Thursday, September 29, 2011

Neuroticism and Unrealistic Expectations and Gender-normative behavior, oh my!

This something I started last week that I want to remember, but is not how I necessarily feel anymore:

Graduate school is an interesting beast. I'm smart, I know this. I am not being conceited, it's just what is. And typically, I do well in school. It comes easy to me. I have a curious mind that likes to learn new things. Never before have I felt completely lost for more than a day or so. Eventually everything clicks, and I just get it, at least well enough to be amongst the best in the class.

It isn't like that here. Here is like I'm drowning in my inability to make myself understand, but it's like I think I'm swimming along all nice and successful (ok, not successful, but I'm not sinking) until I get my first assignment back and it's like some nefarious riptide has grabbed hold of me and is dragging me under and swirling me around until I don't know which direction is up. And the truth is, I didn't do that poorly. I actually got a B, which is perfectly respectable. Not near the best grade in the class, but not near the worst, either. And you know what? I actually expected to probably get a B on this assignment. I knew I didn't get everything right, because there were some things where I didn't understand what he was asking. But he wrote "there were more things that were a little off here than I expected." Reading between the lines I see, "I had better expectations for you, and I'm actually pretty disappointed. You should have done better, and I now see you as less than I did before." And that B now feels like a D. I went and talked to him, and I feel a little better, but I really kinda don't. And I feel guilty any time I do something that isn't work. And I feel guilty because I want to sit on the couch and watch a Disney movie or 90210 or something, instead of reading about the visual cortex. Or doing my next problem set. Or failing at making a website. Or coming up with a research proposal or something.

Last night I baked. Granted, it was from a mix, but I busted out my beautiful Kitchenaid mixer (it makes me feel like such a grownup to have a Kitchenaid mixer) and I made some delicious brownies (with marshmallows) and some chocolate chip cookies, because someone in the program doesn't like brownies (I'm fairly certain he's an alien, but whatevs, more brownies for me) and asked me why I wasn't planning to make chocolate chip cookies like a normal person. Anyway, baking felt good. It felt nice to be doing something for someone else (and also, if I had left them here, I would have eaten enough of my feelings to have to engage in retail therapy because I would get fat). It felt nice to not fail (they were delicious and the cookies didn't fall like they normally do). And I was doing ok until I realized that I was disassociating from school to spare my feelings and doing something more gender-appropriate to compensate. And then I felt bad. And then I thought about how sometimes I wish I couldn't readily identify that what I was doing was disassociating from school and instead associating with a gender-normative behavior as a coping mechanism to make myself feel better for doing (semi) poorly on a (somewhat) male-dominated task like statistics, because sometimes ignorance is bliss. And then I was like, who cares? I like baking. And I'm not going to let myself get hung up on why I like baking. If it makes me feel better, I should just let it go, right? I mean, I'm not self-medicating with alcohol or drugs or anything, so I figure it's fairly harmless.

Anyway, I'm working on adjusting my expectations, both for the world, and for myself. And I'm letting go of some of the crazy. Or at least I'm trying. Whatever, I could be more crazy. And sometimes I'm endearing. And now I'm justifying. And procrastinating. Back to work I go.

