Wright State Letter of Support from a Student and Mother

 

As students of Wright State, it has not escaped our notice that many of our professors will strike
beginning Tuesday January 22, 2019. There are many reasons for this difficult decision.
You can learn more about them,
here and here.

As a recent 2018 alumnus and current graduate student, I want to share my story and express my support for my professors. We hope our administration and Board of Trustees will take notice of how much we value our education from our supportive faculty.

It has not escaped our notice | Wright State DNA TetherAndFly.com

Although I had small bursts of interest in the healthcare field from a young age, I ended up disliking science classes. Other people identified me as an artist, and expressing myself through my artwork always came naturally to me. So the only reason I signed up for anatomy at Wright State, was because of the rapid deterioration I witnessed in my older brother.

When I was 17 and he was 20, he experienced his first psychosis at home. I stayed up with him through the night, and tried to make sure he wouldn’t hurt himself as he searched for “diamonds in our rug,” manically scraping the floors until his knees bled.

Wright State Snowing | TetherAndFly.com

As the early stages of his disease manifested in behavior, my parents and all seven of us brothers and sisters, observed a spectrum of cognitive deficits and changes in his affect. These changes were accompanied by visual, auditory, olfactory, and even gustatory hallucinations that enhanced his delusions.

A psychiatrist later diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia.

Millet Hall at Wright State University

Millet Hall at Wright State University

I didn’t know anything about his prognosis, but I wanted to understand the mechanisms that changed him from a popular football athlete to a patient. The onset of his neurological disease was the beginning of my journey into the delicate constellation of circuits carefully wired in our minds.

In the fall of 2004, my second year at Wright State, it seemed taking an introductory anatomy class would be a plausible step for testing the waters of medicine that I had been drawn to through my personal experience. I signed up for classes through a telephone system for dialing class codes provided by the university newspaper. Again, this was 2004. The internet wasn’t a tool the way it is now, so there was a great deal of mystery about the content of this course (for me).

Once I found the lab in the basement of the Medical Sciences building, my stomach dropped when I realized we were going to learn from human donors.  I don’t come from a family of scientists or physicians. My dad has a degree in business, and my mom earned her GED after having my older siblings. It never occurred to me that we would learn in this manner as undergraduates. I recall looking at the other students, questioning this peculiar custom that didn’t seem to bother anyone else in the room. I stood in the back of the first couple labs, sweating & holding my breath, afraid to broach any closer. I remember standing in a hallway of lockers after lab, asking myself, what am I doing here? Soon I stopped going altogether.

At the end of the quarter, I obtained an X in the course.
To be clear, an X meant that I did not pass.
It seemed like confirmation that I wasn’t a good match for medicine.
If I couldn’t tolerate anatomy, we were never going to work out.
So I left Wright State to earn an associates degree in Visual Communications from Sinclair.
I became a freelance photographer and graphic designer.

Anna Mantia salad dressing with a label I designed sold at Dorothy Lane Market in 2008 (from  Dominic’s Italian and American Food  restaurant that closed some years ago)

Anna Mantia salad dressing with a label I designed sold at Dorothy Lane Market in 2008 (from Dominic’s Italian and American Food restaurant that closed some years ago)

This allowed me to work primarily from home when my sons were young, but I always felt the pull of having unfinished business at Wright State.

Eleven years after I had left Wright State, I reapplied as a single mom. With both of my sons in elementary school, I just wanted to finish my bachelor’s degree. Resuming my studies at Wright State was not an easy or clear cut decision. It was bursts of little curiosities, obsessive diligent research, and two meetings with advisors approximately six months apart. After I spoke with a kind and informative advisor from the College of Liberal Arts, it was clear that I was no longer interested in a fine arts degree.

A few months passed as I continued to think about returning to Wright State, developed more curiosities, and continued to obsessively diligently research programs of study. Finally, I made an appointment with an advisor from the Psychology department. We spoke at length about my interests, my fears about taking statistics and research methods I & II, and what might be a practical first step while returning to college. He explained that the department now offered courses in Behavioral Neuroscience, Cognition & Perception, and I/O psychology as concentrations of focused study. He was patient while I asked about the differences between a B.A. and B.S. He supplied me with pamphlets about the details of degree options, and told me to take my time while deciding what to do. He recommended I take a light semester of electives as I adjusted to being a student again at Wright State. We talked about the importance of becoming integrated into the system as I acclimated to this new place in my life.

With his advice in mind, I signed up for Human Sexuality and Biological Anthropology. I was treading carefully, and trying to avoid anything chemistry related. Soon I received notice that I had been awarded a Transfer Scholarship, and was even more excited about this new chapter in my life. The divorce had been a long and brutal process, and I was ready to design a new life.

Then the billing statement arrived.

My eyes scanned the considerable amount due, even after application of my scholarship.
I thought about rent, the car payment, gas for my car, groceries… and I panicked.
I thought about my sons, in kindergarten and fourth grade, and I was overwhelmed with the idea of how to logistically make this work while I raised them alone.  
After weighing all of these concerns, I logged into WINGS and promptly dropped both classes.

That could have been the end of my story and affiliation with Wright State, but it is not.


A few days later, my parking pass arrived. I opened it in my little kitchen apartment and noticed how the pattern caught the light at certain angles. I had forgotten that in my excitement of enrolling in classes at Wright State, I had bought a one-semester parking pass.
It was nearly $100 dollars.

It was a big sacrifice to me, and I cringed when I thought about not using it.
Could I waste all that money?
The pass also affected me in another way.

The shiny laminated pass was quite the foreign object to me. As someone who worked from home, there had been no use for parking passes hanging from my rear view mirror. It was the first hint of tangible evidence that a new pattern, a new chapter, was within reach. It just so happened that I was desperate to make changes in my life, and this is how I would start. I reenrolled in the courses, and opted for the payment plan.

TetherAndFly.com | First Day at Wright State in 2015

The first day of fall semester arrived. My son, Kevin, gifted me his old Darth Vader lunch bag (which was quite the honor). Both my sons drew notes for my lunch bag that I couldn’t open until lunch. Their excitement was adorable, but I was acutely aware of the extra challenges ahead.

I resolved that I would make this work- even if it meant stepping into mid air without a hint of support underneath me.
I would make sure my feet would have a place to land each time I took a step.
If necessary, I would build my own road.

My sons tucked notes in my lunch for my first day at Wright State in 2015.

My sons tucked notes in my lunch for my first day at Wright State in 2015.

Initially, I was very embarrassed to be in my thirties and in the middle of divorce proceedings as an undergraduate. Thankfully, I’ve had the honor of having professors who were graciously accommodating when I had to miss class for divorce trial and associated court appearances.

It turns out that my professors were the bridge of support I needed to move forward; I didn’t have to build the road alone.

They encouraged campus involvement by inviting us to events that might interest us, lab openings, and pertinent extracurriculars. I benefited from becoming more acquainted with campus activities, such as becoming a Women’s Center intern, as a result of their suggestions.  

As an undergraduate, I started to gradually build confidence to take classes that had previously felt out of reach- like behavioral neuroscience and anatomy. When I was nervous about working with cadavers in the anatomy lab, our teacher took me to the updated lab in White Hall during office hours so that she could give me a private tour to help ease some of my discomfort and reframe my fears. As she calmly answered all of my questions and explained some of the topics we would be studying, I saw the value of why we learn the way we do in anatomy lab. After all of the years of evading this exact scenario, it only took a few seconds to transform my physiological response to the lab. No longer nauseous or nervous, I was fully ready to immerse myself in my education.

I am aware that the conversation with her could have played out very differently. She could have recommended that I toughen up or redirected me from me her office and laughed at me.

I will be a physician because she was wiser and more compassionate than that.


Our professors do not approach their interactions with students as contractual obligations or sterile processes. They care about the opportunities to influence their students.
I am a product of their guidance and kindness.


Now I realized that I had come full circle to the same dream that I had years ago as a sister who wanted to help her brother and people like him. Except now there was a lot on the line, because I was bringing my two sons along for this journey. I figured out how to fill out the FAFSA form. With the support of professors and advisors, I began taking pre-med prerequisites. I was awarded scholarships that made a significant difference in my ability to support my family while devoting a substantial amount of time to my courses. I continued to work as a photographer, medical scribe, tutor, and researcher. My statistics teacher made the subject as painless as possible, and even… *gasp* fun?! I loved her sense of humor and enjoyed applied calculus with her too. I listened when my biological anthropology professor explained sexual dimorphism in species. She stressed that there was not an advantageous neuroanatomical region men had in relation to women that made them smarter. This opened me up to developing a growth mindset, and the next thing I knew, I was signed up for general chemistry. It had been 15 years since I had chemistry in high school. There were setbacks along the way, but I worked hard to catch up with my younger peers.

WSU Professor Kindness | TetherAndFly.com

It was my responsibility to endorse my dreams and develop study techniques for classes I swore I’d never take. It was a tremendous help that my professors have held extended office hours, replied to numerous emails, encouraged peer-taught SI sessions, and held their own review sessions in the evenings and weekends. My sons were always welcome to attend these sessions if I needed to bring them. One day I emailed a teacher to let her know my son couldn’t return to school after his dental procedure, and he would need to accompany me to class. She designated the most comfortable chair in the room for him and welcomed him with his name on the chair. My research mentors challenged me to tackle an undergraduate thesis that 2004-version-of-me could have never accomplished. They were able to work closely with me, and give me feedback regularly. They have allowed me to bring my sons to campus when I needed to collect data in the evenings or weekends. Another professor helped organize a Misconceptions of Gender Differences in STEM course I took that helped broaden our understanding of how to build a more inclusive STEM environment on campus. This is something that I am very passionate about, since it wasn’t long ago that I would have laughed in the face of anyone who told me I’d end up in a STEM career. I didn’t think I had any talent for it or the innate skills that seemed to come naturally to some people. My biggest barrier was a lack of confidence in myself.

Kevin and Damian at Wright State 2018 | TetherAndFly.com

Below. A visit in 2016 to show my sons where I worked in my first research lab, the Human Neuroscience and Visual Cognition Laboratory, under Dr. Harel.

Damian Cognitive Neuroscience Lab | TetherAndFly.com

I have also benefited from the legal services at Wright State, when unforeseen circumstances required their counsel in civil matters related to, but separate from, custody & the divorce decree. It was a great relief to have a program available that is $11 a semester, and the ability to focus my attention on my classes, research, and sons. Otherwise, I likely would have needed to leave campus that semester. I considered this when personal obstacles seemed greater than my capacity to overcome them. My biggest fear and sadness came at the thought of not being able to finish my degree. One professor, with tears in her eyes, said obstinately, “No. Not this time. I won’t let that happen.” It meant the world to have someone believe in my potential that way. I stayed.

