Thursday, April 26, 2007

My New Friend

There are some days I love living in the ghetto. I'm glad I'm not raising a family in my apartment complex, but living where I live isn't a bad way to save money when we only have about a year left before graduation.

I was feeding the dumpster kitties last night, lingering a little longer than usual. I was checking out the battle wounds of one of my toms, (hopefully not another story, right now I'm keeping a close eye on him) who looked like he'd got into it with either another cat or a raccoon. He is especially skittish so I was keeping my distance waiting for him to turn at an angle to give me a better look at his neck. I was standing closer to the parking lot than the woods behind the dumpster so I didn't feel especially threatened when a guy riding by on a bicycle stopped to talk. He was college aged or older, wearing hip hop clothes with long dreads. His bike was small, more of a stunt bike and he was steering it with one hand and drinking from a 16 oz. can of Natural Ice held in his other hand.

I was worried he was going to hit on me. Not that I am vain enough to think everyone wants to hit on me, but when deciding whether a twenty-something guy is going to take interest in me or a bunch of cats, I would have to guess me. I would have guessed wrong. He introduced himself as Curtis and asked if the cats were mine since he has seen me back there before. I told him they weren't mine, but that I cared for them and kept them safe. We then got into a discussion about the difference between feral cats and "house" cats. It took quite a bit of explaining before he understood that I did this for little reward. No, I don't get to pick them up and love on them. I could tell where this conversation was headed so I told him they were mostly spayed and neutered. He seemed shocked that someone would pay good money to fix cats and then let them go again. A lot of people have trouble with that one.

"So you just feed these cats, get them spayed and let them go without being able to pet them or pick them up?"

"Well, yeah. But I don't really think of it that way."

"Man, that's what's up!"

I took this as a compliment. He then proceeded to tell me about a kitten he found in the parking lot closer to the next complex and that it was pretty friendly. I was still trying to get a good read on this guy.

"So did you do anything?"

"Yeah. I kept him." He said this as if this were a perfectly normal occurrence. Which it is- in my world. "He's my buddy."

I suddenly had an image of Curtis and a cat sitting in his apartment, watching TV and drinking Natty Ice. Maybe even smoking some dope. Hey, it was one less cat on the street, and I'll take it. I decided Curtis was an alright guy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My Monster Part 2

If anything was going to be a catalyst for my monster to come back it was losing one of my best friends. After the instinct just to get through the few days following Randy’s death wore away, I became increasingly worried about going into another depression. Sure I was still on medication, but the types and dosages were already being decreased and my stability was better than ever. Over the years, I’ve learned one of the worst curses of clinical depression. Constantly asking yourself, is this reaction normal? When it comes to something as terrifying as watching a friend die, I don’t think there are normal or abnormal reactions. There are as many ways of handling it as there are people in the world. But nevertheless, an internal line needed to be drawn as to when my recovery was starting to look abnormal.

I took two approaches to dealing with this without my depression getting the best of me. One was to look at all the progress I had made and the prospect of six years of recovery down the drain was as overwhelming as my grief. As a grad student with deadlines looming and my entire career on the line, I realized letting myself get pulled under by the current lapping at my heels literally wasn’t an option. I decided I had better fight this thing or I’d let myself and Dean down as well.

Randy had his own monsters which were ironically under control when he was diagnosed with leukemia. We talked about depression and mental illness a lot and both took solace in the fact that a disproportionate amount of intelligent tend to suffer from this disease. He knew better than anyone what it was like to struggle with this. The second approach I took to making sure I didn’t spiral after he died was knowing that it would upset him if I did. He wouldn’t have wanted that for me and I like to think he would be proud of the strength and perseverance I found within myself to convince myself that yes, this reaction is normal.

So why am I suddenly telling you all this? There are a few reasons. The biggest reason is that I am finally free of prescription medication though I still take dietary supplements, get plenty of mental and physical exercise, and constantly assess my environment to help regulate my moods. I’ve noticed a lot of changes since I weaned myself off of my medication, the biggest one being this sense of being alive that I haven’t felt in a very long time. If the deepest part of my depression was a coma, the medication was still a general grogginess. Today, I am awake. The moods are there, the highs and the lows. I didn’t realize I had given up the highs to get rid of the lows and it’s good to have them back. I know I needed to take them six years ago when I started but I know even more now that I don’t and that is the best feeling.

