Going through a challenging transition during my teens inspired in me a passion for psychology. I grew up in Colombia and, at the age of 17, I left the only home I had ever known to move to the United States and pursue a better life. My inability to speak English fluently significantly impacted my cultural transition. I spent entire school days without understanding or even speaking a single word, communicating only through gestures.
I soon became an isolated high school senior with no friends or any clarity about my future. To add to my stress, my family expected nothing less of me but success given the magnitude of their sacrifice. This led to so much anxiety about my future and feelings of hopelessness. My struggles as I pursued education, the only stable path I had in sight, led me to become interested in how life circumstances and families shaped people and the factors that contributed to their resilience. This curiosity guided me to pursue a career in Clinical Psychology.
While pursuing my PhD, I enjoyed, but also struggled with, conducting research and gaining the expertise to provide mental health services to various populations.
Continued bouts of depression and anxiety as well as the onset of my lower-back pain required me to shift my mindset and behavior in many ways. For example, I first tried to incorporate physical exercise into my routine. After many failed attempts, in 2015, my sister gifted me my first fitbit tracker. With my fitbit, I was able to passively record the amount of steps I took daily, the duration of my physical activity, my resting heart rate, and the duration of my sleep.
The visualization of my data motivated me to challenge myself and focus on improving every week. Rather than focusing on the outcome, either losing weight or having less pain (which by the way, did not happen for months), I was able to focus on the process. I was able to see that my averages were improving, I went from working out once a week to at least three times a week consistently for months. I began accepting what I would consider daily “failures” as just parts of the process of becoming more physically active.
Tracking my data with fitbit also helped me consider how much my mood and interpersonal relationships were affected by my lack of physical activity and sleep. My fitbit tracking also led me to find activities that improved my mood and sleep, including dancing and playing soccer (mostly to keep social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic). My experience while tracking and gaining insights from my own data highlighted the interconnectedness of my body, mind, and relationships--triggering behavior changes that I have maintained for the past 5 years.
My experience with my fitbit-tracked data led me to insights about myself and my behavior that I would have never obtained without this technology.
This inspired in me a desire to focus my research and professional career on ways in which technologies could support mental health. I have contributed to the research, development, and innovation process of digital therapeutics in Virtual Reality (VR). My dissertation focused on self-disclosure patterns during clinical interviewing via virtual avatars and agents. As I embark on these early stages of my career in digital therapeutics and a life outside of a school system, I know I will need to adapt to a new set of challenges. Additionally, I will hopefully continue to face many of life’s lessons about love and compassion for others and for myself; lessons about family, marriage, children, and even death. To effectively cope with all of that, I know I can rely on my spirituality and science for guidance.
It is my goal to share my own exploration of Personal Science as a tool to increase self-awareness, ignite personal growth, and guide a search for transcendence and purpose.
I hope that the insights I arrive at through the sharing of my own vulnerabilities and genuine self-reflections become a source of inspiration, motivation, and even amusement for many of our readers.