Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Posted by Lucille on February 11, 2014 at 6:25 PM Comments comments (0)

This last stretch of my last term has been stressful. Several of my classes turned out to be a much bigger time commitment than they were made out to be. In one of them, I was given an outdated version of the syllabus that had different assignments listed as 'optional' and 'mandatory', which I didn't realize until the teacher sent me an email to the effect of, "Hey, you do know you're failing, right?" I didn't. And yes, I still had to do the extra assignments. Somehow, it all got done.

At some point in this end-of-the-line sprint, a muscle in my back got overeager. It started doing overtime, as if it wanted to say, "Hey, look! I'm here for you! See how well I'm doing my job? I could do it even better if you want! See how well I can do it? See?"

Ugh. My shoulders were uneven and it was pulling the rest of my body out of whack. I tried to take care of it with heating pads and ibuprofen for a few weeks, but it wasn't helping, and eventually I relented and went to the health center.

I wasn't actually expecting them to do anything. The doctor came in and was talking about some stretches and the benefits of heating pads. She rubbed my trapezius for a moment and said that yes, I was fairly tense.

"Umm, that's not actually where the knot is," I said, "Try here."

She moved her hand, and then her expression changed. "Oh! Oh my. Well then. I'm going to be prescribing you a muscle relaxant."

We talked for a few more minutes, and the stretches she showed me were actually quite helpful. She told me to go ahead and take the muscle relaxant every night for the rest of term. It did take that long; the muscle would slowly seize up again during the day and start pulling me out of whack again, but at night I was pain-free and deliciously floppy, and I got some of the best nights sleep I'd had in a long time.

This may not sound like an event worth it's own blog post. I didn't think it would be, either, but I've realized that it had a significant effect on me. I stopped the other day in the middle of campus, looking around and smiling, and realized that I felt safe.

Not that I would have said I felt unsafe before. I felt safe, because I knew that, worst case scenario, my parents could come get me and take me to a private doctor. I can get myself to the school health center, and now, I trust that they will offer me the care I need. That was an entirely different experience than the, "Hmm, yes, you're still alive. Please come back if that changes," that I got in Berkeley. A seized muscle is not life-threatening, not urgent, and would almost certainly have worked itself out. They took me seriously and offered me help anyway. And it made a difference in these last weeks of term.

It was retroactively healing. It fills me with gratitude and renews my hope that if I am ever a nurse, I will have the opportunity to be that source of understanding and care for someone else.

Sunday Assembly

Posted by Lucille on February 10, 2014 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I was chatting with a friend the other day about how differently our lives are turning out than the way we imagined. Do you remember those silly career profiles tests they give you in school? My top match was always clergy. (Travis's was too.) As an atheist, I thought that was ridiculous, and I never took the tests very seriously.

My friend was intrigued. "But the tests didn't ask about your religious beliefs, did they? They just tested your personality. I can totally see you why you got the result you did."

And she had a point. I love intentional community. I went to a quaker church through middle school and high school, despite identifying as 'spiritual but not religious', because I love that feeling of a group of people making an active choice to celebrate their every day lives together. But clergy? No way. "I don't do doctrine."

My friend smiled. "So start something secular! You've already said that you wanted something like that when you were younger, wanted it so badly that you joined a church even though you didn't share their beliefs. I doubt you're the only one. And Portland would be the perfect place to start something like that."

I laughed it off, because I'm a full time student, for Pete's sake, and I don't have the time it would take to build a group like that from scratch. But her encouragement stuck with me. Later that night, I took out my computer and googled 'atheist church'. I knew that if a group like that existed, 'atheist church' is the last thing they would call themselves, but it seemed worth a shot.

Bingo! I found an angry article from a Christian magazine villifying a group called the Sunday Assembly, and I opened a new window to google the group. There really is no such thing as bad press!

And I was in luck. The Sunday Assembly had a chapter in Portland, and their first meeting was less than a week ago, with another one around the corner.

Here's the quick version. I attended the assembly. And then I started volunteering for the assembly. Then I was invited to come speak at the assembly. And last week, I was invited to join the Board of Directors.

