succumbing to peer pressure

Monday, April 30, 2012


Coming out of busy-life-induced hiatus because I want/need to do some thinking 'out loud.'  I gave a talk at a local university a couple of weeks ago, and during the dinner afterwards one of the undergrads asked me about being a professional statistician and also maintaining a partnership.  We talked a bit about setting boundaries and expectations and communicating and standard relationship-y things when finally I said, but there are going to be times when your work is more important than her.  Not all the time or generally or on average, but if we're being honest here, there are going to be times when at that specific moment the thing you're getting done at work is more important than spending time with her.  And he stopped and said, yeah, but you can't say those things out loud.

I want to be clear.  I'm not advocating for workaholism.  And I know that I personally have constant work to do to maintain healthy work-life boundaries.  But I simply refuse to believe that work is always less important than life.  Because my work is a part of my life.  It is not sufficient to define who I am, but it is necessary.  I am a statistician.  It is a piece of me.  I chose this.  I worked my ass off, for 11 years in university, for this.

And I know part of that is a luxury - to have a career that is meaningful and fulfilling and not just the thing I do to I make rent every month.  So isn't it disingenuous if I treat it otherwise?

I love the people in my life and I value the time that I spend with them.  But if I'm being honest, there are going to be times when getting that report submitted to that group, finishing calculating those estimates, is more important than sitting on the couch with someone I love.  Similarly, there will be times when celebrating an occasion, going for a hike, with someone I love is more important than those reports and estimates.

Isn't that the whole point of balance?  So why isn't it ok to say out loud that sometimes the work part is more important?

I've also been thinking about this because my current job comes with a lot of last minute travel.  Most recently, I almost had to cancel on a long-planned baseball outing because I thought I was going to be out of the country.  The trip didn't end up coming together, and I would have been forgiven for missing the game if it had.  But I had this clear realization that I'm likely to be the parent frequently apologizing for missing stuff with my kids.  The kids are totally hypothetical at this point, and I may not have this specific job by the time kids roll around.  But I do foresee this type of gig for a while in my future.  And I believe kids benefit from seeing happy, fulfilled parents.  But yikes.  If the thought of having to apologize to my boyfriend for missing a baseball game made me feel bad, I can't even begin to imagine what it feels like to try to communicate to a toddler why mommy can't tuck them in for the next five nights.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The boy and I spent a lovely two weeks galavanting all over Europe this summer (yes, I'm horribly spoiled. Consider me appropriately guilt-ridden). Part of that time was spent with our mothers, who, predictably, directly and indirectly tried to figure out our 'intentions.' Which, one night, landed the two of us in a conversation about the future. I, wisely (maybe I'm not always humble) suggested that we should have such talks because we wanted to, not because our mothers pressured us into them. But the net result was that we figured we'll probably be about ready to move in together around the time my lease is up next spring. Since then, we've both fallen into the habit of referencing that as if it's a foregone conclusion - well, when we live together we should...well, next spring we should...don't get me wrong, we're in a good place, and it makes sense that we're making such plans. But my self-preservation gene keeps piping up to say, well, if...don't get your hopes up!...maybe...

After three decades (ok, realistically, only a little over a decade of actual dating) my inclination toward self-preservation is quite finely honed. I'm going to have some work to do over the next several months (years? forever?) quieting it down so I can see a good thing staring me in the face. And this is a good thing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

That was then

The summer between my second and third years of grad school I slipped down the rabbit hole. That’s how I’ve come to refer to the period I spent struggling with anxiety, following my last qualifying exam. That period was well documented here, in real time. But the short(-ish) version is that about a month before my last exam, I started having more frequent panic attacks and bouts of insomnia. Given that I’ve always tended toward physical manifestations of stress, I sort of shrugged it off and figured I was about right on schedule.

Things were pretty bad by the time the exam actually came up, but at that point I was expecting everything to go back to normal as soon as I handed in the test. Except it didn’t. Things got progressively worse – more frequent panic attacks, until I essentially never felt like I was breathing comfortably, incessant insomnia, vertigo, hypochondria, and the growing sensation that I was losing my mind. By the end of the summer I sought help and by the following year I was sufficiently on the mend yet enamored with therapy and stuck with it for a few years, really digging into things. In the end, it was great.

But I remember very distinctly, a few months, or maybe several months, into therapy, worrying that I was permanently broken. Feeling like I was broken. And the main worry was, how can I ever trust myself to handle this level of stress again? I was specifically worrying about my defense, still a few years out, but surely, I imagined, tougher than what I had just come through, and how was I going to manage that without falling apart again?

