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.

 

 

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!