Another advisor, introduced me to Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the “father of modern neuroscience.” He explained that Cajal was the winner, with Camillo Golgi, of a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in the advancement of the structure of the nervous system. I had often felt like being a former art student had made me less qualified than my classmates. My advisor wanted me to know that having a background in the arts was not a detriment to my future scientific endeavors, because Cajal had to draw the neurons he visualized in the microscope in order to share his findings with the world. This was the point when I realized that communicating science to the general public would be a personal mission of mine. I began to see my background as a strength. I was soon delighted to learn how to draw my way through understanding human physiology, thanks to another talented professor that guided us in drawing simple images in his lectures to understand complicated physiological mechanisms.

Studying anatomy, physiology, and behavioral neuroscience helped me develop a persistent fascination with the design of our existence. I learned that art is not limited to brush strokes on canvas. Or for me, the ability to capture wavelengths of light through a camera lens.

There is art inside of each of us, elegantly woven and meticulously arranged.

Those courses were my first introduction to the dynamic alliance between art & science.

This relationship is so finely embedded in our world, that I couldn’t outrun its pull or avoid its influence. Every step away was part of an ordered sequence to bring me back here.

NEC Wright State 2018 | TetherAndFly.com

In summer of 2018, I graduated with a bachelor of science degree in Psychology, with a concentration in Behavioral Neuroscience. I completed all pre-med prerequisites. I wrote and presented an undergraduate honors thesis on the effect of social buffering on neuroinflammatory signaling molecules as a response to stress and an immune challenge. In fall of 2018, I began studies in the Physiology and Neuroscience graduate program. Just a few years after my first introduction to Cajal, I am now beginning to examine tiny structures in the nervous system that play a physiological role in neurodegenerative diseases. The idea to find a lab that would allow me to examine molecular expression in microscopy images came after a brief talk with a professor during a speed-mentor session. He asked if merging my photography past with my research future had ever come to mind. I’m learning that my craftsmanship as an artist is beneficial to techniques needed for this delicate research. Soon, I will be applying to medical school, and possibly as an MD/PhD candidate.

Picture taken by my good friend, Briana, from  Knack Creative

Picture taken by my good friend, Briana, from Knack Creative

Picture taken by my good friend, Briana, from  Knack Creative

Picture taken by my good friend, Briana, from Knack Creative

As a commuter student, my sons have been able to remain in our home community and attending Wright State has been least disruptive option for them. My sons flourish because their mother has the opportunity to accomplish her dreams in our backyard. They are able to continue to receive medical treatment at the nearby Wright Patterson Air Force Base medical center as Tricare beneficiaries from their father’s military service. As my classes became more demanding, we moved in with my parents. Their support has meant the world to us. If I had needed to live on a campus, or if Dayton did not have an affordable public institution available, I would not be where I am today. Without Wright State and the professors here, I’d still believe that I wasn’t smart enough for medical school. Many students travel great distances to come here for the world-class opportunities we have available to us, especially in research. Did you see the Festival of Research, hosted by the College of Science and Mathematics last fall? It was a highlight for us to see so many of our professors, fellow students, and friends sharing their research.

Sometimes I wonder what would have brought me back here if that parking pass had not arrived. I share my story, because other students are attending Wright State on threads as fragile as mine were. The following statistics are probably not a surprise to anyone who understands the students of Wright State.*


Full-time WSU students average 14.48 credit hrs and part-time students 6.33 credit hrs

40% are first generation

86% live off campus

25% spend 10+ hours balancing school with caring for children & other family members

46% work 10+ hours a week

10% are international students, and English may not be their first language

69% receive some form of financial aid

4% receive GI Educational Benefits

5% are registered with the Office of Disability Services


President Schrader and Board of Trustees, please understand the depth of what is at stake. Please remember that you serve a diverse population of students, who have become associated with Wright State for distinct reasons. We are resilient, but the overspending of our 130 million reserves, being on the brink of fiscal watch, faculty layoffs, and the looming faculty strike have been hard on us.

Some of us have clear goals that have been nurtured by the faculty here. While we despise the extra burden you’ve place on our shoulders this semester, we are firm in our decision to stay the course.

Some of us are here sampling courses in the hope to uncover perspective for a possible major. We are trying to integrate into this new phase of life, but we are overwhelmed by the uncertainty of our own leadership. It is a tragedy that the nebulous campus climate could be the final deterrent to ever finishing a degree. It is likely I would have left if the upheaval had happened a couple years ago during semesters that were already overwhelmingly difficult for personal reasons. I have compassion for students and faculty who are trying to come to terms with these unfortunate circumstances, while also attending to their private obligations and challenges.

While we carry on and focus on our courses, we need you to open negotiations with faculty. Please. We want to move forward, and see our campus thrive again. The discord has been a distraction and thief of our mental resources and time. We need to be unhindered by the politics that should have been managed more efficiently and diplomatically.

Please do not let this situation continue to be another barrier to our success.

We enrolled with plenty of our own.

-Andrea L. Bell

WSU Alumnus 2018
WSU Graduate Student in Physiology and Neuroscience


To our community,

Many alumni continue to work and reside in Dayton. While we often take Wright State for granted, many of us are connected to this campus. It is unfortunate that mismanagement by leadership has dampened the achievements of faculty and students.

I’d like to think we can reclaim some of the momentum that has been taken from us.

On social media, please share two stories of two professors that impacted you. Include an image from your time at Wright State or change your profile picture to show how many of us appreciate this institution and the people who inspired us.

Hashtags:

#Fighting4Wright

#Students4Faculty

#Faculty4Students


Not a contractual obligation or sterile process | TetherAndFly.com

* Statistics provided by a Graduate Training video, supplied by The Office of Institutional Research WSU | 937 775 4296

Many parts of this post were taken from a speech I wrote for the Boonshoft School of Medicine Anatomical Gift Foundation Ceremony in fall of 2017. You can listen to the original speech here.

 

October November December Janu...

 

This fall became a more intense semester than I anticipated, and I have basically skipped over Halloween - to early 2019. Here are some annotated events that I espeically loved.

For Halloween, Kevin was a kid on a roller coaster (he’s obsessed with each and every coaster he can ride). Damian was Stitch again. I was a half-committed Lilo, that was mistaken for a mom in a red dress. We had a perfect warm, colorful night for trick or trick. It was magic.

It was nice to have my brother Joel home from his first duty station as a Marine and my sister Abby home from Colorado for Thanksgiving. A lot has changed this year, but we made the most of our time and we played Drawful until Joel had to leave.

Tether+and+Fly+%7C+Thanksgiving+2018
TetherAndFly.com | Thanksgiving 2018
TetherAndFly.com | Thanksgiving 2018

Since we didn’t have commencement in Summer, I participated in the (rainy) December event. I needed to acknowledge that I had actually finished my bachelors degree. There was only a short break between intense summer classes and my graduate classes. Everything seemed to blur together, beacuse I hadn’t really internalized that I had accomplished this personal goal until commencement. It was really special to walk out and see my sons, parents, and Dr. Schiml (my mentor, professor, & lab jedi of the Henessy-Schiml lab I’ve work in for two years) waving at me as we took our seats. There were a lot of sacrifices, so it was important to celebrate this milestone with my support system. I recommend doing this, even if it is a semester late!

PrintableAndAwesome | Spanish Graduation Cap

I had found this graduation hat listing on Etsy that resembled the Mexican bingo game that we used to play as kids (my mom would supply pinto beans -uncooked obviously- as the bingo chips). When I asked if PrintableAndAwesome could design a custom hat with my sons, (from a picture I sent them), I was so excited that they were able to help me honor such a large part of my identity and focus. It is truly a privilege to be a mamá y graduada (mommy and graduate)!

Etsy Store: PrintableAndAwesome
My graduation pictures were taken by my good friend, Briana, from Knack Creative

We had a lot of excitement leading up to Christmas, including orchestra concert (Kevin) and Christmas choir performance (Damian). Christmas week was quiet, but in a very relaxing way. My sons went to Florida for their entire break to see their family. I’ve learned to try to use their trips as a time to repair and sleep. This break was the reset that I needed after such an intense month leading to finals. I unplugged and lived in my pajamas. I did it so well, that it took thirty minutes to find my keys 1.5 weeks later.

Before I knew it, I was picking up my sons and headed to see my sister, Rachel, graduate with a bachelors degree in Information Technology (as a single mom of three!). Three out of four of us sisters graduated with bachelors degree in 2018, which is wild if you consider that we have about thirteen years between us! So proud to share this accomplishment with my sisters and to know that we each sacrificed a great deal to be where we are.

IMG_8917.JPG

This was Abby’s Spring 2018 Wright State Graduation, with a Dobby graduation hat (of course). She’s a 2nd grade teacher in Colorado now! My son, Damian, was lucky to have her as a student teacher in Math last year.

Abby Graduated | TetherAndFly.com
Master has given Dobby a diploma All was well | TetherAndFly.com

The boys arrived just in time for our first major snowfall this year. Kev is now taller than me when I wear heels and Damian is trying to catch up.

January 2019 | TetherAndFly.com
Photo Jan 14, 12 50 47 AM.jpg
 

Hahahaha… I love their big gloves (borrowed them from my dad). They love snow.

We are getting back into school routines and enjoying the sound of their voices in the house again. I’ll have to get back to you on the rest of the -ARY ending of this month. Clearly though, it’s the in-between scenes that I treasure.

-Andrea

How Do We Instagram Neuro-Psychiatric Illnesses?

 
Photo of me by Meagan Shuptar | 2014

Photo of me by Meagan Shuptar | 2014

How Do We Instagram
Neuro-Psychiatric Illnesses?

“We shouldn’t be sharing about this topic at all” is my first response.
Isn’t this digital haven of squares a place we’ve created to become inspired & escape? So why would we share excoriating truths that we meticulously attempt to conceal?

“We shouldn’t share because it is no one else’s business.”

I agree with this one too. Sharing the intimacies of our stories for the consumption of casual acquaintances is an appalling suggestion. My covers are very warm this cool autumn morning & I prefer the comfort of my silence.

“What if sharing our stories could change a life?”
Neuro-psychiatric disorders are too common to be exclusive. Speaking up could help people feel less stigmatized. THIS is why I wrestle with the implications of how my silence serves me vs what it could do for other people. I think about the people who suffer alone or with little access to resources. Decreasing stigmatization could help people feel less responsible for the cause of their diseases and more empowered to seek professional + social assistance.

People are genuinely curious why I’ve chosen to go back to college to prepare for medical school. Why physiology? Why neuroscience? This could be paraphrased to ask me why I am ok with such a tremendous educational burden in my mid-30’s as a single mom.

