The feeling of anxiety at Princeton

To give some context on why I’m writing this post: I have selective memory repression/loss and a form of aphantasia where I can’t relive past emotions (I briefly talked about this in my last video), and I’ve been feeling a lot of pre-nostalgia about my time at Princeton, so I want to record as much as I can while I’m still living it.

The level of anxiety I feel about my work at Princeton is insane and probably extremely unhealthy, despite me taking countermeasures like taking regular walks and making task lists. When I’m in an anxious time (midterms, weeks where I have a lot due—usually right before breaks) it’s difficult for me to sleep well, which is rarely a problem for me at other times. I can’t fall asleep because I’m thinking and maybe feeling guilty about all the work that I need to do/could be doing, and my sleep is restless because I wake up periodically in the night because (I think) my subconscious knows I have a lot of work to get done. I feel like I need to be a machine that just cranks out work. When I’m hanging out with people or doing anything other than work, I’m constantly aware of the trade off I’m making. Everything “extraneous” (including self-care) feels like a luxury that I will probably end up feeling guilty about. Even this morning when I submitted an assignment, I barely felt relief because I have a problem set I need to submit tonight, and even after that, I think it’ll take a few days before I can get out of this mental state and stop worrying about the 4 final papers (and project) I have due after break. There are things that I like about having final papers/exams after winter break, but that doesn’t undermine the very real emotional burden that results from it!

It’s a bit difficult to communicate this, since it’s not entirely logical, but one difficult thing is the awareness that it’s not entirely the “system” that’s creating the factors that make me feel so anxious, it’s also just me. For instance, if I “chose” not to have an existential crisis/emotional breakdown two weeks ago I wouldn’t have gotten behind on my work. Or if I just prioritized work more or less (either one works) then I would either have finished everything already or just give fewer shits about quality/deadlines.

I think the worst part of my anxiety is that it makes it difficult for me to feel anything else or even be present for extended periods of time. I predict that after I graduate, a majority of the most stressful moments in my life will be past me. I’m grateful in a way, though, to have had these experiences, since it gives me perspective in and on the other times. And of course I’m proud to be able to do everything that I’m able to do.

 

How do we know who we are?

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is the question of how much of what we think/”know” about ourselves is a consequence of what others have said about us, and how much of it is from first principles. I was surprised when two of my classes this week touched on this question.

In my Attitudes and Persuasion seminar, we were discussing the difference between explicit and implicit attitudes, and which one is one’s “real” attitude. There is actually no consensus in the field about whether or not explicit and implicit attitudes are even internally represented separately. Explicit attitudes are ones that can be measured using surveys, like Likert scales, and are known to us. Implicit attitudes are commonly measured using the implicit association test, and use responses that are automatic/out of our control in some way (like muscle activity in the face, heart rate, etc.). There was one study on racial attitudes that examined body language as well as implicit and explicit attitudes to see if there was a correlation. A question that was brought up in class was how reliable body language was—should we trust what a person’s body says or what they say more?

In my World Drama class, a similar question came up (but of course in a different context!) while we were discussing The Camp, which is an Argentinian play that deals with fascism and the questions of who is a victim? and how does one become a victim?, among many other things. We were talking about a particular character and to what extent we should view him as a victim, since his actions and his words present different sides of him. In this class, we’ve talked about the question of credibility a lot—you can’t take everything that is said in a play at face value, so is there a character whose perspective we’re supposed to trust? And if there is, what aspects should we trust?

No conclusions were made in either case, but since I had both of these in-class experiences, it made me reflect more on this question of how we can know who we are, since there might not even be one thing that is who we are, even in a small way (like your attitude towards a particular object). All in all, I feel pretty stuck on this question for the moment, and I also wonder, after visiting the VIS open studios yesterday, if the best way to work through this question is by making art.

Fall semester (so far) in review

I’m taking 5 classes this semester, and something that’s been surprisingly nice is that I have a pretty regular schedule (and no classes on Fridays).

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Monday through Thursday, I have a class 11-12:30, a one hour lunch break, and then either a 1.5 or 3 hour-long class. I realized that having a consistent daily schedule really helps with establishing a regular sleep schedule and morning routine. Usually, I wake up a bit before my alarm at 9:20 (unless I go to bed late/am super tired, in which case I wake up later and skip breakfast), and have a slow and relaxed morning in. Usually I have time to walk to class early and either journal by the Woody Woo fountain or reflect inside the Richard Serra sculpture.

In terms of my classes…they’re definitely a lot of work as a whole, which I kind of touched on in my last post. I’ll just go through them one by one.

World Drama (English / Theater): I am taking this class to satisfy my requirements for the theater certificate, and I didn’t really have high expectations for it, but it’s probably my favorite class this semester. The work is manageable and quite regular (<100 pg. readings and maybe a short response for each class), and I enjoy the discussions. In general, for classes in disciplines that I’m not familiar with, the big things I want to learn about are how people in that discipline think and communicate, and what they think is important. I feel that I’m getting that in this course, and I also really appreciate that the contents of each class are, for the most part, directly influenced by what the students feel is interesting or important in each work. I’m also happy that I can participate in/contribute to the discussion despite my limited background. This class has also made me think a lot about the purposes and goals of theater, which has actually been really helpful for creating my thesis show as well.

