Verb: CHECK ON your ‘Strong Friends’

2020 has taken its name way too seriously. And not in a good way. CHECK ON YOUR STRONG FRIENDS.

The isolation of COVID-19 + the fears of racism + the constant barrage of devastating headlines = A broken and weary spirit. CHECK ON YOUR STRONG FRIENDS.

I, for one, struggle with depression and have recently become overwhelmed by everything. I have had to dust off my accountability list of trusted people I reach out to when I am feeling the weight and darkness of depression. CHECK ON YOUR STRONG FRIENDS.

I can’t imagine the fear, rage, and frustrations that my people are feeling at the front lines of protests/hospital beds/family households, the mood shifts if/when they go home, the energy drought when they have to do it all over again. CHECK ON YOUR STRONG FRIENDS.

So what does that look like? Well it’s definitely not “OuR ThoUgHts AnD pRayERs”. Everyone’s needs, experiences, and reactions are different so it could look like a number of things. Based on my own personal experiences with people trying to check on me, I have definitely found out what it doesn’t look like. I don’t want to speak for anyone else, so I have written a short list of guardrails from my perspective that may help you decide how to CHECK ON YOUR STRONG FRIENDS.

Here’s my short list of what NOT to do … with some suggestions on what you might do.

  1. Don’t tell me to pray … if you haven’t volunteered to pray with and for me.

I’m typically a prayerful person and have most likely already cycled through prayers. If I have ceased praying, it’s because I am TIRED. Don’t advise me to do what is normal because even ‘normal’ things are HEAVY. Instead show up and help carry the load. Pray for me outloud so I can hear.

  1. Don’t ask me if I have talked to other people … if you haven’t just listened and collected my tears.

Make no mistake about this: I chose YOU to feel safe. I CHOSE to let the pieces fall in front of you. Don’t abandon me or pass me off to be someone else’s problem.

  1. Don’t tell me I’m not alone … if you haven’t showed up to give me a hug, hold my hand, let your presence protect me in my vulnerability.

I know COVID-19 has really put a damper on this one, but it’s worth the risk and can be done safely. Healing touch provides signals to the brain that counter the stress that is being pumped throughout the body. As a scientist, I say it all the time: stress is PHYSICAL. Hugging releases a hormone called oxytocin that can lower stress and anxiety. Holding hands can reduce pain through synchronized brain waves.

  1. Don’t as me a bunch of questions “just trying to understand” … if you haven’t just let me vent uninterrupted.

This makes me feel like I have to justify and defend my emotions, which only serves the negative feedback loop of “There’s something wrong with me“. This also adds the pressure that I have to protect you from my mess. This burden isn’t always linear, logical, or rational. You may not be able to fully understand or you may just want to fix it as quickly as possible. If that’s the case, send a card or care package instead.

  1. Don’t react defensively if I don’t immediately take your advice … if you haven’t volunteered to show up and do it with me.

Accountability is huge determinant of breaking free from the burden. I am too tired, too scared, too broken to do whatever it is you’re asking of me. You also don’t know that the expected outcome will be the actual outcome. If I can’t answer your call for the 3rd time, I certainly can’t dial someone else. If I can dial someone else, what if no one picks up? Or what if they do and they give me “OuR ThoUgHts AnD pRayERs”. If I can’t get out of my bed, I certainly can’t go for a walk. Show up for me and lead by example. Come sit with me, take me on a walk, bring me food or cook with me, brave those phone calls with me, spend the night to make sure I get to sleep or get myself up.

Your strong friend wants to be tender too.

Just for a moment.

CHECK ON YOUR STRONG FRIENDS.

 

Verb: PROCESS your thoughts

How does one balance “Don’t worry, be happy!” with “When it rains, it pours!” ??

