Vini, Vidi, Vici?

In May, I was assaulted.

In November of 2014, I began a long-term substitute teaching position at a high school. Score! This was basically my dream job while I finished my Master’s courses. I taught biology under the mentorship of a veteran teacher who has become one of my greatest friends. I was stressed out of my mind, since I had the class with the worst troublemakers in the grade, but I still jumped out of bed every morning with an excitement that I had never felt for any job before. Those kids are going to learn today! Whether they like it or not.

As the school year came to an end, I began to relax as I had done a visibly good job of teaching my students. Their failure rate had dropped from 85% to 40% and the number of A and B grades had tripled. Students were showing better behavior and more enthusiasm for the subject than they had since the beginning of the year.

I had my final written and was ready to pass out the review sheet. All grades were entered and I had movies lined up for the days after the final.

Two weeks before, while we dissected frogs, a student from another class came into my room and while trying to steal my phone, assaulted me.

The administration’s response was less than ideal. My students all claimed that I pushed the student back. I also used profanity after being pushed, Don’t fucking touch me! and this somehow made me at fault for the incident.

I did not return for the end of the year, though I missed my students terribly. I spent the time at home ruminating on several things.

  • The school I worked at is run like a prison. The students, especially, exhibit a prison mentality, Snitches get stitches. In one instance, I had to involve administration when a student who let me know exactly which other student was smoking an e-cigarette in class was bullied to the point of threats of physical violence.
  • The administration at my school was not prepared to deal with their student population in any way. They had no disciplinary procedures in place for students with chronic misbehavior, tardiness or absences. These students spent all semester in In-School Suspension and still got credit for all of their classes. And finally…
  • The teachers are completely responsible for the students’ grades, attendance and behavior… Somehow. The administration expected teachers to send all work to ISS so those students being punished didn’t fall behind. The administration also changed a grade of a student athlete after I staunchly refused in an email to the mother, who never bothered to contact the previous teacher or myself before the day after the last day of school.

After weighing all these things in my mind, along with the victim-blaming lines the principal himself said to me the day of the incident, You should have called for security when that student came into your room (I had to stop relying on the security team after the first two weeks of working there, since they had stopped responding.) If your classroom management was up to par, this wouldn’t have happened (That student wasn’t even supposed to be on campus at that time – he was on suspension and got past security.), I felt really worthless, but I also had felt hopeless for the future as well.

I still need to complete my student teaching to finish my Master’s, and up the that point, I had been planning to do that in my mentor’s classroom. After everything that happened, could I go back? Could I walk those halls and not feel like a victim? Not feel worthless?

But they say you should get back on the horse, and I am. I was placed with my mentor for student teaching, and I am both anxious and excited for the year to start. And I have a bunch of ideas floating around in my head about how to make the school function less like a prison, and more like a place for learning. Because of that, I even have some new goals in my future – after a few years of teaching, I think I might go into administration. I believe I could really do some good at a school like that, and help students and teachers alike. 

In any case, I learned a ton from this experience, not the least of which that life isn’t fair. But it’s better than the alternative.

Thanks for reading.


Recipe of the Month: October, Part 3

Halloween Treats

Halloween is my favorite holiday – the crispness in the air (well, not in Tucson, but you know, I can pretend), the costumes and the candy – what’s not to like? But this year, my sister-in-law has a brand-new house to show off, so she’s holding the party for tonight, and I volunteered to make some deserts.

Below are some treats I found on Pinterest, and my versions that I made (click on the image to see the pin I got the ideas from).

First, I made the Ghostbusters Slimed PopcornThis is a simple recipe, similar to rice crispy treats, that everyone is sure to like. I followed the recipe on the pin to the T, but I have a few additional tips.

