Biological Honesty

I was at home having great time talking with my dad and younger sister around the kitchen table when suddenly, the symptoms of “day one” hit me.

And I tried to act like it didn’t feel like someone had started scraping out my abdominal cavity with a serrated spoon. (Which didn’t really work.)

Being female really sucks sometimes, and on day one, I tend to feel like we female body types received the rougher biological allotment. Not that males don’t have it rough in other respects. But menstrual cramps, man. I’ve once heard it described as giving birth to the lining of one of your internal organs, which I feel is accurate. I try to pretend I’m all intense, bleeding and hurting and whatnot and being like, “Psh, this is normal.”

But on day one, when the cramps are worst and ibuprofen-resistant, I just kind of mill around dead-eyed and think, “Why?” Heaven forbid it happens on a demanding day—which, sometimes, it does. And that’s the worst.

So yesterday, I put off going back to school longer than expected because I didn’t want to drive 45 minutes with the distraction of my internal organs creaking and groaning like wood about to crack in two.

My little sister suggested a heat pack, so I planted myself in the living room with said device across my middle. It felt good. My dad was also in the room. A part of me thought I should remove myself from his presence or continue to pretend I wasn’t hurting. Because who wants to face blatant signs of everything menstruation means?

But the thing is, he knows what it is, and he doesn’t seem too worried about the nature of this weirdly taboo subject. American society talks about sex all the time, why should menstrual cramps be something to be ashamed of and tough out in silence? I mean, I wasn’t whining excessively about it. I was sitting quietly on the couch with a heat pack, typing away on my laptop. I was dealing with it. This was normal.

In high school, in the early days of this feature of female biological maturity, I used to get bad cramps for a good two or three days of the cycle. And one day my friend, who happened to be a boy, noticed I looked like I wanted to die, and he kept pressing me if I felt all right, trying to figure out what was wrong. I said I didn’t feel good, but he didn’t want to accept such ambiguity, because he was worried about me.

Still, I couldn’t bring myself to admit it—though I assume he got the message eventually. Now, I kind of wish I had told him outright. Because I was ashamed of it back then. I didn’t want anyone to know. Like no one seriously believes that women face this monthly process.

I felt like crap because my uterus was freaking out. I shouldn’t be ashamed. None of us should be ashamed.

Obviously, puberty is strange and horrifying so I can’t really beat myself up too much about those days. But still, I’ve started to appreciate honesty quite a bit.

Including biological honesty.

That one time I went to Florida for science

I keep thinking it’s been ages since my last blog post, but I realize it was only 10 days ago. This week has been really busy and downright exhausting , albeit beneficial—and I find myself a little uncertain of what, exactly to comment on.

West Palm Beach            Two days after New Year’s Day, I flew off to Florida to attend the SICB Annual Meeting 2015 (SICB = Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology), where I was to spend four days listening to research talks and present my own research in a student poster symposium.

And I began the meeting utterly dead.

I entered the travel day yet again with 2 hours of sleep not wholly of my own volition (I was aiming for about 4), and I finally arrived at the hotel in West Palm Beach at 1am. 8 hours later, I was at the conference center, trying to maintain consciousness and motivation because I was presenting my poster at 3:45 that afternoon.

After listening to a great many talks, I ventured up to my poster right on time (I wasn’t going to stand there any earlier than I had to), and the first person that came to hear about my research completely grilled me. But it helped jog my memory and the rest of the 2 hours went more smoothly. Somewhere along the line, the epinephrine woke me up.

Our advisor signed us up for a “best poster” competition, which I was apprehensive about, because that meant we were going to be judged. But the judge was a very sweet little lady with bobbed gray hair and a pink sweater, and we ended up fangirling over the thermoregulative properties of toucan bills (even though my research was on hummingbirds). So it was fun, overall.

Then we went back to the hotel and passed out for 3 hours before actually going to bed.

Fortunately, the next day was easier.

Our supervisor gave us the freedom to plan our days, provided we didn’t ditch the entirety of the conference—which would have been lame. So one day my three other lab partners and I walked to the beach, and on the last day, some of us went to the zoo—which was a lot of fun after filling my head with what I could list out by name but for the purpose of succinctness I’ll just fondly call science.

My head was filled with much science, and it was a nice cap to the bulk of my experience as a research intern.

