A Tribute to the Human Experience

It has been a while since I have sat down and thought about writing something for Project Wednesday, however in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting I felt the need to write. Writing about things like the senseless loss of life seemed obvious. But more importantly I wanted to take a step back and think about those who survived. More importantly, I want to speak about those everyday people who became to heroes to those injured and afraid around them.  These people, who I am pretty sure were also terrified, changed the lives of those around them, whether it was driving people who were injured to the hospital, or using themselves as barricades from the chaos. Too often the media focuses mainly on the motive and the alleged attacker, but I am happy to see that more recently in the wake of tragedy, the media is sharing the stories of these ultimate do-gooders, the life-savers. It is awful and unimaginable what these people went through, however, it shows the endurance of life when you think about how complete strangers came together to protect and help each other, and that is honestly what I want to talk about in this post. How being human is about the interaction we can have with other humans, and how positive this experience can be.

How many times are you so exhausted, that you don’t even look at the people around you while you walk down the street? Sometimes we get so consumed in our lives and our problems that we forget that there are people around us. Just the other day, a Professor at Temple was handing out dollar bills to students who were NOT on their phones. He didn’t hand out much money, and I think that speaks volumes of how little we interact as a result of the constant technology and constant deadlines and daily stress of life. It is sad that often I catch myself wishing it was 10 years ago, so I didn’t get constant emails and texts about work in the palm of my hand. Don’t get me wrong technology has helped in a lot of ways, however, sometimes I think about how it has disconnected us emotionally from the daily interaction that is life.

For example, I went to a doctor’s office for an appointment the other day, and I met the sweetest old woman. We shared our hatred of the depressing magazines about diseases that flooded the lobby of the practice. We shared our stories about being suffers of inflammatory bowel disease, and even wished each other well going to our separate rooms. Going to the doctor is never a pleasant experience; however this interaction was made possible because I was not buried in my phone avoiding people, and honestly it made the appointment and day more pleasant. It made me realize, sometimes it’s better to have a conversation and share part of your day with a stranger, rather than scrolling through your phone.

I challenge you to attempt to connect with a stranger, someone who looks friendly (I know, sometimes people don’t want to be bothered and aren’t open to connecting to strangers). I really believe that we need to start truly enjoying the human experience. If you don’t like talking to strangers, go meet a friend for coffee or lunch and DO NOT use your phone at all. Leave it in your pocket or bag, and just sit and enjoy the company of another person. Let your senses take in the human experience and enjoy that connection for a moment.

Those who tragically have lost their lives in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting were attempting to enjoy the experience of life. Strangers united as human beings to survive and help, and sometimes I think we all need a reminder to take every day as a new, human experience, a journey. When a tragedy occurs, we tend to rethink how we live our daily lives, but what if you made this conscious effort every day to live the human experience? I don’t believe that it would make something like this easier to understand or desensitize us to catastrophes, but I do believe that if we lived everyday connecting to others around us, we could find new relationships and friends, learn new things, and experience everything that life truly has to offer.

Taryn is a 27 year-old Physical Chemistry PhD. Candidate at Temple University. She loves watching and playing sports, advocating and educating people about Crohn’s disease (Crohnie for life since 2008), hanging out with her family and friends, and most importantly talking to new people about anything and everything! Her attitude about how to look forward and stay positive was really fostered at the University of Scranton, where she actually met HKP. Taryn absolutely believes a strong community can help you through anything.

And they are back.

 

The throngs of underclassmen have returned to campus, so happy to be back to college or ready to start their new journey towards bigger and brighter futures.

And here I am, still. I had my own time at a much smaller University almost 7 years ago, and boy do I miss it. I miss the general education classes, the deadlines, and most of all the answers. I could always find the answers to all the questions, with relatively little difficulty. I miss the predictability of that life, and it is crazy to think that I graduated 5 years ago now. And now these youngings are back on campus, enjoying their life, while I sit in a cold dark room, with no answers. All I have anymore are questions, and these questions haven’t been asked and if they have, there is NO answer, yet.