Things I have learned in my first month of grad school

-Self-handicapping is real, and its name is stumbleupon
-I was wrong. I am not good at statistics.
    -Getting an answer right in statistics now feels like what I imagine a baby taking his/her first steps feels like. Awesome, completely foreign, and a little unexpected.
-I don't want to be a cognitive psychologist (ok, I knew this already, but it's been confirmed)
-Sri Lankan food is good.
-There is always something you can be doing, but you have to let go of the guilt.
-Putting something in a frame does not make it "art."
-It is important to try to see the sun, at least a little every day.
-There is never enough time in the day to do everything you want to do.
-Disney movies are good for the soul (again, I already knew, but it's important to confirm these things).
-Physical contact (hugs, hand pats, high-fives, even just knees that touch on a crowded couch) are necessary to normal functioning (again with the confirmations) (Don't believe me? Google "nonorganic failure to thrive.").
-Handwritten letters are better than anything in the world.
-Time differences are stupid and annoying.
-Baking makes me feel better after a hard day.
-Cute shoes improve your whole day (confirmed).
-Throwing your head back in a belly-shaking snort-laugh at least once a day gives you as much recovery as a 1-hour nap (confirmed).
-Archer blows.
-It's important to make the effort to keep in touch with people back home. Even as you grow and change and learn new things, you need to hold on to the people who knew you when you were small and the same and stupid. They'll keep you grounded and true to yourself.
-Saying you're not going to do something means you probably will. Just thinking about an event makes it more likely to happen (and I'm too lazy to find the citation for this one, so just trust me).
-My brain is more awesome than I am. 

Most of these things aren't actually related to graduate school. I've learned some (I think) things about psychology, but this blog is mostly about my life, and I'm trying to not allow psychology to become my life.

On that note, if you want to feel happy (even if you are introverted), act extroverted. It will improve your mood. Science ftw. Don't believe me? Go read this.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

My Mommy is better than your Mommy.

Today is my Mother's birthday. Unfortunately I am 2,101 miles away from her today, so I couldn't be with her. Here are 44 (she's not shy about her age) reasons why I am so grateful that she is mine.

