized amoeba that was reaching for my throat or the poison rays of light that were going to burn me! The problem is that I disturb my wife’s sleep and my own. I sleep a lot! I average 7 hours a night and the nights that I have night terrors I feel like I only slept 4 hours. They also affect my wife’s sleep as well. It’s terrible.
I feel like I’m great at dealing with stress. I organize what I need to do and I DO IT. I get anxious and I convince myself to calm down and get to work. I feel like I do everything right. I guess I try so hard to consciously take control of EVERY ASPECT of my life that I subconsciously drive myself a little crazy!
The night terrors were making so unhappy and nervous to fall asleep that they were all I could think about during bed time. The more I thought about my night terrors, the MORE NIGHT TERRORS I HAD. That translated into me having a night terror almost every night! This has been going on for 3 months! I finally decided to see a neurologist about it! I was really embarrassed to talk to him but he was really helpful and made me feel very comfortable and he said in a thick eastern European accent, “No one is perfect. Eh, We all have our issues. I have mine. Don’t worry about this. It’ll be fine.”
I’m still me.
I wanted to blog about this to demonstrate that I don’t have everything all together all the time (not even close!). I try so hard to be in control but I can’t even sleep right! Sometimes the stress put on people with LDs and ADHD can really mess with other aspects of their life. I believe the extra stress in my life causes me to have night terrors. Sometimes there are unwanted consequences even when we do everything right. Despite these ‘set backs’ we must keep striving to better ourselves! We’ll get there!

Stupid Sleep: Bed Wetting

September 26, 2011

Article Summary:

  • Sorry for the delay: I got married. I got permission to start writing my thesis. I got offered a post doctoral position in my DREAM LAB (in South Africa). 
  • I used to wet the bed almost every day. 
  • I wet the bed until I was in my early 20s.
  • Bed wetting really hurt my self esteem. 
  • I tried EVERYTHING I could think of and the only thing that worked was getting rid of milk in my diet.
  • Life’s too short to be pissed off. Choose happy.

Everyone’s Got One and They All Stink…

I think it’s weird that I went so long without writing. I have had a few really busy months that have taken up most of my time. I got married in July, I got permission to start writing my thesis in September and I started interviewing for my Post Doc. I basically went straight from my honeymoon to working nonstop so I could convince 5 professors that my work is good enough to finishmy PhD, to convincing my future boss that I’m good enough to work in his lab.  I’ll talk more about my future job really soon.

Anyway. I figured I could just jump back into the driver’s seat to talk about the bane of my early years, my teenage years and my early 20s. Bed-wetting! Bed-wetting eroded my self-esteem like salt-water slowly breaks down an abandoned lighthouse.  Bed-wetting hurt me more than my ADHD tendencies and two severe learning disabilities. Bed-wetting is low self-esteem.

photo by David Shankbone

Bed-Wetting: Lowering my Self-Esteem Since 1983!

Low self-esteem sucks. It sucks hard. It sucks, dyson-hard. You know those over priced vacuums that can suck up paper clips that are wedged into carpet? Ya? Low-self esteem sucks that hard! Low self-esteem can result from a lot of things. My low self-esteem has been brewing for a long time.  It has been the root cause of a lot of paralyzing days and sleepless nights. These sleepless nights were the worst.

Nighttime was my enemy. I was afraid to fall asleep. My heart rate would increase, I’d begin to perspire and my legs would twitch. When ‘normal’ kids would get ready for bed, I’d freak out. I freaked out because I WET THE BED!

There are definitely correlations between ADHD and enuresis. Individuals that have a hard time focusing are more likely to wet the bed than their ‘more attentive’ peers (a free review on the subject). So, I guess it makes sense that I wet the bed.

