Tuning out the noise

My mind is a very noisy place.

To say that my brain runs on overdrive is an understatement. I have a very inquisitive mind. I love to ask questions, learn new information, and come up with novel ideas. But that also means I like to overthink, overplan, and overanalyze. This has only amplified this past year, with multiple facets of life competing for my attention. Needless to say, it feels quite crammed and loud up there.

This recent increase in neuronal commotion has had me wondering why I need to constantly feed my brain with information, and perhaps find a way to turn down the volume. Through some introspection, I think I have managed to pinpoint the culprit: everything has to make sense to me. When I see a problem or a situation that is left hanging, my innate response is to find a solution. I mean, if you solve the problem, the problem is gone, right? And it doesn’t matter if it’s my own conundrum, or if it’s someone else who can’t quite figure out what is happening in their life. My mind creates a conceptual framework and goes full-blown autopilot: find the root cause and fix it.

But, you can’t ways do that in life. Life is incredibly messy. Things never roll-out according to plan, situations arise all at once, and certain chapters end in no clear ending at all. Yet, when you constantly want to fix things, life and its mishaps have the ability to create an environment of havoc and cognitive dissonance… which feeds into your anxiety and makes it harder to let go and let it be. 

Meditating and mindfulness have given me a way to manage these urges. I’m starting to become comfortable in the discomfort of things left unsaid, undone, and unfinished. I am able to remove myself, albeit slowly or hesitantly, from situations that seem to end in an ellipsis. But, most importantly, I’m learning to step away from what I cannot solve without a sense of unfulfillment. 

img_6273Getting into the mindfulness habit has been a slow process. At first, I couldn’t focus or fully relax. As soon as I would close my eyes, a million thoughts would flood into my head. I could see my to-do lists growing, and hear my “what-ifs” getting louder. Instead of a calm ocean, it felt like being in the middle of a storm. But, after a few days of consistency, it all began to die down. I’m finally able to find a focal point (mainly my breath) and just… be.

Yes, my mind still wanders, but I am learning how to quickly identify my fleeting thoughts and come back to a place of peace. I also realized I need to meditate more than once a day, so I’ve started incorporating a morning and evening routine. This has been a great way to start the day with gratitude and culminate in calmness.

Obviously, I haven’t achieved this on my own. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been exploring several apps and have landed on three I love: Headspace, Buddhify and Meditation Studio. All three offer a plethora of guided meditations. I’ve been starting my day with Meditation Studio, wrapping it up with Headspace, and using Buddhify in between (they have a great tailored meditation color wheel). I’ve also been tuning in to a great podcast by Meditation Studio: Untangle. Absolutely worth checking out.

I’m still struggling to fully let things go and beat the urge to fix what is out of my control, but my mind is definitely less crammed and slowly quieting down. My modus operandi is shifting from “go big or go home” to “just breathe.” I’m looking forward to incorporating new ways to increase that clarity. In the meantime, “just breathe” is good enough for me.


What I’ve learned from my 10-day social media hiatus…

I tried. I really did!

I told myself I needed a social media hiatus (specifically, a Facebook and Instagram detox) for a myriad of reasons. It’s too distracting. It eats up too much of my time – time better spent writing, reading, creating, class prepping, meditating, any-other-ing but social media-ing. It sometimes makes me anxious, upset, and fidgety. It makes me prone to oversharing and unnecessary people watching. It interrupts my attention span and my time in the “real-world.” It messes with my OCD-tendencies: how many times do you really need to hit “refresh” to see new notifications? And, every time I read an article about 45, it makes my blood boil.

So, I figured I’d cut cold turkey. Rip the bandaid right off. I did it once before, years ago, and it was fine. Off Facebook for over a year. This would be a piece of cake. Think “sugar detox,” but “no notifications” instead.


Well… this time has been different. Yes, it’s been good to be offline: I have had a chance to really hone in on developing class content for the class I am teaching: “Social Media and Public Health” (oh, the irony!). I’ve also stopped mindlessly scrolling and engaging with content that I don’t particularly need in my life (because, let’s be honest: scrolling through Twitter and LinkedIn will NEVER be as satisfying). My real-time Face Time game has also improved: less interruptions from an inanimate object in my hand = more in-depth conversations with the people in front of me. And, instead of looking for my social media apps, I’ve been spending some time on Headspace and Buddhify.

Yet, I also realized the added value these social media platforms bring to my life. As a social media researcher, I’m constantly looking at my social media content with a critical lens. I can’t help but see different ways social media affects our daily lives, which makes me strive to fully understand these platforms and their effect on our interactions and communication.