Sharing Neuro-Psychiatric Diseases on Social Media | TetherAndFly.com

My brother developed psychiatric symptoms in response to neurological changes almost twenty years ago. He was diagnosed with paranoid-schizophrenia. It has changed my family’s life as his cruel disease played out and wreaked havoc on him. While you wouldn’t know this about me unless I shared it, i.e. my social media pictures don’t reveal this, I can not deny the responsibility to become part of the solution to help people heal. We don’t understand the complete etiology of the disease, (the exact cause of the disease), but I hope we can move past conversations that label this as a shortcoming, a failure, a spiritual problem, or any of the other inappropriate terms that I have heard over the years. The brain is an organ, a refined organ, that I hold in high esteem. Yet, it is composed of cells, ion activity, hormones, neurotransmitters, chemical cascades, receptors, voltage activity, an immune system, and the capacity to deviate from homeostasis. The brain has the capacity for dysfunction, just as the kidneys, lungs, liver, or eyes can develop problems. I’ve worn glasses since seventh grade and each year the deterioration is slightly worse. I can not imagine living in a world that made me feel guilty or responsible for my vision loss. This is an oversimplified analogy, but I hope the message is clear.

I hope we can move past the unfortunate stigma of “mental illness” to embrace the idea that one day there will be interventions and treatment options to help more people THRIVE despite having what were once considered to be life-altering disease processes.

When I watched Brain on Fire, I was so excited to see her story shared. Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis is a frightening disease, like other neurological diseases. I’m so thankful that more people are coming to terms with the fact that hallucinations, delusions, or other psychiatric symptoms are not spontaneous. There are biochemical explanations for why they occur. One day we will be able to pin-point causes for the variety of mechanisms that cause depression, bi-polar disorder, dementia, or schizophrenia based on a more elegant understanding of the way the brain interacts with the rest of the body. I hope that in our lifetime, we will move closer to effective precision therapies. Until then, we can offer awareness, kindness, patience, and encouragement. The age of marginalizing people needs to be replaced by an attitude of compassion. More resources need to be allocated to give support to patients who could benefit greatly from a world with more empathy.

I remember being tested for thyroid dysfunction as a teenager, because of my depressive symptoms. I felt very guilty when the doctor told me it was functioning properly. It seemed like my organs were fine, but it was my own fault for my symptoms. Wish I could go back and speak to that version of myself. If you struggle with something you’ve been told is “all in your mind” or is frustratingly invisible to other people, please read this:

While our organs are magnificent and often work very hard without our conscious awareness- biological & environmental factors can interrupt the machinery. Even in our brains. You might need medical, pharmacological, and psychological interventions. That is ok. A disease that is not understood does not make a patient more at fault for having that disease. Seeking help is not indicative of weakness or shame. You would seek medical attention for a laceration on your arm or chest pain. Please begin to view your mental health as analogous to physical health, even though the path to recovery may be different or difficult.

There is one more thing about our brains I’d like to point out. There is great capacity for elasticity, for change, with proper treatment and support.

Please be patient with yourself, and the science that slowly investigates how to help you.
I hope you understand how dignified you are for fighting to be where you are.
It takes a large amount of courage to exist in a world that does not always understand your battles.

I hope you feel less alone.

-Andrea

 

First Semester of Grad School

 

My first semester of graduate courses is in full force. I’m trying to figure out the best way to keep up with the demanding material in both physiology & biochemistry. There was a deceptive “slow pace” in the beginning when we reviewed content from undergrad. Soon I realized that one physiology lecture could take several days to digest in enough detail to write a thoughtful essay reply on a test. Our first exam consisted of two packets that felt so heavy in my hands I wanted to panic. I took a deep breath before starting, and began with questions on the last page. I like to do this when it is an option. Otherwise I feel like I’m “on pace” with the people next to me, and seeing them flip through their pages more quickly than me gives me anxiety. Skipping around allows me to answer the questions in the order I feel like answering them and disconnect from the people around me. This program will definitely help me develop stamina for future exams. My first exam was three hours of writing, and my hand needed recovery time afterward. We covered basic transport properties of cells, action potentials, muscle contraction, the endocrine system, blood, and immunology. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to spend time on the HPA axis (it wasn’t mentioned) or more time on mechanisms of cytokine signaling. Hoping to spend more time exploring them in other classes.

I’m still working as an emergency department scribe. Each shift, I work closely with a physician to document the discourse of their evaluation with patients. It helps me frame what I’m learning in my courses with a clinical setting. Even after a year, I still learn something new every shift. We had a patient that was symptomatic for high glucose the night before I learned about the receptor that regulates insulation secretion, a K(ATP) sensitive channel. The whole lecture was fascinating to me, because I knew the grave consequences of dysfunction in the patient I had met the night before. It helps me stay motivated & interested in our content.

Kevin Seventh Grade | TetherAndFly.com
Fall in Ohio | TetherAndFly.com

Never thought I’d say this, but I’m really glad that I spent the summer taking both organic chemistry and biochemistry. It was painful, but it is helping me keep up with biochemistry in a way that I didn’t think would be possible. I also think of a podcast episode I listened to recently about Dr. Richard Carmona, (session 299 of the Premed Years). He served as the 17th Surgeon General of the United States. He was a non-traditional medical student, and noted that his military experience helped him develop consistency with studying. I am not prior service, but my schedule revolves around Kevin’s school schedule. I am tethered to the pattern of dropping him off and picking him up each day. This means that sometimes I am limited in my availability, but often have extra hours to devote to studying persistently before and after lectures. Not having recitation or chemistry lab is also helping me have time to focus on lecture content. This is the first semester, in a long time, where I’ve been “allowed” to wear sandals almost any day (since I’m rarely in a lab). I feel delightfully rebellious.

Donuts with Dad | TetherAndFly.com

Damian is getting adjusted to his new school in third grade and doing really well. He announced he was “top banana” this week (sort of like student of the month- but a cooler name?). Even though I knew he’d be adaptable, it’s a relief to see it playing out with my eyes. He recently told me about their Donuts with Dad breakfast, and asked me to come (since his dad lives too far away). The two of us were an anomaly in a sea of hundreds of dads. We saw two other moms, and one of them said she was glad she wasn’t the only one. Damian was excited as if it were the most normal thing in the world to have me there.

Because it is.

I try to keep thinking that this graduate program is a chance to pursue topics I love + need to work on before medical school. In the mean time, I also get to slip out to attend breakfasts, orchestra concerts, and enjoy a daily close connection with my sons. We can have quiet evenings playing DINO-opoly or riding bikes. People have asked me why I didn’t apply last cycle and try to get in medical school sooner, but part of my plan was to have this time with my sons before I commit to a more rigorous schedule. This is their only childhood and it’s important for me to be present for it. My gratitude for this privilege gets me through the pressure of playing dual parenting roles for my sons while working to become a physician.

Kevin has been messing with me for a long time for “only watching the Harry Potter movies and not finishing the books.” I’m on book four and slowly slowly making my way through them. I have to leave it at my desk at school when I know I need to focus on studying. Today is special because it’s a rare evening to bring The Goblet of Fire home & indulge in reading without guilt since we were just tested in all my classes. Crossing my fingers it will rain.

It is likely I will spend more time sleeping than reading.

-Andrea

 

Four Years Well Spent

 

A study, which was conducted by researchers at Humboldt University in Berlin & published in the journal Emotion, found that if women restrain their emotions they are perceived as less intelligent & emotionally competent —whereas men who restrain their emotions are seen as more intelligent and emotionally competent. -Jamie Lutz for Bustle


Before I met with the guardian ad litem (GAL) in fall of 2014, I promised myself I wouldn't cry. There was a fear that a disclosure of tears, no matter how justified or earned, would classify me as mentally unstable or too emotional. I decided I would calmly focus on his questions, even though I was under extreme distress during the interview and throughout the invasive process of custody litigation. We were dealing with sensitive content, whether my sons would remain in my care (as they had been for their entire lives), or be relocated over 1000 miles away to live with their father. Unfortunately, there was not a feasible way to split them more evenly between the two of us due to the great distance he had moved away. For the sake of our sons, I wish it had been an option.

Upon evaluation, the GAL perceived me as “not close, supportive, or loving" toward my sons. There was also mention of "indifference" between my sons and I. Maybe my lack of lacrimation was a mistake. Maybe he had an idea of "how a mother should act," and my behavior didn't fit the stereotype of the hysterical mother clinging desperately to her children. I didn't think truth needed to be coated in tears in order to be visible.

A few months later, in May of 2015, I sat in a room of men who influenced the future of where my children would live in a deposition with our lawyers and the GAL. I had already read everything in his sloppy report. I knew his impression of me and was not surprised by his negative responses aimed at me during this tedious examination. However, there was one moment when I believed the true nature of the relationship I shared with my sons would shine.

My lawyer asked, “Does she help her son with homework? Does she read to them at night?”

After I heard this question I relaxed. At this point, I had largely been on my own with my sons for almost three years. Not only alone metaphorically, but alone as in by physical distance that was corroborated by my ex’s residence in another state. Clearly, only one parent had been helping our third grader with homework. The GAL would have to admit that I enriched my oldest son’s life, as evidenced by his persistent academic success. Not to mention that no matter how little money we had, books were always welcome in my home. Scholastic book fairs were like a holiday for us, and Kevin could always choose at least one book. I was proud of the tall bookshelves in my tiny house that contained colorful stories that we could recite from memory.

In response the GAL scoffed.

“Help HIM with homework?” he ask incredulously. “More like, he could help HER with HER homework.”

He was pleased with his self indulgent wit & looked around the table with a devilish Cheshire grin. My son, Kevin, had just turned nine-years-old. The GAL had just indicated, under oath, that my nine-year-old was smarter than me.

There was not a dignified alternative, so I had to sit quietly and allow my legal representation to speak for me. The table faced a large window, and the piercing afternoon light flooded my eyes. Did this really just happen? I wanted to run out of the room, but instead I forced myself to look the GAL in his blue eyes until he finally looked away from me.

I have never known that extent of rage or hurt in response to the words of a complete stranger. Couldn't stop asking myself, what is it about me that gives him this impression of me? I couldn’t figure out the source or the reason.  Was this because their father was a biomedical engineer and I was a stay-at-home mom? Being a stay-at-home mother did not mean I had the IQ of a 9-year-old. However, even if I did struggle with "my homework," was that really a way to talk to someone? Was that really the matter we were discussing? No. Furthermore, it was cruel, unnecessary, and untrue. It is likely that he would not have suggested such a thing about a man and his child. My family told me to shake it off, but it stung. I was confused and humiliated. However, in the past four years, I have come to a better comprehension of the systemic gender bias and racial undertones (I am mixed-race, my ex and GAL are white) that covertly infiltrate situations like this. This is a conversation I will passionately address at another time, but here is just one link if you are interested in a study that examines this in relation to gender.

////////////////////

TetherAndFly.com | Years Ago

Photo by Jen Otchy, 2012

The next fall I went back to my university. Not to become a doctor or a neuroscientist, just to finish my bachelor’s degree in psychology. Damian had started kindergarten and it afforded me the opportunity to take classes without paying for childcare. Shortly after I started, I decided that I needed to remedy the X on my transcript from anatomy from 2004 (story for another time). Very soon into the class, I fell in love with the content. Especially physiology, because it fed my curiosity about how the body works. My maturity and dedication helped me learn material that would have been too difficult twelve years ago. Initially, I didn’t remember what a hydrogen ion was or why they seemed to be so important for changing pH (whatever that was), but I studied very hard and kept earning A’s on my tests.

