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.

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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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Inside the Rabbit Hole

 

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
-Max Planck

Both of my sons had strep this week. Speaking with our social worker from base about getting them treatment in the midst of a changing healthcare plan and the transition of our divorce helped bring clarity to our options. Hearing her sassy voice echo through the speaker of my cell phone took me back to when I first met her almost three years ago. I needed help bringing our sons home. My oldest was attending his first week of school in Florida, because their dad decided to keep them after a summer visit. Armed with documents from my lawyer, (that he secured from our judge), I stumbled into her office and told her my story. She nodded and said, I know exactly what to do. She towered over me, and I felt safe under her wing as we walked to her office.

Down the Rabbit Hole | It's not John B McLemore's maze, but it's where my story started. I got married here. TetherAndFly.com

Her confidence, her strength, and her grit supported me as we worked to negotiate how the boys would come home safely. She was a source of practical information as I attended to the challenges of working through all of our emotional hurdles of this situation. She came to my home and checked on me, helped me get groceries through a food bank, brought us school supplies for use home here in Ohio, and restored my faith in the military as she saw us through the beginning of a custody storm I wasn't aware had been brewing. Their father had moved away on amicable terms almost a year prior, and gave no hints he was going to permanently keep our sons with him. He had deployed twice in two years and spent almost a year living in Florida. When he asked if they could visit over the summer when he returned from his latest deployment, I sent them with blind kindness. I believed they should have time with him and didn't want to obstruct their relationship. Our divorce wasn't final, but I didn't have any hint that he would betray my trust (about bringing them home). However, the summer visit was part of a secret & methodical plan to relocate the boys to live with them. He finally disclosed his actions once he thought it would be too late for me to do anything about them.

Maybe he was right, because I was paralyzed by this nightmare.

But I wasn't alone.

I've only spoken about Miss J. to my close friends. I describe her and the other women from family advocacy as guardian angels that fought for me as I slumped in a corner seat and cried from exhaustion and gratitude. In all, it was fourteen days of tortured sleep, unimaginable stress, and being overcome with helplessness as I wrestled with the dark intentions of this twisted plan. My family, friends, and even photography clients, were constantly near me and supporting me. My lawyer fought for us and insisted that we patiently trust the system. I never knew I would come to depend on white sheets of paper to grant me the ability to continue raising the sons I had grown in my body. I didn't know I would have to be so adamant in my fight, just to continue the life we had already been living. I have replaced the original orders each time they are updated, and tuck them in my backpack. Sometimes when I'm digging for chemistry or calculus homework, I see familiar blue and red stamps from the court and am glad to have them. I want to be prepared to use them, or fear would affect me more than it does. For almost three years, this has been normal for me.

It is easy to talk about my classes, behavioral neuroscience research, or plans for medical school. I often omit the years I spent working to get custody of my sons. It's a significant part of our story, but it's embarrassing. It's not tidy. It's not like commenting about weather, discussing my favorite podcasts, or sharing funny stories about my kids. It also doesn't seem to have an end. Even after the final decision was made in my favor, there always seems to be something else that flares up. Like news of the submission of an appeal on the heels of our final divorce decree. It feels less dignified to admit that this week was one arduous legal event after another. Those papers in my backpack were summoned again. Another hearing. Another lawyer. Another week as a human filing cabinet weighed down by the pull of another world's gravity that detracts from the freedom of living my life.

I work to keep my mind occupied on other goals. I have to make a conscious decision to move forward or I would have drowned in this rabbit hole a long time ago. When I returned to college, I was desperate for something new to think about. Math and memorization help to keep my focus on something productive, but it can still be isolating to endure the battles that aren't mentioned in polite conversation. Some feelings don't seem appropriate for social media, even though they are all encompassing. It's hard to find a way to make a sensitive family circumstance a caption. Typically it isn't done, even though there is much comfort in knowing that other people have similar experiences. If you've ever felt like your body is exploding from the inside, time and time again,  I understand. Even though the situation is no longer acute, I'm still impacted daily by the trauma. I shy away from talking about it, because I still have to process the anxiety it gave me. Sometimes I wonder if that means it's a good time to get started? Maybe it doesn't all need to be neatly packaged to be useful to help someone else feel less alone. I am curious to know if there is a way to own our scars as part of the larger narrative that highlights the strength we attain from fighting back.