  • Use a white popcorn – yellow will throw off the color of the slime
  • Speaking of white popcorn, the best flavors are going to be unsalted, lightly salted or kettle corn. Buttered popcorn will be too salty for the sweet “slime” and throw off the flavor of the treat
  • 2 bags of popcorn makes the perfect amount of corn for the amount of “slime” in this recipe

Ghostbusters Slimed Popcorn

Next, my husband made these for me, as I was making the other dishes, but these have been a fall favorite of mine for a long time – Mini Pumpkin Pies. These are a great fall and winter party dessert for just about any occasion.

For the filling, I had my husband follow the filling on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can, and then add a little something extra.

  • 1 dash pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 dash apple pie spice

I know these are combinations of spices already in the directions, but I always feel like my pies come out a little tastier if I add these – I like my pumpkin pie spicy. Additionally, we put the pies into cupcake wrappers – last time we did this we had a little trouble taking the pies out of the tin. This time, they came out clean and perfect!


Miniature Pumpkin Pies

Finally, I decided to try the Pumpkin Puppy Chow. My mother-in-law makes traditional puppy chow every year for Christmas and New Years, and I love the stuff! I couldn’t resist a chance to try something so easy-sounding as well as something that was based on a recipe I knew I liked so much.

For this, I pretty much followed the recipe, except instead of 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice, I added:

  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp apple pie spice
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Again, this is because I prefer my pumpkin very spicy (spiceful?) and I like a variety of spices. I also would have added ginger had I put more thought into it, and not been in a rush. All in all, it turned out very good, and is a great sweet treat to follow a saltier party meal, like pizza or burgers.


Pumpkin Puppy Chow


I hope that everyone gets a chance to try out these recipes and enjoys them – I know I am! With that said, have a happy and safe Halloween!

Recipe of the Month: October, Part 2

Potato Soup

Autumn and winter just aren’t complete without a good, hot soup recipe. This was always my favorite soup growing up, even moreso than my mom’s chili or beef stew. It’s beyond anything Campbell’s could dream up, and it’s got way less sodium!
I always think of this as my dad’s potato soup, because I tend to associate anything with potatoes in it with my dad (he’s the ginger, hot-tempered Irishman I take after so… Potatoes?).
In this version of the soup, I’ve used a combination of mashed potatoes and instant potatoes to thicken the broth, but this is optional, depending on your preference.

4-6 medium russet potatoes, cubed (for soup)
3-6 medium russet potatoes, sliced thinly (for mashing)*
Instant potatoes*
12-16 oz. bacon, sliced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Garlic powder
Milk or cream

In large soup pot, over med-high heat, cook bacon. Add garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. When bacon is almost done (I like to call it medium, even though it’s pork. It’s basically at the point that it would be a little floppy if you took it out and let it cool.) drain the fat (I use a baster) and add the green onions.
When green onions are fragrant, add cubed potatoes and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium, cover, and let boil for about 30 minutes, or until potatoes are al dente.
When potatoes are almost done, add milk or cream until broth is color desired. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let soup heat through and enjoy!

*At the same time you add the green onions, if so desired, put the sliced potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook until potatoes are soft. Drain potatoes and mash or whip as desired. Set aside.
Just before adding milk or cream, add mashed/whipped potatoes to soup pot. Mix thoroughly to broth. Add milk or cream as normal.
If soup remains too runny, add instant potatoes until you achieve the desired thickness. Enjoy!

Recipe of the Month: October, Part 1

Bacon-Wrapped Potatoes
I realize I’ve missed September, so I’m planning on putting out two recipes for this month. Autumn has always been my favorite time of year, and in Arizona, it’s the time when you can really start grilling again.
Now that highs are down in the low 90s, the evenings are cool enough to light up the grill and cook burgers, steaks, and chops, and no matter what you’re cooking, the spuds are the perfect side dish!
My dad used to make these out on the grill, but we’ve recently found a set-it-and-forget-it way of fixing these delicious treats. The bacon is crispy, the onions are soft and caramelized, and the potatoes are perfectly baked, and all you had to do was set a timer!
Let’s get cookin’!