That winter I had a meeting with my pre-health advisor. I told her I enjoyed anatomy, physiology, and behavioral neuroscience (another course I was taking), and was contemplating furthering my education in medicine. Due to my age, I wanted information on how to become a physician assistant (PA). It seemed to be a plausible alternative for someone like me, given that I was already in my thirties and still an undergrad. While we were talking, I admitted some of my reservations about my (lack of) science background and expressed anxiety that I was still waiting for a judge’s decision concerning custody. I needed her to know I was trying to build up confidence to take the classes I would need for PA school. I also disclosed the disconcerting deposition with the GAL. After I admitted how that comment had gnawed at me for months, she sat the papers down and folded her hands. I’ll never forget the intensity of her eyes as she looked at me.

Let me ask you a question.

Oh no. She’s going to tell me I’m crazy and that I should fix my personal issues before trying to take classes like this. I shrank back into my seat, like it would help me disappear. Why did I tell people these things?!

Her gaze was direct, and she spoke each word with intentional emphasis.

Did that man put a fire in your belly?

No one else had ever asked me this.
She understood my pain, and I sat up in my chair and leaned forward enthusiastically.
YES, he had ignited a fire!
I nodded my head in response, and now she was incredulous,

Then WHHHY are you bothering with PA requirements?

She gently took the papers about PA school from my hands and opened a different set of drawers. Soon she set down a fresh set of flyers and brochures, pausing before she spoke so I could look them over. My lawyer had done this. It was kind of dramatic and usually when he had bad news. This was not bad news.

These are medical school requirements, she explained as she separated the papers. This is what you really want but you are afraid of it. You do not need to be afraid of it, because you have a fire inside of you that this man gave it you. USE IT.  At the end of the day, the requirements are so similar that you might as well aim for medical school. You can change your mind, but you have a fire that is going to get you there.

After she patiently walked me through the requirements & offered suggestions for extracurriculars, I was stunned. I had expected judgement or for her to shoo me out of her office for speaking about a medical career. When you've been emotionally abused, you have low expectations of yourself. This was a day that began to build faith in my potential.

TetherAndFly.com | At Wright State in 2016

Sometimes the boys have to come with me to campus.
This was August of 2016, working in my first research lab.

////////////////////

A couple months later I took my physiology final the morning before my lawyer called to tell me the judge had granted me custody of my sons. I earned a 100% on it. The call came when I was in the pick-up line watching my sons walk toward me. I had to pull over because I was so overwhelmed from the news. It was one of the best days of my life.

I graduated this summer with my B.S. in Psychology with a Concentration in Behavioral Neuroscience + Pre-Med Prerequisites. I spent a year working on an honors thesis involving cytokine expression in the hypothalamus after an immune challenge and maternal separation. My research relates major depressive disorder with early life stress, and examines how an attachment figure can buffer the effects of stress & non-specific neural inflammatory processes.

TetherAndFly.com | Honors Thesis on Cytokines in the CNS

Recently I finished editing my undergraduate honors thesis. As I was driving Kevin home later that day through rush hour, I dictated to him how to do his 8th grade math homework. Later that night, the deposition came to mind. It was my turn to laugh. The GAL's words no longer sting and are now merely scars of an old injury that has healed over. Now I know that no matter what type of job I have or what title I earn, his comment was unprofessional. This experience has given me a desire to help advocate for women and to be more aware of the (implicit) gender bias that can borough into situations like this without accountability. If the GAL had been my only mirror, I do not know where I would be right now. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by other people who could tell me another story about myself & the world I live in.

Yesterday I began classes for a master’s of science degree in Physiology and Neuroscience at Wright State. This spring, I’ll be taking the MCAT and applying to medical school.

The sacrifices are too costly to be doing this for anyone but myself, or to simply "prove something." Yes, that man burned the spark that ignited the fire to return to college. It helped me begin the cognitive process to explore what I could be capable of. Beyond that, it’s been up to me to endorse my own dreams. The hurt I experienced was not a sustainable fuel to propel me forward. I had to commit to the workload in front of me for reasons that inspire me to work toward my goals instead of running away from a past.

TetherAndFly.com | TRUST THE PROCESS
Four Years Well Spent | TetherAndFly.com

My goals are born of my own curiosity and my personal ambition. My future belongs to me. With that said, crossing these milestones knowing that his degrading comments were not powerful enough to stop me me, feels really good. After everything my sons & I have experienced, it is so encouraging to start to see growth and progress from those dark memories.

Now I hope that you feel encouraged that our futures are malleable, and very small steps can make a significant difference in the trajectory of a goal. This is also why I write my story, to share and highlight the brief seconds of my life that made such a profound impact on where I am now (and where I am going). People often tell me that they can not imagine how I do this, but they also can not imagine what it took just to get here. If I never had to advocate for myself and my sons in the way I did, I do not think that I would have built up the capacity for resilience that my goals have required from me.

-Andrea

I'd also like to mention that the advisor I spoke with was a single mother and a woman of color. I appreciate that she didn't pity me or dismiss me. Instead, she knew how to challenge me due to her own life experiences that resembled mine. This is one reason we need diversity in higher education, and I am grateful that my university had her on staff.

 

The Science of Compromise

 

Every time they see each other they hug affectionately, and I’m always thankful they have each other. As brothers they stay together, crossing the country and collecting experiences unique to their shared bond. I hope they both become men who are not ashamed to openly express their love for each other.

The Science of Compromise | TetherAndFly.com

Kevin had his first day of school (7th grade, new building), and Damian will start next week (3rd grade, new district). It’s bittersweet to break from our tradition and assign Damian a new school district, but we’ve had a lot of practice at being flexible and open to creative solutions.

I try to teach them that it is possible to feel many things at one time about a single decision. We try to collect all the data we can, make Leslie Knope pros & cons lists (kidding), expect emotional resistance (not kidding- especially my own), and move forward knowing we investigated the problem as thoroughly as possible. As a single mom working to get into medical school, I need to be as efficient as possible. The truth of compromise is that we don't move forward with everything we want. Despite difficult concessions, we aim to equip ourselves to have the most probable chance at reaching our goals.

For their sake, I am positive about the changes and remind them of the benefits. I'm also honest about some of my hesitations, because I trust them to be able to process most of it. Hope my transparency helps them feel more involved as members of our family. Damian took a tour with his new principal and is excited to get a locker + a few more days of summer. Kevin will have cello daily, and most of his friends are in his classes.

////////////////////

This morning it's cool and rainy for August, and I'm sleepy from an overnight emergency department shift. Love being there though. I'm still excited from learning about the mechanisms that cause pancreatitis. I didn't know that enzymes meant for the duodenum (first part of the small intestine) can become activated in the pancreas and start digesting pancreatic cells?! The physician I worked for kindly showed me the difference between a healthy vs inflamed pancreas on CT scans. This naturally led to my curiosity about what immune signaling cascade follows enzymatic activation to initiate pancreatic inflammation, and the differences between acute and chronic pancreatitis. Woke up to four emails to myself with papers to read and sites to reference later.

Sometimes I'm so intimidated by everything there is to learn in medicine, but then again it can so be fascinating that I just want to learn more. I'm not satisfied with what I've learned so far. Thankful that being a scribe affords me opportunities to learn in these digestible increments. Excited to start my master's program at the end of this month- my first courses will be Human Physiology and Biochemistry!
 

-Andrea

I still sound out princi-PAL when I'm writing like I did in elementary school though. And I don't know how much longer I'll get away with these matching outfits, but I will surely keep trying.

 

August and Everything After

 

Kevin & Damian came home from their summer in Florida on August 1. As soon as they walked off the plane, I had to do a double take because they both seemed to grow so much this summer! Kevin is now "looking down" on me, and Damian has been stretching out too.

August 2018 | TetherAndFly.com
Hydrangeas at Grandma Bell's | TetherAndFly.com

We had a family reunion and they made it home just in the nick of time to be there. It is always a treat to see them play at my Grandma's house and the playground next door. This used to be my favorite place to pretend to be on stage singing and I love seeing my boys here. However, Damian finds "other" uses for the stage.

Grandma's House 2018 | TetherAndFly.com

I had to make some big decisions lately about the way we'll organize next school year, and finally took steps today to sort it out officially so that Damian will go to a new school district as he starts third grade. While signing up for a new school feels heavy in itself, (especially when leaving a school we loved dearly and have driven to daily for seven years), there is so much history that goes into this for us. Today I spent some time reflecting on that, because it's an important part of my motivation to be thankful for each day I have with my sons.

Kevin was also going to start third grade when I received a call, four years ago today, notifying me that he would start third grade in Florida. I would rather not re-write this story, so it's summed up here.

////////////////////////////////////

That August 9 phone call changed my life. It killed something in me, but it wasn't until some time later that I realized the trauma was a gift. I was given a clean tear without residual confusion. For the first time in my life, I could look directly at my empty future and fill it however I wanted. The power of that realization used to scare me, but now I don't mind the autonomy.  I learned to get comfortable writing my own story, and finally trained my hand to stop shaking while holding the pen.

Four years later and we've traveled a long way from the phone call. I'm thankful to be where we are, living in the "after." I'm finally an average mom at Target grabbing school supplies for my sons. Each Crayola box and shark pencil pouch brings me so much joy- Christmas morning kind of joy. Being able to raise them is my greatest honor.

 

I Graduated

 

B.S. in Psychology with a Concentration in Behavioral Neuroscience + Pre-Med Prerequisites
from Wright State University

There is not a summer commencement, but my sister gave me her robe from her graduation three months ago. Holding it makes graduation seem a little more real. As I close this chapter, so many things came full circle.

Photo Jul 28, 12 15 32 PM.jpg

I took anatomy in 2004, but received an “X” in the class. I was very uncomfortable learning from donors and decided that a career in medicine was clearly not for my sensitive stomach. After that quarter, I left Wright State and earned an associate's degree in Visual Communications (from Sinclair) and went on to become a photographer. I retook Anatomy (now Anatomy + Physiology) in 2016 when I came back to Wright State as a single mom in my thirties. It went much better. In fall of 2017, I gave a speech for Boonshoft School of Medicine’s Anatomical Gift Program reception (2 groups of ~800 attendees) as an undergraduate representative to express gratitude for being able to learn Anatomy at Wright State.

The last topic I tutored this week was on acid base balance in Physiology. Me, the girl who didn’t know what a hydrogen ion was when I first sat in that class can breeze through this now. People had a lot of patience with me and I worked really hard. I also took a lot of chemistry.

