Recipe of the Month: August

Sesame-Ginger Stir Fry

Lately, I’ve been backsliding lately on my diet, and eating out much more often than I’d like. So tonight, I decided to make a new twist on a personal favorite.

I have always been a huge fan of Asian food of every variety, and so stir fry is a staple at our house. It’s also a great way to incorporate a TON of veggies into one dish. Usually I do all the seasoning on my own, adding teriyaki and ginger and garlic to the ingredients as I stir everything in the wok.

My husband and I found the sesame-ginger marinade at our most recent trip to the grocery store, and so I decided to change things up a bit tonight and use it instead of my normal method of seasoning.

It turned out AWESOME! So here’s the low-down on my Sesame-Ginger Stir Fry.

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1 Chicken breast (optional, or you can add more. I wanted mostly veggies tonight, but I like my protein)

1 Yellow bell pepper

1 Red bell pepper

1 Green bell pepper

1 Medium yellow onion

Sesame-ginger marinade

1 bag frozen stir fry style vegetables

1/2 bag frozen peas and carrots

garlic powder

black pepper

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Slice peppers and onions and place in plastic bag. Dice chicken and place in separate bag. Add marinade to each bag, and cover ingredients completely. Place bags in fridge and let marinate for at least 30 minutes. (We watched an episode of Psych on Netflix while we waited.)

Heat up a large wok over med-high heat, and add oil. When oil is hot, add chicken. Cook chicken until almost done, adding a small amount of pepper and garlic. Then add frozen veggies. Heat all the way through and season before adding marinated vegetables. Add a final layer of seasoning and make sure all ingredients are hot.

Serve over rice or noodles and enjoy!

 

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Perspectives: Realities of Being a STEM Student at a Research University

 

Most university students believe their major is pretty tough, but most will also agree that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) majors rank an “You’ve got to be kidding!” on the difficulty scale. One of my majors was in Microbiology (the other in Linguistics, a so-called soft-science), and my husband majored in Computer Science (and Sociology, another soft-science).

While I can’t claim to be an expert in all things academia, I can relate to you the truth of my experience at university, as a STEM major.

4. Your core classes are designed to weed out people not going to medical school

I was a Microbiology student, with a minor in Chemistry (because my adviser let me in on a secret – I only needed a one-credit course on top of my normal course work in order to get  the minor. That’s how much chemistry a BIOLOGY student takes at the university I went to.), and the professors of my core classes made it very clear that they were there to make our lives a living hell. One teacher opened the class each semester by announcing, “Welcome to Dante’s seventh circle of hell! If you don’t know what that is, go read the book. But not now, because you need to study for this class.”

I was specifically told by several of these teachers that the reason for the strict grading, crazy hours of homework (my organic chemistry professor suggested 4 hours of studying for every hour we were in class. We had 3 hours of class per week.), and insane tests were to “eliminate people not cut out for medical or veterinary school.”

There are several of problems with that mindset:

a. not everyone taking the class is pre-med or pre-vet. I was Microbiology and had no (definite) plans to go to graduate school at all, especially medical school.

b. There were not separate classes for non-professional-track students to take. You had one choice for your core classes, and everyone in every science major took the same classes together for Chemistry, Biology, Organic Chemistry, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Physics. No options existed for people who didn’t have an interest in further education beyond undergraduate school. So you either worked yourself to death like the pre-med kids, or you failed. Because that’s fair.

c. It’s not right to create that kind of competition and stress so early in the game. Even for the kids going to medical school at some point, shouldn’t the university foster their learning of core subjects by providing good teachers, solid curriculum, and well-paced classes, instead of engendering hatred toward fellow students and teachers and the system as whole? We need well-educated doctors and nurses, not just people who know how to function without sleep.

3. Your professors don’t know how to teach

The professors, while experts in their field, were often not qualified to teach in any way. This put the onus of learning completely on the students, which, again, for someone who doesn’t plan to do an advanced degree, doesn’t seem right. Eventually the pre-med students will have to learn to go through classes this way, but for the rest of us, this was torture.

At my school, because cutting-edge research was a higher priority than students passing classes, so professors were not required to have any sort of teaching experience in order to teach a class. As long as they brought in their share of grant money each year, they were fine.

Here are some minimum qualifications for professorships straight from the HR website of my alma mater.

Pharmacy Professor:

Applicants must have a Pharm.D. or comparable degree and be eligible for pharmacist licensure in the State of Arizona. 
Demonstrated ability to participate in collaborative research is essential. 

Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor:

Applicants must have an earned doctorate in Electrical and Computer Engineering or a related discipline. Commitment to excellence in teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels is expected. It is also essential that the candidates have potential to establish a strong, externally sponsored research program, be willing to engage in existing and future large collaborative research endeavors, and have a desire to work with academic units across campus.  

Biology Professor:

PhD or equivalent or Ph.D eligible in Biostatistics or Statistics. 
Documented sustained scholarly achievement. 
Potential for teaching and mentoring graduate and undergraduate students.  

Mathematics Professor:

Candidates are expected to have a PhD and a strong commitment to teaching.  

Nowadays, you’ll notice the job postings containing lines about experience teaching, or a “commitment to teaching,” but for the professors, this really just means more time away from the lab. When it comes down to it, the bottom line of the university is money, and that money comes mostly from grants. Those grants come from ground-breaking research, which comes from the super-smart professors they hire to, well, research. Teaching is nothing more than a side-effect of the main business of the university.

2. If you fail a class, you’re screwed

In my third year of undergraduate, I actually failed a class. As a matter of pride, I’d like to say this had more to do with my being sick with undiagnosed fibromyalgia than not understanding the material; when I took it the second time around, I aced that mother.

But after failing the class, I found out that my entire schedule of classes was completely thrown off. This class was only offered at one time, by one teacher, during the Spring semester. Therefore, I had to wait a whole year to retake it, and in this year, every single one of the friends I had made in my major graduated without me.

This was a major factor in my refusal to walk at my graduation; I didn’t know anyone I was graduating with, so why bother?

1. If you are a girl, don’t plan to see any others after sophomore year

There are plenty of studies that show how few women finish STEM majors, despite record numbers of us starting them. As a woman who completed a STEM major (though there was a bit of time after I failed the aforementioned class that I seriously considered dropping the major altogether), I can completely vouch for this. As I moved forward with my classes, I found my lectures, and especially my labs populated more and more by men, not women.

Many of these men were headed to medical, pharmacy and veterinary school, as well. The women I met in the first few years of my college career generally did not have such aspirations. This can be for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the gender disparity between ability to juggle starting a family and finish a PhD/get on the tenure track.

It is insanely difficult for any person to juggle these two demanding career paths at once; for women, it is a dangerous double-edged sword –  being child-bearers is often seen as a weakness and if you decide not to have children, you are seen as cold, or barren. Less of a woman. Less of a person. Men don’t run into this issue when they apply for professorships/tenure. If you’d like to read more about the issue, here is the first page of Google’s Search on “women tenured professor.”