4 medium russet potatoes
1/2 – 1 medium sweet yellow onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
8 strips of bacon

Preheat oven to 325F. Cover cookie sheet or jelly roll pan in foil and spray with Pam.
Cut potatoes in half, butter one side, salt and pepper, then fill with onion, like a sandwich. Use a toothpick to secure both halves of potato together. Repeat for all potatoes.
Wrap potatoes in bacon, securing bacon with additional toothpicks.
Place potatoes on cookie sheet and bake in oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check doneness of potatoes with fork.

Traveling with Fibromyalgia

With one of my fave paintings. It was so tempting to touch it – the bold 3D paint strokes are the best thing about Van Gogh, to me.

I love to travel. I like seeing new places, visiting museums, experiencing a new culture. I even enjoy adventures with public transportation in big cities; and nothing makes my day like listening to people speak in foreign languages. It’s my kryptonite.

But since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I haven’t traveled as much as I would like to, mostly due to budget constraints, but also because it’s just so exhausting. The plane rides alone (something I used to get really excited about), nearly wipe me out. Driving anywhere is worse, simply because it can be so boring.

But it doesn’t have to be all bad. After traveling halfway across the country with my husband recently, I have a few ways to make travel easier on the chronic illness sufferer. Let’s start with…


Fashion and Fibromyalgia

At my sickest, before I was even diagnosed with depression, I weighed 100 pounds (45 kg). I was skin and bone, and some of my extended family even worried that I had an eating disorder (between my weight fluctuation and my strange moods, I actually was exhibiting some classic signs). Despite this, I had a fairly healthy diet, and ate at least two meals every day, but didn’t begin to gain any weight until I started taking antidepressants.

After a year of relatively good mental health, I gained about 20 pounds (9 kg), and looked and felt much healthier. When I went to college, I weighed about 125 lbs, and I was pretty happy with my body.

In my first six or eight weeks of college life, I gained the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen.” At the highest weight I had ever been, and living with a roommate with a naturally tall, thin figure, I began to get really down on my body image. Things only got worse as the year progressed and I continued to gain weight. The “Freshman Fifteen” became the “Freshman Twenty Five,” became the “Sophomore Ten-more,” became the “Junior Have-Another-Ten.”

By the time I graduated I weighed 175 pounds, and had never felt worse about my body in my life. But I wouldn’t be able to turn things around for another four years (and another 25 pounds!), after I had hit rock bottom. And as funny as it might seem, it was at my heaviest that I finally shucked the guilt about all the weight I’d gained. Only at 200 pounds (a weight I swore to myself I’d never get to), did I start to love my physical body.

I’ve found that now-a-days, with the abundance of messages about self-acceptance from blogs, to forums, to books and talk-shows, it can be much easier to look in the mirror and not immediately hear the all-encompassing media saying “You aren’t good enough.” For me, it has never been easier to love myself, inside and out.

It has also never been harder.

Even though I can be comfortable with how my body looks now, and I love showing off my body in shorts and swim suits during the summer, I have an incredibly difficult time creating a positive whole body image as my body is constantly in pain. Accepting your body for what it is becomes much more complicated when you add in a feeling of being broken (sometimes, beyond repair).

One of the ways that I try to combat this feeling is through what I wear. Fashion, for me, is not just about feeling good about my looks, but feeling good about my body as a whole, functioning unit. So even when FM is getting me down, I can take comfort from the outside in.

Some rules I use to pick out clothing that I can wear without feeling like I am weighed down, fighting my body, or crawling out of my skin are below. Also, I think I look pretty dang cute.

4. Fit

With any piece of clothing, the fit is going to be crucial. You cannot be comfortable in a top, or jeans, or a dress that doesn’t fit correctly. And the first part of getting fit right in clothing is acknowledging your size; you won’t be happy in those size 8 jeans if you are really a size 10. Every size is beautiful, so embrace it, own it, and buy the right size!