Attitudes and Persuasion (Psychology): I had actually wanted to take a course about North Korea in this time slot, but wasn’t able to enroll in it, so I took this one instead (thinking that it would still be quite interesting). Unfortunately, this class is not what I had hoped it would be. I would have probably dropped it if I had made that realization (or been more confident in my intuitions…) in time. Although most of the people in the (~15 person) seminar are seniors in the psychology department, I don’t really feel like I’m learning much about the discipline and its discourse. Most of the discussion in that class is based on our personal experiences with and subjective evaluations of methods of advertisement, and it doesn’t feel like I’m learning a whole lot (other than just memorizing facts about certain studies and models). Fortunately, the class only meets once a week and is pretty relaxed, so I’m trying to just live with it.

The Asian American Family (Asian American Studies) – I feel like I only figured this class out quite recently. I was initially really confused about how to interact with the readings and what the professor wanted us to take away from them, but I feel like I got a better understanding after talking to Ab (one of my classmates) about it. I have a lot of respect for the people in this discipline because of how many modes of analyses they have to utilize. The only negative thing about that is that I feel like I can’t really contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way, but it’s fine because I still feel like I’m learning.

Automated Reasoning About Software (Computer Science) – I’m taking this class to satisfy my theory requirement for the COS department. Although this is a graduate level class, which was definitely a deterrence, I found the topic more interesting than the other available options, which is why I decided to enroll. I feel like I’ve gotten pretty lucky with both of my COS professors this semester, since they both seem like nice people who actually care about their students’ learning, and are effective lecturers. I actually don’t mind this course, but I do feel that the material is a bit too much for me to fully learn. My attitude towards this course now is to just learn as much as I can, and not get discouraged if I can’t learn it all, since this is my first time being exposed to most of this material, and I feel like I usually have to be exposed to something a few times before I can really learn it. The hardest part of this course is probably just trying to not compare myself to the grad students.

Information Security (Computer Science) – The teacher for this class is a really good lecturer, and I get the sense that he’s actually thought a lot about effective pedagogical practices. This is the second COS class I’ve taken in which the teacher tries to learn everyone’s name, and it’s the first COS class I’ve taken in which the teacher incorporates sections for discussion amongst ourselves AND gives a break every (1.5 h-long) class. The material for this class is also pretty interesting, and I’m happy to have a chance to learn it. My only complaint is that there are regular coding assignments, but it is an applications course, so that’s basically what I signed up for haha.

Overall, although this semester’s already had a lot of ups and downs, this is probably the first break ever that I’m actually looking forward to returning to school. I think this is in large part due to me really enjoying my living situation in Spelman, and taking academics a bit less seriously/stressfully than I used to. I’m seriously so grateful to be living in Spelman this year; I enjoy all the modes of being that it supports. Some other things that I’m looking forward to on campus: the community in IFC, social activities, my improv group (!!!), visiting NYC with Sonia, and getting back to my at-school routines.

Doing pomodoros is changing my life

For people who don’t know what pomodoros are, they’re basically alternating periods of work + break (usually 25 min working / 5 min break), and there are a bunch of desktop and mobile pomodoro apps that you can get. I’ve known about pomodoros for a pretty long time but only started doing them after learning more about them when I took the Learning How to Learn online course while I was at RC. Even then, I never fully incorporate them into my work until this past month.

I feel like doing pomodoros has changed my life in a big time way, by making me more aware of both the passage of time and my own mental state. For instance, now I can set daily goals for myself like “work on cos pset for 3 pomodoros,” which allows me not only to break down big (and undesirable) tasks into manageable daily chunks, but also to become more aware of how long it takes me to do certain parts. Not only that, but I’m now also more aware of how many things I can actually do during the 5 minute breaks (like go to the bathroom, make tea, fold a few shirts, dance to a song, etc.), which feels pretty good. Also, doing pomodoros feels like a more sustainable way for me to work, because now I know that when I can’t get through a whole pomodoro, I’m mentally tired and should either take a long break or stop working for the day.

It’s not a perfect system, and writing this post actually makes me feel bad that I’m at a place in my life where I have to think about how to be super productive, but pomodoros have definitely helped with that! And doing pomodoros with friends is even better.

What it means to be a nice girl

Basically, putting the needs of others before your own. For instance:

  • Doing the “right thing” even if you don’t want to
  • Letting other people encroach on your personal space and boundaries, and not standing up for yourself and your needs until they’ve egregiously overstepped 
  • Second-guessing yourself and your intuitions while giving others the benefit of the doubt
  • Comforting others (and taking on their emotional/etc. burdens!) even when you’re not in the right/best mental state to do so
  • Doing things that are inconvenient, annoying, or downright bad to you because they make someone else’s life (even slightly) better

 

Fuck being a nice girl.