One thing universities are doing to combat gender disparity in STEM majors is creating groups for women such as the one we had at my school – WISE: Women in Science and Engineering. These kind of support group are great, but they hint at a much larger problem in the underlying infrastructure of our society; women aren’t supposed to be in sciences, so we have to give them extra support. This attitude is something that absolutely must be eradicated from the societal mind before we can truly see a change in the gender disparity in STEM fields.

Conclusion:

Look, I’m not trying to turn anyone off from going into STEM majors – far from it! One of my goals as a future high school science teacher is to encourage as many students as I can to pursue careers in these fields. But as a first generation college student, I was wholly unprepared for the challenges awaiting me when I got to university.

I want the next generation to choose science, but I want them to choose it with as much information behind that choice as possible. The only blindness in STEM should be in experiments (rim-shot!).

4 Ways Fibromyalgia Turns Every Relationship into a Threesome (And How to Kick It Out of Bed)

Even in group photos, I choose poses which put others away from me, to prevent accidental touching.

Even in group photos, I choose poses which put others away from me, to prevent accidental touching.

As a sufferer of fibromyalgia, I experience symptoms such as widespread pain, fatigue, and gastric distress. However, what the Lyrica(R) commercials never talk about is the toll FM takes on your social life. I have had issues keeping up with the social demands of having a fairly small group of close friends, as well as issues re: intimacy with my husband. (It can be hard to be snuggly and cuddly when you can’t stand to be touched.)

I try to address the four largest problems I’ve noticed in my own life in this article, but this is far from a comprehensive list. There are some things I just don’t even attempt: I don’t cuddle in bed, I don’t let my 35 lb. dog sit in my lap (though I know he really wants to, Murphy is all elbows and knees), and I don’t let my extremely active friends talk me into outings that I know I can’t handle (7-mile hikes, rock climbing, etc.), though I know they mean well.

Here are four situations where FM tries to butt in its ugly head.


 

#4. Friendships and Hugging

The problem:

I don’t know about you, but most of my friends are extremely physical. They love to show their emotions through casual touches, high-fives, fist-bumps and, of course, hugs. Most of my girl friends, and even many of my guy friends, greet and farewell by way of hugging.

Unfortunately for me, while I appreciate the sentiment, hugs can be extremely painful. Because most of my fibromyalgia trigger points are on my back, people who do not understand how to touch me can seriously hurt me.

Several years ago, just after diagnosis (before I really knew what FM entailed), one friend I have would poke my upper arm to get my attention. Each time this happened, I would cringe internally while trying to ignore the throbbing ache radiating through my bicep. After several requests to not poke me anymore, I finally snapped. When he did it again, I hauled off and punched him, full force in the upper arm (hurray for my Irish temper!)

“What did you do that for?!” he cried out.

“That’s what it feels like when you poke me. Knock. It. Off.”

I wouldn’t recommend this course of action, but I will say this. My friend knows not to poke me anymore.

What to do instead:

Now that I have a better understanding of how FM works, I can explain to my friends why I prefer not to be touched. I have gotten much better at communicating, and I haven’t even punched anyone in months!

I usually try to avoid hugs, but when I can’t (and I don’t dislike the concept, just my body’s reaction to them), I’ll tell my friends, “be gentle with me!” I use a light tone, so the moment isn’t brought down, dragged into something darker by forcing everyone to think about my disease, but still reminding the other party not to squeeze to hard, that way I enjoy myself, too.

When I am really hurting, I go for handshakes or fist-bumps in lieu of hugs, and most of my friends are very understanding. When they seem disappointed, I just let them know that I can’t do hugging that day due to pain, and to “consider themselves hugged.”

#3. Friendships and Hanging Out

The problem:

I’m a fairly introverted person, and so while I have many friends, I usually prefer to stay at home with my husband, quietly watching a movie or TV show, or reading a book. I must expend energy in order to initiate or maintain social interaction, even with people I know well; when I am running low on spoons for any other reason, I can seem extremely reclusive.

After I quit my last job, I didn’t see most of my friends for about six months. I had been very depressed in the last few months of work, and after I quit, I was so down on myself that I didn’t want to see anyone, or let anyone see me.

Two months after I quit, I had a birthday party for myself at my house, and everybody’s main reaction was: “We haven’t seen you in forever!”

What to do instead:

I really let this situation get out of control last time, and have been making a conscious effort to improve my attendance at social functions within my group of friends. There are still plenty of events I decline, such as going out to eat (my husband and I generally prefer to cook at home), or certain physical activities (rock climbing – it was fun when I was 10, but I don’t think I would be able to do it now), but I attend weekly Dungeons & Dragons games, I eat lunch with coworkers on a regular basis, and I FaceTime with my long-distance friends as often as possible.

Now that I am familiar with and am actively using Spoon Theory, I can much more easily balance all of these social obligations. More importantly, I do not let myself feel guilty if I can’t do something. I know that I am a good friend, and I do my best to make sure my friends know I love them. Sometimes this is all I can do – sometimes I can do more. The vital things are communication and understanding, just like in any friendship. As long as you have these, you are on the right track.

#2. Intimate Relationships and Massages

The problem:

Who doesn’t love a good massage? After a long day at work, whether you work at a desk, or on your feet in a lab, or doing manual labor, getting those knots and tension out has to be good for you, right?

Wrong.

For someone with FM, massages can be very harmful. Deep tissue massages can do serious hurt, and cause an FM patient to be laid up for several days.

But my back and shoulders is where I carry much of my pain, and my husband would love nothing more than to be able to relieve some of it with a good massage. As much as I relish the idea, I just know that this will exacerbate the problem.

What to do instead:

I ask for back rubs, not massages. And I am extremely clear about exactly how much pressure and movement I want from his hands. As I also experience tactile allodynia, a pain response to normal stimuli, simple touches such as a caress can be as painful as a deep tissue massage. If a little more pressure is applied, however, and movement over my skin is limited, a back rub can be very enjoyable and relaxing.

As for yourself, you have to find something that works for you. Some people enjoy cupping, acupuncture, or just hot baths to relieve tenions and muscle pain. It’s all about personal preference and what feels right to you.

#1. Intimate Relationships and Sex (Sorry Mom and Dad)

The problem:

When every nerve in my body is a giant ball of pain, I can think of nothing I want to do less than have sex, despite medical evidence that it produces pain-relieving endorphins. Mostly, I want to fall asleep and wake up when the pain is (mostly) gone.

Unfortunately, even when I am in enormous amounts of pain, I can still feel aroused, and therefore very frustrated. I know that my husband is frustrated as well, not that we aren’t having sex, but that I feel so bad. I know he wants both of us to feel good, but when I feel so bad from the get-go, it’s really difficult.

What to do instead:

First and foremost, consent and not feeling pressured into sex for any reason is of utmost importance. You absolutely have to start there. Secondly, relaxing and doing something to relieve pain before initiating bedroom activities can help both make you ready for sex and jump start your sex drive. I recommend those back rubs I was talking about, or a hot bath – something to ease the pain away (or at least lessen it).

Thirdly, you should never let yourself feel guilty about not wanting or being unable to have sex for any reason. Whether you are with a committed partner, or just started seeing someone, a ginormous part of a good relationship is communication. This goes along with consent, and everyone feeling comfortable with the situation. So talk to your partner and let them know how you feel.

