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The mind of a worryful and restless mathematician

June 2, 2010

So, when I can’t sleep at night, I number crunch.

This restless number crunching usually is caused by some vacation or extended time away from work. This upset in timed responsibilities usually causes my sleep schedule to get supremely out of whack. On the last day of this disturbance in my usual sleep cycle, I attempt to reclaim my old sleeping habits. I remove all external distractions. I lay in bed in an last ditch effort to force myself asleep. I hope that I can somehow manage to clear my mind and drift into unconsciousness. This, however, has never worked. Despite my valiant efforts to to take control of my body and my stubbon brain, I ultimately fail in all attempts to coerce myself to sleep. I can’t sleep, who am I kidding? I just woke up, like, 10 hours ago.

I remove all forms of entertainment and lie in bed with my eyes closed. I am careful not to close them too tightly. For closing them too tightly will distract me. I find myself being supremely aware of my eyelids, despite my efforts to ignor them. I attempt to breath in an out slowly. Now my concentration is away from my eyelids and now on my breathing. This proves to be an even worse thing to concentrate on, because when I try to not think about my breathing, I stop. Thus, having to purposefully breath. I have now interrupted my auto muscle reflexes and worry that I will never again be able to breath without thinking about it. This, starts the worry process.

Now, my mind wanders into not so favorable directions. I start to worry about phantom problems. Problems that don’t exist, but I am worried may exist. I image these random little  scenarios that get progressively more disturbing and irrational. We left the door unlocked (always the first worry). We left the oven on. I forgot to pay the mortgage.  We left the door unlocked (I always come back to this one) and someone is going to break in and murder us (this door unlocked thing will cause me to get out of bed sometimes more than once). All the books in the room above me are too heavy and the ceiling is going to cave in on top of me. My cat’s collar is stuck on something. He’s chocking  to death and I can’t hear him. I try to convince myself that this irrationality is the result of a half-sleep, dream-like, delirium and that I am, in fact, falling asleep. I’m just pre-dreaming. Of course, this makes me hopeful, distracting me further.

At some point, this worrying turns to obsessing over things that are real problems, not just ones I made up. I start to fret over something I said to a friend that hurt her feelings. I obsess over a mistake I made in my geometry class. I obsess over something dumb I did in the forth grade.I obsess about money.

Thus, begins the feverish, fretful, ridiculous, number crunching. I start envisioning worse case senarios and attempting to mathematically work my way out of them. Once this starts to happen, and I start trying to preform exponential functions in my head (which I can’t), I get out of bed and get my calculator and my computer. (Note: I said OUT OF BED). I start making spreadsheets and recomputing balances. I am ultimately in small state of panic over no problem in particular. I am out of bed which obviously affords me no hope of getting to sleep soon. I check my IRAs. I check my 401k. I check my savings accounts. I calculate their return rates.

I start calculating how much I would have had  to pay extra towards my mortgage to pay it off in 5 years. I do not need to pay my mortgage off in 5 years, but for some reason, knowing that number becomes the most important thing to me. Until I find that number, I will never sleep! Well, it turns out that if I had begun paying  three times my my monthly mortgage payment from the day I purchased the house, I would have paid it off in five years. Two years from now.

Now, I know the number…I calculated something tangible. Now, maybe I can sleep…

BTW, the formula for calculating mortgage payments is:

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