Moksha: “emancipation, liberation, and release”

On November 2002, I woke up thinking it would be like any other day. By that I mean, I’d get up, shower, have a few ‘juvenile’ seizures (I’d been having them for years), get dressed then go to school. Little did I know my doctor had forecasted that morning a month before.

I never made it into the shower that morning. As a matter of fact the next time I opened my eyes I was in the emergency room. Apparently, I had a full on black out seizure. To this day, my heart pains for what my parents experienced that morning. I wasn’t there per se, but they’re experience was possibly worse than mine.

What was it like for me? I woke up feeling like I did 8 hours of capoeira…on my first day. Every muscle hurt. I had a huge bruise on my forehead from where I kept hitting my head on the tub, and my tongue ached from where I almost bit it off.  

Long story short, that day began 10 years of yearly tests, daily medication, random bone pain and constant memory struggles. It also coincided with the start of college in a few months. At first, I almost didn’t attend but my parents in all their awesomeness pushed for it despite their own fears.

However, the medication that worked best for me felt like a chemical lobotomy. I went to all the tutors, studied for hours, but still could not keep up with the engineering program that I had gotten into. Eventually, I somehow graduated and managed to get into graduate school but learning was always a struggle. It felt like I was in a constant haze. 

Fast forward to 2011. I’d been working for some time in DC, feeling I wasn’t reaching my potential, saving up to one day quit and focus on my health. I was tired of that life. But, in the meantime, I had to get a prescription refill to tide me over until I was able to quit.

Then I got the wake up call. Mistake number 1? Deciding to stay local instead of going to the neurologist that treated me back home. In hindsight, he acted like Dr. Spaceman. The paraphrased conversation with him:  “The medication you’re taking is bad for your kidneys and bones and you can’t have kids. I want to switch you to a new one. We have two options: one will transform you into a moody person the other can cause a rash.” Lucky for me, my friend mentioned that it’s not just a rash but rather necrosis where you can lose limbs. Naturally, I decided to chemically turn myself into the Hulk. I still had to save up my pennies and he refused to give me another round of the old prescription so there wasn’t much of a choice to make. 

Well Dr. Spacemen made my dose too high. When I called to tell him how I felt his response was simply: ‘Ah yes, you’re intoxicated. Stop taking it immediately.’ Nice. Of course, there was 0 trust left when he suggested ‘Let’s try the rash med. I’ll just give you some cortisone if you start to feel bad.’ Further research showed that I was at a higher risk of said rash.

That experiment left me with weird symptoms for some time. Fortunately, I had truly awesome people in my life and after some encouragement I decided that it was time get off the medication. For reals. My doctor and I had tried and failed in 2007 but I figured it was time to try again. So I quit my job and moved back home. 

This was the turning point. I took my last pill on October 1, 2012. What I thought was the end was really the beginning. I went through the standard withdrawals (panic attacks, depression, skin crawling) and stopped sleeping. This would have all been fine if the epilepsy symptoms (or something like them) also went away but they didn’t. I then managed to get a high fever at a time when all of the Tri-State area was at a standstill. Long story short, it was a dark and twisty few months. 

But when you’re going through hell you keep walking. I found that Benadryl helped me sleep enough such that I could get a job in March (savings were running out). I stopped drinking caffeine and eating foods that triggered bad feels. I figured out how to organize and focus my thoughts now that they came at warp speeds. Then I discovered Buddhism. By the time I moved into my NY apartment on October 1, 2013 I was sleeping better and pretty much rid of most symptoms. By October 1, 2014 I felt well enough to start capoeira. You see where this is going. 

But I couldn’t have done any of this without some lovely hoomans:

1. Dr. D.B. – Who treated me for free since she knew I wasn’t working. She also took my calls whenever I was freaking out and assured me that I’d be just fine. There are doctors and then there’s her. 

2. My parents – My mom for those nightly massages that helped me sleep even though the lyme disease made the process painful for her. My dad for driving me everywhere and anywhere. Both for the support and strength they provided.

3. My niece and nephews – For saying ‘I love you’ (randomly) at the moments when I needed it most. 

4. My siblings – For trying to find ways to make me feel better and keep me busy. 

5. My friends – For waking up at dawn to see how I’m doing. For saying ‘WE can’t give up’ at the precise moment when I felt most alone. 