I’m not really writing this to increase awareness about depression. As a society we are advanced enough to know that it is out there and that there is help. We are aware that psychotherapy and medication in some combination will get it under control. People will disagree as to the causes, the catalysts, the treatments, nature versus nurture and so on and so forth. What I don’t think we as a society are advanced enough to know is that it’s not something to be ashamed of. If you have this disease, it isn’t your fault. You aren’t an alien from another planet. People have high cholesterol, high blood sugar, lactose intolerance, etc etc and they are not looked down upon for being unable to regulate these human functions. Nor should we look be looked down upon for being unable to control moods and emotions. It is all apart of the collective human condition.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

My Monster Part 1

The first time it happened I was thirteen. The second time, I was twenty. But in between those times I always felt it lurking, just beneath the surface. That is why I don’t think that things happening are the cause of it, only the catalysts. It is my monster. My disease. My depression. And I still live with it everyday.

The time it happened as a twenty-year-old in a relatively new but serious relationship, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. A number of things pointed to the fact that I needed to see a doctor. I didn’t remember when it had started, but I had a constant knot in my stomach. Everything made me nervous. Every situation. I distinctly remember one day sitting at work feeling nervous about my job- but I was the only one scheduled to work in the lab that day. I had absolutely no rational reason to be nervous about being there. I would pick fights with Dean. I would cry, throw temper tantrums, spend days in bed with my door shut just sleeping. Hoping that when I woke up I would feel differently. Like a tummy ache or a fever I thought sleep could heal me. I still believe in the rejuvenating power of sleep but looking back on it I needed much more.

The catalyst that time was the death of Chelsea, my childhood cat. I took it really hard and Dean tried his best to console me. He was still two years away from fully understanding what special role animals can play in a person’s life. After a few days, everyone else thought I should be over it. Embarrassed that I wasn’t over it, I pretended to be. And while hiding my feelings, I spiraled into a depression so deep I was rendered almost completely dysfunctional. I couldn’t concentrate at work or school. My grades those semesters were a big part of why I ended up in Florida. They were one of the only schools to give me chance and I don’t think either my department or I have regretted it since. But like I said, I don’t think Chelsea’s death caused my depression. It just gave my monster a chance to get its foot back in the door.

All this happened while my romantic relationship with Dean was less than a year old. You see, we had been friends for almost two years when we started dating. He knew that the sobbing, snotting, screaming mess of a girl wasn’t the Natalie he knew. He stuck by me even though he was young and could have moved on and found someone easier to deal with. He had much more confidence in me than I had in myself. When the world seemed to be too much for me, he would whisk me out of it to a small town or a resort for a getaway weekend. Those are still some of my best memories.

Finally I got help, started taking medications and going to therapy again regularly. I learned to recognize my moods, their catalysts (and thus what to steer clear of), and how to deal with them. I learned to supplement my chemical treatment with changes in behavior. My doctor and I discovered through my long course of recovery that besides social factors, I was affected by my environment and suffered from substantial seasonal affected disorder as well. And so it seemed that Florida wanted more than to offer me a shot at grad school. It wanted to wrap me in its sunshine and take care of me.

In large part, Florida did take care of me. The department I joined was tiny but growing and happy to accept someone from a Big Ten school. Many of the people were friendlier than I could have imagined. And when our first winter rolled around, Dean and I were filled with the excitement and giddiness associated with something too good to be true. Only it wasn’t. The constant sunshine, the beaches, the gulf and the foliage did wonders for my mental health. We know it can’t be forever, Florida isn’t known for its opportunities in materials science. And we don’t want to raise kids quite so far away from their grandparents. It isn’t fair to anyone. But by the time we make our way to an (inevitably) cooler climate I will know much more about taking care of myself than the scared, tentative girl I was when we moved down here almost five years ago.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Teeny Tiny Update

The new equipment has stopped hissing. Thank God because it took everything I had to come in today knowing that I may very well have to endure eight more hours of it. I've been rewarded for my perseverance.

