by Niall Douglas. Last updated .
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Saturday 22nd December 2007: 2.17pm. It's nuts that it's only three days till Christmas even though today is the official end of term in St. Andrews! Johanna has just left and Megan left last Wednesday, and I handed in my last group coursework assignment on Thursday. To achieve that I had to defer one of my essays via Student Support, so it along with another essay hangs over my Christmas. I had a deliberate lie in yesterday morning for the first time since reading week - yes folks, this has truly been the hardest semester work-wise since semester two of second year (which left me so shattered I took two weeks to recover from the nervous eye twitch among other psychosomatic illnesses I developed).
It didn't help that I lost my reading week - two days after the previous entry I came down with some viral & bacteriological infection and became more sick than I have been in years (think shaking for hours sweating profusely in a bed for day after day). It took me ten days to fully recover which seriously shafted my plans to get ahead in my personal coursework as so to leave space for the group stuff (whose timing you cannot plan as it depends on the group). Then as of the 2nd of December when the Irish post-graduate applications opened I began my postgraduate applications to University College Cork, Edinburgh and Hull for a variety of PhD (research) and MSc (taught) courses in both Economics/Management and Computer Science - which are two separate faculties, each with two separate application procedures for research and taught. To make it even more complicated, some MSc's are subsidised depending on the year, some can be promoted to a PhD, some have quota scholarships and others applied, and so on so forth. This sucked up two weeks of my free time between the researching of options, dialoguing via email, and the filling in of endless forms, and given the never ending nagging from my father it often seemed like choosing between a rock and a hard place
This all left me constantly behind in my studies, and no matter how hard I tried I never managed to recoup the losses. I was also very mindful that the reason I became ill in the first place was because I had pushed myself too hard before reading week and my body simply said "stop now" and made me ill - and that I couldn't afford to happen again. All that said, I haven't done worse than a high 2.1 all semester which surely will do wonders for me getting a first given the travesty of last semester.
Speaking of exhaustion, I made a full apology to my academic daughter last Wednesday after six months of having cut her off when I felt she had made up a conversation between us. It recently came to my attention through incontrovertible testimony from both Megan and Johanna independently that this semester I invented memories that were an incorrect fusion with make-believe of what actually happened. To say this bothers me would be putting it mildly - it clearly only happens when I get very, very exhausted - not necessarily physically tired mind, but rather depleted of all remaining stocks of effort. It's just like old people do - and I clearly have found myself getting confused like an old person during the last two weeks, and hell I'm only just about to turn thirty. But one can feel the bell beginning to toll - I'm pretty sure I didn't used to get so befuddled in second year. On the other hand, I had two years to build up health and effort reserves before arriving here, and the fun & games leading up to the most recent summer most certainly depleted any backup reserves that I had left. I have been running on empty and feeling it to be so recently more than at any time in the previous six years - it probably doesn't help either that I started smoking again this past week having successfully not done so all semester, but I think the real reason I started smoking again is because I had to cut back the two bottles of whiskey I was drinking per week because my kidneys were beginning to ache.
And why might you ask would I be drinking two bottles of whiskey per week mostly on my own (sometimes with Megan who rather likes the stuff too)? It's probably about fifty units of alcohol per week just on the whiskey, so add another ten on for the occasional beer and we're looking at about sixty per week. Bear in mind you're only supposed to drink about half that at most, so well, not good really. Well, much like my father, when you give up smoking your drinking correspondingly increases, and also like my father, I find work stressful which makes me anxious which means I can't sleep. So I try to knock myself out with drinking and a smoke if needed before bed, otherwise I just lie there and don't sleep which quickly cascades after a few days into insomnia which is really shit for studying.
If you think I might just be weak or highly-strung, consider this: I now know of five students here on beta-blockers, some eight on tranquilisers and no less than fifteen on anti-depressants (mostly SSRIs, but some with mirtazapine) - and those are just the ones I know of, many here still view it as something to be ashamed of. Admittedly, there is probably a fair bit of bias off the general population given the type of person I'm likely to know, but nevertheless I still think it's pretty shocking that so many under-22's are so heavily stressed that that level of medication is being issued. Imagine what's to come for them working in some soulless corporation who sucks you dry before disposing of you in your late 20's - and best of all, like studying here, they'll all convince themselves at the time that they are really enjoying their jobs and their reward for their hard work will arrive soon!