I’ve also been having such an amazing time teaching this course… every time a student asks a thoughtful question, or when I can see it all *click* in their eyes, I just want to share that excitement with my friends and colleagues. Not because I need validation for teaching, but because one of the personal uses and gratifications I get from being on these platforms is being able to share my experiences with those I care about. I love being able to express the joy, ridiculousness and happiness that are living, just as much as I want to share the frustrations, pains, sorrows and unexpected things that happen in life. It’s an outlet to express the things that matter, and it gives me a window into how others in my life are experiencing their lives, as well. And, for those who know me and my complete inability to keep my emotions inside, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to share experiences and genuine happiness with important people who play a part in my life story.

And, of course, there’s the fact that in four days it will be one year from the day Puerto Rico was changed forever… and that 45 is an insensitive narcissist who expels filth every time he presses “tweet.” At first, I thought it was good that I decided to take a break that coincided with his word vomit. It is only distracting and anger-provoking, and that time would be better spent working on things that matter (which, is 100% accurate). But then, I watched two documentaries that have stayed with me: CNN’s film on Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Mr. Rodger’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” In different ways, both films reminded me that, when shit hits the fan, you cannot sit idly. Words have power, and action creates change. While, yes, it’s true that posting a livid message on Facebook will do absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of 2018’s debacle, expressing yourself does a few other things.

Expressing my pain last year led me to share information on ways to help and mobilize my immediate network via FB and IG. Expressing my anger in light of the response to Hurricane María helped others stay aware that the situation was far from over and find ways to contribute. Sharing our work through Puerto Rico Stands provided people with proof that grassroots mobilization is effective at getting people what they need. Using my blog to write about Harvard’s study (the first of three reporting excess death rates after the hurricane) let people unfamiliar with public health research understand the validity and transparency of their findings. And, more importantly, it gave me a vehicle to express my emotions: my grief, sadness, resilience, and desire to make home a better place. A place where people are provided the dignity they deserve.

So, I’ve decided to stop my hiatus. Instead, I’ll be setting some boundaries to see how it fares. Time limits. Maximum visit limits. Posting limits? Maybe I’ll go full-on grayscale. Or keep social media to every other day. We’ll see how it goes (any suggestions, please add below!). The goal is for it not to interfere with the other things I have going on, like meditating (which is soooo hard) and finishing up my post on Summer 2018 (on it!). Intentional use only.

And, I’ll also be playing around with randomly calling my friends and loved ones… for as much as their presence on Facebook and Instagram make me smile, I need to play catch-up on quality phone time. So, don’t get scared if you see my name and number show up on your phone… just calling to say hi! 😘

OII SDP 2018

For those of you who have been following my #phdjourney, you know I’ve been pretty vocal about the challenges it brings. It can be a pretty lonely and daunting process at times, particularly if you embark on a more independent path. That is why this summer at Oxford was so special.

During the first two weeks of July, I had the pleasure of experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with 29 other magnificent individuals at the Oxford Internet Institute‘s Summer Doctoral Programme (OII SDP). The OII SDP is a two-week intensive summer program tailored to doctoral students who are focusing their dissertations on topics related to the Internet and how it continues to shape society. During the program, faculty from the OII provide multiple seminars and workshops related to their research and the current Internet landscape. As a public health practitioner, I can now confidently say I know what TOR, the dark web, STS, and affordances are… and can proudly differentiate between supervised, unsupervised and reinforced machine learning. It was also mad entertaining: I mean, where else do you get to have academic discussions about the importance of memes and their role in society? 🤓

While these two weeks are designed to give students the space to learn about a myriad of novel topics related to Internet studies, they also provide the invaluable opportunity to learn and receive feedback about your dissertation from faculty and – most importantly – your peers. This, I would say, is one of the most rewarding aspects of the program. These are people going through similar hurdles and understand the challenges that come with researching an ever-changing media landscape. Being able to listen to and constructively critique each others work in a collaborative environment is something every PhD student should have the opportunity to experience.

Another strength of the program is the diversity among the student body. Not only is it culturally and geographically diverse (literally every continent but the penguins was represented), but it is incredibly interdisciplinary: Communications. Law. Journalism. Science, Tech and Society. Media Studies. Health. Anthropology. Sociology. Critical Theory. And the list goes on. As a PhD candidate in Public Health, this was exactly where I needed to be to gain exposure to new literature and novel research in the realm of social media. It provided me with additional methodological rigor and validation that my innovative methods are in line with how others are approaching social media research in their respective fields.

