Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Thirsty

Every year I look forward to summer, and then, usually after the first week of summer, the depression and anxiety hit.  I was diagnosed with clinical depression in grad school, developed anxiety later, and have been effectively treated for both. But I still have occasional episodes, and they often come in the summer.

Q: Does anyone else have issues with mood 
when summer hits?  How do you cope?


  1. There is always a transition period at the beginning of the summer. I go from 110 mph to zero in one day. I go from final exams and grading to doing nothing. So, it is expected that this transition is difficult. Once I have transitioned, I get quite used to sleeping late and reading and watching movies. Thank goodness this mindset doesn't last too long, or I would never go back.

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  3. I garden like a fiend, repair stuff around the house, work on my own research, and take care of my dog. Plenty to do... just a change of venue, without all the usual arguments from people.

  4. I think I miss the structure that the semester provides, which is on me, but also the content usually gets more complex over the course (ha!) of the semester, the teaching gets more tiring, as does providing feedback. In a way, it's a bit like training for a marathon, you aim to peak at the right time; and when it's over, you're completely knackered.

    The tiredness is what led me to call it a malaise, and post the following in response to an earlier thirsty:

    Grading always comes at the end of a busy semester, and the thing I hate most is the kind of malaise that follows turning the grades in.
    What I want to do is work on papers, spend quality time with the family to compensate for the prior busyness, and maybe even take a short holiday.
    What my body demands, though, is about two weeks of low culture-fuelled decompression, involving poor choices, worse food, and generally making Oscar the Grouch seem like a ray of sunshine.
    The fact that I know this and yet - so far - have been unable to change, is the thing I hate most about grading.

  5. I think EC1 nailed it with the structure issue. I actually kinda like unstructured days, but have to admit that I'm probably better off with a mix of structured and unstructured time than with the feast-or-famine approach the academic calendar provides. (We'll ignore the fact that, at the moment, I would almost certainly benefit from several months of unstructured time, followed by another few months of self-structured time. Sabbaticals do have a purpose, and I'm due about 3 at this point).

    That said, sleep and exercise (and a bit of vegging out, at least at the beginning) are both good things, and tend to be good for all sort of human ills. Good food is also a good thing.

    Hope things stabilize soon.

  6. I actually really enjoy unstructured days. But for me, part of it is the suddenness of the lack of structure, and the sudden lack of distractions to keep me from ruminating on this, that, and the other thing. It's a lack of external stimulation thing: it's as if I were suddenly plunged into an isolation tank.

    Wasn't there a horror movie about that? A guy in an isolation tank becomes a neanderthal or an alien or something?

    1. Yeah, that was "Altered States". In addition to an isolation tank, it involved mushrooms and Blair Brown.

  7. Yeah, and he was a professor, too. William Hurt devolved. As I recall, it got lots of publicity but wasn't much good: too artsy and talky for suspense-filled brain candy, but too ignorant of science to be a satisfying intellectual fiction.

    I know what you mean about the "lack of distractions to keep me from ruminating..." Like the others, I sleep in and laze around a lot when summer starts. Sometimes, not due to any strategy, I travel or take an art class right after graduation. That helps, and doesn't exhaust me the way I would have expected. And afterwards, there hasn't the letdown I would have expected either. Come to think of it, maybe I should always do this. Thanks for asking!

  8. The movie was "Altered States," and it got great reviews and a couple of Oscar nominations? so what do I know? Maybe we shouldn't watch science fiction in our own fields.

    1. Looks like we were hitting IMDB to doublecheck the reference at about the same time. I remembered Hurt, wanted to ensure I was not misspeaking (mistyping?) regarding Brown.

      I saw the movie about a year after it came out. I remember having to suspend my disbelief, but then, that happens with a lot of movies, particularly of the action-triller variety. I've read a book titled "Really Bad Movie Physics" or somesuch, which I might be able to dig up... or did I pass along to a friend? Google to the rescue:

      The Book

      A website

      Another movie I'd probably cringe at more now than when I first saw it is "Brainstorm" with Christopher Walken, Louise Fletcher, and Natalie Wood.

    2. With the bicycle helmet? That was heady stuff back in the day.

    3. See also: Iceman, Quest for Fire, Clan of the Cave Bear, and the legendary Amazon Women of the Avocado Jungle, with Adrienne Barbeau and Bill Mahr.

    4. Shannon Tweed played a professor of feminist studies in "Cannibal Women of the Avocado Jungle of Death." The fight scene with her and Adrienne Barbeau defines awesome. It was almost as good as seeing Bill Maher eaten alive while still talking.

      "Brainstorm" was the one with "the hat." It was pretty bad, all right. But then, we aficionados of bad film every now and then enjoy something really painful. I didn't say it was wholesome, it's just what we enjoy.

      Hey! "Quest for Fire" was a GOOD movie! What's that doing here?

      What bothered me most about "Altered States" was the trite ending, that love would triumph, even over physical reality. OK, whatever.

      A 1959 film that I thought at age 7 or 8 was the scariest movie ever made was "The Angry Red Planet." I recently watched it again, and was astounded by how bad it was, and at SO many levels. It had bad special effects (the rocket landing was a public-domain NASA film of an Atlas missile launch, run backwards), script (the leading lady's main job apparently was to scream at the monsters), acting (this woman's face unhinged when she did it), dialogue (the captain was putting the moves on her before they even left Earth), sets (if it looks like a human-eating plant, it probably is a human-eating plant), monsters (although the bat-rat-spider was pretty good), and production (to save money, color film was only used for the scenes on Earth: the ones on Mars were done in black and white, through a red filter).

