Thursday, December 10, 2009


They say that stress can affect your memory.

And by "they," I mean "really smart scientific people." If blogger allowed footnotes, here is where I would footnote this article from Science Daily which I found while researching this phenomenon (and by "researching" I mean "googling." Of course.)

Science Daily reports:

If it's been a really, really tough week at work and you can't remember where you put your car keys, it may be that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are interfering with your memory. In the June Archives of General Psychiatry, investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis provide the first direct evidence that several days of exposure to cortisol at levels associated with major physical or psychological stresses can have a significant negative effect on memory.

I wonder how a university could possibly find enough people experiencing major physical or psychological stresses to run such tests? Oh wait. Any major university would have a huge pool from which to select such subjects. They are called graduate students.

Whatever the scientific facts behind this, I happen to know for certain that when I am stressed out about something, I become a total space cadet. The worst semester I ever had was right after David and I got married. We were having some serious issues of the "OMG we just got married what the hell we were thinking?" variety. Things got so bad that now we simply refer to those few months as "The Bad Time." As in, "Remember The Bad Time? That really sucked." It didn't help that while we were sorting out our various mental/emotional/financial/whose turn is it to empty the dishwasher issues, I had the worst group of students I'd ever taught. Not in terms of ability, mind you, but in terms of attitude. They hated me, I hated them. They hated the text I was teaching, I hated the text I was teaching. It was honestly the only terrible semester of teaching I have ever had. But it was a doozy. (Seriously I asked them to fill out mid-term evaluations in class and one student--the most insufferable one--went home and typed up a f*&$ing list of things he thought I could improve on. Yes, he did. You'd better believe I shredded that shit in the copyroom on campus. What an asshat.)

My life really sucked that semester and I was so stressed out and worried all the time that I forgot everything. (Which, in case you were wondering, tends to add to the stress and worry.) I'd show up for class only to realize my lesson plans were on my desk at home. I'd go home and get ready to do some work only to realize the books I needed were in my office at school. I'd get started planning for class or drafting a paper, only to realize I had forgotten a meeting that had already started or a reading that I'd wanted to attend. I'll never forget the morning that I got about halfway through a travel mug of coffee before I realized that I had forgotten to put coffee in the coffee maker and I was just sipping on hot water with a hint of stale coffee flavor.

It was a bad semester. But it got better. David and I got over our newlywed freak out and he turned back into the wonderful person he had been before Bad David showed up during The Bad Time. We decided that I would do the laundry and he would empty the dishwasher. My students finished the semester and I half-heartedly graded their papers and washed my hands of them (this was the class in which 2/3 of them named The Da Vinci Code as their favorite book. I shit you not. There was no teaching those people. Lost causes.)

The point of that story is that I hate being forgetful. It makes me feel stupid and incompetent. That's why I make lots of list. I write things out in a planner. I keep two calendars. I plan ahead. I manage to pretty much stay on top of things as a general rule. I'm no where near perfect, but I did show up for class all semester with my lesson plans and I haven't left a crucial ingredient out of any food or beverage (that I know of). I guess what I'm saying is that I've pretty much figured out how to keep my shit together or at least give the appearance of doing so. Most of the time, anyway.

But now I am at this weird point in my dissertation where I am so close to finishing. So very close. And yet also so far away. Things are mostly written. Chapters are being proofread. And yet I'm panicking about what sources I made sure to cite. What exactly do I want to say in my little 5-page conclusion? Have I sufficiently accounted for the current criticism in my introduction? Are my footnotes ok? What about my font? Should I change the title of chapter three? I feel this terrible, tired, wrung-out feeling where I want to wash my hands of the whole thing and at the same time I am clinging to it because it is the sad little child of my brain and it needs more help and I know that I can still improve it and I am afraid to let it go because what if people are mean to it?

The result of this endless self-doubt, crisis of confidence, and general existential angst?

I am forgetful.

Instead of thinking about the task at hand, I'm fretting about the dissertation. I stood up a friend for lunch yesterday. Totally forgot. I e-mailed a student yesterday about the time we could meet tomorrow, totally forgetting that I still have to teach tomorrow morning and therefore cannot meet with students before noon. I showed up to a holiday party tonight, the highlight of which was to be a rob-your-neighbor gift exchange, and I forgot my gift. Then when I left, I left my little notebook on a table in living room. The hostess must think I am an absent minded maniac who needs my mother to write my initials on all my belongings because I just heedlessly run around leaving my things willy-nilly.

After a rough day of writing frustrations and scheduling errors and feeling like I got next to nothing accomplished even though I had so much to do, showing up at the holiday party empty-handed (well, holding a homemade cheeseball, which looked good but, frankly, did not taste that good--very disappointing)... It really felt like the last straw. The final nail in my coffin. Proof of my general incompetence and a total FAIL of a day.

The gracious hostess, however, happened to have an "extra" gift that she insisted I use as my own so I could participate in the game. So even though I started out feeling pretty miserable (I sat for a moment in the driveway and considered just turning around and driving home even though it had taken me nearly half an hour to get there), I ended up having a good time.

It made me realize that my worrying and fretting and stewing has really overwhelmed the holiday spirit and general goodwill that I usually feel this time of year. Instead of being excited about Christmas shopping and traveling for the holidays, I just feel tired and overwhelmed, which is totally unlike me. So I am going to make a conscious effort over the next week to relax and breathe and focus on one thing at a time instead of the big worries about the dissertation and the defense and the job market and all that stuff. One thing at a time.

It's easier said than done, but I'm hoping that I'll at least make it home for the holidays without forgetting my toothbrush.

No comments:

Post a Comment