March 24, 2012


I've always been my own worst enemy. No matter what it is, between academics, my research project, and my social life, I am my biggest critic. Undoubtedly, none of these categories are mutually exclusive, so one fault in an aspect of my life sets of a cascade of terrible feelings that is only amplified; think of a phosphorylation signal cascades in cell signaling, where these are all autocrine signals.

Recently, I've seen myself straying away from the LGBT community here at Duke, and also in general. This is by no means any regards to the community, but rather it's because of how I can easily isolate myself and consume myself in my work. I call this the positive feedback in my life. I am somebody who is extremely Type A personality, and particularly where I've strongly planned out my career path and the road I need to take to get there. I can just shut out the world when it comes to my academic pursuits. So why do I call this positive feedback?

Well first, let me compare it to the negative feedback in my life: relationships. For the past two years or so that I've been on the relationship market, I've been disappointed in myself. When the odds aren't in my favor, I'm easily discouraged. With the attempts I've made at relationships, I've had little to no success, and this haunts me to the day. When I refer to negative feedback, I mean it in the case where I try and resist the stimulus, what has been causing me this pain. A lot of this response is quite sub-conscious, but easily tracked. I've recently been seeing myself spend more time studying and trekking up the hill to spend a lot of time in my research lab, even going to the late hours of the night working on my projects. It's interesting how I can always find time to do these things. And I really enjoy these projects and my studies, but as I dissect it,  I see how it directly impacts my future and I can see the successes along the way, particularly with my grades and data, all very quantitative measures.

But with even more introspection, I can see this as a defense mechanism, avoiding confrontation with my fears and faults for the comfortable things in my life. The positive feedback loops in my life are moving along very well most of the time, but when I hit a snag along the path, I turn around to see where else I've failed. And then I'm stuck in the negative feedback, where my thoughts persist on where I've gone wrong. With this switch in pathways, I try to find the quickest route to the path that has given me the most success, and I usually double my efforts so to stay in the positive loop, because it is more comfortable and successful for me.

Like a cell, I'm waiting for signals, something that lets me know what I need to do in response to stress. I can stick with the autocrine signals that only drive me further into the negative feedback that I can dwell on, or I can wait for paracrine signals from others to guide me in the right direction, but that could still be incorrect for me. Antagonists and inhibitors can provide the wrong signal, or just block the response I'm looking for. I need to reach the growth factors for me to grow, and confront the stimulus in the way that I can deal with the stress.

Feedback loops aren't static. They are dynamic, and always changing to small perturbations. Maybe I'm just waiting for that right signal to come along. But for now, I'll stick with the positive loop.

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