Communication is sexy. Consent is even sexier.

End the end, like everything else in life, it’s about your personal comfort level and giving yourself permission to be you. And sometimes, that is the hardest thing in the world; but it’s often the hardest things that are the most rewarding.

Five Things About Myself I Am Proud Of – And One I’m Working On

As this is a blog dealing with fibromyalgia, chronic illness, and depression, I realize it can be quite a downer. I wanted to turn that around this week with a positive post about self-esteem and continual improvement.

I have always believed that as long as you are trying your best, you are doing well. If you give something your all, even though you may fail, you will learn and benefit from the experience. I haven’t always been able to demonstrate this attitude in my own life, as I am also a perfectionist, and I am definitely my own harshest critic.

Now that I have begun using Spoon Theory in my everyday life, I have begun to forgive myself some of my perceived faults, and find more actions, characteristics and achievements that I can be proud of. And that is what I want to focus on in this article.

5.  I am continuing my education

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I have always loved school. Being out of school for nearly four years was hard for me, even though at the end of my undergraduate career I wanted nothing more than to never step foot inside a classroom again. But after a few years experience in labs, and realizing that even ground-breaking research wasn’t going to slake my thirst for new knowledge.

So now I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Education. If I am successful (and with my determination, I know I will be), I will never have to leave school again! The classroom will be mine, and that will make it infinitely more fun. Where I used to dread going to work in the morning everyday, I now fantasize about lesson plans and projects for my future students to do. Not only have I taken charge of my career path and made my prospects much brighter, but I have finally done something I always promised myself I would do; I am going to graduate school.

Even as small child, I never imagined stopping after getting a bachelor’s degree (or two). I knew I was destined (or rather just stubbornly resolute) to go beyond the norm. I feel like I am finally on my way to that piece of paper that represents a life-long dream.

4. I am taking better care of my health

I have not always been the best patient for my doctors. And I don’t mean in the casual way, like so many of us, going into the dentist’s office and getting a lecture about flossing. This was a menagerie of more serious problems.

I didn’t follow advice. I didn’t fill prescriptions. I forgot to make or come to appointments. I never got lab work done.

Eventually my doctor had had enough. She is an extremely sweet and gentle person, but she threatened to drop me as a patient altogether if I didn’t straighten up my act. I hated the thought of trying to find a new primary care doctor, so I quickly turned myself around. Mostly.

I still wasn’t doing great with lab work or referrals, but I was trying a lot harder to keep my appointments and stay healthy in between them. Now with my diet changes and subsequent weight loss, my physical body had been feeling quite a bit better. With the onset of monsoon season and rapid weather changes, I’m not doing as well, but I am keeping my doctor happy by getting lab work done (which came back screaming: SEE A RHEUMATOLOGIST!), and making appointments with the specialists she’s referred me to. I hope that soon I can find out why I am feeling so bad and get something done about it. Fingers crossed.

Additionally, and this is a general change that I’ve made over the years about addressing my health, I no longer take “No,” for an answer. I make doctors listen to me. If they don’t listen to me, I find a new doctor. I don’t let doctors make me feel worthless anymore because I have a disease/condition that they don’t understand. That is on them, not me.

And finally, I am allowing myself to take advantage of the tools at my disposal. I am applying for a Disability Placard with my state’s Department of Transportation, and hope to get one soon. While I am lucky enough not to be confined to a wheelchair or have to use a cane, there are days when walking is very difficult. On those days I plan to decrease spoon wastage by parking closer to the buildings I need to visit. Coming to terms with this is hard for me, but I am beginning to realize that I am not cheating as I do have a legitimate reason for having the placard. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

3. I am getting out more

I’ve never been hugely social, but I’ve always had a close group of friends who I saw on a fairly regular basis. It was much easier in high school, when I saw everyone, every day, in every class. Nowadays, socialization takes much more effort.

As soon as I started working again, I posted about my new job on Facebook (as we do, amirite?). A friend I hadn’t seen since college messaged me to let me know she would start working there in 2 weeks. I couldn’t contain my joy! We had bonded in college over both having fibromyalgia and a love of linguistics, but hadn’t kept in touch afterward. I’m so glad we’ve started working at the same place though!

Since she started working, we have lunch together at least twice a week, and it is fantastic to have someone to talk to, especially someone who understands the pain I’m going through. She is funny and kind, and we have a great time together.

As for all my other friends, we try to set up get-togethers fairly regularly, even if it’s just 3 or 4 of us at Village Inn on a Wednesday night for free pie. Recently, my brother-in-law has started a Dungeon & Dragons campaign that I joined, and there are 9 to 10 of us together once a week for food and geekery galore! It’s a great way to catch up, de-stress, and have fun at the end of the work week.

For my friends and family that don’t live in town, I do my best to call often, text or chat. My bestie who lives in New York and I FaceTime at least twice a month, and I call my parents ALL THE TIME (they are probably sick of me, but I like to bother them). I feel better when I know that I’ve done my best to let all my loved ones know that I love them.

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2. I am working on improving my home

Two years ago, my husband and I bought our first home. It was not new (built in 1958) and had been mostly redone in the ’80s by an elderly couple. It was not to our taste at all, but we relished the challenge to make the house our own.

The first thing was paint. Buckets and buckets and buckets of paint. We have now painted nearly every room except the spare bedroom and the kitchen. We’ve even painted my closet and the laundry room. So much painting.

We remodeled the master bathroom (except for the shower. That’s on our to-do list). We painted and decorated and unpacked the master bedroom. We installed new closet doors. We rearranged the living room. We have torn down paneling, inexplicable wood and nails from the brick walls in the office; we have replaced lighting in the kitchen, bathrooms, and have plans to do so in the rest of the house.

We recently remodeled my closet for more storage.

We recently remodeled my closet for more storage.

Most recently, we paid a company to build us a new roof. We previously had a neglected “snow coat” roof and it was one more monsoon away from springing leaks, so we took the plunge and had a shingle roof installed. It is gorgeous.

We’ve also had a landscaper come to pull out some of the more difficult plants that we weren’t able to pull out of the planter in the front. It looks really great now. We still have plans for the front yard, which include laying down some sort of protective layer under the rocks to prevent weeds from growing, and planting something low-maintenance in the planters.

We also want to get the office redone with new plaster or drywall, and installing the new flooring we’ve already purchased. Finally, we will put in new baseboards throughout the office and living room to complete the space.

While these may seem like really large projects, we are taking them slowly and hiring experts for the parts that are too big for us DIY-ers. Also, having these plans helps to give me something to look forward to; a motivation to go to work in the morning (money pays for paint and tile and screws!); and I love working with my husband. It’s been a great bonding experience for us and we are learning more all the time. I’m extremely proud of us and can’t wait to keep going!

Our new roof!

Our new roof!

1. I give myself a break once in a while

Because I am doing so much – work, school, home remodeling, socializing with my friends – I like to give myself sanctioned breaks. Before I started learning about and using Spoon Theory, I felt continuous guilt about taking breaks or resting between tasks. Now, however, I make a point to rest in between remodeling tasks; for example, when remodeling my closet, I took breaks between coats of paint, between sections of shelving, and between all of this and re-hanging all of my clothes.