This is now

I got through my defense, with barely a mental health hiccup. Don’t get me wrong – it was tough and stressful, but by then I was more than back to fighting weight. Because that’s the amazing thing about doing all the work in therapy – you can’t imagine it’s possible when you’re in it, but not only do you get better, you get even better. Stronger.

I mention this now because I’m just back from easily the most stressful couple of weeks of my life. Makes everything in grad school seem like a cakewalk. Ok, the grad school stuff, inaccurately, had more emotional hooks attached, but objectively, the last couple of weeks have had far higher real world stakes.

And I was in a bad way – got myself into that mental space where I feel all flat and even though I know better, I completely lost the ability to do anything good for myself – stopped exercising, stopped meditating. Hell – I stopped masturbating! I was so low on serotonin that I burst into tears on a nearly daily basis*.

But. I got the work done. And I wasn’t anywhere near the edge of any holes, rabbit or otherwise. Indeed, I didn’t even think about my history of anxiety until I had been back for a few days. I didn’t like the stress, but I didn’t fear it either. And I managed it. Ok, perhaps not with aplomb. But with utility.

And I came back to a partner to whom I can say, I just need to curl up in my pajamas tonight. I don’t have the strength to leave the house tonight. I just need you to be nice to me. I’m in a really bad mental space right now. It’s going to take me a few days to recover. And he wraps his arms around me and is kind and patient and doesn’t judge or freak out when I tear up after sex and just need to be held for a bit.

I did the work to get here –to be mentally strong enough to withstand the stress and emotionally aware enough to recognize my limits as I’m rushing toward them and present enough to appreciate and be with a true partner. It’s work well worth doing, and well worth pausing to appreciate.

*clearly, I don't want to have, nor should I have, the sort of job that makes me cry everyday. This was a narrow, special set of circumstances, but I'll also be taking steps to avoid repeating it in the future.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Bring on the tears

Crying is a bit of 'thing' with me. I've never seen a member of my immediate family do more than barely tear up (even at funerals and other equally emotional events) and crying was forbidden at gymnastics (the coach would yell, "Are you hurt?" and if the answer was no, the response was "Well then get yourself off the floor and get cleaned up."). So for most of my life I learned that crying was something you either didn't do, or if you absolutely couldn't prevent it, you did it somewhere in private. So now I'm virtually physically incapable of crying in front of someone. Even if I'm in actual physical pain, rarely will there be tears. And on those rare occasions, the act of crying in front of someone tends to freak me out way more than whatever sparked the tears in the first place.

And yet, crying is a tremendous, often wonderful, release. I tend to need a good cry when I'm stressed out, burned out, or otherwise worn thin (as I am increasingly often these days). So it's a shame that the impulse comes with such, well, shame.

Lo and behold, on a day when I needed a good cry, Dr. Isis, researcher extraordinaire, offered up these words of wisdom
The point is, sometimes some of us get overwhelmed and cry. Sometimes it's because of something in our personal lives. Sometimes it's because of something at work. Some of us are criers and some of us aren't. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. And when we fail or get overwhelmed, it's fine to sit down and cry about it. As long as you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back to it afterward.
In comments someone else quotes Tina Fey: "Some people say 'Never let them see you cry.' I say, if you're so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone." I think it's that last part that I particularly dislike. People, and let's be honest, more often than not, male people, tend to freak out at the sight of a woman crying. And I know that plays at least some part in my reticence to just let it out - when a woman cries, in my experience, a man will do just about anything to get her to stop. And so the act of crying feels manipulative, like an ace up the sleeve, like some gross way to win an argument instead of just an honest release of pent up emotion.

Sigh. I'm glad Dr. Isis gave me permission to cry it out today. Maybe someday we can all have a better relationship to this unpleasant display that we're all in need of from time to time.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Talking about him

I have a lingering issue around talking about my boyfriend. Becky and I spent hours (hours!) bringing me around to the crazy notion that it is not only acceptable but perfectly normal to want a boyfriend (I prefer the term partner; boyfriend reminds me too much of the terrible teenage years). But I still get all weird and self-conscious talking about him. Nevermind that we're approaching our one year anniversary. Nevermind that things are going swimmingly. I'm still carrying around this baggage.

M won a teaching award (because he's awesome) and at the ceremony last week they asked spouses or partners of awardees to stand. I hesitantly, awkwardly, half-stood and turned bright red.

While out for drinks with mutual friends tonight I a) talked about him and am now replaying all those conversations in my head, wondering, did I talk about him too much? Was I annoying? and b) was reminded just how lucky I am to be with him (my own neuroses aside). The other two women I was out with were commiserating over awkward first dates, men with whom you feel a spark vs. men with whom you don't, navigating those awkward second and third dates, and how often you only get a second, or, if rather lucky, a third date. I was chipping in with my own stories, but they rapidly shushed me. I don't get to tell crappy date stories anymore, I'm with M, thus negating the various trials and tribulations it took to get here.