The Wet Years

My nocturnal enuresis (the scientific term for bed-wetting) was the worst in middle school and gradually dried up a by my 21st birthday. I’ll spare you most of the soaking details but I went from wetting my bed every night from 0 to 14ish, to most nights 14ish to 16; to a few times a week from 16 to 17; to a few times a month 18 to 19; to a handful of times every year from 19 to 21. Ugh…

When I was younger I was afraid to sleep over at friend’s houses. When I did sleep over I usually brought a sleeping bag even if they had an extra bed to sleep in. I had a routine: convince my friend that sleeping on the ground was cooler so they’d leave me alone. Go to the bathroom a million times. Don’t drink any water! I then would either 1) stuff my sweat pants with 2 or 3 t-shirts and a few socks or 2) put on a bed-wetting diaper for BIG KIDS that basically looked like a lady-pad but was horribly ineffective. I then, would stare at the ceiling praying that I wouldn’t pee my pants. Sometimes I would wake up dry and sometimes I would not. I hated myself.

The Worst Part About Bed Wetting: Dry-Pee Smell
The worst part about wetting the bed is that you have to do laundry to get rid of that horrible dry-pee smell. If you don’t wash your sheets everyday you wet, you will end up with sheets coated in a dry-pee aroma. Cat-pee may be an aroma in some white wines that sommeliers get hot and heavy over, but it’s the smell of failure when you’re little and unforgiving of yourself. Side note: Cat pee smell is gross, wine snobs are weird. 

I didn’t do laundry everyday and I sure didn’t want my mom to do my laundry every day. So, I eventually gave up. I would just make my bed after I woke up to let the pee puddle turn into a pee stain. If I didn’t make my bed in the morning the bunched up sheets coated in pee would still be wet when I went to bed the following day! It was wet and STINKY. I got used to that smell. It was a part of me, it was a part of my life. As dumb as it sounds: dry pee defined me!

I used to wear a lot of cloth bracelets and I remember sitting in one of my 3rd grade classes and raising my hand. But when my hand moved past my nose I noticed that damn DRY PEE SMELL! I immediately thought I was tagged as a failure. If I couldn’t even sleep right, how could I do anything right?!


What I tried through the years:

  1. Stop drinking at night. Duh! Didn’t work. FAIL
  2. Stop eating and drinking when it gets dark. Nope. FAIL
  3. My mom took me to a urologist that basically told me I was wetting the bed on purpose. He literally is the only person that I have NEVER forgiven because he made my mom cry. That asshole basically told me it was my fault and that my mom was an enabler. He was old, so he had that ‘tough it out’ kind of mentality. FAIL & worst doctor ever.
  4. My primary care physician prescribed DDAVP, which is an anti-diuretic. This did not help. But it was great at increasing my blood pressure and making me feel bloated and horrible at night. FAIL
  5. Teenage diapers. I’m not sure who designed these but men and women have different parts. A PAD DOES NOT WORK FOR DUDES! Imagine placing an outdoor hose on a small towel and turning it on. If the hose doesn’t move at all the towel may soak up most of the water, however that’s not how wieners work (especially when you’re going through puberty)! FAIL.
  6.  Stuffing clothes down my pants works better than the diaper, but it was way more uncomfortable. FAIL
  7. Wearing plastic pants. Yup! I tried this too. I literally wore rain-pants to bed. I’d wake up in the morning not knowing whether I peed a lot, a little or if I was just sweeting profusely. This was the most uncomfortable. FAIL
  8. Plastic sheets. I used them for more than a decade! I basically felt like I was sleeping on a rain coat. I’d toss and turn because it was SO HOT on that damn sheet! FAIL.
  9. Bed wetting alarm! Yes. They make alarms that you Velcro into your underwear and a speaker on your shirt and if you pee, it screeches.  It screeches obnoxiously loud. It works. The problem is that sleeping-Me would remove it! I’d wake up in a puddle of my urine with the alarm completely disconnected and off the bed! FAIL
  10.  Anti-Milk. My mom once came up to me before school and said, “Collin, I just read something on the internet about people with enuresis and milk. Milk can cause some people to sleep more deeply and that has been associated with wetting the bed.” The glass of milk I had that morning was the last glass of milk I ever had. Although, my wetting didn’t completely stop, it did decrease by half within that first week. Going from wetting 5 days a week to 2.5 days was a win in my book. WIN (kind of)

I’m not sure how much milk was the cause of my bed-wetting. I think it was but that may be confirmation bias. Anyway, suffice it to say that it eventually subsided. But I am still left with the memory of hating to go to sleep, hating myself, hating my bladder, hating my male-parts and hating my brain for being so stupid that it didn’t even know that bladders are supposed to remain closed at night! That hatred, turned to fear and that fear turned to self loathing and that loathing turned to low self esteem.