I also have days when I just feel like, “I am not going in to work today!” or “I just wanna sleep right now.” And I let myself. I do my best not to let the guilt overwhelm me as I relax and recharge. I know that I will feel better later if I rest now, so I do my best to let myself take breaks without being crushed with anxiety about what I am missing.

I have much better days off when I don’t worry about what I’m missing at work, or at school, or with friends. I am okay, and I deserve to take a break.

I’m working on: Trying to be more informed

When I was a kid, I used to watch the Today Show with my parents every single morning. I was probably the most well-informed 8-year-old in the whole state. This continued all the way through high school, until I went to college, then suddenly, I was allowed to sleep in! What a concept!

My motivation to watch morning news completely died.

I felt incredibly awkward during political conversations in college, as I knew nothing about what was going on in the world. Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I feel like this is absolutely unacceptable. So I try to read at least the headlines on Google News each weekday when I am at work. There are particular stories that I am especially interested in, and I follow more closely than others, but I also follow my politically active cousins on Facebook and read the stories they post.

I still don’t feel that I am as informed as I could be, but it’s something I’m working on. And I’m pretty proud of that.

 

Perspectives: How to Get a Job – Advice from Someone Actually in Human Resources

Howdy y’all! I’ve been in my current position as a Human Resources intern at a large, multinational software company for about two months now. While that may not seem like a very long time, I have learned a ton of tips and tricks, ins and outs, of the industry during my time there. Unemployment being what it is in the current economy (getting better, but still higher than everyone would like to see), I’d like to share some of my new knowledge with you in order to help you in your job search.

Hahaha too true

(courtesy of pinterest, themetapicture.com)

Here we go.

6. How to write a resume recruiters want to read

I work specifically for the recruiting portion of HR at my company, and due to a new hiring push from upper management, we go through an extremely high volume of resumes every day. They are not all the polished, professional products we would like to see from people applying for software development, finance, and managerial positions. Some of them are downright awful. Here are a few tips on writing a resume that doesn’t make the recruiter cringe:

  • Use your full name, first and last, at the top of the page. You may be surprised by the amount of people who give only a first name and a last initial when submitting a resume to Careerbuilder.com or Monster.com. When I am going through these websites to pull resumes for my recruiters to look at, it’s off-putting to not have a last name on the page.
  • Don’t use a cover page. Your resume is not an APA formatted paper, and does not need a cover page. Simply put your name, phone number, and email (and address, if you so wish) at the top of the page, then begin listing your experience. Also, your resume should not be 20 pages long. This isn’t a contest of who has done the most stuff – we just want to know if you can do one specific job.
  • Use only one or two fonts. If every line of your resume is in a different font, the whole document looks incredibly childish and unorganized. Great fonts for resumes are Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, and Calibri. These, of course, aren’t your only choices, but keep in mind that you want the hiring manager to look at what you’ve accomplished, not how it’s written.
  • Don’t put weird graphics in the background of your resume. Unless you are an artist of some sort, the only picture on your resume should be a small one of your face, tucked in a corner, and even that is optional.
  • Please don’t put your social security number or birth date on your resume. We’ve had people do this, and it is… a security issue. Why anyone would willingly give out his social security number without prompting is beyond me, but please think about this: do you really know who you’re sending your resume to?

With these things in mind, here are some online resources to help write a good resume. Just remember, if you use a template, please fill out all the information – don’t leave blank spots from the template hanging in there. Then we know you used a template and that you don’t know how to write a resume. It’s fine to get help, just, please fill in the template correctly.

http://www.instantresumetemplates.com/

http://resumizer.com/free_resume_templates.htm

Resume Samples By Profession

5. How to ace those aptitude tests

Many companies now screen applicants using aptitude and personality tests. Our company does, and it is surprising (having taken these tests myself) how many people do not pass. Often, these assessments are timed, which can make some people nervous (I am a sufferer of test anxiety myself, so believe me, I understand), but there is no need to worry. Here are my tips for these tests:

  • Call the HR department to ask if it’s alright to use a calculator. Seriously. Our assessment is online, and states that you can’t use a calculator or scratch paper, but our company allows it (the test is through a third party, so the rules differ). Give yourself every advantage you can; I promise, the people in HR don’t mind letting you know their rules for the test.
  • Make sure that your computer is running smoothly. Most companies will be pretty forgiving if your internet crashes while you’re taking their test, but it’s still better to be prepared than have to sheepishly call afterward and ask for a redo. It saves time for everyone.
  • Give yourself a quiet, distraction-free space to work. Whether this is at home, the library, or at a park, make sure you can concentrate on the assessment. Nothing is going to mess up your score more than having to stop in the middle to do something else.
  • Brush up on your math and verbal skills. Many of these tests include a math and/or verbal portion, which harken back to ye olde SAT. If it’s been a really long time since you’ve done anything of the sort, (and hasn’t it for so many of us?) be sure to brush up on these skills before taking the test. Often, the link to the test will be good for a couple of days, or can be resent if you ask, so take the extra time to, well, study. You don’t want to miss an opportunity just because you haven’t taken algebra in 15 years; it’s not fair to anyone. Here is a free SAT practice test to use: http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-practice-test

I can’t guarantee that these tips will get you an A on every test, but I hope they help. As for personality tests – consistency and honesty is key. We really do want to know how you’ll fit in at the company and for which role. We want you to be happy at your job when you get it, and that’s why we give those tests – not just to bum you out. Promise.

4. Phone interviews

A large portion of my day is spent scheduling phone interviews for my recruiters. I don’t have too many problems in this area, and most people are great about making themselves available for interviews. I just have a few tips:

  • Know what time zone the company you’re interviewing with is in. I work in Arizona, which is Mountain Standard Time, all year round. This means we match up with Pacific Daylight Savings Time in the summer, because we don’t do daylight savings time. I know, it’s weird. But what’s weirder is the amount of interstate candidates I have who don’t know where our US headquarters are (we only have one site in the US). So when I ask for availabilities, and I get a list of times without time zones, I have to assume you mean your time zone, but… come on. Did you even look at our website when you applied?
  • Make sure you’re somewhere with reception, or a land line. I have had to reschedule several interviews due to bad reception, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Be prepared.
  • Practice. Just like an in-person interview, phone interviews ask certain questions: “Why did you leave your last job?”  “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  “Why X company, instead of others?” Think about your answers to these questions before the interview. If you tend to get nervous on the phone (like I do), have some note cards written out with cues and answers. Give yourself the advantage.
  • Have questions for the interviewer. There is always time at the end of the interview when the recruiter asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” Your answer should be “yes,” followed by intelligent, well-thought-out questions. Some of the best examples are below:

#Interview tips

(courtesy of pinterest)

3. In-person interviews

In-person interviews, much like phone interviews, are all about making impressions. I find them more natural and relaxed than phone interviews, but that’s probably due to my phobia of talking on the phone. I haven’t personally witnessed any candidates coming into their interviews ill-prepared or shabby looking, but I’d like to warn against it anyway. You are trying to let the recruiter know not only that you are fit for the job, but that you want it. Please dress like it.