It always seemed like there would be a distinct line I would cross that would signal when this is over. Maybe the terrain would feel different under my feet? Maybe the air more clear? Maybe sunlight itself would reach my eyes without the diffusion of the cavern walls? That doesn't seem likely.

Instead, I carry the burden with me as I build our new life and acknowledge it is part of me. I try not to let it get in my way. On good days I use it as fuel. On other days I'm not so strong, and it locks my feet in place like cement. Sometimes other people help me carry it, like Miss J, my family, my friends, or other professionals. I try to make myself notice the people in my life who support me. Their kindness, strength, and humor help me continue to move forward.

When I was exposed to darkness I could never have imagined, I also experienced a cascade of love that held me together.

When I felt like my body was exploding from the inside, time and time again, they patiently wove me back together with threads of hope.

While I heal, I choose to bathe my thoughts in the memories of the love I witnessed. My sons need this from me and I want it for our future.

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It's been a few days (well, more than ten), since I began writing this. My sons finished their antibiotics and feel much better. I listened to S*Town and need to talk about it to SOMEONE. Also, I think the rain is procrastinating. My hydrangeas could use it.

-Andrea

 

 

I can tell that we are gonna be friends.

 

My fifth semester started this month.

I wasn't prepared for what it would feel like to hear my maiden name during the first morning's roll call. I've heard "Andrea Bell" spoken by teachers since 1989. This time it was an unexpected rush of triumph and pride. By speaking my name, she opened a gate and let me go free. It was permission to take off the burden of his identity and return joyfully into the familiar refuge of my own skin.  It was a song of reclaimed dignity and a thunder of confidence that the unbearable years pushed me into where I am. I like it here very much.

I can tell that we are going to be friends | TetherAndFly.com

Recognizing that I am past my halfway mark until the end of my undergrad has been more encouraging than I had realized it would be. For a long time I was focused on how much extra time adding pre-med courses would take, but now I wish I had room to take even more courses before I will finish. There is so much I want to learn.

I gave a presentation in my Psychobiology of Stress Captstone on the effects of an interesting study with evidence suggesting that the algae, chlorella vulgaris, can reduce stress on the HPA axis. I (embarrassingly) butchered speaking so many words that I do have a new resolution to speak out loud more often about the content of my classes. It showed me that I tend to ingest the material by reading silently, but need to practice the words I'm learning. On another note, it was my first time designing a slideshow about neuroscience. It made me so excited to pair design + neuroscience together in a visual format! I want to do more of this.

 

Re: General Chemistry

 
re: general chemistry by @TetherAndFly

I remember the way my fingers felt heavy as I weighed whether to withdraw from general chemistry last spring. I only understood fragments of the chapters, and was far from being competent. As optimistic as I tried to be, I knew that deep in my temporal lobes, my hippocampus was not encoding the chemistry concepts the way I would need them. By a miracle of a curve, I could possibly pass the class. "Passing the class" is not sufficient for what the future will require from me. This is the first class in a series of chemistry courses, and some of the content will be on the MCAT. I needed to have a very solid understanding of chemistry principles or moving forward would be a futile endeavor.

Coming back to Wright State in fall of 2015 after an eleven year hiatus had felt empowering. As I carefully researched my course options and sought guidance from my advisors, I started to believe that I had the determination to harness any class. It felt like I had resurrected an inner confidence that had been stifled in the shuffle of morphing into a young wife & mother. I was reclaiming an essential tenet of my identity that felt familiar, but updated. Evolved.

Just as I was getting the courage to say (out loud) that I was pre-med, I was facing the "failure," of jumping ship of a sinking academic boat. I started to wonder all over again if I could be deemed suited for the rigor of medical school. If I couldn't patch the leaks here, could I be trusted to be responsible for more difficult courses?  As a 32 year old single mom of two boys, the deck was already slightly, no, significantly stacked against me. To lose the work I had put into the first half of the semester's chemistry class was highly discouraging. My professors had recommended that we had taken previous chemistry classes, but I was too arrogant to admit that my high school chemistry class was close to fifteen years ago. I also did not admit that I hadn't really cared for it, and did not go to any length to retain any facts from it. Interesting how confidence and arrogance are probably the same- labeled differently only after we look back and assess the result of their influence.