The End (Graduation) Is Near | TetherAndFly.com
Pizzelles and Dahlias | TetherAndFly.com

Always surrounded by pictures of my sons, especially because they spend summers in Florida with their dad. I have missed them, but I'm glad they can go on vacation while I have spent long days at my classes, working in my lab, and tutoring. Studying for finals, I was lucky to be fueled by pizzelles my dad made.

Studying For Finals | TetherAndFly.com

When I was writing my (undergrad) thesis, I went back to papers we read two years ago in my research lab about maternal deprivation & the impact of stress in early life. I looked at the notes I wrote in the margins and remembered how hard it was to read those papers- partially due to the difficulty of the scientific literature and partially due to missing my sons that summer. It was incredible to realize how much I’ve learned since then about the immune system and the influence it appears to have on neuropsychiatric conditions.

There was also this moment of accomplishment when I noticed my professor had written my old married name on that stack of two-year old research papers. I've settled into my maiden name so much that I forget how recently it changed.

I’m thankful for friends that I’ve made here, and feel so lucky to enjoy being at Wright State. My friends have been so supportive and my lab partners took me out to dinner after our last lab (and my final "task" before graduation). My classes are so much better because of the people I've met in them.

My sons and parents can tell you how intense it has been to graduate with all my pre-med classes & the concentration in behavioral neuroscience. My family's support has been vital as I make this transition from photographer to medical doctor. My sons have come to classes with me and watched me study continuously. My parents have supported us and helped with rides when I had to take night classes. My sister, Abby, helped me get through my divorce and was a big inspiration to help me stick with my classes. It’s bittersweet since she moved to Colorado this morning, but I’m excited for her to do what she loves there.

Only a few more days until my sons come home, and I can’t wait to start a new chapter with them. Calling them to tell them I finished was a call I was so proud to make. Only cried a lot.

 

Rounding Third | Motivation as a Non-Traditional Pre-Med Mom

 
TetherAndFly.com | Motivation for Pre-Med Moms

No, I am not on a beach.
But I might as well be standing on the moon.
This is foreign land with a foreign view. And I fought really hard to get here.

This is what I want the most.
I'm going to finish this and be proud of it.


Kevin was born ten days late. During those last days of pregnancy, I started to swear that I was never going to have him. I knew I was supposed to meet my baby really soon, but something about those last days convinced me that it was an impossible fantasy. I remember weeping in my kitchen and feeling like I would be in my 3rd trimester forever.

We scheduled an induction and waited.

And waited.

And now he's twelve.

My goal this summer was to take my required classes for graduation and to continue to saturate myself with any and all content possible that will help me prepare for graduate courses. I shouldn't be so surprised to be drenched from all the studying. Seriously, I'm soaked and leaving puddles where I walk. With about four weeks left, I don't want to see another organic chemistry mechanism... but there is still a lot of ground to cover. The days are long and I try not to think about how nice it would have been to take a break from classes this summer "if everything had gone as planned." An empty campus is nice, but it's also a little unsettling to still be there when I "should have" graduated in April.

Familiar exhaustion and discouragement can nestle in at the tail end of a journey to convince me that the finish line is still too far away. But many parts of my life did not go "as planned" and I'm acquainted with practicing a series of patterns that help me adapt and stay motivated to keep up with my goals. I've listed a few of the strategies I use, and added details about being a single mom preparing for applying to medical school.


1. One of the first steps is not allowing myself to ruminate (for long) on the negative situations or frustrating experiences. My days are scheduled very full, and there is so much going on with 4 part time jobs and a heavy schedule of classes. There are days when I feel disappointed because I didn't commit enough time to a certain thing because I had to prioritize another thing. I have a very stern rule about those days- I don't allow myself to give into negative thoughts. It's hard, because when I'm tired I am vulnerable to self-destruction. I try to catch myself doing this, and promptly shut that system off.

For example, I was collecting my books and book bag after an organic chemistry test and lab around 9:00 at night. I saw a gorgeous sunset out the window of my building and followed it impulsively. As I stood there admiring the sight, I caught my white lab coat in the reflection and scoffed a little at myself.

Look at you. Last one here. All this work and still you struggle. Still trying to finish a degree that normal people would have finished a decade ago. Would have been nice to be on a beach right now. How many years has it been since you've taken a vacation?

TetherAndFly.com | How to Stay Motivated as a Single Mom Going to Medical School

It took me a second, because I had so little sleep and felt the sting of my own judgement. But I stood there and waited until I could form a new dialogue.

This is so beautiful, and I hope my sons see this in Florida and think of me always pointing out colorful skies to them. I've always been enamored by sunsets and I spent a long time chasing light and catching it in my own way for other people to see in pictures. Now I'm ready to train for a different kind of service.

This journey is demanding an incredible amount of effort from me. Yes, it's late for a summer day. But I am so close to the end of this degree. I never thought in a million years that I would be able to come back to school and take classes like this. I never felt smart when it came to science classes, because I had to work so hard at them. And I couldn't even fathom how to fit these classes and their bulky labs into my life while raising two boys alone. But I did it anyway. I've worked hard for every class on my transcript.

No, I am not on a beach.
But I might as well be standing on the moon.
This is foreign land with a foreign view. And I fought really hard to get here.
This is what I want the most.
I'm going to finish this and be proud of it.

Wright State University Diggs Laboratory | TetherAndFly.com
Wright State University NEC | TetherAndFly.com

2. I have this very primitive picture in my head that sums up my brain activity like this: the more resources I place on studying, laughing, working out, etc., the less resources I have for worry, anxiety, or self destructive thoughts. I know it's an oversimplification of our physiology, but it works for me. One of the ways I combat stress is to plan to do something for my body that works in another direction. For instance, I see a busy schedule as a signal to think about how I can fit in workouts (usually at the gym, but sometimes at home). I know how good I feel afterwards, and intentionally give my body the benefit of a good run. I also see a long day (hopping from an ER shift to night classes) as an opportunity to think about what I'm packing in my lunch to make sure I have fuel for it. I don't pack every single day, but I try to be mindful about the health of my body being put through this kind of schedule. This also means going to sleep when I can after a big test. Some days I'm exhausted, and I *might* be napping at my desk or on a picnic table outside of my lab (sorry proper professional people that see me do this). I have a complicated relationship with sleep. I try to get enough, but when I don't, I try to catch up as soon as possible. It is vital & non-negotiable.

3. I talk to people. A lot of my work is isolating, but I do try to seek out humans to interact with. There's always a pool of people in class or lab who are interested in the same topics. It helps that we share a lot of the same challenges and goals. I'm lucky to have people who I can be honest with about some of my fears and send nerdy science memes. It's reassuring.

4. I assess the minutia of my schedule. I have a Google calendar app for my phone with appointments, work schedules, etc. Then I make a weekly to-do list on pretty paper my sister gave me. This is logistically how I make this work. It helps ease my mind to know it's accounted for on the list. It gives me a sense of control and power to do this, because a lot of my time is spent working around fixed schedules I can not change or only having a short window of free time that needs to be organized and focused. Sometimes I'm (very) stressed about everything that needs to get done, but writing out my tasks helps release some of the tension. It also gives me a plan. Often when I'm doing homework for one class, I remember something and start to feel anxious. In the past that could spiral into distraction very quickly. Having a place to write that down enables me to go back to concentrating on whatever I was working on initially. This is crucial for when my boys are here too. I can tell when I haven't been doing this, because things start to fall under the cracks. I have shed tears while writing these lists, because it felt impossible and scary to tackle everything. It's amazing though what you can get done if you simply remember it needs done in the first place.

Organization for Pre-Med Moms | TetherAndFly.com

*I know there are a lot of awesome planners out there. I like the "rip a page off at a time method" because I have heavy books and binders! I love throwing the lists away with pink check marks all over them. It's something I look forward to.

5. I think about my big big goals. I HAVE to know WHY I do this. There are many circumstances that motivate me toward this mission, and I recite the list daily to make sure I am actively aware of why I tether myself to these goals. Finding purpose in the journey is also important to me. I always say that I have to find meaning in where I am, because it is costing me so much. If I didn't find something to value in every leg of this journey, then it would be miserable. I don't think about starting medical school or residency as my most important goals. I think about next month or twenty years from now, and find meaning in the whole process. Otherwise, I think I'd be disappointed. I try to visualize myself in the future and think about what it needs from me now to be the best version of myself when I get there. What choices can I make this week that will impact future me? I know it's kind of silly, but synthesizing the present with the (what seems like distant) future inspires a lot of motivation.

6. I think about what would happen if I wasn't allowed to pursue my big big goals. What would it feel like if I received news that that I had to leave school permanently and not come back? It would almost break my heart. Actually, there were several times that this felt like the circumstance I was facing, and it made me want my degree even more. Some of these non-academic setbacks were more damaging than others, but I always came back for a new semester with a sense of gratitude for being able to sit in my classes. I am acutely aware of how close I came to not having that privilege. To start this semester, I had to fill out 14 forms (and supply a drop of blood mixed with a strand of hair) to extend financial aid. When I study until I no longer want to hear about another nucleophile or epoxide from organic chemistry, I think of how lucky I am to even be taking this tedious class. It (eventually) helps me adjust my attitude.

Teduius Organic Chemistry | TetherAndFly.com
Organic Chemistry Manual Must Have | TetherAndFly.com

The thing I hate about writing is that it's all so tidy after I've had time to reflect. Like getting through the last three years has been one healthy breeze. It was not always that way. There were many days that stress was so intense I could barely keep up. I always feel the need to come clean and admit that sometimes I abandon these suggestions and take a day off from being able to cope (probably when I'm drinking a big milkshake and watching Netflix). That's ok too, because sometimes we all need breaks from the pressure. This is just part of my typical routine that helps me regain motivation when it seems like a never ending process. I don't live with a clean perfect state of mind, but I use my mental toolbox to work toward a healthier approach. Part of making adjustments is looking at the areas I know I struggle with (time management, motivation, etc.) and strategize how to be more effective and efficient.

Only a few weeks left until my graduation.
I'm rounding third and the catcher isn't going to make the catch in time to stop me.


* Went into labor naturally the night before my scheduled induction. Damian was a week late too, but I didn't cry before he was born because my midwife told me it seemed like I cooked my babies a little longer and it seemed to be true. Contrary to questions I frequently get on campus or with coworkers in the ER, no I wasn't 14 when I had Kevin. I married young (21) and had Kev at (22). Yes I was (too) young, but not 14! I don't want people to misunderstand and think I had a hard life, because it was fantastic and I adored my squishy little smiling babies. It was a beautiful season, even though my marriage ended in divorce. As much as I feel strange for having kids when very few pre-meds do, they tell me they are jealous of me (!?) because I am done having kids and don't have to factor that into my medical school/residency plans. I've heard this from multiple women, and it shows how we can get hung up on something and see it as a "weakness," but other people admire us for it. After a few of those conversations, I started to see my situation differently and felt very thankful to be done having kids. I get to bring the ones I have with me for the journey. We share the struggles and the accomplishments together.