I guess the point of this post is to just to get this off my chest. I understand low self esteem can come from a variety of places. My low self-esteem happen to be from my LDs and bed wetting. If you have low self-esteem just remember that we cannot change our past but we can change the way we approach each day.

I try to approach my days like this: So what if I’m LD? So what if I’m ADHD-like? So what if I wet the bed? So what if things are hard? So what if I feel like school is impossible? So WHAT?! Despite everything: I CHOOSE HAPPY. So should you!

Run Away With Me

July 5, 2011

Article Summary:

  • I believe that outlets are hobbies that make you happy while helping you become a better person.
  • Outlets are needed by us LD and ADHD individuals to give us a chance to escape from the perils of our every day life.
  • I use running as my outlet.
  • Running helps me not go crazy over the ‘little things.’
  • Running allows me to process all the hard stuff in my life so I can approach them with a more level head.
  • Running also challenges me physically and mentally.
  • Running is my ME time.
  • We all need to find our outlet/ME time.
  • Our ME time will provide balance in an unbalanced world!

Reading is hard! Listen here!

I believe that everyone, especially LD and ADHD individuals, need an outlet.  An outlet can be anything from reading to rock climbing. Having an outlet allows you to escape the perils and low self-esteem associated with your every day life. I guess outlets are hobbies that make you happy while helping you become a better person. Happiness is key. Happiness makes the hurt go away. Running makes me happy. Running is my outlet.

My LAME Running History

I started running in middle school. I would run the mile at our district track meets. I loved to run because it made me tired. I think that’s a lame reason to start running but I wasn’t fast enough to win any races so I decided to run for the fun of it instead of for medals. So I did that. I ran for the fun of it on my cross-country team in high school all the way through junior year of undergrad. I basically had to walk on to my cross-country team at Bradley University because my times were TERRIBLE. It’s hard to convince a coach that you’re good enough when you just like running because it’s fun. I asked the coach if I could run and he said, “Ya, we’ll see how it goes.”

My goofy freshman year running photo

I ran cross-country at a division 1 school for 3 years. This shouldn’t impress you because I was HORRIBLE! I got last place (or 3rd to last place) at almost EVERY MEET!  I HATED meets because I was so slow. When I ran districts my freshman year I literally got last place! That stupid golf cart, the cart that follows the last runner and makes sure that no one get hurt on the course, was right behind me! I remember people yelling, “Man, that golf cart is going to beat you!” and “Run faster! You’re in last!” I would think, “My legs CAN’T move any faster! SHUT UP!!” For some reason my coach allowed me to stay on the team despite my lack of ability. I think my GPA and hard-work mentality kept me on the team. He was very nice to me!

Silent Yells

I was too busy my senior year to run cross-country, work in lab, study for classes and the GRE, apply to grad schools and enjoy my senior year so I quite the team. It was the right choice because my senior year of undergrad was a particularly difficult year for me.  I was really stressed out, so I needed to run so I didn’t punch holes in walls. So, through out my senior year I basically would run MAD. While I was running, I’d yell-in-my-head about all the stuff that was wrong in my life. I’d scream about girlfriend issues, I’d grind my teeth and scream in my head about how much I hated waiting to see if I was going to get accommodations for the GRE (I did and I’ll talk about in a later post), I’d yell about getting rejected from grad schools (I was rejected from 7 out of 8 I applied to), and I’d hiss about being stressed and hating classes. I’d mentally-yell like this until I was too exhausted to think about how much I hated a particular class or scream about my brain being too slow. I used running as my outlet.

