Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I just handed in my thesis to the school! One down, one to go. I have my defense next Friday--I'm expecting it will go fine. I'm good at giving talks and find them very energizing, which means I tend to sail through the questions in a haze of that natural high we get when doing something we're good at.

But it's been a long haul for me, getting this done. I wrote the following post about a month ago, in the depths of the misery:

Writing my thesis has been a semi-nightmarish process for me. It's strange, because in other contexts I like writing. But this is an endless stream of the particular part of my job that I hate. It's like that one chore you just totally, unreasonably, can't stand. For me, that's taking out the trash. Seriously, I will let the bags pile up for weeks, garbage juice leaking out all over the floor. Dishes? No problem. I could wash dishes all day long. But the garbage? Nope, just can't deal.

Scientific writing is like that for me.

It's not so much that I have that much work to do, although there is quite a bit. It's more that I sit at my desk, unable to concentrate, yet totally stressed that I have to try to keep working. I normally have pretty high levels of self discipline, so when that breaks down for me, I sit there, paralyzed, unable to work and unable to convince myself to work. Sometimes I'm tired and can't really think straight, but it's more often that I'm just bored by the detail of it all, or I simply don't want to do it. Then comes a flood of low-key panic: how am I going to get this all done if I can't actually get myself to work on it? How can I force myself to do something I hate? I've been sitting here for an hour trying to convince myself to work and it's not succeeding--the jig's up. This time I'm going to fail.

A Jungian friend of mine talks about our "inferior functions", and how when we have to perform an action that relies on that part of us, we trigger these bizarre, unreasonable, out of proportion doom emotions. Sometimes I think I'm going to die from sitting here trying to do this work. Not "think I'm going to die" like a panic attack, but this deeper sort of "I'm literally going to vaporize with the strain of this becoming-not-me that this task requires". I know the Jungian typology is a bit controversial, but what my friend says really captures my experience with these things. In this case, an attention to obsessively small points of detail is not one of my strengths, but is exactly what scientific writing is all about.

I tend to be pretty highly somatic, as in, when I get stressed out, all my little strange aches and pains flare up to remind me that part of me doesn't like what I'm doing, as though I didn't already know that. Pretty much every single mystery pain I've ever had in my life has flared up in the past couple months! I'm sure that some of my health problems are psychosomatic. That doesn't mean I've made them up--the physical symptoms are real. It's just that some of the underlying cause might be stress or frustration or unhappiness rather than a virus or a mechanical defect. Everyone has this to some degree--asthmatics can have an attack brought on by stress, for example. It can be pretty maladaptive, though--feeling crappy just makes the icky task last longer because I can't work as efficiently when I'm in pain.

I recently had some bloodwork done for one of my semi-psychosomatic things. The technician drew my blood without wearing gloves. Then, because my pathetic little veins collapse and no one can ever get much blood out of them, she wound up using about 4 little vials. Then she popped those little colorcoded rubber caps off the vials she'd used and poured all the blood into one. All without gloves. My eyes about bulged out of my head. Anyway, it turned out to not be what I feared (rheumatoid arthritis) Instead I discovered by accident that my swollen joints (and night sweats and mood swings) were from eating soy--I went on vacation and ate differently for a few weeks and everything cleared up. Got home, hit the soy latte, and they all came back.

Edit:date fix

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