Oh man, what a five months. Defended and delivered a completed dissertation (that's Dr. Topher now, for whatever that's worth), moved to yet another state (third state I've moved to in nine years), and started a new job. Phew. Did you know I wrote a book this year? Honest to goodness. Me. I can do words.
I've known stress in my life, but this was something else altogether. The biggest challenge since its submission has been returning to a stable mental state. I love what I do, no question, but the amount of strain that it put on my emotional state is unparalleled. There were major events that I've not been able to process. I've barely reconciled the fact that I've aged six years in this time and am no longer in my early 30s. The only thing that served as a reprieve from my work is the news and lord knows how that's going.
Part of graduating is just decompressing, taking a big breath, and letting my brain return to an active stimuli-response functionality. Slowly, I've been able to return to allowing myself access to some emotional release that I've had to brush aside for a while. The other day at work, listening to music became an adventure through nostalgia. Every single song triggered a memory of some event, some person, some setting that I hadn't had room to think about for years. I started listening to a lot of Jason Molina, but also punk bands from childhood. Hell, New Order's 'Regret' nearly had me in tears. I remembered sitting in my childhood bedroom, with my crap-ass stereo, hearing that song on the radio in the early 90s. Warm room, summer sun beams and lazy weekend days. Before everything got all complicated.
Thing is, what I would love to do is reclaim the emotionality and innocence apart from all this heightened anxiety I've been battling for years. Trying to take weekends. Work on hobbies. Exercise. Eat right. Be a good partner and friend. Feed the birds. Take walks. Get a fishing pole. Go to restaurants. Enjoy life. Go slow.
Again, it's not that my graduate experience was awful. No, it was fantastic. It was also emotionally exhausting and mentally devastating. The point of such programs isn't just to teach you new things, it's to develop you into a different kind of thinker. That's a massive neurological endeavor. I've always been sciency, but now every question gets turned into measurement, into distributions and likelihoods, relative to its impact on long-term outcomes, judiciously socially just and epistemologically and ontologically questionable.
It takes a lot out of a brain to put that much into it. But it's all in there. Or, at least, the pathways for getting it in there are developed. The trepanation is completed and now I can bask in the warmth of my brain fluids.
Yeah, see? Now it's time to think like this again.
I'm going to go and listen to all the music now.
(Oh, and because I didn't make it explicit, this album is one of the few that would help to calm me down during points of stress. Their music is like sunbeams in the forest. More on this later.)