Here is an infographic about how to prepare for your interview. Good luck!

My girlfriend sent me these before an interview and now I scored my first job at Starbucks. Hope it can help someone else. - Imgur

(courtesy of pinterest)

2. Taking rejection gracefully

Nothing makes my day better than a strongly worded email letting me know what a horrible person I am for not giving so-and-so a job. I’ve been accused of agism, racism, being generally stupid and mean, and honestly, it just makes me laugh.

Yes, part of my job is sending out rejection emails to applicants who didn’t make the cut for whatever reason. It’s not particularly fun, but guess what? I don’t know anything beyond your first and last name, and what position you applied for. It would be pretty difficult to be prejudiced against someone who I knew nothing about. Unless I really hated people named Tom, or something (I don’t). Also, yes, while I have access to more information about applicants, it would take extra work for me to look at it and decide to find in there some reason to discriminate against you. Beyond not wanting to be discriminatory, I also just don’t want to do any extra work, so I promise I’m not violating any EEO statutes.

This goes for everyone in HR I’ve ever met, in this company or others. People who work in Human Resources tend to like, well, humans and take things like confidentiality and fairness very seriously. And again, we are already busy, so we aren’t going to put in extra effort into being prejudiced when there’s so many other, useful things to do.

Finally, I’d like to add this note: the company I work for now actually has the decency to write rejection notices and send them out – we make sure that no one waits more than a week to find out whether they’re getting an interview or not. The times that I have been job hunting, getting any communication from a potential employer, positive or not, was rarer than gold, so please appreciate the time we take to do this. And remember, it isn’t fun for either of us.

1. Please don’t connect with me on LinkedIn

This may sound cold, but it really weirds me out when applicants do this. Every week, I send assessment reminders to applicants who haven’t taken our test yet, and my email signature goes out with this. Several times people have used this to find my profile on LinkedIn and asked to connect with me.

My answer will always be “no,” and I’ll tell you why.

You, the applicant, have not even assessed yet. If you pass, you will get a phone interview, then an in-person interview, and maybe even a job. But at any point in that process, you may get rejected, for any number of reasons. It may be as simple as having you wait until a different role opens up, or it may be that you didn’t pass the assessment. Either way, guess who has to send you a rejection email?

That’s right. Me.

I don’t want to have to do that if I have some more personal connection with you, and that is why I will not connect with you on LinkedIn. I also don’t want you to think that connecting with me will give you any sort of advantage over other applicants, because my recruiters don’t have anything to do with my LinkedIn account, and they are the ones who are really in charge – not me.

I’m not saying I don’t like networking or meeting new people. I’m just saying, until you actually get the job, let’s keep this strictly professional.

(courtesy of pinterest, someecards)

Okay. Not entirely.

 

5 Times I Realized I’m Turning Into My Mom (And Why It’s Not So Bad)

My parents and I buying my first and only car, April, 2005. I think I look much more like my dad here.

My parents and I buying my first and only car, April, 2005. I think I look much more like my dad here.

My family at my wedding. I believe I look much more like my mother now. July, 2011.

My family at my wedding. I believe I look much more like my mother now. July, 2011.

As a younger kid, before puberty especially, I greatly resembled my father in nearly every way. Except that I was, you know, a girl. Obnoxious red hair, freckles, and a strong sense of sarcasm caused all my older relatives to comment how I was just like a little copy of my dad, but female.

And I could not have been more proud. As a kid (and to this day), I hero-worshipped my father. He had fought in the Viet Nam War, he worked grueling hours as a cement mason, and inspired my love of reading and learning. So when people told me I was like him, well, that was just fine with me.

I was something of a tomboy as a kid; my favorite activities were bike riding, running around the neighborhood barefoot all summer, climbing trees, and playing pick-up games of baseball. I also got into more than a young lady’s fair share of fights (according to my parents), but I swear every single one of those kids (boys and girls) had it comin’. They had insulted my hair, my freckles, my pale skin, you name it; and I wouldn’t stand for it.

No two ways about it – I was my father’s daughter.

As I grew older, I hit puberty, and things started changing. And not just the normal stuff. Puberty was when the pain started.

The first time I got a cramp, I was in so much pain that my parents thought I might have appendicitis, but it eventually passed. I suffered “growing pains,” mood swings, falling out with friends, and eventually depression.

#5. My voice is just like hers (and hers is just like her mother’s)

Me trying to get close to my husband. May 2001.

Me trying to get close to my husband. May 2001.

When I was 13, after we had moved from Missouri to Arizona, I learned all about the wonders of monsoons. In Missouri, if it hadn’t rained in a week, we may as well have been in a drought, but Arizona is, naturally, a different story. It is dry throughout most of the year, but for a month or two in mid-late summer, we just about wash away. (Fun fact: this is the only time of year you can find umbrellas in stores.)

This time of the year is called monsoon, and most of us await it with bated breath, because the moisture is so desperately needed. However, since all 9″-20″ of yearly rainfall happen in a matter of soggy afternoons/nights, power outages can be a problem during the bigger storms.

After one such power outage, I was helping my parents return all the digital clocks in the house back to the correct time, when I came around to the phone. Even though it was 2001, we only had one phone, and it hung on the wall in the kitchen, and had one of those nifty answering machines (not voicemail) whose message had to be rerecorded every single time the power went out. Being the only person in the house with the technological prowess to do so (read: the only person in the house who didn’t remember rotary dial phones), I recorded a short message and reset the time, and went about my business.

The next time a relative called the house and got the machine, the message played back, “Oh Wanda, I love the new message you put on here! Anyway, call me back, blah blah blah…”

I was mortified. At thirteen, I could imagine no worse fate than becoming my mother, and now I, apparently, sounded just like her! It was a disaster!

She tried to comfort me with stories about how my grandmother used to answer the phone and talk to my mom’s boyfriends when she was in high school (Nana and my mom sounding so alike that the boys never knew the difference), but really that just sounded like more of a threat.

This was the first time I realized that there might be a bit more of my mom in me than I ever thought before.

#4. I Needed Glasses

By the tenth grade, I was an avid reader of anything I could get my hands on, fascinated by this new “internet” thing, and defiantly sitting as close to the television as I could get away with while watching MTV and VH1. I had made in with a close-knit group of friends, guys and girls, and we spent many an evening spread across the floor of my living room, TV blaring in the background, noses crammed in books to study for our Advanced Placement classes.

And boy did I ever have a crush on one of my guy friends. He was, like, totally cute, and funny, and dorky, and perfect to my 14-year-old self. My parents didn’t like him very much either (they thought he was weird), which really just made the pot that much sweeter. So I had him over to study, along with my other friends, too, of course, as much as possible. And I sat by him in as many of our shared classes as I could.

It was in one of these classes, and due to my ridiculous crush (as well as the deep-seated, but incomprehensible, need to try on someone else’s new eyewear) that I found out I needed glasses. My crush had been suffering from headaches for a while, and it turned out his vision was in need of correction. He walked into AP World History looking like a modern-day Buddy Holly (which is what I’m into, I guess?) and I immediately fell in love with his glasses. And so I ripped them right off his gorgeous face and tried them on, because that makes any sense.