Damian had a birthday this week, and he showed me how he lost his 7th tooth just before his 8th birthday (the boys were excited about this coincidence). Missing my Florida boys, but thinking of them as I spend some very monotonous days studying for these accelerated summer classes. I try to dress up on Damian's birthday, because I want him to know it's always going to be a special day, even if we can't be together for it. Thank God for FaceTime. They were able to watch me work in my lab for a few minutes and use a vortex to spin a vial of naproxen... and it was nice to have them "with me." 

Damian's 8th Birthday | TetherAndFly.com
Birthdays with Shared Parenting | TetherAndFly.com
Damian's 8th Birthday | TetherAndFly.com
 

When Joel Came Marching Home, Oohrah!

 
Cincinnati John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge Fourth of July | TetherAndFly.com

One of the highlights of this summer was getting the news that my youngest brother, Joel, would become a Marine. He left in the spring and sent letters about his progress at Parris Island, but we hadn't received any phone calls. We kept track of the calendar and knew that if he passed the Crucible, he would graduate. I was shooting a wedding on a river boat in Cincinnati when I got the a text from my mom with the very first picture and link of a video of them marching in! It blows my mind that there are photographers at boot camp and Facebook pages for relatives, but seeing him march in was a beautiful sight.

TetherAndFly.com | Joel is a Marine

The night I received that good news I was surrounded by flags and the skyline of a city I love, and it was one of those nights that will always bring me joy to remember it.

Photo Jul Night Cincinnati Skyline River Boat | TetherAndFly.com, 7 46 44 AM.jpg

I had to stay home when he graduated because I had two finals that day (Organic Chemistry I and Biochemistry, back to back). But having Joel home on leave was such a treat. I have so much admiration for him and the way he tackled this challenge. Being able to hear his stories and see the transformation in him was an incredible honor.

When Joel Came Marching Home | TetherAndFly.com

Even  (my nephew) Strider allowed us to dress him with a bow for Joel's homecoming.

Fourth of July Strider | TetherAndFly.com

I was a military spouse for over a decade, and it brought some of the biggest challenges of my life. Having my brother join has been part of a healing process for me to understand some of the dynamics I couldn't see at play 13 years ago because I was just blindly living from one set of orders to the next. Now I can see that deployments taught me how to let go of ideals about the way holidays should be celebrated or the way that family life should look in general. It prepared me for being a single mom, leading my family, being flexible about expectations, and that sacrifices can be made for something that I believe in. I have gratitude for that, even if the process was painful.

 

You are my favorite neuronal entanglement.

 
You are my favorite neuronal entanglement | TetherAndFly.com
You are my favorite neuronal entanglement | TetherAndFly.com

You are my favorite neuronal entanglement.


You are my favorite neuronal entanglement | TetherAndFly.com
You are my favorite neuronal entanglement | TetherAndFly.com

Read that phrase in a research paper last semester about the neural the basis of "love." When I look at pictures of my sons, I sometimes imagine all the areas of my brain that activate to shunt a rich network of blood flow. It would be an immense labyrinth that covers a vast spectrum of anatomical landmarks and nuclei, carrying tiny molecules that bring me joy, peace, fear, pride, and motivation. Scientists might not explicitly call it "love." They tend to prefer words like attachment, surge of chemical messengers, bonding, affiliation, or even addiction.

I've always marveled at how my body made room for them and created them, and I am still physically marked by evidence of their existence inside of me. Taking into account all the data currently available, I feel comfortable believing that they have also permanently changed my physiology with each glance, cry, outreached hand, glorious laugh, hug, spoken word, touch, angry outburst, joke, and wave goodbye. I wake up every morning grateful that they did.

 

EVEN A LITTLE...

 

Summer Course Menu

A TERM | First Six Weeks
Organic Chemistry I (Lecture)
Biochemistry (Online)

B TERM | Second Six Weeks
Organic Chemistry II (Lecture, Lab, & Recitation)

C TERM | All Twelve Weeks
Psychology of Health (Online)
Honors Research Paper : Maternal Influences on Neuroimmune Cytokines & Behaviors

Final Undergraduate Exams on July 26, 2018
- Graduation is finally within sight -

TetherAndFly.com | Fourth of July Bicycle Ride

This menu is so very appetizing, right!?
I will spare you the pricing figures for these savory courses.

Lately I've been seeing carbon molecules in my dreams, so I hope I am on the right track with studying "enough," for organic chemistry. The biggest challenge of this summer semester so far is time. My sons were still in school the last four weeks, and I have been attending class four nights a week. Damian had baseball games that I had to miss, and I have needed to carve out time for my online classes. Especially biochemistry. There are moments when it is beautiful poetry (learning about fetal hemoglobin oxygen affinity compared to the mother - what a beautiful system). Other times the details seem like they are written in another language (composed of many numbers) that I have to repeat over and over to understand and then memorize. So it is very much typical of my chemistry experience in that respect. I do like that having a background with physiology helps me not feel completely in the dark and there are a few things I know coming in to the course. When I first took general chemistry, I had no reference point and no foundation to build on since high school chemistry has been about sixteen years ago. It is also nice to spend time to understand the parts of organic chemistry that confused me last fall. In total, all three of these chemistry courses are covering a 14 week semester’s worth of information in 6 weeks. I’ve needed to dedicate significant time to study.

Even a Little | TetherAndFly.com
My Achilles | TetherAndFly.com

Knowing I only had a limited amount of time before my sons would leave for their annual trip to Florida to see their dad for two months, I tried to balance my obligation to my courses with special time for them. Before they left, we took bike rides, had plenty of ice cream, played baseball on the field and the backyard, and watched Netflix (to the best of my ability between school, ER shifts, and photographing weddings). We did finish season two of Series of Unfortunate Events, even if we were slightly disappointed that the plot is dragging at this point. I *might* have missed the ending to a few episodes and woke up on the couch drooling. Trying to balance wanting to hang onto my children before they leave and knowing I have looming exams is one of the worse parts of being a mother and student. Usually I have a schedule that doesn't dig into their time like the last four weeks of evening classes, but it was temporary and necessary to graduate. I try to give my sons my complete attention, and not being able to pick them up from school or go to baseball games made me feel like I was doing so much less than normal. On the bright side, most of my future courses will be during the day.

Bike Rides with My Sons | TetherAndFly.com

Yesterday I dropped them off for their flight to Florida and I won’t see them for two months.

Usually when my boys leave for the summer, I find my sister and hang out at her house until the initial grief passes. This time she is in Colorado prepping to move there for a teaching job. Fortunately my schedule was busy, and I had to drive straight to a physiology tutoring session, then spoke at a panel for female middle school students interested in STEM, then grabbed something to eat, and went to organic chemistry lecture. I felt like I botched a lot of the questions at the panel for females in STEM, but I’ll try to use them as writing prompts to expand on my thoughts. Part of the dilemma was that I tried to avoid certain topics, like divorce, so it was hard to put into context what it means to me to get a degree after rebuilding from the devastation of three years of extreme stress & litigation. I didn’t think that sixth and seventh graders, one day away from summer break, who are excelling in their coding and engineering classes, wanted to hear those details. Just as I simplified the research that I do, I tried to simplify the process of rebuilding my life on the firm foundation of rock bottom (thank you J.K. Rowling). I hope that the females in the room don't go through what I did, but if there is ever a chance to speak to people who do, I want to do that. 

This morning I woke up at 5 AM to continue studying for my organic chemistry test. After I drove to campus, I started to “feel the grief.” I let myself cry in my car before I went in to keep studying. It can be a song, a memory, or even a familiar toy lying in my car that triggers the tears. I've learned not to suppress it for too long if I can help it, and to not be ashamed for reacting to the circumstance that I have no power to change. I have to address my emotional reactions, then choose what action I will take to move forward and invest in our future. Today it was studying.

When I finished my chemistry test this evening, I did post-op checks in my lab before heading home. Then I let myself cry again on the drive home. I don’t know that there is a certain "right" way to handle the feelings that go with this schedule of parenting we have, but I try to stay busy and connected to my lab and my classes. I try to make sure I can call or text people- so I don’t get too isolated. I remember the first time my boys left, it took me a few days to leave my house without them. I couldn’t wrap my head around my sudden “freedom” to get in the car without them. It was like my brain couldn’t figure out how to leave my house if they weren’t with me. My body seemed to be warning me that something bad was happening because the house was silent in their absence. I had been on my own with my sons for a long time before we started this visitation schedule. Once I slowly learned that it is ok to feel more than one thing at once, and push forward in spite of the contradictory feelings, I found that I was much more productive. For instance, I can experience the grief I feel about not seeing my boys with the action of doing what I need to do to do well in my class. I try to distribute appropriate time and energy to both circumstances. I commit to crying when I need to, then I clean my face and show up to the next thing on my calendar.

TetherAndFly.com | Even a little...

When there are lulls in my calendar, it can be difficult to get used to a new pattern. That's when the silence is strange. Tonight I was exhausted from studying chemistry and a brutal test. As I unloaded all my books and notes, I decided I did not want to run. Then I thought about how a book I'm reading for school talked about studies that demonstrate that even a little bit of exercise can help lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease and depression. I ignored the thought and kept scrolling on my phone.

Even a little...
Isn't that so tempting though? It seems so attainable.

Even a little...
And finally it seemed absolutely possible to go for a little walk.

So I changed and next thing I knew I had walked and ran (slowly) for over an hour. It had just rained and cooled off, so it was a perfect summer night to be outside. If I would have demanded to my body to exercise for an hour, that request would have probably been shut down in my post-test-post-kids-just-left haze. I'm always trying to learn how to plan and transition to better behaviors. I think this prompt to stay active even with little time or energy will be useful.

Speaking of transition, the next time my sons see me, I will have finished my bachelor's degree. It means so much to me to finish this.

 

March 23

 

Happy 12th Birthday to my Kev.

At his request, we played two-square and threw the football until the street lights came on. We had Chipotle for dinner and cake with my parents. He makes me laugh (a lot) and I love listening to cello pieces he's working on.

This picture was always one of my favorites, over nine years ago now! He still does that little thing with his lip when he is excited or embarrassed.

Little Kevin | TetherAndFly.com

Happy 12 years.

 

 

Channel the Grief

 

Grief can be helpful. It drowns out a lot of other things, like muscle soreness from really solid exercising, or boredom from monotonous forms of work. Go organize all the receipts for your taxes. Run. Take the cat to the vet. Do 500 calf raises. Make flashcards of French verb conjugations. Grief will numb you to the little trials and boredoms that bog down happy people.

Just do really productive, somewhat-boring things repetitively and stoically in order to improve your life, so that when you feel better, you’ll look around and say, ‘Holy sh$t, the sun is shining again and my job is amazing and I can do six pull ups in a row and I speak French?’