What made this experience even more rewarding is that I didn’t just meet 29 PhD students who happened to be at Oxford at the same time. I met 29 brilliant, vibrant, soulful humans from around the world, all critically thinking about how the Internet continues to shape our lives and society. I learned so much from each and every person there. We are all doing such creative and important research, full of passion and thoughtfulness. The input provided has been invaluable, and couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. It re-energized me and let me know I am not crazy for doing the kind of work we do – so thank you! I now have a group of friends and colleagues whom I will not only cherish forever, but also bug whenever I have a question or unconventional idea to research.

Yet, it wasn’t just about the seminars, presentations, and workshops. It was about the laughs whilst exploring Oxford, the 3am courtyard “shut ups”, the punting and unexpected diving into the river, the Five Guys evening runs, the morning coffees at The Missing Bean, the “chisme”, the Ashmolean memes, the World Cup escapades, the 7:30am “wake-up calls”, the late night conversations about life, the lovely hugs, the epistemological bonding… and all the other things I’m missing here, yet we all cherish.

So, to anyone considering applying to the OII SDP, I would encourage it wholeheartedly. Not only will you gain incredible colleagues and networking opportunities, but you will have the unique pleasure of bonding with talented, young professionals with passion for the work they do. And that is invaluable.

And a special thanks to Vicki, Jordan and Solenn for making this experience so special. Your thoughtfulness, attention to detail and planning of fun events made our time there that more incredible.

Lastly, to my OII friends: I am truly honored to have been part of the OII SDP 2018 cohort. You are all brilliant – but, most importantly, BEAUTIFUL – humans. So much joy! I already miss you all dearly. Thanks for making this experience 1,000 times better than I ever imagined! Can’t wait until the next conference to see you all again! img_8313


Summer 2018

As you already know, this summer was a whirlwind. Last I wrote, I was wrapping up my first wave of dissertation research in Tampa, and right about to head out to England for a two-week summer program at Oxford University.

Needless to say, it was amazing. But the summer didn’t end there – it was followed by a three-week trip around the UK and Ireland… one that I cannot adequately or succinctly put into words.

Several people have asked about the trip, so I’ve decide to share some short posts for each of the places we visited during our travels. I’ll be writing about places to visit, where to eat and just all-around fun experiences about the trip. You can check them out below (I’ll be linking as I write):

  • Oxford and the OII SDP
  • Cambridge
  • Stratford-upon-Avon
  • The Cotswolds
  • Wales
  • Ireland
  • Northern Ireland
  • Edinburgh
  • London

While summer is almost over, I was able to squeeze in a second trip to Tampa for some more dissertation interviews, and am just coming back from a quick trip to Puerto Rico for my cousin’s wedding. Then, on Tuesday, I embark on a new journey: I start teaching my first course at Johns Hopkins called Social Media and Public Health. I’ve always dreamt of teaching my our curriculum at the college level, so you can imagine how excited (and good-nervous) I am about this experience. All I can say is that I hope to inspire a new group of young, inquisitive minds to think outside of the box and critically assess our realities.

All in all, it’s been a great summer. These trips have both challenged me and forced me to be more introspective. I’ve grown substantially more comfortable in my own skin and abilities, and can’t wait to use the next three months to hit 35 as the best version of myself.


Writer’s Block…

Inspiration, where art thou hiding?

Guys… I’m suffering from a severe case of writers block right about now. It could be that I am anxious about what the next few months hold, since I’ll be away from home working on my dissertation. It might also be that my current schedule has been making it hard to find the time to write. Or, let’s be honest: it may just be plain ol’ laziness.

It’s not that I don’t have things to write about… I guess I’ve just been lacking a little inspiration to get it all expressed in written form. I normally listen to podcasts that get me excited about certain topics (here and here are two of my favorites). I also like to read articles and essays that discuss growth and self-discovery – especially when they are written by people who have found it within themselves to share their views on life and all its intricacies. And, there’s my favorite movie of all time, Before Sunset, which always reminds me of the complexities of love, of living, and of sharing your deepest thoughts with people who bring out meaningful conversations. *Maybe I should write about that someday… 

But, like I said, I’ve hit a wall. I’m looking for some inspiration… and I’d love to hear what others have done to find it! Are there any books or pieces you’ve read recently that have inspired you? Any movies that have made you think about our fragility – or our resilience – as humans? Any podcasts or music worth listening to that give you a distinct perspective? Even better, is there anything you would like to read about here?

In the meantime, I’ll be watching Celine and Jesse wander the streets of Paris, talking about everything and nothing all at once… 💕