Right away, I noticed something was different. I asked my teacher;

“Has that map always had political boundaries?” The map in question spanned an entire wall of our classroom and was, in fact, a geoPOLITICAL map of the modern world (as of 2002). I never before had seen the lines denoting countries, or the bold-faced type screaming CHINA on the wall nearest my seat.

“I think I might need glasses.”

My father had perfect vision up until age 27, when an accident at a construction site nearly cost him his life. His face was literally crushed when a box of welding rod fell onto his head from about 30 feet up, and only his metal hardhat (which he had refused to switch out for the new, improved plastic ones) saved him. Every bone in his face was shattered; he lost nearly all of his front teeth; he underwent extensive plastic surgery, but still suffers from nerve damage, and damage to his eyesight.

My mom, however, has worn glasses since elementary school. When I found out I needed glasses, I supposed I was lucky enough to inherit enough of my dad’s genes that I had made it to tenth grade before needing them. Sort of like meeting in the middle.

Andrew and I rocking our glasses at the bowling alley.

Andrew and I rocking our glasses at the bowling alley.

When I came home with my revelation, there was a flurry of activity: an eye appointment, picking out frames, deciding between glasses and contacts (I opted for just glasses at the time, but within 8 months went back to get contacts). Eventually, after two long weeks of waiting and constantly borrowing my crushes glasses, now just to read the vocabulary words (mostly – it turned out we had very similar prescriptions), I got my first pair of glasses. And my second dose of “how to be like mom.”

#3. Dysmennorhea (A Long Word for Extra Sucky Periods)

My first memory of anything puberty-related is my excruciating first cramp, in a motel in Oklahoma during spring break when I was ten. I was in so much pain, my parents were nearly convinced I had appendicitis, only that the appendix is on the other side of the body. After what seemed like hours (surely it was only minutes), the pain subsided, and we all settled in to watch television while the car was getting repaired. If I remember correctly, it was the timing belt that had broken on our way back from our vacation to San Antonio, Texas.

In any case, the cramp was promptly forgotten and we all went back to life as normal. I graduated from 5th grade at the end of May, and I began middle school in the fall. Eight months after the initial harbinger of menstrual doom, and 1 month 2 days before my 11th birthday, I started my first period, and blossomed into a woman. Or whatever.

The first few years of menstruation were like what I imagine most young girls’ to be; irregular, sometimes painful, and generally just obnoxious as you discover all these new hormones and urges.

By the time I got to high school, my periods were still wildly irregular, while most of my friends’ had evened out. Mine were also ludicrously heavy, and the cramps I experienced, all the way throughout my cycle, were nothing to scoff at. Every time I complained, which, as a teenager, was loudly and often, my mom would sigh and say, “Why’d you have to be so much like me?”

Eventually, my doctor had to put me on oral contraceptives just to control all these symptoms, though I’ll tell you; word gets around in a small town, and when you have a steady boyfriend… People talked. I mostly was too relieved at the lack of cramps, the lighter, predictable periods to care, but I remember being at least a little bothered by the implications. Particularly because these were my same classmates who had witnessed me get carried out of the classroom, on numerous occasions, whimpering in pain. I suppose that’s how teenagers function, though, and, I cannot stress this enough, I was so happy to be free of pain, I didn’t give much of a damn what anyone said about me.

Later, I would attempt to go off oral contraceptives, and get a Mirena (R) IUD instead, but after a year of heavy, irregular, and painful periods, I was forced to go back onto oral contraceptives as well. At least now, they’re free. Thanks, Obama!

#2. The Big F…M: Fibromyalgia

If you’ve read my other articles, you’ll know that by the time I made it to college, I was beginning to suffer from fibromyalgia. At first, widespread pain, as is touted as the most common and pervasive symptom in all the Lyrica (R) commercials, did not plague me. I was merely tired… all the time. In my first two years of college, I spent the majority of my time, including class time, napping.

And no matter how much I slept, I never felt rested.

In my third year, other symptoms began to make themselves known; acid reflux and back pain. Still, my overarching complaint to doctors was of being bone-tired all the time, and never seeming to be able to get enough sleep (even if I was getting 12-14 hours a night… Or more!).

Around this time, my mom was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which she had suspected for years; but, as research on the condition was not as extensive then as it is nowadays, she had never been given a real diagnosis. She was prescribed Lyrica (R), and started to feel much better. I was really happy for her, because it seemed that finally a doctor had truly listened to her.

I never realized that I was about to go through the same thing.

Being of a scientific mind, I began to see various specialists to try to rule out causes for my exhaustion. The first on the list was an allergist, as I have always suffered from nasal allergies, and thought perhaps I wasn’t getting enough oxygen – surely that could cause me to be tired all the time. While I was, in fact, allergic to just about everything in the scratch test, the doctor didn’t believe my allergy symptoms were causing my tiredness.

Then I tried my college’s Campus Health. They sent me to a sports doctor, who sent me a couselor, who sent me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was the one who finally diagnosed me with fibromyalgia, and when he started talking about treatment I mentioned that my mother was on Lyrica (R) for FM.

“Oh, well, what dosage does she take? We’ll start you on that.”

My dad came to visit just before I got diagnosed. October, 2008.

My dad came to visit just before I got diagnosed. October, 2008.

#1. My Newest Addition: Neuropathy

Obviously, my mom was pretty heartbroken that I turned out to have so much in common with her. In the past two or three years, doctors have discovered that I also have nodules on my thyroid; due to my family history (my mom, her parents, and all her siblings have thyroid problems), I’ve something in the realm of 6 ultra sounds and 2 biopsies on the nodules, as well as trimonthly blood tests to make sure I’m not developing thyroid disease, or worse, cancer.

My mom and I even tend to experience FM flare ups at the same time. Part of this is a function of living in similar geographical areas (we each live in different parts of Arizona), and being sensitive to the same weather patterns. Right now, we are both in considerable pain from the monsoon season starting. The constant flux of barometric pressure seems to play hell with the muscles and joints, and we have even had stomach trouble. On the plus side, it’s always nice to have someone to commiserate with, and my mom is always just a phone call away.

When I visited my parents recently for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, i made note to complain to my mom that I had begun experiencing neuropathy in my feet. She has been experiencing the tingly, pins-and-needles pain in her feet for years now, and I often wondered how she could even walk! Now I know… You do what you have to.

“I demand a refund on these genes!” I told her, joking, as I explained how any prolonged pressure on my feet (from standing, being pressed against the floor when I sit, or against the wall of my too-small bathtub) causes tingling numbness in my extremities.

“Honey, if I could take away your pain by claiming you were adopted, I’d sign you away, trust me,”my mom replied.

I thought about this, and how my mother was completely serious. Because she is exactly that – she is my mother. I know she would do anything for me. I’d do anything for her, too. Which, yeah, I may have inherited a host of health problems from my mom, but I’ve also got her kindness, her indomitable strength, and on a good day, even her patience (I’m still more like my dad in that regard).

So, no, I wouldn’t give her up. She’s a keeper.

“Meh, then who would I have to blame all my problems on?”

My mom and I at her father's Celebration of Life. 18 months after diagnosis, May 2010.