That's how I would break it down for a resume, but that's not how I measure the way this has grown into my life. I measure it in names, stories, genuine smiles, and sincere hugs. I marvel at serendipity, because in all those meetup groups, this was exactly what I was looking for. I am so grateful to my friend for her encouragement. And I'm incredibly excited to get more and more involved with this community during my gap year.

By the way, if you want to see the talk I gave, you can watch it here:

Book Recommendations

Posted by Lucille on February 9, 2014 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Believe it or not (and I'm not sure I believe it myself) I've actually had time to read a few books for fun this year. A few of them stood out as earning a permanent place on my shelf. I'd like to give them a shout-out.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

It's an entirely new take on the world of Hogwarts, with the premise that before he joined the world of magic, Harry Potter had been trained in the methods of rationality. Everything is different from there. Dumbledore might be the bad guy. Lucius Malfoy might be a friend. With the same starting point, the same style, and an entirely different storyline, this book is a muggle's dream come true. If you like fantasty, the scientific method, and exploring issues of logic and ethics, this book is a keeper.

The Desire Map by Danielle Laporte

This one can be a little woo-woo, so if that's not your style, don't sweat it. It's an emotion-focused approach to goal-setting. Part philosophy, part workbook, the Desire Map guides you toward identifying your core desired emotions and then finding ways to bring those emotions into every part of your life. It makes success a daily practice. Although it might not be a new idea, the way it's presented is everything. Laporte's writing is positive and uplifting, and will help bring you into the moment. I've been savoring this book, working through it slowly to help me set intentions for this next year. There are also Desire Map book clubs if you like the idea of going through the workbook with a group.


I have a funny story behind this one. A close friend of mine came over to visit a while ago and said that she had a great book she wanted to lend me, but that she'd forgotten it at home. I exclaimed that I'd found a wonderful book to lend her, too, and grabbed this off the shelf. It was the same book! There's no shortage of self-help books written for people new to adulthood, but instead of sounding like an overhyped sales-pitch that just wants to tell you the one secret that will change everything and give you the life you always imagined, this one reads like a comforting pep talk from your best friend. Witty and practical, it's central premise is that if you can cook two things besides ramen, you really are going to be okay. If you have any soon-to-be adults or young adults in your life this graduation season, Adulting would be a great gift!

Brag Moment

Posted by Lucille on February 8, 2014 at 3:50 PM Comments comments (0)

When dad was bedridden last winter, it got Travis thinking about ways to prevent bed sores, and he came up with an idea (though I won't explain it here because it's complicated and he's still trying to patent it). He started putting together a computer model. Later, he learned that the school was hosting an innovation challenge asking for 'inventions for an aging population'. Travis got a team together and started working on a prototype. Between school, the competition, scholarship applications, and trying to find an internship for this summer, the poor guy has been putting in 70 hour weeks. But his team had a working prototype completed in time.

There weren't a lot of contestants, so the first round of competition narrowed it down to two groups, one of which was Travis's. The other group had done an impressive, high-tech project for people with Parkinson's. In a move that still irks me, the judges told the two teams that they had already decided who had won, but that they wanted both groups to come back the next day anyway and present their projects again for a guest audience before they revealed their decision. Travis's team was in agreement that the other team had probably won. But they agreed to work with the feedback they'd gotten and come back with an even better presentation the next day.

I didn't make it to the second round of the competition because this was the same weekend as SARC's first annual advocacy retreat, and I'd been invited to lead a workshop on self care. I brought my painting, a bag of art supplies, and some handouts I'd put together. We had a lot of fun and I loved having the chance to get to know the batch of new volunteers. Running on an advocacy high, I packed up from the workshop just in time to get Travis's call- they won! By the end of the reception that followed, he had a small scholarship for next year and two summer job offers.

Dad will proudly take credit for being the inspiration that got this whole thing started. (In his words, at least something good came out of staph's unwelcome visit!) I'm so proud of Travis, and also thrilled that his job offer means he will be staying in Portland over the summer instead of going back to California. Sometimes, everything just falls into place.