This year marks 5 years from the start of this journey. I sometimes recall the days I couldn’t get out of bed and marvel at how much has happened since. It’s incredibly mind-blowing and for that reason, this year’s celebration has to be huge.

With that said, I present to you this year’s Moksha theme:

More details coming October 1st so don’t forget to follow me!

I shouldn’t have a blog

No really. How long has it been? I’d be ashamed at the irregularity but…

I’ve been busy and I have nowhere near the time management skills that my coworker does.

Putting aside the existential crises that arise from life’s gut punches and the current state of affairs, I’ve been busy trying to stay busy.

The most time consuming project? Buying a house. Abroad.

Now that’s deceptive. I haven’t bought it really. In my opinion, that phrase is best left for the final payment. But it’s what everyone calls it so I’ll just run with it.

Why abroad? Well, since I was a wee tyke aware of how lucky I got in the parental department, I decided I wanted to buy them a house. Yes, in hindsight those were lofty goals for someone aiming for a non-profit salary (maybe I wanted to be an astronaut at the time) but a child can dream. Fast forward a few dozen years and passport stamps and the appreciation only grew.

But then something happened. I got older and realized that I too would like to spend more time where I was born. Over time and with the whole digital nomad movement, the turtles, monkeys, sloths and nerdery began to call me back. It was time to invest.

It was time consuming and about halfway through (and a month before signing) I almost gave up. But it’s done.

Now I have more free time (that’s not even a thing) for my next passion project. I’ll tell you all about it next week. I think it’s gonna be a doozy.

(Not where I’ll be living but a good eyeball treat.)

Find Gratitude for What’s Left

The Story: A little over a year ago I heard the most horrendous news. Besides the sadness and anger, there came a layer of disbelief. At first, disbelief that this was happening to such an incredible human being. Over the next few months, disbelief that this can happen to anyone at anytime.

What followed over the next year were a few more stories like that. The gut punches that leave you thinking you will never be the same person again.

With that said, this past weekend was life changing. I went to a wedding for one of my favorite people in the world. At this wedding were people who had been faced with unimaginable loss and hardship. People that smiled, told jokes and danced with genuineness.

I left the weekend feeling full of love and admiration for the sheer resilience of the human spirit.

Which was great because the following week proved to be another gut punch and I needed the emotional bank to withdraw from.

I spent the week catching up on my podcasts and serendipity made it such that in the playlist was On Being’s interview with Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant about their new book: Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy. Now a disclaimer:

I just got a hold of the book. I haven’t gotten very far. However, the On Being interview is good enough that I didn’t want to wait to share it with everyone. 

Have a listen:

Transcript


The Data: As usual, for all the data heads, here are some Kaggle competitions/datasets:

Cervical Cancer

Lung Cancer (over)


In the meantime, I’d just like to say:

F*ck cancer.

Thanks for reading.

 

You gotta tell people your problems…


I once got to chat fireside with a Maasai warrior while zebras grazed nearby. To say that was a highlight of my life is an understatement. It’s more like the album cover.

Let me go back a bit.

I’ve always had trouble opening up to people. My friends know I’m notorious for going through difficult times without saying a word. Certain experiences didn’t help so by my 2015 trip to Kenya I was a complete Italian Job level safe box.

So myself and one of the raddest guys I’ve met are sitting there, by the fire in a Maasai Mara campsite when the warrior shows up. He asks our group where we’re from, how to scare away the different animals that might arrive at our tents, life in the area, and how I looked like some people in a neighboring tribe (dope!). Most of this conversation is a story on it’s own but Ill stick to the topic. Out of nowhere he turns to me and says:

“You gotta tell people your problems.’

Cue the chills.

I’d been struggling with jet lag for several days now. That in and of itself isn’t a big deal except that my body was still adjusting to being off seizure medication (story for another day). Sleep deprivation led to weird symptoms led to panic attacks at the thought of getting a seizure again…in the middle of safari.

So I told my travel partner. Not really sure what I was expecting but what I got was someone who understood much more than most.
His wife has epilepsy. He understood the worry. The worry is also his.