Additionally, know your body type. Are you pear-shaped, apple-shaped, top-heavy or hourglass? Are you athletically built or more curvy? This will affect how the fabric lies on your body, how seams cut across your figure, and how a piece looks on you in general. For example, I am pretty busty, so loose, flowy tops tend to lie straight down from my chest, making my stomach look larger than it is.

Busty Girl Problems


Finally, be sure to get the correct sleeve and pant length. Long sleeves should hit at the bottom knuckle of your thumb; pants should float 1/4-inch off the ground, with your shoes on. Many shirts and pants are made to fit the tallest/longest-limbed customer, so they will be really long on someone who is, like me, only 5’3″.

This means you have to either hem, or get them hemmed. It’s better for the clothes, it’s better for your comfort (you won’t be tripping over your pants legs all the time), and it looks professional. Here is a video how-to on an easy way to tack up your pants legs. I have used this method successfully many times.


It can be really tempting to buy trendy pieces that don’t necessarily fit well on your body type. And that’s okay! With the right accessories, these purchases can be great additions to your wardrobe.

Take my example of loose, flowy tops on myself. They don’t work well on their own, but if I tuck them into a high-waisted pencil skirt, I have a nice professional look. Also, I can cinch the waist of the top with a belt or a buttoned cardigan, so I don’t have to avoid these tops entirely.

As for finding pants and tops with appropriate length, try shopping in petites! I shop in petites for pants (I have short legs) and misses/women’s for tops (I am long-waisted). I also look for pants that come in variable lengths (short, average, long), and choose the short length – that way I don’t have to hem them – less work for me!

3. Weight

So, I live in the desert. It gets pretty hot here in the summer (hot for me is over 110°F, 43°C – anything else is merely warm), so lightweight clothing is a must, for much of the year. In addition to scorching temperatures, I suffer from tactile allodynia, which means that sometimes, even the pressure from the weight of my clothing can cause torturous levels of pain on my skin. Therefore, when I go shopping, I pick up each and every piece of clothing to see how much it weighs. If it’s really heavy – right back on the rack it goes.

This can be a difficult balance, especially if you live in a colder climate, or, like me, have a penchant for sweaters and jackets (they are my favorite accessories, I own a million of them, and can never say no to a new one). Because colder weather generally can’t be avoided (even here in Arizona), here are some tips to keep you sane while shopping for innately heavier pieces.

As for sweaters, jackets and hoodies, pick those of a lighter weight, and layer them. Layering clothing actually keeps you warmer, anyway, and if you begin to hurt from the weight of the clothing, you can go inside and take off layers until you are comfortable.

Buy looser fitting items. A jacket or sweater doesn’t need to be skin-tight. In fact, this works against it’s power to keep you warm, as the air between the fabric and your skin is what insulates you. Looser jackets and sweaters will keep you warmer while allowing you to wear less fabric, and less weight.

For coats, buy things that are easy to get in and out of. I personally prefer zippers to buttons, because once I have been out in the cold, I find it difficult to undo a button with my frozen hands (What are gloves?). Being able to get in and out of your coat quickly and easily lends itself to your comfort as you will spend less time in it. Additionally, buy a coat with a lining that feels nice on your skin – this will make your time spent in the coat less painful than if the lining is itchy, stiff or just generally unpleasant.

2. Fabric

As I discussed before, the weight of fabric is extremely important to comfort, particularly if your skin is really sensitive to touch. But the feel of the fabric is important as well – not all lightweight fabrics are equal. Below are some of the basic fabrics that I feel fall in the lightweight category, along with their pros and cons.

Cotton: This is a great fabric, and has tons of classic and fashion-forward options. From button-downs to chambray, you can’t go wrong with cotton. Because it is a stiffer fabric, it will hold its shape while on your body and hide any “imperfections.”