1. She's always cold. I am also always cold, so I can count on her to lobby for the thermostat with me. I can also always count on her to have a blanket/sweater.
2. She is kind. Everyone that knows her knows that she is an unbelievably kind woman. This sometimes means that people take advantage of her, which makes me sad, but proud that I have the kind of mother that other people know they can rely on.
3. She's generous with her love. I've had many friends consider her their second mother, and she took in my brother's best friend when he had no where else to go. Her best friend's children also love her deeply and know that she is madly in love with them, too. She chooses to love, even when she doesn't have to. Robert Brault once said that "there is an instinct in a woman to love most her own child--and an instinct to make any child who needs love, her own." My mother is the epitome of this woman.
4. She makes me chocolate chip waffles, even though she doesn't like them.
5. She shares my love of happy endings and sappy love stories. It shows me that she is ever hopeful and wants to others to share the happiness that she's found.
6. 23 years after meeting him, she is still madly in love with my father, and has managed to keep him in love with her as well. This is a testament to the both of them and how wonderful they both are, but also shows her immense loyalty.
7. She is fiercely loyal. Often referring to herself as the "Momma Bear," she will fight tooth and nail against any and all things or people who threaten those she loves--even when we're hurting ourselves--and will do all in her power to restore us to health and happiness.
8. She is funny, and silly, and willing to do things like jump in bouncy castles with me.
9. She pushes me to do things that are scary, because she knows that I need it. It was her refusing to carry me anymore that made me learn to walk, her refusing to drive me anymore that made me learn to drive, her wrestling me into the cart that made me learn to love roller coasters, and her believing in me to bring me to this place.
10. She does not gossip. Although she is usually surrounded by people who bring her gossip and wish that she would engage with them, she does not disparage others, nor does she share secrets that are not hers.
11. She has taught me the importance of the little things that show support. Things like making a favorite treat or always going to sporting events/concerts/plays/graduations/parties/whatevers, holding hands, a little note, a "just because I love you" present--she is a master of these small but oh-so-significant gestures of love.
12. Like me, she hates veggies.
13. She has an inability to extricate herself from a situation. It is impossible for us to leave anywhere without at least 3 people stopping us to talk to her. It's annoying, but it shows how well-loved she is.
14. She loves a good bargain, and has taught me the value of a sale.
15. She's really smart and loves smart-people humor.
16. One drink makes her tipsy. This was good for laughs on our vacation to Mexico.
17. She's a great hugger, and even though I am now a grown woman, she always pats my back as if she's burping me when she hugs me.
18. When I was a baby, I didn't respond to lullabies, so she wrote me my own. It still relaxes me when I'm having a hard night.
19. She likes to plan, and make lists, and has taught me to always be prepared.
20. She knows what people are capable of and insists on excellence.
21. She will stay up late to whether it was to wait for me to come home from hell week, just so she can make me a warm dinner, or because I needed to talk, or because Brother needs someone around while he does his homework, or because we need something made or mended.
22. She will then rise early the next morning to help us get ready, or to give us a ride, or just spend a few minutes with us.
23. She ages gracefully. While she does not dress like an old woman, she doesn't try to cling desperately to her 20s. She is stylish, but appropriately so.
24. She shares her food and her drinks with us, and everything tastes better with mom-spit on it.
25. When I was dating a boy who had a horrible mother who was cruel to me and made things difficult, she was graceful and did all within her power to make it as easy as possible for me. She changed her holiday plans to accommodate me, because she didn't want to make the fight any worse and knew that ultimatums are not the way to love your children or the people they love.
26. She loves to read and gave me a love of books.
27. She has taught me the importance of faith, and reminds me that even when I am angry with God, there is a piece of me that will always know Him and will always lead me back.
28. She is possibly the most empathetic person I know and cannot abide the hurt of others, even those who deserve hurting. She raised Brother and I to be the ones that see the hurting and to include and defend them, and to never intentionally add to the hurt, but to do our best to heal it.
29. She has taught us to prioritize the important things in life, like our family and our friends, because when we look back, those will be the things we wish we had spent more of our time, talent, and treasure on.
30. She is a servant. She sees what needs doing, and she does it. She cares for far more people than I think I ever could.
31. She is steadfast. No one has ever accused her of wrongdoing, and no one would believe it if they had.
32. She taught me to value myself, to see that I am lovely and worthy of love, smart and funny and kind, because she taught me to be those things, and to see them in others.
33. She always points out the silver lining in my grey cloud of complaints.
34. Thomas Edison once said that his mother was "so true and so sure of [him], [he] felt that [he] had someone to live for--someone [he] must not disappoint." My mother has such a belief in me that I have no choice but to do well, because I must honor that faith. She makes me better.
35. She never gave us all that we wanted. Although we were helped, she never spoiled us. She gave us an appreciation for what we had and what we worked for.
36. My mother bruises like a peach. This did not stop her from rocking Brother while he periodically leaned forward and then whipped his head back into her sternum with all of his power, because he loved being rocked.
37. She is always on the other side of the phone when I need her, whether it's for a recipe, or instructions on removing a stain, or someone to complain to, or someone to listen to what I'm excited about, she is always there.
38. Although I have made her spitting mad, and disrespected her, and taken her for granted, I have never for a moment doubted her love for me.
39. Her ability to forgive is formidable. She taught me that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting it to make the other person sick. She also taught me that once forgiven, one does not have to put oneself in the same position again.
40. My mother is the kind of woman who brings peace wherever she goes. I know this because I am a terribly anxious person, but being around her is like being able to breathe again after being underwater for a while--it's like all is right again, or will be soon enough.
41. She is a master at "Mothering"--taking care of others, and it is a skill set and a character trait that she has passed on to me. It's probably my favorite thing about her.
42. She brought me into this world, and as she always says, she can take me out--meaning she will not tolerate any of my crap. It means I give less crap.
43. Alice Walker said "Yes, mother, I can see you are flawed. You have not hidden it. That is your greatest gift to me." My mom taught me that everyone has flaws, and that it's ok to not be perfect all of the time. Sometimes our "flaws" are the most beautiful things about us. 
44. She is an excellent mother, and so many people have told me that they wish she was theirs. I am so glad that she is mine.