  1. Dog had surgery
  2. Didn’t meet work metrics
  3. Influential ppl in my networks speak terribly of me
  4. Water damage in condo from neighboring unit

This series of unfortunate events all happened within 2 weeks. My mind went spiraling:

Is this gonna jeopardize my down payment? 9 weeks recovery?! first 3 weeks are the most critical…So many meds to manage…Is this too much meds for my fur baby? Oh no, I have travel in the first 3 weeks! What if she fails the surgery because I’m not there to stop her? How am I gonna make it 😫 I have so much travel! Can I rearrange my visits? No, I need the numbers. They’ll think I can’t perform. Should I tell them about the surgery and recovery? They’ll probably think I’m making excuses it I’m weak. This is what they need to fire me. Maybe I should cut my losses and quit now. What am I thinking?! I just bought a house, I certainly can’t quit. Plus I’m no coward. But I bet they think I am. I don’t stand up enough for myself. Maybe I’m in over my head. No one would believe me if I told them that. Everyone always seems to land on “AyaNa HaS iT All tOgEtheR” 🙄 yet the only thing that seems to be together is this dam of tears behind my eyes waiting for the right question. Can’t let them see me cry. Can’t let them walk all over me. I bet that’s what the condo insurance wants to do. They haven’t even been by to check out the damage THEY caused 😡 I can’t even get there to see it for myself. How long is this going to take? How long does it take for mold to grow?! Even if repairs start and I go down to see the progress, I don’t even know what I’m looking for in a good vs bad job. How do I choose a contractor? Am I gonna have to come out of pocket for anything? Lawd my budget can’t take it! I won’t be able to make my down payment if this continues 😭 …
*return to the top of thoughts and repeat*

Art Glitch GIF by James White - Fine Artist

Whew! Are you exhausted too?? It’s safe to say the devil stole my peace and joy.

According to science, up to 91% of things we worry about don’t even come to fruition. ALL THAT SPACE TAKEN UP IN MY MIND FOR NOTHING?!

Yep Laughing GIF by SoulPancake

Take the time to process worries and find their root, before they take root in you. Unchecked worrying can lead to many clinical problems: depression, anxiety, upset stomach, ulcers, high blood pressure, migraines, respiratory problems, weakened immune system (both acute and chronic).

My grad school therapist used to tell me, “If you can name it, you can tame it.” Here are some things I do to tame my worries:

  • Make a worry appointment. Literally set aside a specific amount of time to sit with the woe-is-me feeling. You can set time to do this alone and/or with a confidant.
    • I take 24 hours to ruminate alone, vent to a friend, yell, curse, and cry.
  • Set up the dominoes. Write down everything that is causing concern, prioritized by disaster level. The domino effect is already happening in your mind, but all the spinning can blur issues together. This will keep things separate.
    • I start with bullet points to decide what thoughts are connected, then add numbers to give them order.
  • Take the next best step to take care of you. Once you have your disaster list, figure out which disasters have a solution and which don’t. For the ones that do, solve them in the order that is best for you. For the ones that don’t, accept that they can’t be solved right now (but in time, they just might resolve themselves).
    • I base my solutions on time — what worry can I get rid of RIGHT NOW? Sometimes my solutions are immediate action. Other times they are simply a plan. There are even times when the next best thing I can do for myself is merely self-care while I wait it out.

Note: these are my personal steps to conquering worry. It’s not a perfect process. The domino step can sometimes be a double-edged sword, inviting me to revisit the disaster feelings, even when I have a plan in motion. But my worry appointments become shorter when I remember the plan.

So when my worrying finally slowed, a series of fortunate events occurred in the same 2 weeks:

  1. Recovery going exceptionally well
  2. Received new opportunities and visibility to managers and leads
  3. Bigger problems in my network arose that far outweigh personal opinions of me
  4. Multiple insurance policies in play for repairs

“Take back what the devil stole from me, and I rejoice today, for I shall recover it all.”

Verb: STOP and GO

🗣️ CAN YOU BELIEVE IT’S 2020?!?! You couldn’t tell 10 year old me that I’d be living any less fly than the Jetsons in the year 2020 (and I do mean FLY literally). But here we are, still rolling around on 4 tires that could go flat if the temperature drops too rapidly…

While technology has fallen short of my imagination, my actual life has not! Since I PHinishegrad school, I did a short stint in NY before landing my dream job as a Medical Science Liaison!

But things weren’t a total breeze. I was back swimming in debt from a second relocation. I had to buy a car to even do my job. And I had to find the money to get through field training (sure, work paid me back. . .but I had to pay first). The old me would have shrunken back and worried my way through it all. But the new me has a little more grit.