Interestingly, all of them don't want medication, they'd actually far prefer counselling because the real problem behind all this is loneliness even when you're surrounded by friends, all of whom are just as lonely & isolated as you are - and thus each pursuing their own self-interest destroys their own self-interest. Student Support Services in St. Andrews is not there for you, it is there for your studies which is quite, quite different - as people quickly realise after visiting them, they also do the minimum necessary to get you maximising your academic results even if your happiness must be sacrificed to do so. Thus Student Support becomes part of the game, part of the system to be deceived and manipulated to gain more marks for less effort in the never-ending profit-maximising optimisation, and thus even more isolation, loneliness and despair sets in - a never-ending, vicious circle. It's not like I haven't been bleating to anyone who will listen about this since I arrived here, and if I do say so myself, this past semester has vindicated my warnings like none other because many students have started "making friends" for after graduation - by which I mean, they've started sucking up to those who they think will best propel them forward after graduation, sometimes through fancy invite-only dinner parties, sometimes through literally opening your legs or mouth to gain special attention or favour eg; getting a new boyfriend or girlfriend who looks like a good platform or conduit, and usually all combined with disregarding, ignoring or belittling old friends who are an embarrassment to the new cause. In the process, many good solid ordinary friends have been left estranged, and many people have realised just how few (if any) friends they ever really actually had to begin with. Those who have listened to me feel their loneliness and despair every day, the least worst scenario - while those who have not deceive themselves of the truth, and spend all their time convincing themselves of their happiness and popularity while secretly engaged in ever more self-destructive behaviours because deep down they know how desperately unhappy they really are.
You know, it's not until I watched Megan these past four months that for all my fancy theories as to why people are self-destructive, I have fully accepted that her simple explanation was the most correct. Happy people don't tend to be self-destructive, or rather with time they become less self-destructive. Unhappy people over time become ever increasingly more self-destructive. Now I knew that as a theory, and I definitely applied that theory to Megan over the last two years - but watching her make quantum leaps in self-esteem over the last four months really has cemented how powerfully true that simplistic explanation really truly is. With the self-esteem has come mountains of self-confidence, and it's true self-confidence. With that comes vastly improved treatment of other human beings such that she of late has been so consistently a good friend not just to me, but to everyone who knows her, that it's like she has become reborn. The biggest, clearest change has been in consistency - I and others are beginning to actually rely on her and not keep expecting to get let down like we used to.
And thus therein lies the key to my book - our world is being destroyed by the most self-destructive human population that has ever lived (and I refer to only the top 20% in consumption terms of us). Looking at the happiness indicators trailing ever downwards since the 1970's, I think there's a lot of credence in Megan's simple explanation applying across the widest swathes of today's society. Put most clearly: Discover people's happiness, Save the world.
This interestingly is an applied case of one of the fundamental laws in my upcoming book: that healthy systems embed themselves and become ever more stable over time (eg; like a monopoly). Unhealthy systems destabilise themselves, forcing themselves to evolve by ever increasingly generating chaos and degeneration in their surroundings. In case you're wondering, exactly the same process underpins (and this is a very, very small subset of the total list): genetic step-change evolution, idea generation, political winds, computer programs & programming techniques, solar systems & planets, heroin junkies, putting too many rats into a box, why matter is solid, one of the reasons that time moves forwards and lastly why God makes mistakes (relatively, but he/she/it never makes mistakes absolutely).
Yeah ... that's only one of the fundamental laws and all ... and my upcoming book even explains the processes that underpin how that law works through a lay man's explanation of thermal physics. It'll almost certainly barely sell a copy
Ok, time to go start cleaning the house - it has become the dirtiest & most untidy it's ever been during the past semester, and the last time I properly cleaned it was reading week (Johanna's been too busy to do anything other than cooking and washing dishes). Johanna's away till February as she has no exams, so as of tomorrow I'll have a nice clean, tidy house for about six weeks yay!!! Be happy everyone, and Merry Christmas!