My mom and I at her father’s Celebration of Life. 18 months after diagnosis, May 2010.

Recipe of the Month: July

Quinoa Spaghetti

I have been feeling pretty down lately (very low on spoons and in a lot of pain), and Andrew was smart enough to attribute at least some of this to our recent diet. We visited our parents for the Fourth of July weekend, which meant lots of junk food, lots of grease, and lots of red meat.
This falling off the wagon, along with the change in weather (monsoon season is here in Arizona) has been really hard on my body, so Andrew suggested changing the one thing we can control: our food.
I turned to Pinterest to find an easy vegetarian meal to make for Sunday dinner, and came across this.

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I immediately wanted to try it for a few reasons:
1) It’s a one pot meal. The fewer dishes I have to do afterward, the more I can enjoy cooking.
2) I love Italian food. 4 srsly. It’s my fave.
3) Taylor had already tried and approved of the recipe. She is my go-to foodie, so a recommendation from her is the same as my own stamp of approval.

So, I set out everything I needed to make the dish, except for the things I needed to grab at the grocery store – garlic and vegetable broth. Since I needed to go shopping anyway, I got to thinking… Did I need to use spaghetti? Could I use something else? Many of my friends really like, and some prefer the taste of quinoa over pasta.
I had eaten quinoa a few times before, but never cooked it before, so I got a few tips from a friend who is gluten-free and a great cook. She suggested using a risotto method for the quinoa, toasting the grain before adding the liquid. I love the way this tastes in pasta and rice, so I decided this would be how I did this dish.

Sunday afternoon, after going to pick up groceries, here is how I made my Quinoa Spaghetti.

1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes with jalepeños (chiles optional- being in the Southwest, we do love our spicy)
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 large white or yellow onion, cut in strips
2 cups white quinoa
2 cups vegetable broth (I use low sodium, but that’s up to you)
2 – 2 1/2 cups water
Basil
Italian spice
Black pepper
Salt
1 tbsp. butter or margarine
1 tbsp. olive oil

Put large sauce pan on stove at med-high heat. Coat the bottom of a large sauce pan with the butter/margarine. When it is melted, add the olive oil (for flavor). When it has spread around the bottom of the pan, add the quinoa, and toast the grain until it begins to get golden brown and smell, well, toasty.
Add the vegetable broth, water, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices. Let come to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cover. Let simmer until quinoa is fully cooked. It will become translucent, with a small ring around the outside edge, and over double in size.
The quinoa should absorb all the liquid, but if now, simply uncover, and increase heat slightly until excess liquid boils off.
Buon appetito!

20140716-080409-29049101.jpg

5 Reasons I Don’t Want Kids (Yet)

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Lately, I have read several articles about why we should stop asking women the question, “So when are you going to have kids?” Among these are: she and her partner may be trying, but having difficulties; she and her partner do not want children (now or ever); or she may be focusing on other life goals before becoming a mother.
For many people, asking when a woman will have children is a form of small talk (as discussed in Chris Bucholz’s article, 4 Personal Questions People Seem to Think are Small Talk) but this particular question has been a source of frustration, and sometimes even rage, for me, for several years. Only 6 months after my wedding I began receiving emails from TheBump.com (sister-site to TheKnot.com, which I used to help plan my wedding), and was fairly offended, as apparently this website had assumed a shot-gun wedding? At the very least they seemed to be saying, “You’re married now, so it’s time to fulfill your one duty as a woman and pop out some kiddos!”

They very clearly do not know me.

It’s coming close to my three year wedding anniversary, and many people are wondering when Andrew and I are going to start our family. I don’t fully understand their question, because to me, the two of us, and our super-spoiled dog, Murphy, are a family. I’ve never seen a need for children in order to make a family a family, and I think it’s an extremely personal choice that should be left to myself and my husband.
Because I’ve been reading so many articles that validate my own opinions, and in light of the most recent Supreme Court decision, I’d like to present the five top reasons why I don’t want kids (yet).

(more…)

Why I Roar

I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything

You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Get ready ’cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar

Now I’m floating like a butterfly
Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes
I went from zero, to my own hero

You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Get ready ’cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’ll hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar…

Ro-oar, ro-oar, ro-oar, ro-oar, ro-oar

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’ll hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar…

 

This might seem a bit atypical compared to my usual post style, but bear with me. If you don’t like the song I’ve posted above, that’s fine – I understand differing musical tastes. I currently have headphones in so my husband doesn’t have to listen to this; he’s an Irish punk/heavy metal kind of guy.

What I want to focus on here is not the music itself, but the lyrics of this song, and why, when I’m at my lowest, they give me hope that I can (if not overcome) live a full and happy life with fibromyalgia.

I realize that this song is actually about a break-up with an overbearing boyfriend, and a woman coming into her own – which is a great message. For me though, the poetic you referred to in the lyrics doesn’t refer to a past love, or any person in particular, but fibromyalgia. This disease, throughout the large majority of my life has been trying to keep me down, and I now know that I refuse to let it. I went from zero to my own hero.

But it didn’t start out that way.

For the first several years that I suffered from FM, I did seek help from doctors at a fairly regular rate, but with no success. I thought that because I was just “some dumb teenager,” I didn’t have any right to argue with a medical professional. I know better now – if what the doctor is saying doesn’t feel right to me, I have every right in the world to make a fuss until I get the answers that make sense. Until I get a solution that works. I do not have to meekly accept the brush off from someone who says that it’s all in my head. Who thinks it’s a phase. Who thinks I’m just depressed. I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath, Scared to rock the boat and make a mess. So I sat quietly, agreed politely.

And even after I was diagnosed, I didn’t seem to understand how severe my FM was. I thought that a few pills would completely cure me. I was wrong, so wrong. And I let that fact, that I was sicker than even I had imagined, get me down. I felt like I couldn’t participate in any part of normal life. This hit me as an extreme personal failure. “Why couldn’t I be easily medicated? What was so wrong with me that nothing seemed to make my body and mind work the way they did in high school?”

With so little back up from doctors for so many years, I really began to believe that maybe there was something wrong in my head. Perhaps it was all just psychosomatic. I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything.

After graduating from college, some of the stress in my life was gone, and I felt a renewed zest for life. Maybe now that I was free from the shackles of higher education, the pressure of grades and homework, I could focus on my mental and physical health.

I certainly had the time on my hands. As I graduated in May of 2010, not long after the big recession got into full swing in America, I had a hell of a time finding a job. As a child of the ’80s/’90s, I had always been assured that if I went to college, graduated with a “useful” degree (I would classify my Microbiology Bachelors as such, though perhaps not my Linguistics Bachelors, since I’m not actually fluent in another language), a well-paying job would be waiting for me when I graduated. How quickly was that illusion shattered when I found myself rejected from every single job I applied to, for one of two reasons: not enough experience (I need experience for an entry level job?), or having a degree made me overqualified. In any case, eight long months dragged on before I got a job, and I had fallen into quite the depression.

I secretly suspected that all the hiring managers knew how sick I was with fibromyalgia and didn’t want to hire a sick/crazy person.