I think I may have finally gotten a good haircut! Awhile back (18 months maybe) I stopped driving to St. Pete to see my favorite stylist Allie. It was way too far to drive and then after a couple of botched attempts I felt too foolish to crawl back to her admitting I'd seen someone else. I finally decided to stop guessing about what might be good places to go and put the money into going to an official Aveda salon. In Minneapolis I lived within walking distance of an Aveda institute and evidently took for granted just how hard it is to find someone who knows how to cut hair. Especially curly, unruly hair like mine. It wasn't too much more than what I'd been spending for the crap shoots before so it was worth it in my book. My new stylist's name is Sarah and she really scared me at first. She wore stripper shoes and had a tattoo on her ankle of a pair of scissors with blood dripping from them. But she pretty much rocked. I was skeptical because she was so fast but my hair looks great today.

The icing on the cake was this email I got from the "foster mom" I wrote about yesterday:

My dark, handsome buddy is doing fine. He loves to have his head, neck, chin and in general entire body scratched and the pleasure is mine. The vet was right, he eats like a horse! Good sign of course and I'm NOT complaining! He gets wet and dry food 3 times a day along with his water and seems quite content. This morning he started eating his wet food while I was putting in his dry food so he's obviously not intimidated by me. He did hiss once when I first opened the cage but that was it. Poor guy has had rough go of it! My week/weekend is open if you guys would like to come by and visit him. You know you're always welcome.

I know what we'll be doing this weekend...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


So, readers, I am jinxed and I blame you. After you all called me a writer I have nothing to say. It's all in my head and the pressure is paralyzing me. Actually I do have some things I want to discuss but I am quite busy with life in the real world. I will do my best, but this may increasingly become the case as I get ready to go on my summer internship.

Speaking of internship, the papers are signed (which includes a handsome wage I wasn't expecting), and my flight is booked. I'll be arriving in Minneapolis on May 12th, spending the first Mother's Day in five years with my mom, and reporting to a real grown-up type job on May 14th. I'm nervous for the normal things: Will they like me? Will I do a good job? Will my boss be nice? Or yell at me the first time I inevitably screw up? As my friend says, if you weren't nervous, you'd still be in your comfort zone which means you're not growing. Very wise.

In other news, our lab just got a new piece of equipment that is causing such stress and chaos as to further excite me to get the hell out of here in 3 1/2 weeks. I am considering faking something like mono just to avoid the tension this stupid thing is causing everyone. But I'm a better labmate than that. There has been lots of yelling, pointing and spilled liquid Nitrogen. There has also been a lot of brainstorming and McGyver-style antics like rigging a transfer line out of rubber hosing, PVC piping, some O-rings and a metal rod.

On the kitty front, Dean's black kitty is doing remarkably well. We ended up not housing him as we felt we just didn't have the experience to care for such a serious injury and on a feral cat nonetheless. One of the people that run the sanctuary he will eventually end up in volunteered to him into her home and is fostering him until he is well enough to be on his own in the enclosure. We were originally going to have him discharged from the hospital about a week and a half ago since they do charge a boarding fee and we thought we could save some money by moving him sooner rather than later. After the "foster-mom" volunteered to take him, she highly recommended leaving him in the hospital until he could heal a little more. After expressing to her that we want to do everything in our power to help this cat but that unfortunately we weren't a walking blank check, we decided upon a financial arrangement. She let Dean and I name our maximum price we would be willing to pay and the sanctuary would pick up the rest. He was discharged yesterday and after settling the bill the sanctuary is paying in excess of $200. We'll be making some periodic donations or even volunteering for an afternoon when we find ourselves in times of plenty. We (and the kitty!) are so lucky people like that exist.

That's all I got. The new equipment is hissing and giving me a raging headache. I'm outta here in an hour to get a haircut. We'll see if I can do this again tomorrow, or if I come down with a rare tropical disease in the meantime.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award

Thank you, Scott, for giving me a Thinking Blogger Award! Scott has a lot of blogs that he reads and I am truly touched that he thinks so highly of this blog. I don't consider myself a writer, really. I started this blog as a way to keep the people in my life up to date about what I'm up to. I was hoping in the process it would improve my writing skills. I certainly didn't intend to use this site to heighten awareness for any of the causes near and dear to me. After some internal struggle, I did give in to using my little space on the internet to spread knowledge and awareness about the issues I face. After all, if you know you are reaching people you might as well plead your case, right?