I collect data in search of the unexplained, misunderstood, or seldom thought of questions in science, and I am sure you don’t care about that necessarily. But I have questions about life too. Am I smart enough to be doing what I am pursing? I am there enough for my family? What about the friends that visited me and took care of me when I was at my weakest, I haven’t seen them in years, are we still friends? Am I am strong enough for this life that I have been working the last few years to accomplish? So many questions, and there are no definite answers when I ask them. But then I step back.

I think about how I have been there for the big events, the baptisms, the birthdays, the family gatherings, even if it means working an absurd amount of hours to get a chunk of time to do what I believe is important. I do my best to reach out to my friends that I haven’t seen in a while, even if it is just a few texts on some random day. And that is what this comes down to, trying your best and believing even if it is for a brief moment that you can, you WILL accomplish everything, in due time.

I never expected to be here in this cold, dark room. But I am and I need to make the best of this time. Yes, I will understand and find things out that no one has ever discovered, but that isn’t my complete story. My story also continues to my family and the family I want to have. What I am saying is you can do it all and be it ALL. You can have that awesome career and a great personal life, the two are not mutually exclusive, so I stop trying to separate them completely. Sometimes it does get overwhelming, and I nearly breakdown, but then I stop. I try to focus on the future and what this difficulty will lead me to.

Yes, my research is difficult, but I am fulfilling a promise to my deceased grandfather that I would one day be a doctor (Ph.D), and I know he was so proud of my perseverance through my diagnosis and academic challenges and other personal struggles.

I am considered a disabled individual, and I think about what my story can mean to a little girl that was just diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, that is terrified of how they will be able to manage an invisible disease, medications, illness, and endless doctor appointments and still have the energy to pursue school and sports.

I tend to think in the present, and what I have yet to accomplish. But that’s not the end of my story. I try, really hard, to focus on what this difficulty in my life will lead me to. My story doesn’t end in this cold dark room, and instead actually, it is the light. It is the answer to who I am, who I want to become, and how I want to positively impact my community. I can do this, and will. And you can and will too.

When you lose that motivation, just remember everything you have accomplished up to that point of breaking. Remember, your difficulties do not define you; they merely represent a learning experience about life. If life were easy, we wouldn’t enjoy those good moments as much as we do, and we wouldn’t learn. We learn through those tough times probably more than those blissfully happy times, and through learning we grow. We grow into the person we want to become, and that is all you can hope to achieve in this life.

To love, live, and learn…all the time, with the difficulties, that is the only answer that I actually know anymore.

Taryn is a 27 year-old Physical Chemistry PhD. Candidate at Temple University. She loves watching and playing sports, advocating and educating people about Crohn’s disease (Crohnie for life since 2008), hanging out with her family and friends, and most importantly talking to new people about anything and everything! Her attitude about how to look forward and stay positive was really fostered at the University of Scranton, where she actually met HKP. Taryn absolutely believes a strong community can help you through anything.

Invisibility at its finest

 

Diagnosis: a chronic invisible disease discovered after a 9 inch small bowel resection and appendectomy.

Age: 18

Treatment plan: immunosuppresants used in leukemia treatments, can cause cancer and leukemia when not used to treat cancers.

Patient: ME.

Writing those few words still takes me a minute to remember how terrified I was nearly a decade ago.  I was graduating high school soon and looking forward to going to college, but my bowel had other plans.  I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, and inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the digestive tract, joints, and eyes.  There is no cure, only treatment to hopefully get to remission.  I lost nearly 30 pounds in a few months, and the pain was unbearable.  I almost had a ruptured intestine which would have likely led to septic shock.  But I didn’t, I had life changing surgery at the period of your life when everything is changing very quickly.