Mommy, I miss you, but I hope you had a great birthday. I love you so much.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One Month Later

It's been exactly one month since I got here, and I was right. It's not THAT bad. I mean, it's not fantastic, but it's definitely as bad as it was those first few days. I'm not ALWAYS lost, and I've gotten used to copious amounts of u-turns (some of them are always necessary because they don't believe in left turns here, and some are because I still do get lost a lot). I think I can legitimately count the people here as friends now. I'm still homesick all of the time, and everything makes me think of the people and the place that I've left behind, but it's not so painful all the time. It's better when I get out of the house--sitting home alone is tough, so I socialize A LOT. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it does result in things like my 2 1/2 hour nap today (which was also because my brain is exhausted).

I was right that this was one of the hardest things I've done. I don't know if it's because my brain had atrophied from disuse in the semester I took off or if it's because this stuff is really hard, or because I care so much more now (or some combination of the 3), but I am trying so much harder now than I did in undergrad. I think this is probably a good thing. It's SUPPOSED to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes it great. Or, at least that's what I keep telling myself.

My point is, I was right. Even if it didn't seem like it would get better it did. Thanks, former advisor, for teaching me the law of regression to the mean. It's always so helpful in restoring my sanity.

My wonderful Mom has a birthday on Saturday. Stay tuned for a post all about her. In the mean time, I'm going to react to a cognition article and work on building a website.

One thing I will say about moving out here--I'm doing a lot of things I've never really done before (exercising semi-regularly, willingly watching football games--albeit not very interestedly, making websites) and it's really showing me my potential to grow. I can do a lot more than I ever really let myself do before.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Early morning ramblings

Regardless of how I feel about my location, or my immense fear of failure at several potential benchmarks over the next several years, or how hard all of this is, I gotta say that I really can't imagine doing anything else with my life. Everything that happens makes me want to do a psych experiment.

Take, for example, interactions between new people. I'm always amazed when I meet someone new and we just "click" and it's like I'm talking to an old friend, someone who knows me and just... understands. I'm sure that there are attraction studies that I can track down that explain this very phenomenon, but it's just... nice. And interesting. And yet another reminder, that despite the fact that I had ~300 pages to read this week, plus a presentation to prepare, plus an altruism scale to find, plus things like eating and sleeping, I really do love what I do. And I really do have to say that I'm really happy with my cohort. And that my facebook stalking was wrong on almost all accounts, but in a good way. On that note, I do have to say that I have met plenty of new people for the time being, thank you very much. It's all a little overwhelming.

There's also a bit of culture shock. And I know that I'm annoying, always asking about things and commenting on how different it is back home, but back home is on my mind most of the time, and we all know how bad I am at self-regulation. The differences in little things are pretty pronounced, too. There are only 2 people in the program from North of the Mason-Dixon, and only two people from West of Texas. 3 of us are women, and we are consistently the most overdressed in the group. Wearing things that are fairly casual back home is waaaaaaay overdressed here, and I always end up feeling/looking like I'm trying too hard, but I'm just too vain to skip the makeup. Maybe that's the narcissism talking, but I just can't do it. I am quickly falling in love with "y'all" though. It's just adorable. I don't interact with very many people who have a thick accent, so I don't think I'll pick one up, but I've already started saying "y'all."

The time difference is also causing some problems. I'm having a hard time falling asleep on East Coast time, but because I haven't gotten around to it/can't really afford it, I haven't bought curtains yet. That means I'm still waking up on East Coast time, which is leading to 4 hours of sleep. Right now, it's 3 AM, and even though I woke up at 7 this morning (yes, that's right folks, we had a professional development class at 9 on a holiday), I am wide awake (also just realized I've been awake for 20 straight hours and am horrified). The massive amounts of socializing are not helping matters much either--Friday I was out until 4, Saturday until 2 (?) and I know I didn't fall asleep for at least an hour. I tried to be better tonight, deciding to stay in and bond with my roommate over boy talks and True Blood* and meeting our neighbors while watching the rain, but, alas, it didn't help. I really need to get some work done if I'm going to be up this late, so goodnight, readers.

*Which is totally jumping the shark, btw. This season is completely ridiculous, even with the massive suspension of reality required for a show about telepathic faery waitresses who date vampires and are friends with were people (animals?).