I’d get pissed, go for a run, get exhausted, forget about why I was pissed/be too tired to care, finish the run and deal with my issues with a more level head. I repeated this daily! I needed this to prevent me from becoming like that small child having a temper tantrum at Toys R Us when his father tells him that he can’t get that new racing game on his Xbox360. I was 21 and I became that kid MULTIPLE TIMES screaming, “WHY?! IT’S NOT FAIR!”

Running Makes Me NOT Crazy

If I didn’t run: when I’d get a rejection letter from a ‘safe school’, I’d try to rip my pillow in half. If I ran, I’d be too tired to even try to rip that stupid pillow in half. If I missed a run and I’d get into a fight with my girlfriend at the time, I’d scream at the top of my lungs into my pillow! If I ran, I didn’t want to waste my lungs on that pointless yelling. If I skipped a run, I’d freak out about a test, which would cause me to clinch my teeth so tight I’d give myself a headache! If I ran, I’d literally say, “This test won’t matter a year from now.”  Running prevented my brain from exploding.

Run For the Challenge

Running also challenges me. I didn’t just want to run in undergrad, I wanted to see if I could run at a division 1 school. Even though I was TERRIFIED I jumped in feet first just to see if I could do it! I knew I’d be one of the slower runners on

My bib for the Pittsburgh marathon

the team so it wasn’t a surprise when I sucked it up! My times were not important for the team, but they were very important to me. Running in undergrad taught me to run for myself. Since running is an individual sport (for me now), I have more control over it than anything else in my life. If I practice, I will get faster. If I don’t practice, I’ll get slower. It’s very simple. I sign up for various races and try to hit a goal time. I don’t worry about racing other people; I just worry about running against myself (and that JERK clock). I’ve set a marathon goal for the past year and still have not reached it. Every time I run a marathon I get a little bit closer, but I’m still 6 minutes off my goal time (3:10). Each time I run and I miss my goal I tell myself, “I’ll get it next time!” I also have short-term training run goals that help me push harder during my workouts. Having these running goals are wonderful because they are completely separate from my work, school, friends and fiancée. Running is completely mine. It is my selfish outlet.

Running Chi

If I go a few days without running, I begin to feel worse off physically. My legs become very achy, which causes me to fidget. My head gets full of all those ADHD thoughts and I have a very hard time focusing. When I don’t run I get a pain in my groin as well (sorry if that’s too personal)! It’s bizarre! I have to run for my physical well-being. Running allows me to work harder and longer. Even when I have a terribly unproductive day, if I ran in the morning, I tell myself, “Well, at least I ran.” Running is my balance. Running helps me be a better person.

Find Your Outlet

I understand that running is NOT for everyone. Find something that makes you happy and doesn’t involve work or other people in your life. Find that one thing that you can do that makes you forget about all the bullshit in your life. It’s important to take a time out for yourself to process everything that is going on in your life. This is your ME time and you should take ME time every day.  ME time should also help you better yourself! ME time is the best kind of time! ME time = your outlet. Find yours!

Adderall: The downside

June 29, 2011

Article Summary

  • Adderall allowed me to study more than 12 hours per day, EVERYDAY.
  • I felt HIGH when I took Adderall.
  • It also increased my heart rate and blood pressure so much that I would feel my eyes pulsate every time my heart pumped.
  • The side effects and the HIGH feeling scared me so much that I talked to my doctor about changing my medication.
  • It took years to find a medication and a dose that I’m comfortable with.
  • I’m now at a good balance between the side effects and benefits of my medication.

The Scary Side of Adderall

Reading is HARD! Listen here!

When I started undergrad I was on 20mg of Adderall XR (extended release) capsules 1 time a day. This worked really well for me before college but I needed to increase my dose because it was not effective at night.  I talked to my doctor and he increased my dose from 20mg of Adderall XR to 30mg, because at that time there was NO 25mg capsule, my freshman year of undergrad.

The higher dose of Adderall was VERY effective. I had the ability to cram every night, almost every day. When I was on this really high dose I could literally study 12+ hours a day (not including time spent in class). In previous posts I talked about studying all day, before breakfast, lunch and dinner, during some of those meals, between classes, after practice and up until the time I went to bed. This amount of studying was ONLY possible because I was on such a high dose of Adderall. You know when you’re in the ‘zone’ while studying? Things start to click more easily and you’re feeling awesome about learning new information? Well, that’s how I felt EVERYDAY.  It was great for my studies. It was awesome for my grades! It was fantastic for my low self-esteem. However….