      Another astonishingly bad film from 1959 what terrified me when I was young was "The Hideous Sun Demon." It's about a physicist who comes to work hung over and has a radiation accident, and this makes him turn into a reptile whenever he's in the Sun. He's kind of like the wolfman, except the Sun makes him do this thing, not the Moon. The leading lady's fake piano playing was some of the worst ever filmed: Dan Aykroyd (of all people) made fun of it in "It Came from Hollywood." Other of my favorites include "The Giant Claw," "The Fiend Without a Face," "Robot Monster," and how could we forget "Plan 9 from Outer Space"? The first time I saw it, I stammered, "ADULTS did this?!?"

      So, aside from watching bad movies, something I do to ease the transition from semester to summer is to do all things that have piled up over the semester. This year, it's build model rockets for my 13-year-old nephew. This year, two of them are among the coolest ever made: the Skydart II boost glider and the Mars Lander.

      I also write papers for publication in refereed journals. This is easy, since what my gradflakes give me needs more than casual editing, which I could do over the semester.

    5. Does the Hideous Sun Demon die in a very inelastic encounter with the Earth? I think I saw that one with my dad, and recall we openly mocked it. As it was ending, he said it should have been called "Lizardman's Last Leap".

    6. Yup, that was the one. It was off a large gas holder. The lizardman costume made the actor sweat profusely, such that it looked like he'd wet himself.

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    8. Frod, thanks for the corrections on "Cannibal Women of the Avocado Jungle of Death." As for the others on my list, I was just naming movies relevant to my field. I especially liked "Iceman."

      How reasonable is "Deep Impact"?

  9. Lack of structure really bites me in the ass. I am way more productive when I have more of my time taken up by grading and prepping and teaching, actually, which is annoying to no end. On the other hand, I get lots of completely useless things done, like re-reading old favorite novels, beating certain really difficult missions on my favorite videogames, and organizing my comics by writer, penciller, and inker.

  10. Yes, I almost always have issues with mood at the end of semesters (I share your diagnoses, too). I think that some of it is 'end of term itis', when your over-scheduled, under-slept, totally-strained system takes the reduction in pressure as a sign that it can freak out (I often get a cold or similar bug as well). The end of semester, I sort of metaphorically turn around and realise how absolutely exhausted, run down and unfit I am, and it comes as a nasty surprise every time! Just taking a few days to give in to it and behave as if you have a nasty cold - sleep, eat good food, take gentle exercise, read and watch light, frivolous mind-candy, take naps, do fun things like play with pets or children or "children's" toys or craft supplies (whatever your thing for letting your brain float whilst your hands are busy is - I knit, sketch, do Sudoku puzzles), be kind to yourself - can make it retreat enough to let you get on with your summer.

    Some of it, for me, is a sort of year's end angst - another year gone, all these graduates going off all bright and hopeful, why am I still in this job, did I make any difference to anyone, Is This It, has anything changed since last year this time, why isn't my life better by now, why aren't I a proper grown up, all that sort of stuff. Again, sometimes a few days of wallowing makes that boring so it goes away.

    Some of it is just the prospect of summer: being middle-aged, fat and "genetically programmed for northern climes", I dislike hot weather and bright sunlight. I have hayfever almost continually in summer, which gives me headaches and sinus pain and general sniffly grumpiness (to add to my natural grumpiness quota). There's a lot of expectations of research productivity AND fun-having AND getting back on top of everything domestically, and that's daunting. ALL of that is daunting.

    One thing that has helped me is to have very low expectations of summer - say, one hour a day of scholarly work on the week days, one draft of a paper by the end of summer. Some days that's all I do, other days I get into it, and I usually end up with a lot more progress than I planned. And if I don't, that's OK, I stuck to my plan...

  11. ...the end of semester cold. Every. Single. Time.
    Thank you for mentioning it, GA (I mean that); I knew I had forgotten something.

  12. I do as well, and I've always thought that I was the only one, so I appreciate this post. Everyone else disappears for the summer and seems to have a great time. Me, not so much. We're in finals week now, and so I'm going 100 mph trying to get stuff done. Once grades are submitted, then I have some end of the year reports to do, and then I crash for about a week. After that, I tend to experience some mild depression, which ebbs and flows throughout the summer. What I miss during the summer is the social contact. No one is around, and the building is very quiet. I'm pretty introverted, but I miss joking around with the faculty and students. I miss the teaching (but not the grading). I used to teach a summer class, but now I'm just too tired to do that. By the time I'm feeling like I could teach a class, it's August.

  13. This is an excellent thirsty. Finally I'm getting around to answering in earnest.

    A decade ago, I was not at all bothered or affected by the lack of structure during my vacations, because I made my own. I renovated my house, relandscaped my yard, etc. -- twice, actually, because when we relocated, we bought yet another fixer-upper. Physically taxing though it was, the work was thereputic and invigorating. It also required meticulous planning and relentless execution, at which I used to excel, and still do reasonably well at my paying job.

    But in the last two or three years, my "vacation brain" refuses to plan for a project or to stay focused on it once it is finally underway. Everything takes about three to four times longer than it used to while I'm actually working, and the workday is shorter because morning reading time may stretch till an hour before lunch and resumes at late afternoon drinks. I used to eat breakfast and lunch with one hand while working the problem with the other, and cocktail time was swigs of beer between swings of the hammer or mattock. I would quit for dinner only when the failing light made further work unsafe. But now, meals and anything else are excuses to put down the tools and take my brain out of the job.

    I miss the old me who shaped his world as much as he lived in it. The current me seems to feel a bit too "been there, done that" and sometimes just wants to watch the world. I have not given up, though, and suspect that this, too, shall pass.