Unfortunately, because it is a natural fiber, cotton has a tendency to shrink when put in the dryer, which makes it a higher-maintenance fabric. Be ready to hang-dry, tumble, and possibly even iron your cotton pieces for them to look their best.

T-shirt/jersey fabric: Easily my favorite fabric ever. From sheets to dresses to lounge pants, this is the material I want to have in every part of my life. It’s technically a cotton/spandex blend, which gives it a natural and light feel, but it stretches, maintains its shape over time, and is super simple to take care of. Throw it in the dryer, and it will be fine.

One downside to this material is that it can cling to every curve and crevice, so It can reveal unwanted lumps and bumps along the body line. To me, the sheer comfort of this fabric is worth the body shaping potential of other fabrics.

Knit: This is a great material, mainly because sweaters are made out of it! Lightweight knits are great for layering and staying warm in the winter and they come made from a variety of soft yarns like cashmere or rabbit hair. Depending on the fiber used to make the knit, you will have to care for it differently. High end knits like cashmere require handwashing, whereas cotton knits can be washed in a washing machine and laid flat or hung up to dry.

The down side of knits is, depending on the fiber, they can be itchy. I recommend finding a fiber you like and tolerate well, and sticking with that fiber.

Polyester: Polyester, because it is a man-made fabric, comes in all weights, patters, and blends. This is a great advent for people who can’t, for whatever reason, wear natural fibers. Also, it can be made to stretch, and be extremely comfortable and flattering. Additionally, it is a very easy to care for fabric, and can be washed and dried normally, in most cases.

Some people can be allergic to polyester (as some are allergic to wool, or cats, or anything else). Also, because it is a man-made fiber, it can get hotter, more quickly than other fabrics because it does not breath as well as other fabrics. For summer, I would stay away from polyester, though it is great in the winter to stay warm!

Satin/Silk: These fabrics are luxurious and sensual. Soft and slick, they slide against the skin with just a whisper. We think of these materials as reserved for special occasions, like weddings or proms, but they can be great for everyday wear. A silk top can add shine to an otherwise flat work outfit, or satin sheets can add a bit of comfort to your sleep cycle.

Silk and satin take extra careful maintenance, as they must be dry cleaned, but for the sumptuous feel of these fabrics, the extra effort and price can be worth the splurge.

1. Undergarments

Since most (around 85%) of patients with diagnosed FM are female….bras.

My first rule about bras is just like everything else – it has to fit correctly. If it doesn’t fit correctly, it isn’t going to be comfortable. Here you can use this simple guide to help you figure out what your bra size should be. I know for the longest time I was wearing a 36D when I should have been in a 38DD – it was a world of difference when I switched to the correct size.

My second “rule” about bras is more of a personal choice –  do you prefer underwire, or wirefree? For as long as I can remember, I only wore underwire because I felt I couldn’t get the support I needed from wirefree bras. But recently, as FM symptoms have been worsening, I’ve found myself in need of some creature comforts, and wirefree seemed a good place to start. I tried on a variety of styles and found one that really worked for me, so I bought every single one the store had in my size! But in the end, underwires are a personal choice, and it should be based on comfort. Also, remember that you can change your mind at any time.

Finally, when it comes to panties, I’ve found that cotton, and cotton blends are really a girl’s best friend. Because of the heat in Arizona, yeast infections can be a real threat if you are wearing a fabric that doesn’t breathe, and who needs an infection on top of all the FM stuff? Not this gal! So I stick with super-soft cotton panties, which are pretty cheap at Target and come in a ton of cute colors and patterns. Again, this is another personal choice, and if you don’t live somewhere as hot as Arizona, you may not have the same worries I do, but consider your fabric before you buy.

And always wash everything before you wear it – I can’t stress this enough. With the way I fondle the fabric of every item I see in the store, I can only imagine what oils, dirt and germs every piece I buy has on it. Take the time to wash your new clothes before you wear them so they are free from these irritants.


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.


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


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!


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.


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?


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


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.


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.