In 2019, I chose a word to lead my year: AVAILABLE. I wanted to make myself available to every opportunity – to learn, to wait, to love, to grow, to receive. And I somehow did all of those things. In 2020: the word to lead my year is DISCIPLINE. And so, under the guise of discipline, I will stop letting perfection be the enemy of done and press go on this post (4 days late, not how I wanted, but done). ¯_(ツ)_/¯

 

Verb: FIND your why…

So much life has happened since my last post 3 years ago. The short summary is: My beloved Grandaddy passed away; I finally Phinishegrad school; I lost my road dog Missy to cancer; I started my career! But to shorten those 3 years to a few bullet points and just move forward from this new starting point would be a disservice to those trying to decide/enter/navigate the terrain of the road less traveled.

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Verb: STAND

This time last year, I began my 4th year as a PhD candidate displaced. I had no mentor, no lab, and no thesis project. I felt betrayed, bullied, and abandoned. I didn’t know what I had done that was so horrible to deserve this.

But I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. The truth is, my program had failed me. I did what I was supposed to. I talked to all the “right” people. I made the requested adjustments. And still, I was in jeopardy of leaving school without my PhD.

Never had Donnie McClurkin’s lyrics felt so real to me:
What do you do when you’ve done all you can
And it seems like it’s never enough?
And what do you say
When your friends [mentors, in my case] turn away
And you’re all alone?

Tell me, what do you give when you’ve given your all
And it seems like you can’t make it through?
Well, you just stand when there’s nothing left to do.
You just stand, watch the Lord see you through.
Yes, after you’ve done all you can,
You just stand.

I didn’t understand at first. You see, patience is not my virtue. In my opinion, standing always symbolized laziness or loitering, basically being unproductive. It never symbolized strength or silently fighting back. . .until now. This time last year, I had nothing else to do except stand and it was the most difficult thing to do. All I wanted to do was hide, lay in bed all day, and cry. I didn’t want to be seen, answer any questions, or explain the situation anymore. But I realized if I ran away from this, that would mean they successfully stole my dream without so much as a peep from me. I would have HANDED my dream over. And I knew I couldn’t do that.

With no energy left in me to fight the enemy, all I could do was stand in his face. So that’s what I did. I went to school every day and sat at my student desk. I’m sure those who tried to tear me down were surprised to see me, but there I was. . .standing in the fire without being consumed.

And sure enough, the Lord began to make a way! Soon I had interviews to find a new lab. My spirit wasn’t fully prepared to fight just yet, but God sent me a sign reminding me that I didn’t have to: all of the opportunities that required too much fight were taken away, leaving a single opportunity to take. Here was my chance to start over.

So in the spirit of starting over: this time last year, I began my 4th year as a PhD candidate on a new project, with new mentorship, and a new spirit. ”You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done”. In a single year, God took me from 0 to 100 (real quick, 😛 ). I am so excited and overwhelmed by the favor He has given/is giving me.

The countdown to graduation has already begun. T-17 months!!! Follow me on this journey to become Dr. Martin as I go through the ups and downs of school life, career development, and personal growth. I know I’m not the only one out there, so I hope my stories can help you too!

©2014 by Ayana Martin

Verb: BLOOM and GROW

“The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud — the obstacles of life and its suffering. ” -Goldie Hawn, A Lotus Grows in the Mud

Well I must truly be that Lotus Flower Bomb that Wale was talking about because I have been slung through the mud so much in grad school that I’m convinced I now live there. I took a hiatus from blogging because an effort was made to end my graduate career early and I had to refocus and figure out how I would overcome this obstacle. I knew the actions were unethical. Post-prelims, it cannot be decided for me whether or not I can continue pursuing a PhD (unless I have failed to meet milestones after a cautionary probation). Yet that is what transpired. All of a sudden, I was an advanced grad student (4th year!!!) competing for space with new students. I was suffering. While sitting in my suffering, trying to figure out how I got to this point, I realized there were just as many advantages to my position as there were disadvantages, so I optimized those advantages.
1. Con: as an advanced student, a PI might not want to take me in because s/he would have a limited timeline for a project (translation: less free labor).
Pro: as an advanced student, a PI can get more progress and product from me because I have already acquired applicable lab skills and would not require much training.

