I've just had a very tense and stressful week, which was due to a combination of having a bad cough and cold and feeling rotten, and yet still having to prepare to give a research seminar at another University, which — for one reason or another — turned into a much more significant event than it would normally be.
I did the seminar yesterday. Things went fine, people seemed to enjoy my talk and my voice didn't pack up, and now I feel exhausted but exhilarated. Finally, the weight that has been pressing down on me so insistently for a week has been lifted off, and I feel very light and free. Sometimes it's worthwhile enduring stress — if only for the fact that it's nice when you stop (like hitting your head against a wall). In fact life would be pretty dull (comfortable, but dull) if we didn't stress ourselves at all. The challenge can be wonderful, and you get a great feeling from overcoming (or at least enduring) obstacles. The real problem comes — I suppose — when stress becomes chronic and inescapable.
I had a dream about the talk a few days before I was due to give it. I don't normally talk about my dreams1, but I'll describe this one because I think it shows just how much pressure I felt myself to be under.
In the dream, I was chatting away to former colleagues when I was suddenly introduced to give the talk before I was ready. I rushed up to open my laptop and connect everything up, only to find that the keyboard was missing. All that was visible was a mass of copper contacts, and I had to try and figure out which contacts I needed to close to generate the right keystrokes to start my presentation. Then I had to hook up the projector, but was faced with a bundle of cables as thick as my arm — all in different colours and with odd plugs on the end. I was beginning to really sweat as the audience watched me impassively while I wrestled with the cables, and the time ticked on.
Dreams like that tend to linger on in your mind, so when the real talk came round, I got there very early, opened my laptop up and checked that the keyboard hadn't inexplicably disappeared (check), and that there was only one cable with the correct plug on the end (check). Only then did I allow myself to relax slightly.
1 Except with Mr. Bsag, who — as my 'lawfully-wedded' — is contractually obliged to listen to me witter on about any number of boring topics.