Which is fine. I probably would do (have done) the same. But I came home and started to compose a sappy e-mail to M (who is out of town) expressing how lucky I am - that I know that, and recognize it daily, but was particularly reminded of it tonight. Saying thanks, being generally sort of lovey. And I stopped. Deleted it. Won't send it. Because I know I'm a bit tipsy. And as such my emotions are more accessible...but come morning I'll be all embarrassed and distant again.

One year in and I'm embarrassed to send a love note to my boyfriend?

Guess I have more work to do.

Thank goodness he's patient.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


So I'm in wine country, in a ridiculous villa, with 16 other women. Which is awesome, in no small part thanks to the fact that these women are awesome.

We just spent an entire day drinking, in the way that you do in wine country. And there were conflicting interests and desires and priorities and people navigated all of it in this really impressive way. There were compromises to be made and people didn't always get what they wanted. But no one ever stewed or pouted and everyone communicated about what it was they wanted and why they were upset or had a certain preference or wanted a certain thing. And at the end of the day, not everyone got just what they wanted, but we all got a lovely day, and, as far as I can tell, no one got their feelings hurt and everything progressed quite smoothly.

I'm not sure how much of it is just because I've been around a group of people who seem to handle such situations poorly (lots of emotional landmines in my current extended friend group) and they happen to all be in their 20s, but I genuinely do think a lot of today's experience is thanks to the fact that all the women here are 30+.

I know I was pretty psyched about my 30th birthday. And I feel like I did a lot of important work and growing up in my late 20s. So I'm sure I'm biased - but I can't help but look around at these women and think how lovely it is to be around women in their 30s who have their shit together and seem so comfortable with who they are. Lots of them are still figuring things out - jobs, boyfriends, life. But they have this attitude, this sense that they've figured themselves** out, and you can take or leave what they have to offer, but here it is.

It is so honest and clear and refreshing. I had practically forgotten that I was missing it.

Mel and I talked last night about how a fundamental component, for us, of being a grown-up is choosing your friends. There are enough situations (i.e., work) where you have to make nice with people you don't actually like. In your personal life, when possible, it's your prerogative to spend as much time as possible with people with whom you enjoy spending time. So there's an inherent selection bias, since Mel is quite good at culling her friend group back to only include people who are genuine and genuinely awesome.

But I'm awfully glad she's like that, and I'm happy to be reaping the benefits with this lovely weekend with these amazing women. 30+ is awesome.

* yes, I'm generalizing from a few anecdotes. yes, as a statistician I should know better. gonna do it anyway.
**of course, there are exceptions to this. I like anyone who has managed to figure themselves out, and there are plenty of people in every age category who manage that. but I think this is the highest density of such people I've encountered in a long time, and they all happen to be over 30

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What a difference a year makes

Noticing on my calendar that VT’s birthday is next week, I started reminiscing back to her last birthday, celebrated at Andrés Carne de Res in Bogotá. Back then I thought I was going to come back to the states to discuss using the b- and g-words with Elliot, who I was dating at the time. Instead, I came back to discover we had had a fight that I didn’t know about while I was gone. (it would take another two weeks to officially end things)

That trip was the beginning of Megan’s ridiculous travel in ’10. Slightly more than two weeks spent in Bog and DC, then the entire month of April at home before it all really began – NYC, Guatemala City, Atlanta, Charleston, back to Bogotá, Vancouver, back to DC, Boston, New Haven, Pittsburgh, Dublin, Belfast, DC (again), back to Pittsburgh, back to Charleston, Bogotá (again), Vegas, back to NYC, DC (again). The boss really wasn’t kidding when in January of last year he looked at me and said, “I see you on airplanes this year.”

I’m not complaining. I mean, damn. I may have fallen short of my goal of doubling my countries visited within 12 months of starting this job (for those keeping track at home, I graduated from Emory with 7 countries under my belt (Canada, Mexico, Germany, France, Italy, Vatican City (it counts!), Ireland) and have since added another five (Guatemala, Colombia, South Korea, Nepal, Northern Ireland (also counts!)). But that list of cities is ridiculous. As is my premier executive frequent flier status.

With the exception of weekend trips taken by car, I’ve mostly stayed put in ’11, and I’m certainly not complaining about that either. I love the travel, and it’s definitely a perk of the job, but a bit of moderation would be deeply appreciated.

Not to mention, as A told me years ago, when one finds oneself so pleasantly partnered up, one suddenly becomes much more interested in staying put.