It was unnatural and I started to fear that it was TERRIBLE for my health! The drug actually scared me because I LOVED the way it made me feel! The euphoria that I felt with Adderall was nerve racking. Four hours after I took my meds I’d feel like my head was floating in a lazy river while a professional masseuse massaged my temples all while a cool breeze rustled through my hair. Anything that made me feel that good could NOT be good for me!

Adderall also made me fear for my cardiovascular health. I once took my medicine before a 6am morning run with my team because I figured I would start studying right after practice so I wanted the drug in my system by the time I was finished running. This was a TERRIBLE mistake. My heart (chest area) started to hurt while I was running! I was in fantastic shape at the time and I was used to running between 50 and 60 miles a week so I was not used to having heart-issues during my run! I had to stop running early and walk the last half mile or so because I was so scared that I might have a heart attack! The reason running on Adderall was so hard for me was because it raised my resting heart rate (HR) from the mid-40s to over 85 beats per minute. It also increased my blood pressure (BP) to about 140/80ish. I could feel my eyes pulsate when my heart pumped when I was  sedentary so imagine how bad it became when I was running! It was SCARY AS HELL! When I went to my doctor to tell him that my HR was too high, he’d just tell me it was within the normal range and I shouldn’t worry about it. But I would always bring up that it was NOT NORMAL FOR ME! Eventually, I was able to convince my doctor that I needed to change my medication because of the Bad Drug Trifecta I was experiencing: 1) It made me feel HIGH. 2) Increased HR. 3) Increased BP.

Trial and Error

Photo by Mullica

My doctor(s) and I came to an understanding and he put me other meds. The issue with these medications is that you need to try them in different doses over a given period of time to determine if they are effective (and if you’re comfortable with the side effects). Over the next 7 years I tried a multiple stimulant and non-stimulant drugs in a verity of doses. I even went off of Adderall for an entire year in grad school to see if I BEAT my LD/ADHD-tendencies! I did not; I failed! About 2 years ago I settled on 10mg instant-release tablets of methylphenidate (Ritalin) 2 times a day. The lower dose keeps my HR and BP within acceptable levels and if I am having a less busy day I can skip my second dose.  The small amount of stimulant taken at 2 different times is too low to give me that HIGH feeling so I’m less worried about turning my brain into one of those “This is your brain on drugs” commercial from the early 90s.

Know Yourself!

I believe these drugs can be very helpful. I just think that people need to weigh the side effects with the benefits. In my experience, the more helpful these drugs become the more side effects I suffered from. With the help of my doctor(s) I found a nice balance between the pros and cons of the drug.

Check with your doctor to see what will work for you but ALWAYS let them know the side effects you are suffering from! You know your body better than any doctor so when you feel like something is not right, then you need to tell them and insist that the side effects are not worth the benefits. These medications will not fix your brain, but they may be able to help some of your symptoms of ADHD or LD.

Article Summary:

  • I’m not ADHD but I have multiple symptoms of the disorder.
  • I get distracted VERY easily!
  • I began taking Adderall before my freshman year of undergrad
  • Adderall allowed me to read books (which was almost impossible in the past)
  • It also allowed me to study an unnatural amount of hours

Reading is hard! Listen here!

Attention Deficit pseudo-Disorder

I was never diagnosed with ADHD but I was told that I have most of the ‘symptoms’ of the disorder. I have a really hard time paying attention during class, at work, when people talk to me and when I try to read. If I were another animal, I’d probably be a gold fish swimming from one end of my bowl only to get distracted and start swimming to the other end. I’m pretty sure my processing disorder is the major culprit in my focus dilemma. Since I’m usually a few seconds behind in understanding the situation around me it is really hard for me to follow most tasks for an extended period of time. Suffice it to say, I’m LD with ADHD tendency.