My mindset has always been that persevering is synonymous with success, but it is more nuanced than I used to understand. Perseverance is imaginative, flexible, humble, and often has a timeline that exceeds my own patience. Perseverance also requests that we calibrate frequently in order to stay on course.

After hours of deliberation, I submitted the form to drop my chemistry class. Touching "enter" felt like I was detonating a nuclear explosion. I was wracked with guilt and fear about what I had done. I was ashamed about the money I was wasting and felt the humiliation of surrender.

Until I breathed.

Upon exhale, I felt a surge of relief.

The sensation was probably the effect of GABA and dopamine, among other neurotransmitters responding to my decision. I imagined freshly released ions crossing synaptic junctions and receptors carefully setting updated biochemical reactions in motion. I pictured my microscopic cell assembly line in slow motion, as a beautiful kaleidoscope of fireworks responding in a synced cascade to the new chemical messages. That is when I knew I had to quit feeding the neuronal circuit that relied on my insecurities. It grew strong from the repetition & frequency of my worries. Either I would move forward or I would choose another career- constantly questioning myself was costing my neurons a precious supply of limited energy. I couldn't keep wrestling with my fears because I needed every spare atom to rally around building up my strength. I also needed to stop looking at my age and single parenting like a deficit. I could make excuses or I could make a plan. There would be a rematch, and I would take time to change my approach. I couldn't walk into the classroom as the same student. What was I going to do to prepare for fall semester?

Plan A: I could watch Khan Academy videos this summer. Yes that would be wise. I'd revisit chemistry in the fall and feel ready after a summer of self tutoring. Except that I knew myself and I knew I needed structure. There was a high probability that I would not watch the videos and would most likely cram a few in just before classes started. My intentions don't always serve me well without structured responsibility.

Plan B: I could take an online intro to chemistry class from Sinclair Community College. It would keep me motivated and I could still have flexibility to take other classes at Wright State. Except that I needed to take a lab in person, and online classes usually get slumped into one day a week. I remember the art history class I took online years ago at Sinclair (for my Visual Communications degree). Sundays were the days tests were due. They were always a scramble of speed reading + a sloppy search for keywords so I could finish all my work in one sitting. It was doable but don't ask me anything about art history. This is not the outcome I wanted for general chemistry.

Plan C: I could take an in person chemistry class from Sinclair. I went with Plan C.

It had been eight years since I graduated from Sinclair and funny how I had never taken classes at Building 12 in the chemistry department. As I made my way from the parking garage to class I saw construction under my feet. I stopped to watch below the walkway as workers dug the first layer of a new building. I felt consoled by the parallel that much of my academic work would serve me in a similar fashion. This semester at community college would support the weight of my future classes, so I determined to benefit from this opportunity.

It was a perfect fit for me. It kept me accountable to go to class and gave me the opportunity to ask questions. I was in lecture three times a week in a very small class. My professor had a bench to create demonstrations while he lectured & was fantastic about tailoring his time to revisit concepts we struggled with. We did group assignments daily after lecture and were frequently quizzed so we knew whether we really understood the chapters. Labs were basic and informative.

Chemistry at Community College @TetherAndFly
Chemistry at Community College

Very soon into the semester, the foreign language of atomic theory started to make sense. Lewis Dot Structures became relaxing to draw instead of a futile mess of pencil lead erased over and over in frustrated strokes. After class I would review definitions and draw my own notes, because I knew a major weakness was my lack of fluency in science vocabulary. There are many concepts & names that sound the same, but have important differences. This time around, I wanted to carefully examine them until I could pick them apart by memory. In lab, I loved building molecular models and imagined showing my sons how to play this "game." I learned that the once intimidating algebra behind many of the formulas is reliable and I liked the consistency of its application. We scratched the surface of organic chemistry and I was excited to see snippets of physiology referenced. My professor said we could skip reading the medical references in the book, but for me, the integration of chemistry with my neuroscience and physiology classes is essential:

The molecular model drawing of L-DOPA is on my book cover? What?!
This realization several chapters into the semester felt like meeting a celebrity. I took pictures of it and tried not to act too excited.