Posted by Lucille on February 8, 2014 at 2:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I reflected to someone the other day that choosing a major is less about taking the brain (skills, worldviews, ways of thinking) you have and matching it with a field, and more about choosing what kind of brain you want to leave with. Travis and I have both gotten to the point in our college careers where every class we take is in our major. By the time we graduate, for better or worse, our intense training in a specific field will have physically altered our brains. These different ways of thinking are not better or worse than others, because they are each adaptive to their respective disciplines. What I find amusing is the ways that our disciplines are becoming internalized. Our work is part of us.

And it shows up nowhere better than in our senses of humor.

For my comparative biology class, we are doing group dissections. My group was given a cat. It was a cute cat, curled up like he was sleeping. So, naturally, we named him Sammy and talked to him through the whole dissection. Morbid, I know, but that's why morbid humor was invented. We made up stories about his other nine cat lives to pass the time, learned a lot, and had a lot of fun.

The next week I went to get our prepared dissection so we could present. I reached into the bag and pulled out Sammy...most of him. His head was missing. Chopped off. Gone. I was holding a partial cat and I had no idea what to do.

"Oh my god, Sammy's head is missing!" I said and there was a collective gasp of shock and horror. Just then our TA ran in and said frantically, "Oh no, I'm so sorry I forgot to warn you! The axial skeleton group dropped their cat skull and I told them they could use yours...but I forgot to tell you...I'm so sorry-"

Standing there, holding half a cat drenched in formaldehyde and face to face with my mortified TA, I started laughing. And then the group started laughing. And our TA started laughing. And then we were all laughing so hard we were crying, and it was even funnier because I couldn't lift my gloved hands to wipe my eyes, so I was just standing there laughing helplessly while my tears fell onto my labcoat and dripped onto Sammy the headless cat. I laughed until my stomach hurt, which served as a good segway into our presentation on the digestive system.

Later that week I was studying with Travis and some of his classmates. One of them groaned in frustration and handed his sheet of fine-print calculations (full of symbols I didn't even recognize) over to me. "Want to take a stab at engineering?"

I handed it back with a look of disgust. "I'd rather go dissect cats."

The group pushed their chairs back from me in horror, and Travis burst out laughing because he knew that I was dead serious.

That night, Travis was studying on the bed, and I'd made camp with my textbooks on the floor. A shadow fell across the page and I looked up to see Travis grinning gleefully, lying rigid with half his body suspended off the side of the bed.

"Lulu! Lulu, look! I'm a cantilever!"

The Power of Words

Posted by Lucille on February 6, 2014 at 12:00 PM Comments comments (0)

 Like any advocate, I have strengths and also skills I strive to improve. One of the things I'm working on is taking the time to confidently state what might, to me, appear to be obvious. Sometimes it doesn't occur to me to say things that should be obvious (but in our culture often aren't) until a caller keeps circling back to a thought in a way I don't expect. And then my response, instead of coming out confident and reassuring, can come out like this, " do know that this isn't your fault, right?"

And while I'm chastising myself for phrasing that so badly, on the other side of the line I'll hear a deep breath of release, a flood of relief, and then the quiet pause of catharsis. And then I'll hear, "Thank you so much. I really needed to hear that today."

It never ceases to amaze me, the power of words.

Therapy is going well. The intake process felt pretty uncomfortable- not because of anything my therapist said, but just because being asked to disclose all of the darkest and weirdest parts of your personal history in one conversation to someone you just met is uncomfortable by nature. But I understand why it is done this way. Once you have made it through the intake process- been at your most vulnerable, and been able to see that you were welcomed unconditionally- there is nothing left to dance around, nothing to stand in the way of coming to each appointment bared and ready to get to work.

I have started a journal, a private place for me to dump out all the gunk that floats around in the back of my head, without trying to edit or critique it. One of the things in this journal is a list titled, "Things that make me feel like I'm sitting in a puddle of my own privilege but fill me with fear nonetheless." I shared this list with my therapist. As I went through the fears, I started to rush, wanting to assure her at every step that I really did have a sense of perspective and that I understood how lucky I was. For the first time, she interrupted me, and not with a tone of confidence and reassurance, but with a confused, "Wait, you do know that recognizing your privilege doesn't mean you don't have the right to struggle, right?"