Anyway, here is what people are saying about Field Lines (and by people I mean Scott):

"Natalie will someday be a Nobel Peace Price winning scientist. Sure, today she is but a student, but watch out for this one. She writes from the heart, whether about caring for stray dumpster kitties or a good friend that she recently lost to cancer. Natalie has the word power to make me regret the loss of a man I have never met."

Wow! I'm blushing. So here are the rules as outlined on his site:

The Thinking Blogger Award is an effort to build a network of blogs linked together outside of the usual search engines. Here is how it works (sort of like a meme):

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that tickle your gray matter.

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme;

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative gold version if silver doesn't fit your blog).

Now, the problem comes in when I think about all the well-thought-out and executed blogs I read. Most of my blog friends aren't the types to do memes and spread things throughout the blogosphere like wildfire. But that doesn't make them any less deserving of an award for what they do. Since this particular meme should propagate like 5^x, I'm going to tag people knowing they may not spread it any further. That's fine with me, and I hope it's fine with the other multitudes of participants out there since I don't think my actions will be enough to bring the Thinking Blogger Award to a crashing halt.

Let me first say that if Scott hadn't already gotten one, and tagged Mr. Schprock, these two gentleman would be at the top of my list. They are truly fantastic writers. So here are my five picks for the Thinking Blogger Award:

1. brainhell: I have been reading brainy pretty much as long as I have been doing this blog thing. He tickles my gray matter more than anyone else, asking questions about quantum mechanics that even I couldn't answer without bouncing ideas off my friends. He has an absolutely delicious sense of humor and I urge you to scroll through his archives if you have some time to spend with him. I have watched his site grow from an online diary to a full-fledged force in the ALS community.

2. Spantalones: One of the most distinctive voices I've "heard" with all my reading. She has a true knack for humorous writing but can invoke in her readers a range of emotions and leave you thinking for the rest of the day. We share a passion for baseball, reading, ice cream, and politics. Even though you don't see spants around here much, frequent readers may find her sounding familiar.

3. e.b.'s World: Relatively new to my favorites list, e.b. is one of the most eloquent and succinct writers I have ever encountered. Her observations on life are right on and her words are equally likely to spark laughter, reminiscence or soul-searching.

4. greensunflower: Her raw, frank writing is a breath of fresh air. Her ability to write so openly about living in the shadow of depression is nothing short of inspiring. Read one post about her experiences in nursing school and you will amazed by the passion this woman possesses for caring for others.

5. Life in the Canadian Desert: jackie was my first reader who wasn't my family. I have had the pleasure to watch her grow as a person (figuratively and literally!) as she gets ready to be a mom. A fellow female scientist, as well as an accomplished artist, she has a wide range of interests . She has a way of writing that makes you feel as if you sitting across a kitchen table from her. Just don't ask her about snakes.

So there you have it. Award winners, do with this what you want. Just know I think you are some of the best out there.

As a side note, I noticed while rereading this that most of the blogs I read are by women. It's not that I don't enjoy blogs by male writers, I'm just not as exposed to many. So, readers, if you know some witty, thoughtful male writers (besides of course the highly talented ones I mentioned above), send them this way!

Gotta go, Twins and Rays are playing. Always a roller-coaster of emotion.

Friday, April 13, 2007


I am having a much better day than yesterday. I am slammed at work so I can't go into details right now. Also, Scott put this up on his website. I was very touched to see it. You guys can expect me to make my awards probably tomorrow. I will be out of the lab (and disconnected! Gasp!) for much of the day today.

Happy Friday the 13th, everyone!

Thursday, April 12, 2007


This post may get a little long and even a bit cryptic so don’t feel obligated to read it all. I just need to get it out of my head. And if you want to share advice, opinions or thoughts please do.