2. Con: as an advanced student looking for a lab, I don’t have funding to support me.
Pro: incoming grad students also do not have funding to support them. I would require less $ due to less amount of time I need to complete my degree.

3. Con: as an advanced student without a lab, I do not have a project to complete in order to get my degree.
Pro: as an advanced student still fighting to be here, I have more dedication, drive, and perseverance to complete my degree, whereas a new student may end up not passing prelims or deciding to leave grad school.

This outlook gave me hope, for I could now see above the mud. Just before the close of 2013, I found a new lab home. I began 2014 very guarded and hesitant because I had been emotionally bullied and nearly defeated. But I continued to stand (in the mud). Little by little, I let down my guard and opened up my mind (one petal at a time). I received instruction and encouragement positively (growing and gaining wisdom). After 6 months, I think I’m finally on my way to becoming the most beautiful flower (lotus). I have accomplished more in these 6 months with my new mentor(s) than I ever did with my old mentor(s). I have finished my first aim, was accepted to TWO national workshops, and received travel awards to attend both. Not only that, but I am also applying to receive a Certificate in Global Health with my degree. Funny how that worked out: somebody didn’t want me to get a PhD and now I’m getting a PhD and then some!

This has been my process. It has not been easy. It has not been pretty. But the bullsh!t dealt to me I have turned into fertilizer. So the grass is finally starting to look greener on MY side.

©2014 by Ayana Martin

Verb: LET GO!

After a wonderful time dancing the night away, we got back with just enough time for a catnap before the next day’s adventure: ZIPLINING! Christina had no idea what was in store. All she knew was there was a harness involved. To keep the nerves away, she began cooking our first breakfast while everyone else got ready. Just as the huevos began to sizzle in the pan, there was a knock on our door and a friendly voice called out to us, “Hola! Que lo que!”

Christina and I were a little startled. Were we that friendly last night and gained a stalker?!? Naaah. So I went outside to see what was going on. The guy introduced himself and explained that he was the transportation that was going to take us to the ziplining transportation. . .a taxi to take us to the taxi? #sketch. I went back inside to check for any email updates from the company that booked our tour and sure enough there was a new email validating his story. The only discrepancy: he was 45 minutes early. He told us there was a change in the ziplining transportation’s schedule and they were already waiting for us, so we must hurry. #facepalm

Christina finished up the eggs as I finished drying my hair and brushing my teeth. Then we switched positions so she could dry her hair and brush her teeth while I put the food away. . .

As we apologetically climbed into the zipline truck, we were greeted by warm smiles (and a wink from the guide Elvio). On the way to Monkey Jungle, the warm wind whipped our hair, the sun melted our worries, and the excitement was additive as we all chatted to calm our nerves. Two girls from Oklahoma were also on their first trip abroad, and they were staying at the resort we were headed to later in our trip, so we were excited to hear their stories. They told us about all the great music and clubs they’d been to and all the great food they had. Assuming the places they were talking about were outside of the resort, we asked if their taxi experience was as crazy as ours. Shockingly, they actually never left the resort for their experiences. They only left for excursions like today, and that transportation was door to door. They had NO IDEA what it was like in the actual city. . .and they didn’t think they were missing out on anything. Seriously?! How can you say you experienced the Dominican Republic without actually leaving the walls that confine you? 

Thankfully Elvio gracefully inserted himself into our conversation to avoid the awkward silence that was sure to come. Elvio was intrigued by our expression to experience the true Dominican Republic. His green eyes sparkled as he shared stories about his family and his favorite things to do in the city. He and Christina “clicked” on the topic of baseball. He told us about his son who was a professional baseball player getting ready to sign a US professional contract until he got bit by a mosquito and contracted malaria. Despite the tragedy of the story, he had a jovial outlook on life. He was even looking forward to getting married! Soon! To Christina! Hahahaha He announced his ‘engagement’ to the passengers as we pulled up to Monkey Jungle and told the guides to take extra care of his future wife and ‘sister’-in-law (me).