There was a deep breath of release, a flood of relief, and then the quiet pause of catharsis. And then I started to laugh, quietly- at myself, at us, at humans. I laughed because I saw myself in her, and I felt in me the flood of relief that always catches me off guard when I hear it on the line. I laughed because even when we already know something to be true, it is powerful to hear it from someone else. Humans are funny that way.

My mantra in SARC is validate, validate, validate. The vast majority of what I do is reflect what I'm hearing back to someone. I say, "Yes, this was your experience." That's really what it comes down to. Sometimes it feels like this process of listen, reframe, reflect, and repeat should lose its power over time. But every time it starts to feel automatic or distant, the power of the response I hear amazes me and calls me back to the meaning in my words.

It’s fascinating being able to feel the power of validation from the other side. Isolation is isolating. Yes, you read that right. Isolation compounds itself because it is difficult to talk about, and the experience is invalidated by silence. When I’m feeling fragile, I start to feel angry with myself. Yes, I spent a lot of time by myself last term, more than is probably healthy. But for goodness’ sake, I’m a self-identified introvert! My whole life, I have craved time to myself as a chance to reflect and wonder about the world. Through SARC, I am constantly gifted with a sense of perspective, and it just doesn’t make sense that being alone should be enough to make me feel this way!

My therapist listened quietly while I shared these frustrations with her, and then reflected back to me, “It sounds like being by yourself was your refuge, and all of a sudden that refuge wasn’t safe anymore.”

Boom. And then a quiet pause, a breath of stillness. There was what I’d been struggling to articulate, stripped of all my prefacing and apologies. Justified or not, weak or not, there was my experience in all its vulnerable truth. And her words conveyed nothing but validation and acceptance. With one sentence, I felt completely heard, and completely understood.

This is the power of words. This is the power I have when I speak with survivors of assault. Even writing this now, I am filled with a rush of deep gratitude for the chance to have this role in people's lives, to be the one that says what they need to hear, even if it is nothing more than a statement of validation when it matters. And I am awed by knowing that I have this power outside of the line as well. That every interaction with every single person I see throughout the day holds the possibility of connection and healing, for either of us, for both. We live in a remarkable world.

Self Care

Posted by Lucille on February 5, 2014 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I learned a lot of new things about how to take care of myself last term. I'm also learning that I can be kind of bad at recognizing when I need to ask for help.

I assume that I'm okay until proven otherwise. However I'm feeling, I label that as being okay, and that becomes my new definition. I recalibrate and carry on. The weirdest part about this is that it means I often realize how not okay I was only in retrospect. Much like two years ago, when I only really comprehended how sick I'd been as I kept getting better, and better, and even better still, I am looking back at last term and realizing that I need to give past-me more credit for hanging in there. Jumping into a full schedule with classes that involved actually speaking to other humans this term was a major culture shock. I adapted. I recalibrated. And then I looked back at last term and thought, "Wait, you mean this is what being okay feels like? Well then I take back what I said before. Last term I did not feel okay."

In spite of all of the progress I'd made, my inner garden was still pretty rocky at the start of this spring. A lot of the time I'd feel great, and then at other times I'd take off spiraling. One particular morning, about an hour after Travis left for school, I started having trouble focusing. Anxieties rushed up around me. I went through my morning routines, all of them, but my thoughts hadn't calmed. I didn't understand why this was happening. I talk every day with people who've survived trauma and lifetimes of abuse. And here I am, whining just because I spent too much time by myself. For Pete's sake, Lucille, get it together!

But my mind did not obey. I started worrying about next year, my gap year, when the structure of school will disintegrate and I will spend hours on-call, working on my thesis alone. What would this anxiety feel like then? What if it became more than I could handle? I was crying. I thought about how younger-me wanted be when she was grown up. It wasn't this. I wanted to be stronger than this. I am not the person that I wanted to grow up to be.

