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I’ve all but completed my last round of data collection. Actually, I’d all but completed it yesterday, and today I have just been sitting at my desk, shuffling papers, checking emails, reading the news, pretending I’m working when really I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.

Actually, that’s wrong. I know what I’m supposed to be doing, I just can’t resist the magnetism of procrastination and so I let my next important goal – writing my thesis – slide while I look busy but essentially bum around doing nothing.

Well, maybe that’s wrong too. I have done a few productive things today. For example:

  • I did a preliminary check of my data. My sample size isn’t as large as I’d hoped it would be – actually just over a quarter of the size I had on a similar project last year – but I’ll take what I can get. I also had a look at the institutional and geographical distribution of the data to get an idea of what the comparison groups are going to be like.
  • Then, I ran an errand for my supervisor. It was a minor errand, but someone had to do it!
  • I also dealt with a series of emails that urgently needed dealing with, mainly because they were from people making enquiries about my data collection, specifically, regarding circulating my study information, which I really need them to do or else I can’t get my data.

Despite doing all these things though, all in all it has been an unproductive day because I just haven’t got as much done as I usually do. It’s my own fault, but it bothers me profoundly and I feel bad for it. I can’t stand it.

This always happens to me when I’ve been working on a long, repetitive part of my project for weeks or months on end – when I finally complete it, I have a dazed period when I come to the office and spend the days wondering what I’m supposed to do next. My mind is blank, and paradoxically in a state of mad, whirling chaos. I can’t go forward because I don’t know which way I’m facing.

And it takes a little while to figure out where to go next – even if you already have a plan. Believe me, when you’re doing a PhD, if you’ve got the slightest bit of brains, you always have a plan. You have a plan for the day, a plan for the week, a plan for the quarter, and a plan for the entire project. You have a Plan B, and a Plan C. And when you’re doing a PhD, believe me, it’s true, your plans are always changing, altering, mutating, going in circles, and falling through altogether. External commitments, emergencies, absurdities come along and throw your plans in the trash. Everything is in a constant process of metamorphosis. So as soon as you get to the end of one confusing period of work, you have to stop a while and get your head together before the next one begins.

Take this for instance: I’ve just finished my prolonged campaign to collect data for my last study, and next, I know, I need to write the remaining chapters of my thesis, edit the existing ones, and get a working draft together for my supervisors. And yet, in an absurd contradiction, I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.

Really. Not the slightest.

There’s an irritating side to being a bit mad. Your mind wanders continuously, you can’t concentrate on anything for more than a moment, and you find yourself constantly trying to remember what you’re supposed to be doing – whether it’s writing a paper, putting the washing on, or just getting to sleep. You stop in the middle of the road, halfway through a book, mid-sentence in an article, as if life isn’t supposed to be continuing without those you’ve left behind. A year ago or six months ago or last week, you’d never have belived you could live without the things – and the people – that matter the most in your life. Then something happens, and they’re gone. It feels like the world has ended for a while, but then, eventually, you realise it’s been a week, six months, or a year, and you’re still here, still alive, still walking slowly along the journey. We have an unprecedented capacity for adaptation, even to the worst of circumstances and even in the face of the most harrowing injustices. That doesn’t mean that we should accept the world as it is and never try to change it. It just means that sometimes it takes a tragedy to realise how strong we are.

My mind wanders restlessly from one thing to another, never stopping for long, and constantly in a state of curiosity. I’m afraid it isn’t a very ‘good’ type of curiosity though, it’s more of a confrontation with the world and a demand to know why bad things happen to good people. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do children die? Why do loved ones get derailed? Why are we surrounded by all the wrong people, and those we need the most are miles away? There’s no answers to these questions, and no reasons. We’re far too logical sometimes, we always need to know why things happen and how they’re justified. Our society is built on it. Law prosecutes those who commit offences, it isn’t supposed to harm innocent people. Welfare is handed out according to need, people with enough aren’t supposed to get any. We built society with the understanding that people should get what they deserve. But life doesn’t work like that. Bad people get away with bad things, and bad things happen to good people.

Wandering Mind Syndrome is the way the mind wanders when preoccupation with the woes of the world overflows, becomes overwhelming. It’s a kind of madness that creeps up on you when you can well do without it, when you need to take stock of the world and move on, and instead you find yourself lying awake at night, for hours on end, wondering, wandering, and feeling the rage of powerlessness in changing all the things that are wrong.

My mind wanders constantly, never stopping for long. Why this, why that, how can things be justified, what makes them acceptable to society. Even if something is acceptable to society, sometimes your conscience still bothers you.

Friend of WikiLeaks

September 2020


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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!