I had the annual symposium for NSF fellows yesterday and as I sat down at one of the students table I noticed right away that two of the people were not people I was currently on speaking terms with. Now, I’ve never considered myself as difficult to get along with. I think I am a nice person, a good friend and intensely loyal. Maybe to a fault. The two people I am speaking of had at some point broken my trust, or deeply hurt one of my friends. One of the girls is someone I had repeatedly tried to be friends with, only to find myself burned a few times over. She had also done the same thing to runnergirl and even Randy. The other girl played a role in driving a wedge between my good anonymous friend and her roommate. The result was my good friend being all but forced to move out of her apartment so this girl could move in. I don’t know her that well myself, but she comes off as extremely shallow and immature. I ended up taking a seat between her boyfriend and an extremely friendly engineer whose company I really enjoy. He leads our biweekly discussion and lets me sit out on the animal testing talks because it gives me such bad anxiety. Anyway, just as an aside about how immature some of these people were, that girl and her boyfriend sat and texted each other during the whole keynote address. Recall they were sitting right next to each other.

The point I am trying to make is: When did I become someone who is reluctant to talk to people because of a history? I used to be so good at letting things go. I take pride in the fact that I stick up for what I believe is right. I want to be thought of as someone with convictions, about which I am passionate, not some spineless blob of goo who agrees with everyone. But on the other hand, people generally like the gooey spineless people because they are friendly and easy to get along with. But I am human and I want people to like me too! You know that I am worried about walking the fine line between “strong woman” and “bitchy woman”. And the line is blurry depending on who you are asking. But it almost always exists.

Another related story on my mind involves how loyal my friends are to me. While my labmates and I were in Denver last month, I got into an argument with another grad student from our department. It was a very bad situation (yes, there was alcohol involved which often exacerbates bad situations) and one of my labmates- who is also a very close friend- wouldn’t stick up for me. I’m not talking about “sticking up” as in “agreeing with me” during a political discussion. I don’t need that, I can hold my own in political discussions. I mean “sticking up” as in attesting to my character when it is being verbally attacked. As a last resort, I said, “Would you like to weigh in about this?!” To which he responded, “I think I’ll stay out of it.” Needless to say, the other grad student is another on my “don’t speak to” list at the moment. Of course, gooey, spineless labmate is as chummy with him as ever.

So what do I do? I work with my labmates for 8-10 hours a day and I don’t want to wreck my relationship with any of them. But I also feel like his lack of standing up for me is still really an issue. I haven’t gotten over it and I’m not going to get over it until he understands the magnitude of how this hurt me. Much worse than the other grad whose opinion of me I couldn’t care less about at this point. Okay, if you’re still reading this, now is the time to chime in. And I promise, I won’t put any of you on my Don’t Speak To list.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dinner, Dumpster Style

My step dad took this picture of the dumpster kitties while he was in town. This is about half- they get a little shy around strangers. All of these are fixed. (Sylvia- the tabby right up front is the same one you were asking about the other day!)

Monday, April 09, 2007


Why is it that when I have an especially busy week ahead of me, rather than taking advantage of precious sleep, I stay up all night thinking about stupid stuff? I woke up at 3:30 this morning, and have been up since. Lovely way to start to a busy work week.

All of my 10^11 of neurons were firing at once last night. Here’s a random sampling:
  • What am I going to make for dinner Thursday night? (I have Monday-Wednesday figured out already.)

  • When am I gong to make it to Target this week? I want to go because I want to break down and buy one of those huge Tupperware containers for gift wrap and store in under the bed rather than have my gift wrap randomly tossed in our measly hall closet.

  • When can I get my hair cut?! My ends feel like steel wool.

  • I can’t forget to change the fan in Old Bessie before I leave for Minnesota.

  • Can I refrain from drinking too much at this year’s NSF poster symposium on Wednesday?

  • Should I have Heather try to do a Spay Day for me while I’m in Minnesota? It will be difficult to describe the few that still need fixing.

The whole bed becomes disrupted when I can’t sleep. Mainly because what does everyone do when they can’t sleep? Toss and turn. Only for me, tossing and turning goes from position #1 (me on my side, Nellie on my feet, Allison curled in my knee pits, Wrigley curled against my stomach) to position #2 (me on my back, Nellie on my feet, Allison on my chest, Wrigley by my shoulder) and vice versa causing a stir. Occasionally during this repositioning Dean will get disrupted and switch positions. If his switching coincides with one of the cats switching he can roll over onto one and then everyone is put on the defensive. Which brings me to a common, not so random thought: when we finally move out of this dump, we need a bigger bed than a full size.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Who the @$#% are You?