My advocate voice kicked in. It heard my escalating fear and named it: this is spiraling. But I am not a survivor of trauma, I objected. My advocate-self remained calm. I hear that you are spiraling. I hear that you are having anxiety about anxiety. I hear that in an hour by yourself, you went from looking forward to the day to concluding that you had failed as a human being. If you were calling me on the SARC line, Lucille, this is when I would broach the idea of counseling. What can I do to support you right now?

I had more objections. But I'd be a pretty poor advocate if I didn't take my own advice.

So I called Dad, and told him how I was feeling, and I broached the idea of kind of-maybe-possibly wanting to see a therapist. And to my surprise, he laughed kindly and said, "Honey, if there's anything I've learned from my love affair with sepsis this year, it's that by the time you or I consider asking for help there's a good chance we should have asked for help three months ago. You have my full support to seek out whatever kind of help you need."

I have the best dad in the world.

So I started looking. And in my first search, I found someone walking distance from me, covered by my insurance, who specializes in 'isolation and anxiety in higher education'. Did you know that was a specialty? Me neither.

I really should have done this three months ago.

Obligatory Anniversary Post

Posted by Lucille on February 4, 2014 at 7:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Here's us being cute at 0, 1, and 2 years!

Thank you to all of you for sharing this milestone with us. The love and friendship in my life fills me with gratitude every day.

Welcome to Spring, Everyone!

Posted by Lucille on February 3, 2014 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Another season, another term.

I kicked it off by chopping off all my hair. Okay, not all of it. But that's what if felt like!

Quite on accident, Travis and I realized that neither of us had gotten a haircut since we got together. This seemed like a fitting way to celebrate our anniversary. (Can you believe it's been two years?!) We marched ourselves down to the local barber, got shorn, and then donated our hair to Locks of Love so that they can sell it on the black market to make wookie costumes for people who want to welcome the zombie apocalypse in style. Or they might just make a wig. Which is cool too.

I think this is the shortest hair I've had since second grade, when I hid under the bed yelling that if Mom made me brush my hair before school, I would run away to Hogwarts and never come back. She gave me a choice between brushing my hair and cutting it off. Predictably, I tried to call her bluff.

It turns out Mom doesn't bluff. Note to self: come up with something nice for Mom this mother's day. She put up with a lot.

I really liked my short hair this time around. They tried some new things, like layering, and it looked adorable.

The next morning, though, it was a different beast! It turns out that my hair with layers (when not guided into place by the stylist's expert hands) does this cool flyaway thing that makes me look like I'm carrying around a portable Van de Graaff generator. I haven't fixed it yet because somehow this look seems to fit the rush of the last term of the year. Besides, in the cadaver room with a too-big-for-me labcoat, I can pull off the mad scientist look like a pro.

Everyone, welcome to spring.

This Will Be Stuck In My Head For The Next Decade

Posted by Lucille on February 2, 2014 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (0)

My little brother recently dove into the world of orthodontia, complete with braces, oral surgery, tooth extractions, the whole shebang. Poor kid. The last time I had oral surgery done, I was so groggy and sedated that I stayed on the couch and slept for the next day and a half. So this time I went straight over after school so that I could help take care of him as the drugs wore off. I was also looking forward (perhaps selfishly) to spending time with a low-energy little brother for a change.

The second I walked through the door, he ran up to me, threw a blanket over my shoulders, and yelled, "Quick, Sissy! The musical is starting!" And then I heard Dad from the next room, holding a video camera and counting down, "Curtain in five...four...three..." What was there to do but jump on stage? My brotherh, naturally, had a whole choreography worked out, and by the fifth or sixth take I was even starting to know some of the words. We did this song over and over. For hours. Because he was just that excited. And yes, despite the sedatives, three hours later he was still bouncing off the walls and couldn't open his mouth without bursting into song.

Watch the shenanigans here.

I have no words for how much I love this kid.

And now, time to sing ourselves into spring.



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HIPAA Disclaimer

Sometimes I have the privilege of being a part of intimate, powerful moments in other people’s lives. I cannot and would not share these stories, because they are not mine to tell. However, they touch my life and become part of my own story. When I share these moments here, you can trust that I have not broken anyone’s confidentiality. The characters are invented. They are not real, but could be. I take creative license to communicate the essence of my experience while respecting the privacy of others.