Why I Love Research

Being a psychology major, one of the requirements for my school is taking 2 courses surrounding the topic of research methods/statistics. I started out that journey hearing horror stories of how difficult it was, how much work and time and energy went into it, how I’d have to conduct my own study and write a paper about my research, not to mention the fact that being a junior and knowing I wanted to work with eating disorders and addictions I had absolutely no interest in doing any sort of research. Here’s why:

For the past few years being in a few treatment programs I’ve heard a lot about research. “according to research…”, “the research does say that…”, was an infamous line that came out of therapists mouth almost on a daily basis and frankly, I was sick of it. Research, as far as I could tell, wasn’t accurate. At least not for me. I’d smirk whenever the psychologists would start a sentence out using those phrases. How would research benefit me? Nobody ever included me in one of the many studies done, so how the hell do they know?

So when I had to take a research methods and statistics course, I thought “oh boy, here we go. This class is going to suck”. Sure I’d try my hardest to get a good mark, but once that year was over with I would have nothing to do with research for the rest of my life and career in clinical psychology. But something happened the more I learned of the methods, research is so much more than just one individual.

Anecdotally speaking, research pertains to the vast majority of a population you’re studying and what I love about it is you can gain further perspective into human behaviors and cognitions by studying a sample of the population. So to bring it back to myself, as much as I hate to admit it, I was in part contained into the population of those with eating disorders. The research behind the disorders make sense and the more I look into areas of research I can see now that what researchers found in their results and analysis make total sense.

I love coming up with research questions about topics in the field I am passionate about. There’s something intriguing to me about having all of these questions, reading what other researchers have found and trying out methods to test my hypothesis. If you told me a year ago that research would be an area of psychology that I would end up being passionate about I would have laughed at you, but now I am actually in the beginning stages of my 2nd research project. This time I have higher goals than just to get a passing grade. I’m working with my professor who was also my research methods and statistics professor, and this round I’m working with her instead of doing everything on my own. I’m genuinely excited and to be honest I would probably do the project even without the incentive of earning Independent Research credit.

Thanatology became a high interest area of mine last semester when I took the class. It was relevant because of everything I was experiencing with my Grandma, and knowing this professor had research interests in that area I knew it was a good match. We met a few weeks ago and decided to do a study on social media/networks and coping with death. I am so excited about this and get more so as I read more and more articles pertaining to the topics.

For this research I want to present it at a conference psychology majors from my college go to every year, and there was even talk at our meeting of publishing the research. All of these things are what I was wanting to accomplish the minute I fell in love with research. It’s so much more than numbers, it’s a way to observe human cognition and behaviors in a hands on way. Wanting to be a clinical psychologist my whole undergraduate career I can see now the more I get into research why it is so helpful to the field.

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Dealing with Loss

You learn so much over the course of your life, but knowing how to deal with and handle death isn’t something we learn. I don’t think anyone gets used to people dying, that they figure out a system as to how to deal, cope and go through the grief process. But if someone has, and you’re reading this, please enlighten us all on how you managed to do it.

What brings this up today is the death of my friend, Heather. I met her when I went to treatment in Arizona when I was 23 and she was one of the people I instantly clicked with. She was in the IOP program they had, so she would come to groups and then go home for the day. I remember one day we were sitting on the patio of the house I was in and she told me how she felt like an outsider because everyone else who was there and in groups were residential, PHP or whatever label the insurance companies used to describe people who were basically inpatient. I being one of them. From then on we began hanging out more, I guess you could say I took her under my wing and we became fast friends. When I went back home to New York, I wasn’t expecting her and I to stay connected, but we did. That’s something they don’t prepare you for in the therapy sessions where they try to prepare you for what’s coming once you’re discharged. Overall, in my opinion, they don’t really prepare you for shit because they don’t know what your life is like back home. But anyways, I got off topic.

About a month ago she posted a picture on Instagram of her in the hospital. I thought maybe she was in because of her eating disorder, but when I shot her a message I found out the real reason. She had blood clots in her lungs, but at the time she told me they were putting her on blood thinners for a year to try and keep them under control. I didn’t know then that that would be one of the last conversations I would have with her.

Yesterday on Facebook I saw friends of her posting messages on her wall, saying how they’ll never forget her and how incredible she was. Doing a little more research I found that she had passed away Thursday. I was shocked.

People aren’t supposed to die at 24 of a pulmonary embolism. She was so full of life, encouraging, real, hysterical and we shared so much in common. We always talked about how if I got into a grad school out there we would find an apartment and move in with each other. How she wanted to come to New York because of the 4 seasons (yeah, I tried talking her out of moving here because she clearly didn’t realize what winter in NY entails). She was my West Coast Twin. We loved the same movies (Titanic), the same music (Frank Sinatra) and the same TV show (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit).