Distraction champ

I’ve always had a really difficult time focusing on my reading assignments. This basically just made me work longer. I’d spend hours reading a few sentences in a book because I’d take lots of automatic mental mini-breaks that basically consisted of me reading a few lines then thinking about what mom was doing downstairs. I’d read a little more and think about what debacle Ash and Pikachu were going to get themselves into this week, then I’d read a little more and I’d go lay down on my bed and throw a ball in the air for a few minutes only to get distracted by the shiny quarter I had on my desk, which would lead me to think “how many quarters are in my room right now?” I’d then go on a treasure hunt for quarters until I crawled under my bed to find a marble I thought I lost (yes, I had a fantastic marble collection when I was younger). I’d then want to play marbles so I’d set up the game only to remember that I was supposed to be reading. I’d then try to read a little bit more but get distracted by the fly that is trying to escape my room. I think I once named a fly Plinky because when flies try to fly through a window the sound they make is a “plink.” For the record, I now know that the fly-on-glass smash sound is not a plink (I hate vocab!). This pattern continued for hours. Because I’m so prone to distractions and because I don’t read right I’ve only read a handful of books my whole life.

I CAN READ!

When I received my final LD testing the psychologist suggested that I try Adderall. I reluctantly accepted because I hate being on meds but I really wanted to be ABLE to read so I could understand references people were making about famous books. I didn’t WANT to read, I just didn’t want to continue looking so stupid when people would say something like, “All animals are created equal… some animals are more equal than others. You know what I mean, Collin?” in response to some inequality that was occurring at school.

I’d embarrassingly respond, “What?! NO! Why are you bringing up animals? What the heck?! More equal doesn’t sound equal.” I’d just slump down in my seat thinking, “what the hell is she talking about? I bet it’s a book. I HATE BOOKS.”

I was so tired of that feeling. So I went ahead and got my first prescription. I just graduated high school and I started taking summer classes at the local community college.  I was taking 2 classes a few hours apart that summer so I had a lot of time to kill. I didn’t have enough time to go home and watch TV so I decided to try reading a book. I basically wanted to prove to myself that NOTHING would help and I could prove that psychologist wrong! I was going to show him!

photo by Ross_Angus

I remember the day I took the first dose of my medicine. I picked up a copy of Catch-22 from my brother’s room and threw it in my bag. I basically did it as a joke. I thought it was so funny that I was putting a book in my bag! I didn’t think I was going to read it but I just wanted to give myself a chance.  During class I began to notice that my head was feeling a little different. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I definitely was feeling more focused. After class I went outside during lunch and sat under a tree. I figured I might as well use this newly found focusing-ability to read. I picked up Catch-22 and I didn’t put it down until my next class. I just successfully read for more than 2 hours! I didn’t remember everything I was reading and I still had all of the reading issues that normally hinder me, but this was the FIRST time in my life I willingly sat down and read for almost 2 hours! Although I only was reading about 6-10 pages an hour, I felt like a CHAMP! I was doing what smart people do!

 

Finally

Adderall helped focus my energies into whatever project I was working on. I could study longer and more efficiently, I could finally read more than a few sentences at one time and I could write for longer periods of time. Adderall also helped me outside of school: I could carry on conversations better, I was more observant when I was driving and the increased focus allowed me to follow the plot of TV shows and movies more easily. For a long time I thought of Adderall as my magic bullet. Although the drug did not help my memory, processing speed or reading issues, it did allow me to focus more intently on a specific task so memorization and reading became a little easier. I took Adderall or other ADHD drugs (Strattera and instant-release Ritalin) all through college and graduate school and I have them to thank for a lot of my success. However, the reason I tried different stimulants or non-stimulant drugs was because of the side effects.

I’ll talk more about these side effects in my next post.

Empty Frames

June 14, 2011

Article Summary

  • I’m an eternal (annoying) optimist. My optimism helps me deal with my disabilities.
  • Scientists NEED to be optimistic.
  • If all of us LD and ADHD individuals had the optimism of scientists I think we would have the potential to perform at the best of our abilities!
  • Celebrate your accomplishments by displaying them in way that you can see them whenever you need a boost of confidence! I framed my published papers in my home office.
  • I have an empty frame on my wall next to my framed papers. I use empty frames as a metaphor of “my potential.” When I see an empty frame I envision myself  framing the next paper I am working on.
  • Find out what motivates you to think optimistically about your LD/ADHD and use it to OWN your LD/ADHD!