Jennifer Dziura | GetBullish.com

I read this quote a couple years ago. It resonated with me as I was in the thick of an uncertain custody battle and beginning my second semester back at Wright State to finish my bachelor's degree. I wasn't courageous enough to call myself a "pre-med," and I was really nervous about retaking anatomy. It was useful for me to think of all my (secret) big dreams in small baby steps that consisted of:

Looking up new words and noting how to pronounce them, like acetylcholine.
Reading paragraphs in the book from behavioral neuroscience again and again to understand the simple components of an action potential and the confusing cellular anatomy of a neuron.
Figuring out what the heck an orbital is that my chemistry teachers kept talking about.
Waking up early to do statistics homework & wrapping my head around the meaning of a P value.

Using the long commute to listen physiology lectures.

Returning to college at 32 years old, I had major deficits in math and science. The last couple years have shown me that winter months are perfect for building on my knowledge base. It’s a good time to memorize neuroanatomy & practice physics. In fact, I enjoy it or else I do not think that I could tolerate the work. I like the stimulation. It is a nice change from the life I left.

The slower pace of this semester has created a space to take inventory of how I can practice gratitude for the progress we've made. After navigating morning rush hour and dropping my sons off, I walk to my lab and try to remember the incredible opportunities presented to me. I'm still tethered to this place, but it's become the greatest honor of my life to be a student-mother-scientist. I have an enormous responsibility to recognize that I am privileged to be here.

Wright State University in the Snow | TetherAndFly.com

I’m thankful I can finish my degree. I’m thankful my car is filled with boys who bring richness to my life that I would never relinquish for any price. The mornings start early & the days end late, but I get learn about the concepts that fascinate me. Difficult decisions, like prolonging my graduation a semester, led to a place that allows me to grow stronger.

It’s been two years since our divorce decree. Several legal documents & multiple hearings followed. My “grief” was the legal cloud that would not go away. Almost a month ago, I had my last post-divorce hearing. Since that day, I've suffered from quite severe side effects of spontaneously smiling, increased energy from improved sleep, and enhanced focus (secondary to a significant decrease in custody-related anxiety).

It was pure elation to close the gate for good and look toward the future.*

Winter 2018 | Tapetum Lucidum of Cow Eyes | TetherAndFly.com
Winter 2018 | NEC TetherAndFly.com

I say, "future," but the sun is already shining and I am waking up to realize I already built a new life that looks nothing like the one I left. In 2015, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a neutron or an electron. But while I lived in the hazy cloud of divorce & post-divorce proceedings, I created new habits and was happy for the distractions. I came close to finishing my degree, started becoming a neuroscientist, and inched closer to applying to medical school. When the stress from my case was almost unbearable, I had very careful conversations with advisors about taking time off. After looking at a lot of factors, (financial aid, how close I was to finishing, when classes would be offered, etc), they encouraged me to push forward. They reminded me that I do belong here.

Monday I'm finishing up my data collection for my undergraduate research thesis on cytokine activity in the brain in response to stress & inflammation. Cytokines are tiny tiny proteins that are involved in many cell signaling processes in the body, but we are interested in their role in the central inflammatory response. We are curious about their role in behaviors that appear to be associated with anxiety & depression. Oh I have so much to learn! I embrace it because I love the learning process and I believe in neuroplasticity. We aren't tied to our past or who we have always been. I believe that we can get up and make small decisions that impact our future very effectively. The synapses in our brains are incredibly malleable- don’t think for a minute that I am an exception. Channel the “grief” into fuel, even when you don't feel like it's of any use. You will be surprised how far it takes you. 🙌🏼

-Andrea

*Yes, Stranger Things, final episode, season II, seemed to be the perfect metaphor for ending the chapter on court.

** As a photographer, I'm impressed by the tapetum lucidum of a cow eye. The first time I saw it, at an anatomy club dissection from my second semester back, I was in awe of the iridescent color & significance of its function. Animals with these structures have mini soft boxes to amplify light to see better in the dark. We learned from these structures again in a course I'm taking this semester (pictured in blue & white, above). I spoke with my sons about how neat it is to know that even simple species, like fish, have elegant physiological systems that compare to our most innovative technical advances in cameras & lighting systems.

 

 

Trust the Process

 

Today should have been “my first day of my last semester of undergrad.” It is not.

Last fall I made the decision to push my graduation another semester to summer of 2018 instead of spring 2018.

It broke my heart a little (a lot) to “give up” the moment of graduating with my little sister (my best friend + early childhood education major) this spring. It seemed the stars had aligned to give both of our journeys a landmark achievement together as we wrapped up our degrees at Wright State. I had April 28 marked on my calendar and anticipated so much joy at that ceremony. When I wanted to sleep instead of type organic chemistry lab reports, I used a screenshot of this date on my calendar to motivate me to finish them.

It stings a little, but I'm getting used to saying, "this is my second to last semester, again" with a laugh and a smile. I have to understand the connection to the larger picture. We'll still graduate the same year, and I'm so excited to see my sister accomplish one of her big dreams. Last summer she taught in Chile, and her enthusiasm and passion for teaching is palpable. I'm so happy that her last student teaching assignment is at my son's elementary school. Ms. Bell teaches his math class and Damian loves having his aunt as his teacher!

She's a mommy to my "nephew" Strider.

Ms. Bell | TetherAndFly.com
Strider | TetherAndFly.com

It is interesting now to look back at all my preliminary assumptions about the path to medical school. Although there have been disappointments, each obstacle has a lesson or an advantage that I didn't see initially. If I had never struggled with general chemistry (prolonging graduation a couple years ago), I wouldn't have had the opportunity to examine the effects of cytokine activity in neurons in response to stress. I enjoy my research and am thankful for the relationships I've been able to develop in my lab. I had no idea that coming back to school would open the door for so many close friendships and support from mentors who care about helping me reach my goals. If I had scooted quickly out of my undergrad, I wouldn't have been able to allow myself to participate in as many opportunities that strengthen my desire to become a physician (like scribing in the ER and tutoring physiology). I've been able to make connections with people who are in graduate school and medical school. Asking questions and getting feedback from them helps me map how I can approach these programs with the challenge of raising my sons to be happy, confident, smart, kind people.

I was taking this pic of just the chalkboard + Hermione, but Damian found his way into the frame playing with her feet. Knowing I have two boys watching every step I take is very motivating.

Trust the Process| Future Doctor | TetherAndFly.com

So... after SIXTEEN years from when I started my undergraduate journey... I'll finish my last organic chemistry exam this summer and quietly go home as a college graduate. There is not a graduation ceremony in the summer and I'll jump into my graduate degree of physiology and neuroscience this fall. I've had to bury this picture of participating in spring graduation, because I have other dreams that mean a great deal more to me. They grew and grew. They were nurtured by the support of the people who love me, and the fascination that developed in me as I discovered that I am obsessed with how we are wired. It intrigues me and I can not get enough of the physiology of our existence.

The lesson here might simply be the common sense that I am a better human & mother if I can distribute some of the burden. Sometimes it is humbling to slow down, but there really isn't a lot of good I can do in the world if my hands are always too full and my mind is stressed (this happens to be my field of research after all!).

In order to embrace the future, I need to empty my hands to have room to touch the dreams that mean the most to me.

 

Winter is here.

 

My boys had an extended holiday break due to the return of very cold temperatures. A few cancellations + two-hour delays were a nice way to ease into the pattern of school mornings again.

Snow Day | TetherAndFly.com
Snow Day | TetherAndFly.com
Snow Day | TetherAndFly.com
Snow Day | TetherAndFly.com

I did love the break. I needed it so much. We did a puzzle (my dad mostly), enjoyed an extended visit from my Grandma Bell (who is adorable when she wins bingo), binged on Netflix (finally watched Stranger Things), ate lots of Christmas cookies & pizzelles (I’m not sorry), built a gingerbread house for dinosaurs (why not?), and played in the snow (of course).

I also slept again, which was a favorable achievement. 

Christmas Puzzle | TetherAndFly.com
Christmas Grandma Bell | TetherAndFly.com
House Dinosaur | TetherAndFly.com
Dinsosaur Gingerbread House | TetherAndFly.com

Oh my, and I attended my favorite five minutes of an orchestra performance to watch my favorite cello player.

Christmas Puzzle | TetherAndFly.com
Christmas Concert | TetherAndFly.com

Winter is here... and I don’t even mind.

 

August 2017

 

 All summer I had been looking forward to the end of my classes, because I knew it would mean that my sons were coming home from visiting Florida for two months. A few hours after I finished my statistical programming final, I got to pick up Kevin and Damian from the airport. We had exactly two precious weeks before their first day of school, so I tried to direct my attention to them. It was good to disconnect while we reconnected. Kevin (grew an inch or two?!) loves his sixth grade teacher, (he thinks he got the nice one), and Damian is in second grade next to the classroom where my little sister, Abby, is student teaching again. We still think we are pretty lucky that out of all the school districts in all the cities that surround us, she is in OUR school. I'm packing lunches again with sleepy eyes and thankfully filling our their stacks of back to school paperwork. I'm probably an anomaly, but I love school and try to model that enthusiasm for the boys. It seems to be working.

Before school started, my boys joined me for a couple mornings in my behavioral neuroscience research lab. They aren't able to see exactly what we do, but there is wifi, a whiteboard, and comfy chairs to keep them occupied. It's not Disney World, but I hope my little scientists remember these trips to mom's little lab.

Photo Aug 18, 7 19 43 PM.jpg

I had to do some work in our wet lab, and Damian waited for me out in the hallway and got to watch through the window. I *think* we also go the green light that the the experiment I've been running this summer will be my undergraduate honor's project!

Photo Aug 17, 11 50 37 PM.jpg
Photo Aug 20, 9 07 29 PM.jpg

August has been very gently stacked on my calendar- I check my calendar often to make sure I'm in the right city at the right time. I've been working more in my research lab, shooting weddings & commercial projects, and finishing my training for ER scribing. Sometimes I feel a little bit like a chameleon, because each of my roles is very different.

Photo Aug 23, 8 57 55 PM.jpg
Photo Aug 15, 7 28 03 PM.jpg
Photo Aug 18, 3 33 44 PM.jpg

Even though I predominately photograph special events, there are times when my commercial work is a little more "heavy duty." Last week I was at Coca-Cola Consolidated in Cincinnati to photograph their factory and to keep working on a project for them with "message in a bottle" notes tucked in Coke bottles for local troops. We had glamorous orange coats + hair caps for photographing the Coke factory! I was lucky to work with my friends at Knack that were shooting video.

Photo Aug 20, 9 05 45 PM.jpg
Photo Aug 18, 3 31 01 PM.jpg
Photo Aug 18, 3 32 31 PM.jpg

I'm wrapping up August with a trip to Binghamton, NY to visit a neuroscience lab that my mentor has been collaborating with for over fifteen years.  I plan to post more about that when I finish up my week here!

 

Stuck Still No Turning Back

 

I started this blog as I began to accept my divorce in summer of 2014. That summer I took some trips for work and started to see my world with new eyes. I had started to really embrace the excitement of starting over and felt that the brunt of the pain of our divorce was over.