Monkey Jungle is a 280 acre working farm with nearly a mile of ACCT Certified Zip Line. There are 7 Stations and a free fall fan descender, which drops almost 60 feet into an ancient cave! After Ziplining, there is a tour of a botanical garden with rabbits, peacocks, turkeys, and squirrel monkeys! There is also a large enclosure that houses rescue capuchins who entertain and provide countless memories. The extra special thing about Monkey Jungle is that all proceeds benefit the onsite medical/dental clinic which provides FREE service to the community!

Aside from a great adventure, ziplining was a lesson in letting go. You’re strapped to a cable, on a ledge, and you can’t go anywhere if you don’t take the leap. Sometimes you’re on a ledge that is in the middle of nowehere and you can’t go back to where you were. You can only trust life, let go, and move forward. And when you do that, you might be surprised at how enjoyable the journey is. This is important to overcoming things that may be holding us back in life. Maybe you have the death grip on your comfort zone, or you’re dragging out your latest relationship (job, friend, love included). Whatever has you stuck, you’ve got to let go.

We truly enjoyed the experience at Monkey Jungle. From the jolly Southern-accented, Tennessee-native owner, to the guides nicknamed after celebrities (Eddie Murphy, Will.I.Am, Kobe, Chris Brown, Mariah Carey, and later we met Usher), to feeding the squirrel monkeys, parrots, and rescue ashy-faced owl. . .this experience was more than words could express. So enjoy the pictures and video of our experience!

©2013 by Ayana Martin

Verb: BAILA! (Dance!)

After spending way too much time in the grocery store, we finally headed to our humble abode at SunCamp DR Apartments in Munoz, a lovely village just outside Puerto Plata. We had a spacious 2 bedroom apartment with a very comfy living and kitchen area.

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As is standard travel customs, we excitedly unpacked then headed out of the room to see who and what was around. After finding No-one and Nothing, we lounged by the river to figure out what to do with the remaining daylight hours. It wasn’t long before adventure found us again. A few minutes into our chat, we heard laughter coming from the front of the complex. Ariel and Silvia, affectionately called “Margarita” by Ariel, were returning from horseback riding (initially we thought her name was really Margarita; he said it so sweetly!). We went out to introduce ourselves and ended up getting invited to a night on the town. Silvia wanted to venture into the city and explore El Malecon – the stretch of street that runs along the edge of the island – and we absolutely wanted to tag along. Plus we were HUNGRY and Hugo, the chef, was not in yet.

So with that, we headed to the taxi stand that would take us into the city. Ruta Munoz was the taxi of choice. It only cost 30 pesos ($0.75) per person and drove a specific route all day long. Perfect! On the short walk to the stand, we couldn’t help but wonder how this was going to work. . .There were a total of 5 of us going (Ariel and our photographer joined us). Obviously we wouldn’t all fit in one car. . .and with no real destination in mind, how would we know where to meet up? Ariel read our minds (or our confused faces) and intruded upon our thoughts:

Ariel: “No problem! We’re all going in the same car.”

Us: O_o

Silvia: “Ruta Munoz taxis carry 7 people: 6 passengers plus the driver!”

Us: “Whaaaaat?” Jesus be a fence!

After arriving in El Malecon unscathed, we found a local restaurant and had our first Dominican meal. The food was AMAZING! It was so fresh, very flavorful, and paired perfectly with our El Presidente beers (the national beer). After dinner, we walked down El Malecon and ran into our dessert: Daikiris! As we continued on, with drinks in tow, we found ourselves in a mixture of rhythms and beats blaring from all directions. Parked cars were setting up speakers the size of me. Moving cars had windows all the way down and volume all the way up. Motorcycles didn’t skip a beat either, as they equipped themselves with musical backpacks (aka subwoofers and bungee cords)! This was clearly “la lleca” (slang for “the spot”). And we weren’t just IN the mix, we WERE the mix! With all the wonderful music surrounding us, we couldn’t resist dancing! The police officers hanging out (apparently after work because they weren’t regulating the crazy traffic) enjoyed our salsa 😉 The young boy next to us with his family enjoyed schooling us with his reggaeton moves. And we enjoyed dancing the night away. Silvia even said a few times throughout the night, “Ayana, music is IN your blood!”