Empty Frames

Reading is HARD! Listen here!

Positively charged

I’ve been told that I’m an eternal optimist. I’m that annoying guy that jumps up and down when I get excited. I’m not only getting excited over big stuff (like getting into grad school or getting engaged), I’m the guy that bounces when I see a furry animal on YouTube, I wake up so happy to seize the day that I pretty much always wake my fiancée up with ‘gravity squeezes’ or very intense spooning and I laugh all through work (which probably annoys my co-workers) because we are doing science and I LOVE science. My boss really knows this optimism well. Most of the time when I start an experiment I tell my boss, “I’m going to get this to work.” or “This experiment is going to help me graduate!” She regularly tells me, “I know,” even though the last 5 times I did similar experiments they didn’t work out so well. Sometimes it is hard to stay positive, but I made a choice a long time ago that being positive is better than being negative. I used to get really upset about not being able to read well and I would go through phases where I would hate myself for learning new things so slowly. I began to notice how crappy it is to feel so negative. It’s so draining. I started noticing ‘MAD’ people (a person that defaults to angry) more often and I realized that I didn’t want to live like that. So, suffice it to say: negativity sucks!

I truly believe that one requirement of a GOOD scientist is being an optimist. They don’t have to be stupidly positive like I am, but optimism pushes science forward. Science requires lots of funding, which means scientists write lots of grants. These grants are full of comments like, “this drug may decrease viral loads by 99%” and “a better understanding how protein X functions will lead to more precise treatments for cancer Y” and “my science will change the WORLD.” Okay, I made that last one up. The point that I’m trying to make is that you HAVE TO think your experiments will work when you write a grant and when you start working on them. Scientists are allowed to doubt what they are doing but they have a little voice in their head that says, “you can do this!” We usually know that the experiments in our grants won’t completely cure the world of all its woes (or even the specific problem we are investigating), but we NEED to believe that there is a greater purpose to our work. It’s probable that our experiments will increase our knowledge in a specific area and the more we know, the closer we will get to a cure or treatment.

 

Scientist optimism = LD/ADHD optimism

Correlating the positivity needed to be a good scientist with the positivity needed by us LD people to beat our disabilities will help make us all better. Imagine a world where people with LD and ADHD didn’t mourn their disabilities or avoid activities they ‘just can’t get.’ Imagine how wonderful it would be if LD and ADHD just meant, “learns differently” or “reads differently!” Changing our perception of LD and ADHD individuals needs to start with us. We need to know that we are great. We need to know that we can ‘beat/overcome/destroy/attack/face punch’ our disabilities. We need to start by setting and reaching lofty goals! We should take a page from the scientist’s manual and say, “I may not change the world, but I can do my part to be the best person I can be.” To keep my optimism high, I framed my two published papers and put them up in my home office. I frequently look at them as a constant reminder that success is not an easy thing to accomplish, but hard work and thinking positively can lead to fantastic outcomes. Celebrate your accomplishments!

Empty frames

Published papers with my ‘empty’ frame

One way I try to use optimism to be the best person I can be is by using empty frames. Empty frames are a combination of optimism and determination. They basically represent my potential. I use empty frames as a representation of what I want out of life or what I want to become. To me, an empty frame represents where I want to be and I use them to push me to be better. Frames should be filled with accomplishments, so when I see an empty frame I think to myself, “I need to fill that with something AWESOME!” I have an ‘empty’ frame on my wall next to my framed papers. I use this as a key motivator to push me to get another paper published. Soon, I hope to fill that empty frame with a new paper only to replace the blank space on my wall with a new empty frame.

I believe optimism is key to overcoming LD and ADHD. The more positively you see yourself in the mirror and the world around you, the better equipped you will be to face the challenge of having a disability!