Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dust in the Wind

I've recently started reading a book called "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl" by Timothy Egan. The Dust Bowl is one of those periods in history that I remember studying in school, but don't remember much about. I'm trying to rectify that with this book. I'm not too far into it, but already I'm intrigued.

It's quite interesting to see the lessons we still haven't learned repeat themselves. For instance, when people realized there was money to be had in farming No Man's Land, offers of credit came flowing in during the 1920s. The banks rarely said no, and people started taking out loans for all kinds of stuff, such as tractors, houses, etc. As I read this, I thought, "Well, I can see where this is going..." The outpouring of easy credit and mounting of tons of debt sound awfully familiar, huh? Also, the devastation to the land as people tore it up in search of a quick buck parallels the environmental destruction going on throughout the world today. It's no wonder the land fought back with the Dust Bowl. Another lesson that caught my eye was the swindling of people buying land; the founding of Boise City, Oklahoma, is a great example. Two developers sent brochures to people telling of how amazing this place was, complete with pictures of gleaming houses, tree-lined paved streets, and a train station. It wasn't until after selling 3,000 lots that people realized it was a sham, and not one bit of what they were promised was true. This reminded me of the time I spent as a mortgage banker in 2007, trying to help people who had been swindled into subprime mortgages with shady terms. I'm curious to see what other parallels exist between the days of the Dust Bowl and our modern day.

The dust is beginning to settle on my time here at Ivy Tech. I only have one final left (for Spanish 202 on Thursday), and then I'm done. My graduation ceremony was Sunday, and it felt amazing to walk across the stage and be recognized for my efforts (though, truth be told, it doesn't feel quite as final when you have finals AFTER the ceremony, harrumph), as well as to have my family cheering for me. I've worked really hard to get here, and it's paid off. I graduated magna cum laude (would've been summa cum laude, had it not been for the two classes where I didn't finish with an A, which--surprise, surprise!--were both math classes), I've already been accepted to Purdue, and now I can say I have a college diploma. I've overcome a lot, and though it's taken me four years to graduate, not once did I ever consider giving up. I'm proud of what I've achieved, and am looking forward to what the future holds in store. I'm grateful for what I've experienced at Ivy Tech, and will look back on my time here fondly. Onward and upward I go!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Brain on Fire

'Twas the week before finals, and all through my mind, 
I kept searching for answers that I couldn't find.
The textbooks were opened while I sat in my chair
But all I could muster was a blank, panicked stare.
My brain was addled with figures and facts
And all week I struggled to try and relax.
The week would soon end, that much I knew
But I still had the final exams to get through.
As I buried my face in my papers and files,
I thought of the end of next week with a smile.
I'd lounge in my PJs, hang out with my cats
And not have to study. Amen to that!
'Til then would I work, having so much to do,
Study Spanish and chemistry 'til my face was blue.
So please pray for students like me, whose fate
Is sealed 'til the day that I graduate.
'Til then, back to studying must I delve
These exams, unfortunately, won't take themselves!

That's a fun little poem I just came up with to describe what I've been going through lately. It's been super stressful having 2 exams this week, plus studying for finals next week. My brain feels like it's fried. However, even though it's mentally taxing doing all this work in a short span of time, I'm sure it doesn't compare to how Susannah Cahalan's brain felt in 2009. In her memoir, "Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness", Cahalan describes how she went from a happy, normal 24-year-old to a seemingly possessed woman with a disorder that many doctors tried--and failed--to diagnose properly. One doctor tried to say she was partying too much. Another said she had schizophrenia. It wasn't until a neurologist named Dr. Najjar did a quick, ingenious test that didn't require any technology more advanced than a pencil and paper that the true cause of Cahalan's behavior was determined. She was diagnosed with a rare disorder that caused half of her brain to become inflamed. One million dollars in medical costs later, she managed to come through her ordeal alive and (almost) back to normal.

I enjoyed reading this book. I like Cahalan's writing style; she writes in an engaging, accessible style. Her day job is as a journalist for the New York Post, and she uses her skills as a reporter to piece together the "month of madness" that she doesn't remember. She tells her harrowing tale well; I couldn't put it down! In describing her disorder, she raises the question of how many more people have the same thing and are misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, autistic or bipolar. Perhaps the number is really small, but that small number is still significant in pointing out the flaws in the American medical system. Many people fall through the cracks; Cahalan was lucky. At any rate, if you want an intriguing, yet quick, read, I'd suggest checking out "Brain on Fire". It really makes you think about how complex, yet fragile, our brains are, as well as how much we still don't know about this vital organ. Perhaps someday we'll unlock all the mysteries of the brain. In the meantime, we can still advocate for mental illness awareness and research; Cahalan's descriptions of how some people treated her while she was in recovery are sad, and it makes you aware of how much stigma is still attached to mental illness.