When I finally got a job, it was a wonderful position that was pretty much in my field (extracting plasmid DNA from E. coli is microbiology, right?) and I loved the people I worked with. The lab was doing great things in the world, and I was very happy to be a part of it for the short time I was there.

My next lab position I found within two months of being let go, and the experience at Bio5 really helped me out with getting a new job. I even started making more money. This job, however, was not in my field at all, really. I had never worked with animals, particularly mice, a day in my life, but after a couple of months of seriously in-depth, hand-on training, I felt ready to tackle all the animal research life could possibly throw at me.

Eighteen months later, my husband and I adopted our dog, Murphy. He’s the light of our lives, though he does bark a lot. He’s incredibly intelligent, friendly, and lovable. And this is when my mind, cruel beast that it is, decided that I couldn’t be allowed to work with animals anymore.

I began to dream, every night, that I was performing the same experiments on Murphy as I would on the mice at work. Waking up in a cold sweat, tears streaming down my face, I would push the nightmares away, and dutifully get ready for work (often late, but I was exhausted from restless, nightmare-fraught sleep). By the time I got to the building, I would be in tears again, shaking, nauseous and hyperventilating at the very thought of having to go inside. I missed a lot of work those last three months before I finally quit. I let my fibromyalgia, my depression, my anxiety, and my fears get the best of me.
I let you push me past the breaking point

The day I quit, I emailed my boss from my phone while I sat in a bath of rapidly cooling water, debating whether it was even possible to drown myself. After I sent in my resignation, I texted my husband, and let him know that I had quit, apologizing for being the scummiest person on the planet. Apologizing for letting him marry me when I knew I was worthless.

Then came the self-harm; opening up old scar tissue so people wouldn’t notice the marks. I didn’t feel any better after. Lying on my bed with a razor that day was probably the darkest I’ve felt since I was in high school and struggling with major depression.

I don’t really know how I got through the rest of that day. It was a bit of a blur, talking to my parents, who reassured me that I had to do what was right for me; texting my best friend who said basically the same thing, but I should have given two weeks’ notice, and what will I do now?; begging my husband to forgive me (fun fact: he was never mad).

After a couple of weeks, months, of soul-searching (and honestly, I’d thought about it before), I decided to go back to school. Now I’m getting my Masters in Education, and I can’t wait to be an inspiration to other people, encouraging curiosity, critical thinking skills, and a love of science. I really feel like me again. And I wish that I knew more about how I got here, but mostly, it’s just been a hell of a ride. You hear my voice, you hear that sound? Like thunder, gonna shake the ground

Nowadays, when I’m not feeling so hot, or my new job is stressing me out (turns out I’m not fitting in with the corporate structure of the company, but I try to keep my opinions to myself), I think about how I am going to treat every moment as a challenge-whether I win or lose, I’ll know that I gave it everything I had and feel proud. I’ve got the eye of the tiger.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts please call 1-800-273-8255 immediately or visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

If you feel that you want to self harm, please call 877-995-5247 or visit https://safehelpline.org/effects-of-sexual-assault/self-harm-injury

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Healthy Eating, Exercise and Chronic Illness

Last week, my friend, Taylor Hamp published an article about running her first 5K, encouraging others of all fitness levels to do the same. Beyond proud of her wonderful and interesting writing, I was also impressed by her, as we call it in the educational field, differentiated instruction. She provided resources for everyone from fitness gurus to casual gym-goers to even couch potatoes to train for their first 5K run.
As someone with fibromyalgia, this was (mostly) uplifting, as many fitness article trends seem to be about making yourself work out until you puke. Which frankly, is not healthy for anyone, but especially for those with chronic pain. Fitspiration posts such as this or this can be very discouraging when even your doctor has forbidden you from certain exercises. Or when it takes all of your spoons to just get out of bed in the morning.
So, as I stated, I was very excited to read a fitness article that did not advocate this kind of overzealous workout, but because I carry much of my pain in my joints, I told Taylor I would never be able to run a 5K, though walking or bicycling would be doable. (I actually used to bike around 5K, or 3.1 miles to work everyday before we bought our home on the opposite end of town from my workplace.) She, naturally, encouraged this immensely, as exercise in any form is wonderful for the body, the mind, and the spirit.
I, when I feel well enough to exercise, agree completely. I am also very lucky in that my husband and I were able to buy a house at a great price during the depressed market, and we have both an extra room (see picture above) that we have converted into a home gym and a swimming pool.
Our home gym features a dual trainer (an elliptical/stationary bicycle), a weight bench, free weights, and a yoga mat. These are all low impact exercises, as is swimming, that do not put extra stress on my joints when I work out.

Reducing stress (on my joints, muscles, and on my system as a whole) is a huge part of my treatment regimen and lifestyle. In the past few months, I realized, along with my husband, that we were creating additional stress on our bodies by eating poorly. Our diet, no less than three months ago, consisted mainly of take-out Chinese, McDonald’s, and pizza. Beyond not giving my body the nutrition it needs to stay healthy (for varying definitions of healthy), I had also hit my highest weight ever. I am only 5’3″ (160cm), but I saw the scale practically screaming 200 at me every time I stepped on. Aside from damaging my fragile self-esteem, I knew that the extra weight was making my joints ache more and my body get tired more easily than before. Something had to change.
For the first month, Andrew and I set our diet up as a challenge; we would not eat out at a restaurant, pick up food from a restaurant, or order delivery from a restaurant for 4 weeks. I was worried about the prospect of cooking at home every day, as I am not very fond of cooking, and I generally find myself lacking the energy to do it. Despite this, with the hubby’s help, those first four weeks flew by. We celebrated by eating out, but we didn’t seem to crave it the way we used to.
For the second month, I began to enter calories on an app Taylor recommended to me called LoseIt! I encouraged my husband to do so as well and we are now going strong in the third month of our diet. I’m down to 186 lbs! Most importantly, I am feeling better, because I am eating better.
I now check labels on food at the grocery store, and avoid items with too many sugars for no reason (why do my canned green beans need sugar?), and items with too many preservatives (looking at you, frozen meals). Fresh fruit, vegetables, brown rice, eggs, milk, and fresh meat are big staples at our house now, and I can honestly say I rarely get a craving for restaurant food at all; when I do, we will make a home version of the meal, and it is usually even better.
One thing we avoid like the plague (obviously not clichés): aspartame. This is also known as NutriSweet, and it, along with other artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Stevia cause fibromyalgia flare ups for me. Every person is different, but if you notice yourself feeling low on spoons after drinking a diet soda, this may be the cause. Because the digestive system can be as sensitive as the rest of your body, it is important to be careful what you give it; food sensitivity, IBS, and GERD are all common symptoms of FM.

I also feel that I should mention how much confidence I have in my body now that I know I am treating it well. I may not be my ideal size, but every morning, I look in the mirror and know that I am on my way to a healthier life, and it makes me feel gorgeous.

The main message of this article, if there is any, is that no matter who you are, where you are, or what level you’re at, you can do it! It may be tough, it may be the most difficult thing you ever do; but changing to a healthy lifestyle by eating well, exercising well, and feeling good in your own body will be the best thing you ever do for yourself. So get up, and take that first step toward the ultimate goal – better health and a better life!