Stuck Still No Turning Back | TetherAndFly.com in Brooklyn
TetherAndFly.com | Brooklyn NY
Stuck Still No Turning Back | TetherAndFly.com in Brooklyn
Stuck Still No Turning Back | TetherAndFly.com in Brooklyn
Stuck Still No Turning Back | TetherAndFly.com in Brooklyn

Then our custody battle started later that summer, unexpectedly.

Even though I was granted temporary custody until a final order was given, the future was always uncertain. The legal process took about two years, and it affected me in a different way than the breakup of the marriage. Hands down, the most stressful time of my life came from the two years of dealing with a sudden influx of negativity & pressure, going through a three day trial, and waiting five months for a ruling. I returned to college during that final year of the proceedings. In many ways it helped me by giving me something else to think about. While I enjoy my courses and professors, being a 33 year old premed has stirred up plenty of additional stress on its own. My body physically started to show signs of how this process was affecting me. As I learned more about how our bodies digest food and interpret stress, I wanted to do more to take care of mine. The majority of the changes I've made fall into two categories: sleep and exercise.

Since I was a teenager, I always described myself as a "night owl." In my senior year of high school, I was voted Biggest Procrastinator and Most Likely to Fall Asleep in Class. My legacy is rich, and clearly I had all the qualities of a future physician. I let the bad habit continue into adulthood, and being a work from home photographer facilitated the toxic cycle. Editing photographs at night while the boys were in bed got me through many of the weddings I photographed while my ex was deployed or later, when we were separated. It wasn't good for me and now I know better. So I started with a small goal to get more sleep, and I really stuck with it. I do not model this perfectly, and there are semesters when it is impossible to keep up with my classes without staying up late or waking up very early. I've found that waking up early is the best way for me to read research papers. I think it's partially because of being more alert after sleeping (the morning spike in cortisol levels?) + quiet house with no other distractions. I actually enjoyed the ritual of reading papers before my sons woke up and I look forward to having another capstone class in the fall. I've become an early riser by intention, and my body does not mind. If I lose sleep, I make it a priority to catch up. Now I know that my body makes hormones that help repair my cells and I want to give it the chance to do that. I need all the help I can get.

Holding two phones so my deployed ex could Skype with my son during his birthday party. I was trying to hold so much together- I do not miss or wish to go back to that lifestyle.

Holding two phones so my deployed ex could Skype with my son during his birthday party. I was trying to hold so much together- I do not miss or wish to go back to that lifestyle.

My next priority was my weight. My marriage had quickly deteriorated after Damian was born, and I never lost the baby weight. In fact, I was heavier after he turned six than I was a month after he was born. Damian was born at 9 lbs and 7 oz, so my 5' 2.5" frame had to stretch to accommodate him. As a result of adding weight on top of that, I had a perpetual "pregnant" abdomen. It used to make me cry when someone mistook me for being pregnant, but then it happened often enough to stop surprising me. It seemed like something I would never be able to change, so losing weight sunk to the bottom of my priorities. After everything I had been through, I didn't have a high regard for my ability to tackle new obstacles. For the most part, I was just trying to cope with the ones I already had.

2014 | In Brooklyn. Note the intentional posing to hide my least favorite parts.

2014 | In Brooklyn. Note the intentional posing to hide my least favorite parts.

This might be the first story ever about how (adult) kickball changed a life.

Last summer I was playing on a kickball team, and realized very quickly that running to first base did not feel like it did when I played softball in high school. It was embarrassing to be short of breath and that moment revealed the condition of my body. I knew I was overweight, but I didn't realize how out of shape I was. So after finishing two semesters back at college, I decided to become a runner. This is also in contradiction with the person I thought I was in my former life. My older brother, Samuel, is "a runner." He won a division I state championship in cross country & ran all through college. At 40, his marathon PR is 2:36:38. I had never raced competitively like he did, but I was ready to start taking care of my body.

The first time I went to the gym at my university I could hardly get through fifteen seconds of a slow jog. The beads of sweat tickling my back weren't from exertion, it was embarrassment. I remember the distress of my navy shirt awkwardly sliding up my stomach and how I kept quickly pulling it down in frustration. I couldn't make eye contact with anyone else, because I felt like an outsider. I forgot to bring headphones and couldn't "tune out" the rest of the gym. I asked myself a hundred times what I thought I was doing. My negative thoughts were strong, but somehow my feet kept moving in spite of them. The kickball field had brought something important to my attention, and I wanted to address it.

A few weeks after I started going to the gym, my sister, an early childhood education major, joined me for the remaining summer workouts. Even though we both attend Wright State, we don't see each other often on campus unless it is on purpose. I really think it helped me to have her with me and create a routine that worked for us. I remember that she was telling me a story when I ran my first mile without stopping. I interrupted her to breathlessly share with her what I had just done! Being consistent for those weeks helped me realize that running is just as hard as I remember, but that my body can get used to it. We also lifted weights and I started to feel sort of normal in the gym. Sort of.

I don't have a wild update. I've been running off and on for a year and I am not ready for a marathon. I have not changed my diet drastically, but have tried to pay more attention to what, how much, and when I am eating. This part is important part to me. I had lost weight after Kevin by daily walking miles on a bike path while pushing his stroller. I drank a lot of coffee and barely ate. I know better now, and try to eat more green food and drink less milkshakes. I only permit myself one cup of coffee and seek out more protein. I started drinking plenty of water.

Wireless headphones + my fanny pack are always in my gym bag. Sometimes I study for tests by reading notes on my phone while I'm on the elliptical.

Wireless headphones + my fanny pack are always in my gym bag. Sometimes I study for tests by reading notes on my phone while I'm on the elliptical.

The shoes in this pic are my lab shoes because I like to wear sandals if I'm not in lab. They are so easy to slip in when I work in my lab for quick post-ops! Target, $10 on sale!

The shoes in this pic are my lab shoes because I like to wear sandals if I'm not in lab. They are so easy to slip in when I work in my lab for quick post-ops! Target, $10 on sale!

While I check my weight from time to time, it has not changed enough to encourage me to keep running. If it were just about weight, I would have felt like I had wasted my time. I lost ten pounds pretty quickly, but it seems like my body is slowing transitioning and building baby muscles while the scale remains fixed (for now). The changes are incremental, and I've had to learn to accept slow but persistent results. My inspiration comes in other places, like how my clothes are starting to fit my body differently. I started to feel muscles I didn't expect to find when I'm shaving my legs. Working out seems to help me sleep better, because I used to experience a lot of insomnia. I know it helps me work through my stress, which is a large part of why I have committed to keep running. I love how I feel after a workout. I live in an old house and notice how much easier it is to quickly skip up the stairs compared to how I used to slowly take my time. I feel stronger.

I'm so proud that for the first time in my life, I have running shoes that actually
have holes from RUNNING. Really, it never seemed likely for me.

My endurance is still not ideal, but it's so much better than it used to be. There are moments while I am running that I feel like I've been a runner all my life. After a few weeks, I was able to run the kickball field like I was fifteen years younger. It feels fantastic to know that I will be able to tell my patients that the rumors are true. The simple phrases we've heard throughout our lives, really can impact our health tremendously. The low cost of most lifestyle changes & absence of prescriptions shouldn't discourage us from acknowledging their value. My advice is to pick one area of weakness, even if it seems like a very simple goal, and commit to focusing on it until it is part of who you are. For me, it was realizing how much my poor sleep habits were affecting other decisions. It truly created space and energy to redesign other areas of my life.

 

Invest in your fascination

 

Today I had happy tears as I sent a special text to my mom. It felt so nice to share GOOD news with her. She has listened to me worry during the two years of uncertainty about getting custody of my sons. She has been supportive when school overwhelms me. And today, it was such a gift to tell her first that I have a full scholarship to finish the last two semesters of my undergrad.

Photo Jul 11, 8 22 36 PM.jpg

This scholarship makes me feel like all the early mornings + late nights of studying or doing homework, while trying to provide for my sons, meant something. I want to show my sons that our sacrifices are valuable & will lead us to a moment in time when we achieve our goals.

I had no idea that the effort I was putting into my classes & research would already help us so much. My mindset has been that everything I am working toward will take years to bring results... earning this scholarship was such a big surprise. A few months ago, I was notified that my financial aid had been stopped due to being over hours (maximum time frame). I went through the long process of submitting the paperwork to petition to get aid. My request was approved, but this scholarship covers all of my school expenses. It's hard to believe that a few months ago I was wondering if I could afford to finish my bachelor's degree, and now I can breathe because I can.

I made this graphic (with the drawings of  Santiago Ramón y Cajal  and  Andreas Versalius- my two inspirations)  before re-taking anatomy & physiology.  

I made this graphic (with the drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal and Andreas Versalius- my two inspirations) before re-taking anatomy & physiology.
 

In 2015, before I re-took anatomy I wrote, "Invest in your fascination & work persistently until you weep with pride." I made it my iPhone background & my mantra.
Then I made it my life.

As a nontraditional premed, I feel like I have decided to move in this direction without knowing for sure how it will all work out. Believe me, I realize that my experiences aren't typical. I was willing to accept that I might have to take a few classes at a time or consider other routes to practicing medicine. I often feel like I take steps without knowing for sure that there will be ground under my feet. I do have to give credit to the supportive people (my mentors, advisors, professors, and family) who have helped by believing in my journey and giving me opportunities that they know will help me reach my goals. I am so thankful for all of you!

 

Achilles and his gold

 

My sons visit their dad every June + July in Florida, and it's always hard to say goodbye.
This was our last day.

It was also Damian's last baseball game, and I wanted to remember what he looked like in his jersey. This was his first year in coach pitch and it's so fun to watch them play. His season is always especially quick, so we try to enjoy every practice & every game.

I love how big his hat fits him.

Achilles and his gold | TetherAndFly.com
Achilles and his gold | TetherAndFly.com

Damian loves that there is a song with his name. I play it often and think of both of them.
It reminds me of dancing in the car while we all sing with the windows down.
There is enough magic in their smiles to endure the summer without them.

Achilles and his gold | TetherAndFly.com
Achilles and his gold | TetherAndFly.com
Achilles and his gold | TetherAndFly.com
Achilles and his gold | TetherAndFly.com

After dinner & ice cream at the diner around the corner, it was time to drop them off. We sat on our front steps and had a family group hug. There's comfort in knowing they are always a pair and have each other in every change of scenery. I hope they will always be close friends.

Before I let go, I held Damian and sang Happy Birthday. It's a little tradition we have before he leaves. He turns seven tomorrow.

Achilles and his gold | TetherAndFly.com

I'm taking a full load of classes, working in my lab, and squeezing in photography assignments. Once I get past Damian's birthday, it gets easier to count down the days until they come home.

When I took these pictures I thought about years ago when I took these images of the boys.