Flavor: Mathache.

1. What’s going on mathematically?

I’ve been doing lots of math, maybe too much: research, writing up a paper, teaching, applying for jobs, other projects. There’s a lot more to do. I stop to self-reflect.

2. What is the emotional and logistical context?

Maybe after a long day of conference talks; or a frustrating afternoon of getting nowhere with research; or late at night when my brain has stopped working and I should be done by now, but I have more to do.

3. What thoughts are there?

My head feels saturated with information, strained from too many self-imposed cognitive tasks. I keep thinking of how many more things I have to do. Often there’s a frustrating problem that I’m stuck on but can’t seem to give up. Usually my body is struggling as well as my mind, and I start to think about my physical aches and discomforts.

4. What quality of awareness?

I’m existing very shallowly. Even if I do non-math things, there’s such a loud noise in my head, of math ideas chasing each other, that I can’t focus on or process life much. The noise has a wide spectrum of frequencies – some of it conscious math thoughts, some of it low-frequency “percolation” (my word for when a math idea hijacks mental bandwidth for an indeterminate amount of time, for mostly-subconscious learning and processing). I’m very aware of physical discomfort and fatigue.

It reminds me of the drained and saturated feeling after a long day of socializing and talking to people, when you want to lock yourself away and listen to silence. But it’s hard to lock the math out of your head.

5. What emotions?

I feel pain, tightness in between my shoulders, often a headache or stinging eyes. Tired, drained. Disconnected from real life emotions and experiences. I feel behind, and sometimes like I’m drowning. It is a particularly physical math experience, and an unpleasant one.

6. What does it resolve to, after how much time?

Eventually things get done, or I sleep, or take a break. somehow my cup gets emptied a little. But it might take a while, and it might get worse first. There have been points of graduate school that really tested me, with burnout or breakdown a nebulous possibility.

7. How frequent is this flavor?

Sometimes for days or weeks on end. As a flavor, it usually comes in the late afternoon, maybe five times a month.

8. What are good/bad ways to change or follow it up?

One thing that helps is physical rest – laying down, consciously fixing my awareness on my breath and on relaxing my body. Meditation is one of the best things to do, although depending on the state of my practice and the degree of mathache, sometimes I fail at dissolving the anxiety. Sometimes a good cry seems necessary, and makes me feel better.

The worst thing is to let it take over, and to wallow in mathache. My cutoff point is societal: if I start to become a mean person, then it’s gone too far.


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