Depression

It’s been over three months since I wrote last; by now, you had probably forgotten that I ever existed in the first place (optimistically assuming, for the moment, that this blog has any readers, or at least used to have before I stopped posting).

At UAS, the winter term has started about five weeks ago, so there are things I have to write about. What kept me from doing so is that in the middle of the summer term break I finally succumbed to the depression that I barely managed to keep in check for the duration of the term. I doubt it was entirely, or even primarily study-related. Rather, I suppose you don’t just throw away a professional life of 25 years in your mid-Forties and walk away unscathed. For the first few months doing something new entirely had felt liberating and simply fun, but finally, I suppose, the brutal biographic cut I made a year ago has caught up with me.

In any case, when we returned from our short and chilly summer vacation on the southern coast of the Danish island of Lolland (picked exclusively for its convenient location three miles from the first train stop inside Denmark, and in terms of culture and landscape about as interesting as a giant sugar beet field, which in fact is really all it is), I fell into a deep dark hole. I have spent the last couple of months trying to dig myself out of this mess, with the help of antidepressants, therapy, my incredibly supportive wife, and above all, a lot of patience (not a trait normally associated with me). For about a fortnight now it has felt like I might finally be out the woods, albeit certainly still somewhat unstable. But for several weeks I feared I would have to drop out of the study program, or at least take a break, because I just couldn’t take it.

And that would have been a pity, of course. Not only is computer science fun, for the most part, and I am reasonably good at it, demanding as the study program may be. We (the third term students) also universally think we have been dealt very good cards with this term’s professors. Graph theory is read by our erstwhile Math 101 professor and algorithms by the automata theory and logic professor from the previous term. While both courses are reasonably challenging, it’s a relief not to have to acquaint ourselves with yet another math professor (there is a third, at least), and it’s good to know what to expect in terms of standards, requirements, and scope and setup of the end-of-term exams.

There is a new professor (new for us, that is) in software engineering, but he seems quite relaxed. He lets us do most of the practicum assignments right in the lecture, which saves a lot of time and ensures easy advice and instant feedback. Even better, he will do an oral examination, which at least I consider much easier and less intimidating than a written one (feel free to disagree). In operating systems we have yet another new professor (literally new in the sense that UAS is his first professorial position), and he too seems a nice enough fellow, even though occasionally surprised at the content of his own presentations (which, like most who teach a subject for the first time, he has inherited from his predecessor). Still, operating systems is probably nobody’s favorite subject. At least for me it’s a lot of arcane details which, while I see that as a computer scientist and programmer/software engineer one better be aware of their existence and general rationale, I for one would be happy to leave under the hood and trust my computer to do them right. So far it has. Also, since the professor is new, his exams are quite unpredictable. There is always the chance that he may overestimate what can be expected of the average third-term student in terms of both quality and quantity.

No such doubts, though, about the fifth subject, business administration, part II. Here the lecturer chose the most convenient and least labor-intensive (for all involved) form of examination, an oral presentation before the class. My programming partner and I did ours as early as the third week of the term, so we are already rid of this course, except for the practicum, which we need to earn the admission to the exam we have already taken (surely a nice paradox in the study regulations), and some face-saving pro forma attendance in the lecture. What the presentation was about? Beats me. Something with online shopping, I seem to recall.

So all in all it certainly looks like the third term won’t be half as bad as the second. One exam already done with, one just oral, and the two math ones certainly doable, probably even easier than the ones last term, and be it only because both graphs and algorithms are more intuitively accessible and practical than the almost pure math of logic (which was by far the most intimidating course last term). The only definite imponderable is operating systems, which conceivably could turn out to be the combination of the worst of databases (rote learning) and machine-oriented programming (excessive focus on arcane detail) in the summer. But we will see. I am already busy writing flash cards and even reviewing them, though so far with little success, but I thought I had best start early.

In terms of effort for the practical / homework assignments, so far graph theory is far ahead of everything else, but that’s probably my programming partner and me overdoing it again (I will say more on that another time). A close second is algorithms, where we have weekly homework assignments again, and often quite overwhelming and confusing ones (more on that, too, another day). Software engineering, as I said, is made quite bearable by our doing almost all the assignments during the lecture, such as writing user stories, use cases, or wireframes for a software project we are certainly not going to complete this term. The assignments for operating systems are nasty (writing Linux shell scripts in C and such), though mercifully small.

One thing is certain: If I want to survive this term, I have to be careful. Last term I certainly overdid it, by far. For fear of underperforming, I overexerted myself relentlessly. With 30% less effort, I could probably have achieved nearly the same grades and spared myself a lot of anxiety and trouble. I am determined not to make that same mistake again. A 60-hour week is simply too high a price for an A+ in every single exam, and besides, a price that in my current condition I just cannot pay.

Hence, I am trying to relax, keep my workload outside courses well under 30 hours, and accept (gracefully, I hope) that there are better mathematicians than me, that my programming partner has already forgotten more about programming than I’ll ever know, and that generally, compared to some of the best of my younger co-students, I am a bit slow on the uptake. So what? I will likely still leave UAS with a good to excellent bachelor’s degree, get a decent and interesting job, and conceivably be a more contented person all in all. That’s good enough for me. I hope!

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