We bonded, practiced Spanish, and shared stories. . .mainly our top lessons from the DR thus far:

  • The answer to everything is “No problem!”
  • Avoid public “Dominican bathrooms” (aka that bush over there) at all costs – even if it means begging the Daikiri lady to let us use her apartment.
  • Don’t try the “fries” – especially when the fries are actually lambi and NOT potatoes (but DO try the lambi).

Check out pictures and video of our El Malecon adventures:

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©2013 by Ayana Martin

Verb: SHOP! Our first experience in DR

In May 2013, Christina and I embarked on the VERY FIRST Insert(VERB)Here travel project. It was Christina’s first time traveling outside the United States (check our her story here). With nerves in overdrive and excitement on turbo, we dove head first into accomplishing the goals of the travel project:

  1. Empathy training through complete immersion
  2. Eliminating stigmas through out of the box experiences
  3. Public service through volunteer work

As soon as we left the airport, we headed to our first challenge: GROCERY SHOPPING. Now, this first challenge may sound easy. . .and  it was intended to be easy. . .but adventure had another idea in mind. Our new amigo Sam took us to the local one-stop-shop “La Sirena” – basically the Dominican Walmart. We only needed food for 3 days (we were heading to an all-inclusive resort later in the week), so we thought this would be a no-brainer.

As it turns out, shopping in a foreign country was more of an experience than we were expecting! For starters, let’s talk about personal space. “Which aisle is that on?” Other shoppers would park their cart and block you in, then proceed to reach over you for their desired food. . .all without ever making eye contact with you and seeing the horror in your face. Those that did make eye contact with you simply smiled and moved on, completely oblivious to your confusion.

Next, let’s address the blinking sign and arrow saying “THE FOREIGNERS ARE HERE!” We became a spectacle (not in a bad way) when our Spanish conversation ended at “chorizo y huevos” and circled the ENTIRE meat department looking for breakfast sausages. We circled several times – feigning looking for other items to feel less lost – until one of the employees had mercy on us and directed us via interpretive dance to the chorizo freezer.

Lastly, the conversions were a beast. This goes for language as well as currency (PhD candidates use calculators too!!). Grocery shopping definitely poked holes and sank our ship S.S. Spanish-We-Thought-We-Knew. Notably, the items that caused us THE MOST grief was SALT and PEPPER! There were 20 versions of salt, minimum, ranging from $40RD to $400RD ($1USD to $10USD)! And mostly salts costing hundreds of $RD (NOTE: the higher price did NOT translate to bulk size, rather American brands -___-). Is it THAT serious? There was no ground black pepper in regular size. There was ground white pepper in regular size or ground black pepper in Feed America size. Good thing our challenge was to try all things Dominican. We just never imagined salt and pepper to be one of them 🙂

After grocery shopping (we’re pretty sure Sam took a nap while waiting for us), we headed to our humble abode: Suncamp DR Apartments! We had our own 2 bedroom apartment with a large living area, kitchen area, and a bathroom to share. The water was warm (most of the time) and the regular bugs stayed outside. The Jurassic bugs somehow snuck in unnoticed. Don’t they always?! It’s like they receive stealth training or something! Fortunately, this only happened the last day of our stay in the apartment. The people at Suncamp were so warm and welcoming! The owner, Diane, was so passionate about helping the community in Munoz. She knew EVERYONE by name and what everyone’s individual needs were. It was clear how priceless she was to the community. Her son Sam and his girlfriend Jen were so down to earth and very cool to hang out with. It immediately felt like we were old friends. Ariel was extremely fun! He was our guide for several of our activities, as you’ll see in the coming stories. And Hugo was just too cool! He was the French chef, with wonderful music taste, who dabbled in photography/videography, and was always willing to have a laugh and a drink with us! Silvia, one of the regular visitors, was super sweet and relatable! (We now have a reason to visit Spain!) But our favorite friend, hands down, was Bobby! Bobby was the sweetest dog who never wanted to leave our side. He was always on welcome duty when we returned from an adventure and was always in chill mode.

Check out the pictures to get an idea of how we got to live in Puerto Plata, DR!

©2013 by Ayana Martin