Hey look, there's a paragraph about osteoid!
My spring anatomy/physiology course taught me to instantly recite, "Osteoblasts turn into osteocytes, which are broken down by osteoclasts..."
This basic premise of bone histology hummed in my head like a nursery rhyme as I read the page about bone matrix. I'm not too embarrassed to admit that I often channel Phil Dunphy's enthusiasm- I am delighted that life offers ripe plums & fanny packs.

As I started to understand what chemistry can teach me, it was stimulating to begin to see the connections between these disciplines. It gave me an appreciation for why I have dedicated my mind to working through a subject that felt impossible. Earning an A over the same type of content that used to make me frustrated felt immensely gratifying, and working through the obstacles reinforced my determination to become a doctor. My chemistry impediment became an opportunity to invent my own sequence of reactions. It became a chance to measure the transformation in myself.

I was always careful, of course, to use sig figs. 

-Andrea

 

Chemistry Calibration

 
Student Success Center at Wright State | AndreaBelleStudios.com

This winter I took on too many courses. It's been a blur as I tried to find a rhythm that would work for me to balance everything on my plate. It's a lesson I'm slow to learn & only grudgingly accept, but balance usually requires a reduction of what I believe I can handle.

I've enjoyed Anatomy/Physiology, Statistics, and Behavioral Neuroscience. However, I wasn't prepared for what effort and time commitment it would take to add Chemistry to the lineup. It's been more than a decade (maybe 15 years?) since I took Chemistry and I can honestly tell you that I remember almost nothing from having it in high school (oops). I finally had to withdraw and give myself some time to refresh & practice before I tackle it again.

Now that I have postponed Chemistry for another semester, I've been reflecting on what went well this semester and what I need to design differently. I'd like to think that the choices I make will always create the results I want if I work hard enough. In some ways, I will always believe that. I'm simply learning to reevaluate my original time constrictions on these goals.

To be clear, "timing" feels abrasive. I have to daily resist the temptation to imagine what could have been different in my life if I had been able to begin this leg of my journey sooner. Taking longer than I already have feels like a tremendous defeat, but lingering on the sting of this frustration would be an incredible waste of my limited energy.

It helps to believe that approaching Chemistry as a future neuroscientist will play to my advantage. As someone who believes in the power of repetition for improved long term potentiation, I am consoled that the rematch will feel more familiar. Until then, I can focus on what fascinates me about the anatomy & wiring under our skin. Like the meninges that so eloquently swaddle our brains, the beautifully designed cauda equina, and all the unfathomable little bundles of neurons that mysteriously grant us both our existence & our adaptability.

-Andrea


It amazes me that a difference between college in 2002 and 2016 is there are so many resources online. I try to remember that help will come to those who search persistently on YouTube. :)

 

Winter Skin

 

When the Damian noticed the toilet was flushing slowly, he looked at me and asked, "Do you need to use the plunger again?" 

He remembered I did it last year and didn't blink at the thought of me using it again. Eight years ago I would have never dreamed of learning to unclog a toilet, because there was always someone to do it for me. Now that we've been our own the better part of two years, I have learned to Google & YouTube my way through many "adventures" around the house. It is reassuring that my four year old sees me as a more capable handy-gal than I used to see myself. 

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When Kevin saw me applying for college this morning, he said I was too old to go back. I explained that I'm not.  

He said I already went. I explained the reasons for checking out the requirements of finishing my bachelor's degree.

He said I would be gone all the time. I told him probably not, but if I were it would be for a good reason.  

This conversation echoes the many we have had and will have about being a secure unit of three. There have been many decisions to make and many opportunities to consider as I map out what the future looks like. I've finally been able to start moving toward the goals that used to be fragile ideas in the back of my head. Honestly, I don't have a lot of choice but to adapt and evolve. Staying the same is not an option. Once we thicken our skin and see the world with new eyes, I believe there is a strength that surprises even our own expectations of who we can be.

I want to make sure I'm raising boys who embrace a life that is not conventional.

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Time to shovel the driveway & officially begin our Christmas season.

-Andrea