Think of a child of a demanding parent. That child often grows into a perfectionist type who seeks out mates who are hard to please — and then tries to please them. Cast that way, does it sound familiar?
You would think it was counterintuitive — why would we seek out the thing that made us miserable in youth, instead of running the other way? — but it makes sense. People unwittingly seek out what is familiar to them emotionally; if your home was run by a bully, then being bullied by a mate will feel normal, like “home.”
Then, once people re-create their unhappy circumstances, they get down to the real business of dysfunction: staying mired there while they make a fruitless effort to get it “right” this time, to master whatever it is that left them feeling so helpless or out-of-control as a kid.
To break the cycle you have to see it; trace its roots; face, with brutal honesty, what you do to perpetuate it; and learn new habits. It can take one epiphany or years of therapy, but it can be done.
The first week of a new academic term is always stressful and trying. The strange thing is, it’s not for any bad reasons – it’s just that you go from having a tonne of downtime to having no downtime in the span of 24 hours, and it’s a lot like shifting from neutral to 3rd gear, skipping stages in between.
When I was at UW, this wasn’t too hard of a thing, if only because on the quarter system, everything moves quickly and even your downtime is short – not really time to adjust to relaxed schedules. But the combination of a semester system, and having essentially not had courses in, depending on how you want to look at it, 6 or more months, has meant my ability to come anywhere near balance or adjusting to the shift in speeds is way, way off.
I could whine and say I’m still sick (I am) and it makes things harder, or having the rapid series of faculty interviews back to back at the beginning of the semester – the job talks, meals, meetings, readings, etc – is a time sink (albeit an important one to be involved in), or that even adjusting to set reading habits even when you’re not interested in the material is just hard. It’d all be true. But in reality, the issue is not the hard things, but the pleasant things – the sudden overabundance of being around people I like, brains I enjoy talking to, and the strange pleasure that comes from being woken up before 9am because a friend wanted to talk before class. It’s a hatred borne from a feast of excess.
In the first week or two of the semester, everything is about readjusting, finding balance. Figuring out your schedule – when do you have class, and then build from around that when everything else happens. Even if you’re amazing at dealing with that fast shift into overdrive, it’s hard to go from a relaxed, “I have 24 hours to fill at my inclination” attitude to one of strictly regimented schedule.
Oddly, my mild epiphany last night (prior to the drinking and socializing, thank you – so an actual epiphany, not an alcohol-induced one) was that I need to mimic a lot of what I did at UW here, because it really was successful for me. That means things as simple as keeping as spartan an apartment as possible, to establishing favourite spots to go to work and study – coffee shops and quiet bars, with and without wireless. And to live by a tightly controlled schedule that really is scheduled down to the minute, of when to sleep, when to eat, go to class, work, even play.
The only way to do this successfully is to do this with precision, and I have lost a lot of that sharp precision in these last few months. Whether that is okay or not is not at issue – that’s another topic for another time, and admitting that it’s been gone isn’t an admission of having done anything bad. It’s just acknowledging that things need to change, and they need to change now.
This post brought to you by distance, perception, Wellbutrin, introspection, the words “dark and twisty”, the letter B and the number 50. And the Carolyn Hax quote is related, but I’m not going to spell it out – at least not right now.