Since then I’ve tried to make an effort to share more. Amazingly enough, the friendships I’ve made since then have been the most genuine in my 30ish years of life. But we all still hold back, we have to. Some things are hard to talk about. Some things bubble up after years of thinking they were non-existent. Some things we don’t have the words for.

But as of late, I’ve noticed a trend. Many people I’ve talked to are sad, frustrated, you name it. I’ve heard people describe it as a dark cloud floating above them at all times. Could it be because most of my friends are civic minded?

I decided to do a quick Google trend graph on searches for therapy around the world in the last 5 years. As you can see below, there’s a bit of a trend there, with it achieving peak popularity in the last few weeks.

But what about here in the US? How many people have been looking up depression in the last year? The graph shows that after a dip in searches during the summer months, searches have been on the rise (with dips around the holidays).

What this tells me is not just that people are going through things but on the bright side more and more people are looking to get the help they need.

So what’s next?

  • We have to remember that everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about. So be kind whenever possible.
  • If you’re a data person, here’s an N=1 dataset to explore and here’s a helpful blurb about it:

“We present a dataset of a single participant, with a history of major depressive disorder (MDD), whose daily life experience was monitored over the course of 239 days. The participant, who initiated the experiment, wanted to obtain more personal insight during a period in which the anti-depressants were gradually reduced. The aim of the participant was to know whether or not he would become more vulnerable to develop a new depressive episode when the anti-depressants were reduced, and whether this vulnerability could be detected in the data.”

  • And if you’re struggling with something right now, I’ll leave you with the latest episode of This Is Us which touches precisely on the topic of sharing your feelings along with a few resources for getting help.

This Is Us (Episode 17)
NYC Well
Amwell Online Therapy
Talkspace Online Therapy
Purpose for depression?
On Anxiety
#atozofmentalhealth Instagram

 

Binding Instead of Blinding

Good news: The election is finally over.
Bad news: It feels like the morning after a wild party where the first thing out of your mouth is ‘What happened last night??’

There hasn’t been a shortage of quality journalism since November 9th. Thought pieces on both groups of voters, what went wrong, and what we missed continue to fill my Facebook and news apps.

For this reason, I’ve put together a list for all to peruse. While I’ve tried to be non-partisan, this list is primarily centered around trying to understand things outside my bubble. I’m not trying to push any theories, my only goal has been to open my mind to varied viewpoints.

Continue reading Binding Instead of Blinding

Part 2: Looking at the Data – The Book Thief

About a week ago, I shared with you my latest read and also the first part of the accompanying mini-project. This week, I’ll do a bit of quick analysis to see if I learn anything new.

First, you’ll notice that the publication year and number of pages are inside a piece of text or string. We’ll need to pull that out. I used the stringr package to not only pull out any 4 digit value for the publication year but also any 3 digit value to pull out the number of pages.

Continue reading Part 2: Looking at the Data – The Book Thief

Part 1: Getting the Data – The Book Thief

I just finished reading The Book Thief and I must say it’s definitely as great as they say it is. The book had me completely captivated from beginning to end with the regular chuckle while on the subway. I may have startled a fellow passenger or two.

So while I decide on what may be the last read before the year is up, I figured I’d explore a few of the main themes in The Book Thief:

Books, Germany, and World War II

Given that I gave myself a 1 hour time limit for this task, I decided to go to straight to the source: Goodreads. After looking at their API I decided that it would be better to just scrape the books in the Best German/Austrian Literature Listopia. For this task, I decided to use R but will share the equivalent Python code when I get my act together (October and November are hard birthday months for me and then it’s time to play this until I lose friends so…)

First, the libraries:

Continue reading Part 1: Getting the Data – The Book Thief

“Integrating financial and impact metrics is a challenging task. Existing forms of cost-benefit analysis, developed for policy-makers and service delivery nonprofits, don’t quite fit the new breed of social entrepreneurs, impact investors, and mission-driven businesses. The challenge for metrics professionals is to become sufficiently fluent in operational and financial metrics to both integrate them with impact metrics, and create and advocate for this integrated approach with the leaders of their enterprises.”

Via the Stanford Social Innovation Review