An unfortunate problem and an imperfect solution

Dear reader,

Today ends my two-week Christmas-New Year holiday; tomorrow I go back to university for further studies. Before the vacation, I was rather overworked, and was having trouble – moreso than usual, that is – getting myself to keep working. In the end, it got bad enough that I skipped a bunch of classes, even though I sorely needed them in order to keep up. I think the fact that I was falling behind, combined with the desire and apparent failure to compete well with my rather talented fellow students, worsened the feeling of being overworked. This then made it even more difficult to keep working, and with that, the positive-feedback cycle was complete. My always wanting to do many different things aside from just working for school – personal projects such as writing computer programs or learning languages – and not getting much of a chance, throughout all this, to get those done, can’t have helped either.

I feel silly making too big a thing of it, because I can’t help but think that I’m just whining, and that other people are much worse off, but I suppose you can fairly say that all this was having me feeling quite bad. My thoughts kept churning, and I couldn’t seem to truly relax. That sort of thing really builds up over time.

Now, I’ve been talking in the past tense here. Does that mean all this is now fully in the past? Well, at the start of this vacation, I was about at my worst. I had done barely anything for school, or anything else for that matter, in that last week. I was rather worried that two weeks wouldn’t be enough to pull myself together again. Especially considering that I still had to do a lot of work for one of my courses, the one for which I had fallen especially far behind (Computational biology). However, as the vacation went on, for the most part, I started feeling better. By the end of the first week, I felt pretty much normal again.

The downside was that I had only done a single hour’s worth of work for school (and a single hour’s worth of extracurricular studies for myself). The second week, I did basically nothing. And where the first week had been marked by a steady improvement in my state of mind, this one was the opposite: As I felt school approaching again, I also felt that sense of panic return. It came to somewhat of a climax yesterday, when I fully realized I hadn’t recovered quite as much as I thought I had.

I’m rather embarrassed to talk about my problems like this. It really doesn’t seem like it should be giving me as much trouble as it is. It seems like I could reasonably be expected to be stronger than this. In the bad state I was in yesterday, I kept wanting to tell myself to stop being a baby and pull myself back together already. However, as soon as that thought began to formulate, another part of me resisted it, pushing it back down, and I told myself I wouldn’t go there, not then. I just didn’t have the willpower.

All this is why I decided to write this new blog post. Often times, writing things down helps get them off your chest. I normally use my diary for that, but this format helps make my thoughts more structured, and actually sharing things has an added value in and of itself. Fortunately, this post won’t be as bleak as on its conception I had feared it would be, because since that point yesterday, things have recovered some. I wasn’t ready to look for strength inside myself then, but I guess the notion of it sowed some kind of seed in my mind. Today, after a good night’s sleep, I was able to finally work some things out.

I set up a schedule for myself to live by in the coming weeks, if not months. I decided to work for four separate hours on a random activity1 on each day (excepting Sundays), in the morning and afternoon, with an intermittant hour of relaxation each time. Of course, this is all conditional on my being free during those hours – otherwise I’ll just be doing whatever it is that I’m occupied with, be it a class or a visit to the dentist. I also decided to get up no later than 9am on each day (again excepting Sundays), so as to remain active and lively, and to be able to work during the mornings and afternoons while leaving my evenings free for guilt-free relaxation.

I did have to make a rather serious concession. I decided to give up on passing Computational biology for this year. I’ll try it again next year, as it is incredibly interesting and exciting, but not now. I will be attending the lectures, but I won’t be staying longer to work on the exercises. I know at this point it will just keep giving me too much stress, and I will fall right back into that pit of jealousy, agitation, and general discouragement. I believe this current plan I have, if properly followed, will bring me to a place where I won’t have to worry about this type of thing as much anymore, but that will require some time. It won’t get me there right away, and for now, I have to deal with myself as I am currently. As Helen DeWitt so cleverly wrote in Lightning Rods, “We have to deal with people the way they are, not the way we would like them to be.” That includes myself, as well.

Wish me luck!

Vincent

1 I wrote a Java program just for this purpose of randomly selecting an activity. It’s a bit less straightforward than just generating a random number, or I would just use random.org – it instead uses some simple algorithm that makes each activity less likely after being picked, and each other activity slightly more likely. This way, no one activity is ever picked too many times in a row. It sounds a bit silly, but this is just the kind of thing that can help someone like me remain disciplined.

The activities I have included in the list, for the time being, are the following.

  • Anki: I will again pick up some of my earlier studies with the SRS (Spaced Repetition Software), Anki. An SRS is a program that allows you to review certain material using virtual flashcards, which it spaces out for you based on past performance on each card. I was using it to study the vocabularies of such languages as German, French, and Latin, as well as certain biology-related topics, among other things.

  • Articles: I want to read more scientific articles, arbitrarily chosen by myself. The first one I have my eye on is one pointed out to me by a friend, an analysis on the gay lisp stereotype.

  • Campbell: I want to go through Campbell, the “biologist’s bible”, again. I feel like too much of what I learned from it the first time around has slipped away, and a second reading will give me sufficient consolidation to retrieve and reinforce the base of my biological knowledge quite well.

  • Computational biology: I want to keep working on the materials presented in this course a bit throughout the coming months, so that I’ll definitely be ready for it next year. Also, because it’s so very gripping.

  • Diary: I have fallen behind on keeping my diary, as well. I have yet to write the entries for many days since August of last year. Aside from that, I have made some changes to the layout of the entries since starting it, that I have yet to fully implement retroactively. I also want to add (the rest of the) pages for complete months and years as a kind of summary for what I was up to during that time.

  • Housekeeping: Yet another area in which I have fallen thoroughly behind, sadly. Hopefully I’ll be able to remove this particular activity from the list shortly.

  • Kanji: Although I haven’t been very active with this particular undertaking, I haven’t given up on learning Japanese yet. I have such a good basis, now that I know most of the grammar fairly well. I just need to thoroughly extend my vocabulary, and to do that, I need to remember the kanji.

  • Khan Academy: One of the few areas I have not been slacking off in, I would like to keep up with watching videos on this site, particularly in the areas of physics and astronomy/cosmology, for now.

  • Memrise: I have been using this site to study some random things, such as Danish vocabulary.

  • Oceanography: I still want to finish the book on oceanography, which I was reading for a prior course that I failed last semester, much like I did Computational biology this semester.

  • Programming: Of course, I want to keep working at my programming skills, and writing some cool programs. I have plenty of ideas, I just need the know-how to get them written.

  • TED.com: I haven’t visited this website in a while, but I always had the watching of videos on it as an activity in the last list I used to keep myself disciplined, and it’s always a fun and educational pastime.

  • Topography: Still haven’t quite finished the pursuit of mastering the world’s topography either. I know, lax.

  • Writing: This relates to my writing of fictional stories, the beginning of which I have become quite adept at. It’s the continuing and eventually wrapping up of my stories that’s the problem. Perhaps even more practice at the beginning will resolve this!

Now, let’s see what my program will first select for me. All activities have an equal probability, for now. Running the algorithm… and the answer is… writing! I suppose it didn’t think after this blog post, my fingers were quite exercised enough.

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