Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Physical (vs. mental) exhaustion

I've never had a very hardy constitution. Had I been born in the 19th century, I totally would have been one of those kids who died of consumption or exposure or scabies. If the temperature's over 75, I wilt, and that's when the humidity's livable. And I've always been a depressive, too, which I don't believe is unrelated to my tendency toward fatigue.

So I've grown worried lately, thinking about not so much the mental but the physical requirements of an academic job. About how I plan on dealing with the exertion (and in my case the almost certainly attendant exhaustion) that seems to be necessary for success.

At the beginning of college I discovered better living through self-medication, the medication in question being caffeine (initially in coffee form, but then on to other caffeinated beverages). I have addictive tendencies/trouble with temperance, so caffeine has on occasion evolved into more of a crutch than a help, but for all intents and purposes I now cannot imagine my life without it: it makes me feel better, at least in certain mysterious doses, the amount of which I unfortunately have trouble anticipating from day to day. When I overload on it, it makes me more tired and more likely to fall into a funk. And even after all this time I haven't figured out what works consistently, though I continue trying to make the most of the whole "your body, your science experiment" motto. I hope I'll learn something one of these days.

All of which is to say that even now, with caffeine a staple in my toolbox (metaphor mixing what?), I am frequently have no goddamn clue what I'm doing with it. And I continue to be sleepy and/or grumpy and/or anxious and depressed.

On top of this, I am not at all a productive worker. I come across, apparently, as rather intense and scary regarding work in real life, and I AM very intense about schoolwork for the most part. The problem is, I spend more time stressing over it than actually doing it. (Even now, I'm writing this blog post instead of doing my RA work.) Nonetheless, the last-minute work on which I've skated by has always held me in good stead. I'm a decent writer, so I rarely did more than one draft of any paper in undergrad--reason partially being that I edit as I go along, partially being that I'd start writing no earlier than the day before a paper was due such that there was no time for second drafts.

But even given the psychological barriers to my doing low-intensity, ongoing work (I need to read more Boice, apparently), I'm concerned about the extent to which my mood/physical comfort affects my ability to motivate myself to work, and how easily I'm discomfited. I read the academic blog posts about the fourteen-hour days, all nighters, running from class to meeting to designated research time, and I just think, even WITH caffeine, how the hell am I ever going to do this? I never was that good at all nighters in undergrad, and honest to God, I'm already feeling my "advanced" age in my early/mid-20s. I've always had the mental outlook of a 50-year-old, and now my body's settling in to match. I now value sleep! Or not so much value as actually need a lot of it to function. Unless I sleep too much, in which case I'm groggy. Meh.

I suppose I'm worrying a lot about this right now because I've been feeling particularly crappy lately--I have never dealt well with heat, and again, when I'm feeling bad physically it will affect my mood, as well. I've never been an equilibrated sort. I also have inklings that I'm falling into depression again.

In any case, I'm trying to deal with this through a few small things. I've signed up for an awesome summer yoga class, of which there are ostensibly two sections, MW and TTh, but the awesome instructor lets us come all four days a week. Class hurts, but in a good way, and I hope it'll add some structure to my day and eventually increase my energy level. I'm also planning to make an appointment with health services to see someone about anti-anxiety medication; I took them freshman-sophomore year and they helped a lot with physical symptoms of anxiety that hindered my ability to concentrate. No clue if they'd still be helpful, but since I strongly suspect that the physical exhaustion has a mental tie-in, I'm hoping I'll hit on something effective.

Even with the incremental changes, though, it's a tall order to turn my fatiguing tendencies into round-the-clock productivity required for professional success in academia. It seems to be a marathon-length run at a sprint pace, and I'm totally uneasy about my ability to handle that.

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Reductionism who in the what now?