So now with her being gone, I can’t help but to feel sad, and I honestly don’t know how to process this or even deal. When I first heard of her passing, my 1st instinct was to text her. I kept replaying the last time we talked in my head, which was about a week or so ago. We had a conversation about faith, God and the Bible. She was in a place that I am/was. Questioning things, wondering about things the Bible says compared to what the world and todays culture says. Our conversations were always real, and she was one of the best people I ever had in my life.

Over the past 4 months I lost 2 incredible people. The loss of my Grandma still hurts like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and now I’m mourning the loss of my friend. I wish I knew I had a positive thing to say about how I’m not letting this grief over them get me down, but I would be lying. My Grandma’s death was hard enough even though we spent 15 months watching her die, but there’s something about losing Heather that feels like a punch to the stomach. It was unexpected, and maybe it’s because for the first time in my life I am dealing with an unexpected death, and even more so the death of a friend who is 6 months younger than me. That’s the killer part.

There’s no manual on how to handle this. No instruction booklet exists telling you to start at step 1, and by the time you get to step 10 or 20 you’ll feel better.

Vacation

In a couple of weeks I’ll be going on my 1st vacation in about 4 or 5 years. The last time I was planning on going on vacation was in 2013, and I was going by myself to spend a week or so at my Uncles place in Florida. Nobody knew that the vacation was my last “hoorah”. I was really sick in my eating disorder (although I didn’t want to admit it), hated myself more than any other time in my life and with more intensity & this time I wasn’t about to pussy out of my plan. The plan was to party it up while I was down there and do whatever it was that came to mind (be carelessly compulsive), get home that Saturday and not wake up Sunday. I had it all narrowed down. I did the stereotypical move of giving my shit away and other things I’m sure but don’t remember.

Obviously none of that happened.

The day I was meant to be on a plane to Florida, I instead found myself on a plane heading to Chicago where I’d transfer on a plane out to Arizona for treatment. I remember a week passed and I was out in the smoking area talking to one of my housemates when I told her that I should have been dead in my room that day instead of sitting in a treatment center for anorexia. In that moment it felt like everything I spent the past few months working up to was stripped from me.

So now I’ll be going to Florida in a couple weeks, this time in recovery from my anorexia and for the first time in my whole life am living with knowing I have a future. But I’ll admit I’m scared shitless.

Normal people don’t panic over the food they’ll have on vacation; in fact it’s usually the time of their year where they can guiltlessly indulge without feeling like shit about themselves. I am so fucking terrified that because I’ll be staying at a hotel (which means I have no real option of cooking food every night) that I’ll get home and when I’m weighed at my individual therapy session the scale will show a much higher number.

My mom told me I don’t have to eat a lot of stuff on vacation. I know she meant well, but does that mean I can restrict a little bit? I’ll be at the hotels fitness center every morning before the day starts because if I have to eat out a lot I need some sort of “compensatory” thing so I don’t blow up. It’s only an 8 day vacation but I am so terrified about it.

I’m sure it won’t be as bad as the voice in my head is telling me it will be, but it doesn’t lower my anxiety any less.

Bite Size: What They Over Looked

The other day I was watching a documentary on Netflix called “Bite Size”, about childhood obesity. It was interesting because unlike any other documentary about this subject it didn’t focus on the health and nutritional side of it as heavily as one would come to expect. Cameras followed a group of children ages 11-14 around and simply observed their life and the impact their weight has on not only their physical health but their mental health as well, and as I’m sure all of you who know me know the psychology nerd inside of me was hooked.

Yet about halfway through it clicked that what this film was actually portraying wasn’t children with poor eating habits, they were displaying children who have eating disorders, yet the one girl in the film calls it an addiction to food. Shade it whatever color you wish, but an eating disorder is an eating disorder. Following these children around, one of the girls talked about what she called “crushing”, where she would eat all of the food she could eat, eat it fast and not leave a single crumb left untouched. Without even knowing it, what she was discussing was a binge. Another girl talked about how her parents have to lock cabinets in their kitchen or else she would eat anything and everything in it, yet she managed to sneak a copious amount of food into her room and hide it.

The film broke my heart as I finished it, because seeing these young children have undiagnosed eating disorders and them not even realizing it is a problem is devastating to me. With the way our society is now with food, I think binge eating disorder is highly overlooked in todays children. I am not an expert on this, nor pretend to be as this is all opinion and I do not wish to offend anyone who reads this and may have binge eating disorder. Portion sizes aren’t really followed because unfortunately the bigger the better is something that applies to the food we have on our plate at a meal. But watching the damage these kids are doing to themselves by eating copious amounts of food is heartbreaking. They learned eating habits from their parents, as is shown in the film as well, yet like the majority of individuals with eating disorders they take it to a level that was never intended to reach. Childhood obesity is a problem, but not acknowledging the underlying problem of binge eating disorder in children is a far more dangerous issue. So many people think eating disorders are just anorexia and bulimia and I think a lot of that has to do with societies schema of the disorders. People don’t realize binges are just as dangerous to a person as not eating or purging after a meal is to a persons health.