2019 – year in review

Although I wrote yearly reviews on this blog for several years, I wasn’t expecting to do one this year for two reasons. The first, simple, reason is that I haven’t been blogging recently, and just doing nothing is easier than doing something. The second, more complex reason, is that I might have been afraid to think about this year as a whole. But that is exactly the type of thing that I find important to write about, so here we go.

Mental health

The first thing I have to think about is the manic episode I had in spring which I wrote about earlier, and my diagnosis as bipolar. Mental health issues were not new to me, but this experience was extreme. Although I was stable once I got medication, it felt like parts of my brain had shut off.

Things that were simple before – organizing my todo list, for example – felt completely impossible. I also had let go of many good habits, like running, eating healthy or blogging – pretty much anything I used to write about. I’ve also isolated myself from a lot of people, and felt insecure about most things that I’m normally comfortable with. While my ability to do such things has improved somewhat, more general qualities, like creativity and motivation, did not.

I was only part of the person that I used to be, and this was extremely hard to deal with.

The fact that I am writing this now, probably means that these things are improving too, just at a slower pace. But not feeling this improvement had a huge effect on how I felt this year. Even though a lot of positive things happened, I was often feeling too miserable to properly appreciate them.

Successes

To try to beat that overall feeling, here are a few professional things that went well this year:

  • Received my University Teaching Qualification (a prerequisite for tenure at Dutch universities)
  • Two MSc students graduated!
  • Started supervising two PhD researchers four MSc students (one of whom graduated)
  • My papers on not-so-supervised learning and “Cats or CAT scans” were published and gained a few citations so far (checking Google Scholar way too often)
  • Together with Felienne Hermans, Casper Albers, Natalia Bielczyk and Ionica Smeets, our paper “10 simple rules for starting on Twitter as a scientist” was accepted (online soon!).
  • Together with Natalia Bielczyk, Aidan Budd and Stephan Heunis we got a Mozilla mini-grant and organized a workshop about open & inclusive academia.
  • Visited several places where I gave talks, both on machine learning and topics related to this blog.

Also, an important personal milestone – I got married!

Failures?

When I first started summarizing the positive things I felt guilty. There are many things to be grateful for, but my brain just couldn’t see it that way. In the transition from manic to depressed, I felt bad about many ideas I initiated, but couldn’t follow through on. Afterwards, I felt bad about not doing my part, or not keeping up with my responsibilities. I felt anxious about things I’ve done lots of times.

In retrospect perhaps these things themselves are not failures, the overall failure is that I expected too much of myself. It would have been much better for me to accept how much I’m (not) able to do, let go of everything else, and have patience. Which is why crucial part to this year were the people who experienced me from up close – they were understanding and patient and kind. It’s thanks to them that I’m actually doing alright after what happened, and I’m grateful they are in my life.

Happy new year!

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