My road ahead would not only include recovery from surgery, but also continual blood work for the next six  to nine months to monitor my liver, kidney and blood counts to ensure that I would not develop any of the unwanted side effects from an immunosuppressant.  I got sick often with sinus infections, and strep throat, but I am in college and doing well, making friends and growing up with an invisible disease.

Flash forward a few years, and I lobby on Capitol Hill for patients of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and meet some of the strongest people I have ever met through the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.  I am doing well on my medication, and on time to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree in Forensic Chemistry.  My friends are great, and don’t care that I can’t have the hot wings or salad at dinner, and always make sure if we are having a get together that there is something I can eat.

Skip ahead a few more years, and I am graduated with my BS and starting a new Master’s program in Analytical Chemistry.  I have worked a few different types of jobs, ranging from a drive in movie theater to a high tech laboratory, and really have been feeling well despite an increase in my immunosuppressant to attempt to get me back into remission.  Graduation comes and goes, and soon I enter my new current journey, for my PhD in Chemistry at Temple University.

Looking back, it is almost silly how terrified I was when I was first diagnosed.  I led a normal college life, easily making friends and keeping in touch with many over the last decade.  I wasn’t always in remission and had a few scares with blood work, but overall this invisible disease has been that, relatively invisible.  I get tired more often than other 27 year olds, and if I get a cold, I am typically sick for a week or two, but these are all manageable things.  Just because they are manageable doesn’t mean it is easy,  you could have instances when friends want to get together but you can’t because you are literally so exhausted from the week that you just stay home and sleep, or you get sick quickly at work because some bug is going around and need to take time off.  It is frustrating that is for sure, but I am happy that I have done what I have up to this point in my life.  I thought this disease was going to ruin my life, but I have been able to live and love and laugh despite having a chronic illness.  Things changed unexpectedly in March 2008 but that doesn’t stop me from living my life to the fullest, and if you have an invisible or visible disease, it shouldn’t stop you either.

Yes, some days are hard, but you’ll get through it with the help of your family and friends.  Sometimes, you’ll need to take that sick day because you have the worst cold that year and here is the breaking news: it is okay!  Knowing your limitations with your disease is something that is important to learn and manage with time and stress levels always changing, but you can do it.  I never thought I would have to worry about being the sick person or knowing where the closest bathroom is, but I have been doing it for nearly a decade, and things honestly, it just became second nature to me.

So whether you have a chronic illness, or have a family member or friend that has one, know that everyone’s journey is different.  Some people have harder times coming to grasp with a diagnosis or daily symptoms, so don’t compare yourself to other people.  Your journey is YOUR journey.  If you are looking for support outside the seemingly healthy and clueless people that are your friends and family, consider looking for a support group, or better yet create one yourself.  One of the most difficult things to remember if you have an invisible disease is that it is invisible.  You may feel it every day, but others don’t that is why you need to be your own advocate, and your best friend when dealing with the disease.  Whether you are just starting the journey as an invisible disease warrior, or have been at it for years, just take satisfaction in your daily accomplishments, no matter how small or large, and most importantly remember you’re not alone.

Taryn is a 27 year-old Physical Chemistry PhD. Candidate at Temple University. She loves watching and playing sports, advocating and educating people about Crohn’s disease (Crohnie for life since 2008), hanging out with her family and friends, and most importantly talking to new people about anything and everything! Her attitude about how to look forward and stay positive was really fostered at the University of Scranton, where she actually met HKP. Taryn absolutely believes a strong community can help you through anything.

Slow down sometimes

Slow down sometimes…

Being in academic research means long hours consisting of experiments, meetings, and of course, data processing. I often spend my week working 70 hours or more especially when experiments are working and you are on the brink of discovering something new and exciting. I don’t sleep much, or well for that matter, and I often am consumed by my work at home, logging in to my work computer to get that extra processing started before I go to bed for the night. Although working hard, and enjoying what you do are important things in any career, I often feel like I am so overwhelmed with the fear of not doing enough, mainly because I hold myself to such a high standard. You don’t have to be in research academia to feel this way, and I bet juggling multiple jobs, or having a few kids can leave you feeling almost burnt out, but I want to remind you…SLOW DOWN.

