Existential Dread and a Birthday Wish List

Needless to say, after waking with a splitting headache on Monday morning and knowing I was completely unprepared, I bombed my physics test as I have never bombed any test before. Luckily the kind and beautiful Rowan, perhaps picking up on my mental distress signal, called me afterwards as I sat in the caf eating a garden salad in a dejected and down-hearted fashion. We went for a walk on the quad and tried to get a little perspective. Rose is an older student too, and she has exams Friday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as a presentation and a paper due in the same time frame.

We made four circuits of the grassy quad under a rare warm winter sun, and Rosie sucked down two American Spirits when we rested on the bench. A young woman walking by with a yoga mat gave Rowan a pink Bic lighter that she’d found on the ground, and we decided that this was the Universe’s way of telling Rowan (who’d lost her lighter) to keep on smokin’. When life hands you four exams in six days, grab a carton of American Spirits and go for it.

I’ve decided that a major weakness of mine is not being able to frame my goals consistently for more than a day. I feel like I’ve got amnesia of the soul. Who am I again? What was I in college for? Thank heaven for this blog, which swiftly revealed my tendency to overthink things and worry myself sick even though I consistently do my best and work hard. One morning I’m ready to fight the good fight for physics; the next, ready to throw in the towel and change my major. I swing like a pendulum from day to day, and it’s hard to live that way. Ordinarily I’m not this bad, but ordinarily I’m not trying to make a living in a demanding career while pushing my mind and body to their limits as a full-time science student. Both of these should be full-time occupations, and there is just one me to do it all and no help at home.

A tendency to feelings of existential dread does little to help the situation.

As I’ve said before, a working student living on her own wants four things: to be healthy, to make good grades or at least pass her classes, to have a social life, and to make enough money to get by. But we have to pick one thing, for that’s all we have time for. I try to be strong. I try to be sane. But I am taking on so much alone, and it is lonelier, harder, and far more taxing than I let on.

So here’s the frame I’m going to try to consistently hold up around my life and my day. If you are similarly afflicted by frameshiftitis, by all means feel free to adapt mine to your own needs:

I will take this semester one day at a time.

I only have to make it through General Physics I. After that, I will have a better idea of what to do next. Decisions can wait until I have more information.

A bad start does not mean a bad end. A dozen times I was convinced that I’d fail Calc II, only to pass with a C+ and not a moment’s real danger of failing.

I do not have to have my whole life figured out today. I only have to do my best, each day. I am following a path, and I have a goal, and in times of stress and distress I can remember to look back to my first two guidelines.

And now with the admin out of the way, I would like to announce that next month is my birthday. I will be 38, and I think my little friend Olivia who was born on the same day will be two. She’s got quite the jump on me as far as youth is concerned… I actually remember my second birthday — the rock music, the booze, the drugs, passing out face-first into my Carl’s ice-cream cake…

If you are a local friend planning to come to my birthday bash and you want to get me a present (please remember that this is NOT a requirement — but heaven knows it is hardly discouraged), here are some suggestions:

an external hard drive to store all my writing work on

Season 2 of Doctor Who (bootleg and used OK!)

anything from my Amazon wish list

a nice pair of binoculars

If you want to go the GC route, Earth Fare, Purl’s, A.C. Moore and Yarn Paradise are sure to be appreciated.

A small charitable donation is another great idea, really and truly. Please consider the Animal Compassion Network of Western North Carolina.

I’m taking the day off from school today, in what my high-school friend Amy used to call a “mental health day.”

7 responses to “Existential Dread and a Birthday Wish List

  1. Good Morning.
    Everyone needs a mental health day. I am taking one today myself. Even though I am busy with things. I had thought about going back to bed–but that didn’t work…lol
    I try to remember that I am doing my best at any given time. Sometimes it needs improvement and sometimes it is just fine. I hate feeling the anxiety that I bring on myself. Make sense? But sometimes I have to take the weight of the world on my shoulders because no one else will.
    I hope you enjoy your day and your upcomming birthday.
    I am not sure what we will do for Olivia. I guess I better think about it huh?

  2. I like the juxtaposition in the title. I think that, more than anything, says you’re going to be all right. Also, should you need more, Anne Lamott found that smoothies were a great help for existential dread. It might work for you. Just sayin’.

    One day at a time is good. Just keep swimming…

  3. I envy individuals who know almost from birth what the purpose of their life is and have no doubts whatsoever following their chosen course. Playing in kinder garden, doing the maths in primary school and eventually high school because they know for sure they will need it. Enrolling into dentist school and at a point ending up being expert dentists. Replace the word “dentist” with “vet”, “astronaut”, “policeman”, “physician”, and so on… I am sure we all know a person or two who were always like that. Having a clear direction must be such a bless.

    However, I believe many persons do not know have a clear direction and eventually end up in their final destination (if a such exists) through chain reactions triggered by choices were they could not foresee the outcome in advance… And I am sure that has a meaning!

    This is were all the liaisons come from. The ones writing about science in a readable and enjoyable way, or providing nerdy web applications with user friendly interfaces so they become useful to a broader audience than just the geek clans … The ones who are diffusing knowledge, popularising science, and fertilising the soil for new ideas… The liaisons who are the oil in the engine of society.

    This could be a good reason for studying physics without being a standard physics student prototype. If you do need a philosophical reason besides your interest for science, but most likely “existential dread” was triggered by the bad test.

    Cheers, Anne
    (in philosophical mode)

  4. Playing in kinder garden

    was supposed to be

    Playing dentist in kinder garden

    , other ways the sentence makes no sense :-)

  5. Yeah, I’ve found the writing really helps me clarify (and preserve) my frame of mind.

  6. Thanks to all of you for the encouragement!

    Anne, I saw a show about scientists the other day where someone said that she thought it was a myth that anyone was really “born” to do something. I like what Alan Arkin said, that life is just one long improv.

    Darmok, I watched Walking With Monsters last night, and it was JUST AMAZING. That whole series really is incredible, just as you said. I can’t wait for Walking With Prehistoric Beasts. Also, so true that writing helps “clarify and preserve”! It also really shows you your mental states, and I am starting to pick out unhealthy patterns that I’d like to improve. I’d never have noticed them without the discipline of blogging. Blogging really has become an important part of my life.

    Thanks to all of you for all the lovely comments.


  7. I’m glad you liked it!

    Yeah, the series is so well done…I love that it gives me a little taste of what life was like back then.

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