I was chronically surly and unmotivated for most of these days, because I really didn’t like feeling so dragged around. When we finally made it to the zoo, I was worried my irritability—and general notion that I shouldn’t have spontaneously decided to brave public transportation and walk around the zoo in business attire—would dampen things.

As my lab partners and I sat at the zoo café, surrounded by American White Ibis who wanted our food and honked at each other when food was bestowed, listening to male grackles having a display-off for a female rooting around in the brush and trying to decide who was the fittest, along with what neurological triggers and tradeoffs played into their behavior, I decided I was glad I came.

photo (4)All throughout the meeting, I was interested in learning about hormones, genetics, and comparative ecology, so I attended quite a bit of those when not following my lab partners around because I sometimes wasn’t interested in striking off on my own. I tended toward simply planting myself in a full session instead of dodging around rooms for specific talks on different overarching subjects. I learned so much. If you want to hear more details on what “so much” entails, I’d be happy to to tell you about it. (Seriously though. Science.)

This last six months have been highly taxing, as I’ve been fighting with an extreme shortage of social energy/interest, patience, and motivation. So traveling like this rudely launched me out of where I wanted to be, and I highly doubt I was the easiest person to spend a significant amount of time around, especially for my more socially-enthusiastic friends (who are also my lab partners) [Sorry guys…]

But my friends dragged me along like grumpy cousin Draco, for which I really am quite grateful. I got more out of the experience that way.

On the voyage back, we came extremely close to missing our connecting flight to PDX. I could go into detail about how everything just kept getting worse, but I’m sure anyone who’s traveled much by air can imagine what we went through. (It was my first experience like this, and in Washington DC, no less.) And then on the plane I had an unexpected intimate moment with God, which consisted of no actual words, only memories and impressions. Like an arm thrown around my shoulders, pulling me into a hug and gently holding me there.

I wasn’t even actively worrying about anything. But it happened. Simple and subtle, a reassurinphoto (6)g “I’m still here.”

I haven’t had a moment like that in such a long time. In fact, I didn’t even expect to be receptive.

My last semester begins Monday, and it is shaping up to be so much busier than my surly, dormant self would like.

But, all things considered, I think I’ll be all right.

Science major revived

This weekend, I traveled with a bunch of my fellow science majors to Vancouver, WA, where we attended an undergraduate research conference.

I was excited because I’d have the opportunity to get off campus for a few days and try something I’d never done before.

But then I was really nervous. Practicing my poster with my lab mates didn’t go well and I found a dreaded typo in the second word of my poster title. We were going to be presenting one day earlier than everyone had been telling me, and I was starting to think I would just look like an idiot. I wanted to bail, but—faulty poster and lack of confidence aside—I was committed.

Even though the beds were soft at the hotel, I kept waking up all throughout the night, and when my alarm rang in the dark at 6am, I opened my eyes with an emotional state best illustrated by the distant sounds of a crying baby.

The day had come far too quickly. And it promised to be very long.

Still, the poster session actually went well. I only had to stand by it for an 1hr 45 min. People came by and I gave the spiel, they asked questions, one lady critiqued a stylistic preference. My throat got really dry. But then I got to walk around the next session and look at other students’ projects. And I got a nap sometime soon after that.

I listened to quite a few students’ talks on projects within the life sciences, and throughout the 20-minute presentations, I was able to story-plan, which gave me a happy multitasking medium. Friday night, a biophysicist talked about the fascinating work in her lab artificially constructing microtubule aggregates and interactions. (Microtubules are one of the key structural components of cells). My roommate and I were nerding out. I would have nerded out more if I wasn’t so tired.

As exhausting as it was, it was fun. And as I sat through the presentations, and stood talking about my own research, I could feel something stitching back together.

This conference, this celebration of science and all the work involved, helped remind me of why I loved the discipline. Why I became a science major.

Science had begun to lose my favor as I got bogged down with cramming information in my head and reading academic journal articles and writing lab reports. But science is more than that.

Undergraduate biology major is a foundation. It has taught me how to think, to reason, to look at data and draw conclusions. It has given me introductory information with which I can gravitate toward whatever concentration takes my interest, and understand a wide variety of biological subjects and techniques.

I may not have a career in science specifically, but I’m still glad I’m a science major. It still fits. It still speaks to my heart in some way that I thought I was losing. After graduation, this scientific foundation’s role will be different than I expected, but it will still be very important.