Yes, you are incredible for working as hard as you do, whether it is taking care of a family or working that 9-5 job plus some overtime. But for YOU, just slow down once in a while; whether it is taking an hour out of your day to exercise, craft, or sit in silence, just remember to recharge. I always tend to forget, and it usually takes a few nights of not the best sleep and my boyfriend reminding me that the work will get done, and that doesn’t mean I can’t crotchet or cross stitch for an hour, or take my dog to the dog park and just relax. Being highly productive is important, but it is also important to take that time for you too.

So next time you work a crazy week, or have a lot of family obligations, please just remember to take care of yourself. Whatever time you can spare, whether it is 15 minutes or more, just sit and relax. The best you isn’t seen when you running on empty, the best you is when you are rested and relaxed to take on whatever the world may throw at you.

Work hard, but remember to slow down sometimes.

Taryn is a 27 year-old Physical Chemistry PhD. Candidate at Temple University. She loves watching and playing sports, advocating and educating people about Crohn’s disease (Crohnie for life since 2008), hanging out with her family and friends, and most importantly talking to new people about anything and everything! Her attitude about how to look forward and stay positive was really fostered at the University of Scranton, where she actually met HKP. Taryn absolutely believes a strong community can help you through anything.

I HATE going on vacation

Dear Puzzle Pieces,

I don’t know about you but I hate going on vacation.  Let me rephrase that and be a little more specific; I HATE knowing I get to go on vacation because everything that typically has to be done before I leave on vacation.  This year I have about 6 experiments and another draft of a HUGE presentation planned to do before I go “off-the-grid.”  I have to make sure all safety considerations are followed; chemicals and supplies ordered that I could need when I get back, check with any collaborators to make sure we are on the same page, and make sure I have a plan on what I am doing when I get back. Then on top of this I have to do laundry, clean the apartment, kennel the dog, pack my bag, drive there in awful traffic, it NEVER ends…

Believe it or not I just spent 143 words looking at all the problems and I am bummed out, and it snowballed way out of control, in a BAD way.  143 words were all it takes to change something that would be a relaxing time that should be used to recharge my batteries into something that sounds awful and unenjoyable.  That is all it takes to make something fun seem burdensome.

I want you to think: How often you do this every day?  Plan on a lunch outing, and completely focus and become miserable about the traffic getting into work?  Complain about seeing family because you have other things to do that you may deem more important in that quick second?  Now imagine this: you focus on the GOOD.  Forget the traffic on the way to work, and think about what awesome food you are going to order with your friend that you haven’t seen in a while.  Making memories with your family and drinking in those moments, because things can change in an instant.

So instead of focusing on everything that has to be done before vacation I am actually looking forward to going to the beach and sinking in the sand, playing can-jam and getting slightly overly competitive with family, flying kites outside the hotel and probably crashing them into the sand, and more importantly making great memories with great people.  I don’t know about you but my mood completely switched from that first paragraph to this one.  I CAN NOT wait for vacation and I hope you have seen how important changing your perspective is to having a better attitude.

I challenge you to stop one negative snowball of thoughts a day for the next week, and see how you feel…I have a feeling you may be less stressed and enjoy those small victories or positive moments during your day a little more.

Atoms, Erlenmeyers and Love,

TPA

Taryn is a 27 year-old Physical Chemistry PhD. Candidate at Temple University. She loves watching and playing sports, advocating and educating people about Crohn’s disease (Crohnie for life since 2008), hanging out with her family and friends, and most importantly talking to new people about anything and everything! Her attitude about how to look forward and stay positive was really fostered at the University of Scranton, where she actually met HKP. Taryn absolutely believes a strong community can help you through anything.