I had a startling realization yesterday. I remember a little under five years ago joining the physics department, which was very small but growing rapidly. I remember being taken under the wings of runnergirl, and cheesehead, and Randy. They'd be sure to invite Dean and me to social functions because we were 1500 miles from home and didn't know a soul. Many of the older grad students just ignored me because there was such a high drop out rate that they didn't really bother getting to know anyone. I knew who they were though. They seemed so smart and light years ahead of me in knowledge. At the start of my second year, it was as if they noticed me for the first time.

Yesterday, an undergraduate member of our local chapter of the Society of Physics Students stopped by the lab. She was updating the physics department website, specifically the grad student directory. Besides taking a picture of our newest grad student, she asked us senior students (namely James and me) if we wanted our pictures updated. Updated? Were they that old?

I pulled up the directory online and promptly noticed that I had no idea who any of these people are. I recognized my "friends" which consisted of members from my lab and the lab down the hall. A couple other faces vaguely rang a bell. "Who the hell are these people?" I tactlessly asked the undergrad.

"Um, that's our department." I was a little embarrassed. I scrolled down to my picture. It wasn't too outdated, save for a general look of naivety on my face. I kept scrolling down.

Aha! Someone I recognized that didn't work on the second floor. "I thought this guy was an undergrad." I commented.

"Mike? He's defending his master's next week." Oops.

So it's happened. I've become a physicist hermit. I feel like I've done an even worse job than the older generation did when I first got here. Some of these people have escaped my notice for more than a year. Granted, we are still rapidly growing and there are more new faces to deal now than when I first started.

I decided to update my picture just because the old one was taken up against a plain white wall, making it slightly reminiscent of a mug shot. I had the undergrad take my picture in front of my poster that I displayed at the last conference. I'm going to share it with you because I think it actually turned out pretty good:

It reminds me that I should update the picture associated with my profile, it is a bit out of date as well. I should hunt down that undergraduate. She does good work. What was her name, again?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Good News for Me, Nothing Changes for You

I got some good news late last week. I interviewed for an internship at a prestigious magnetic hard drive company. I thought this interview was a total long shot and I barely gave any thought to the logistics. The reason I interviewed at all was because since I am in an applied physics Ph.D. program, we are required to complete an internship with a private company. Some students have really taken advantage of this system and taken unique opportunities all over the country and overseas. Others have simply "phoned it in" by spending a couple weeks working for the "companies" that some departmental professors own for intellectual property reasons. These companies may or may not physically even exist, but the requirements for the internship are QUITE loose. Frankly, I was planning on phoning it in. Dean talked me in to going for a position, specifically at this company. And seemingly against all odds, I got the internship!

The details: I will spend three months working for this company, located in Minneapolis. They don't advertise these positions because they won't pay for relocation. They usually only take local applicants, but for me there was an exception because technically they won't need to relocate me. I'll be staying with family, though I haven't figured out whom or for how long. I don't expect one person to put me up for three months so most likely I will be a vagabond wandering from one welcome home to another. Good thing I have a big family.

I'm so excited for this opportunity. An internship from this company will look awesome on my resume, no matter where I want to work. And if Dean and I decide to try being Minnesotans again, I will have a legitimate shot at getting a position there (provided my new boss likes me...). I get to spend the summer in my hometown with family, friends, the lakes, the parks, the pleasant weather (compared to Florida's summer) and of course the Twins.

Of course, I wrote "nothing changes for you" as my readers because I will try to continue posting as much as possible. Though it may be crazy at first. I'm not leaving though for another six weeks.

Afterwards, I am really in the home stretch. Most likely less than a year before graduation, then Dr. Magnetbabe. It's going to be terribly tough being away from Deano and the kitties. But he is going up to Minnesota for 5 days in June and I'm sure I'll get down to Tampa another time. In the meantime it's not like I'll be bored!