Managing Madness

Written on November 30th, 2016

As I write this, I’m sitting in a lecture to which I should probably be paying attention. We are discussing arguments for and against abortion in my philosophy course, and I am quite frankly exhausted. The literature is intriguing and my professor engaging, but I can’t find the energy to throw myself into such a complex topic today. Not with the focus it demands.

I pride myself on being a good student, but here’s the truth: I am tired.

I’m currently enrolled in seventeen credits, working three paying jobs, and spending the majority of my free time on what is probably a few too many side projects. I’m halfway through my college career at the end of this semester, and my determination to graduate in three years has left me feeling accomplished but also drained. I’ve come to realize that attempting to fit the same quality of a four-year college experience into three-fourths of the time is not an easy feat.

On top of school and work obligations, I’m in a long-distance relationship that makes my life joyful but also more complicated, because weekends are dedicated to finding time for Skype calls and visits as opposed to catching up on homework. While I wouldn’t trade what we have for anything, the stress of being apart adds yet another layer of complexity to my life. I miss my family, I miss my boyfriend, and I miss the feeling of relaxation.

It doesn’t help that I am a perfectionist. There is almost nothing I hate more than disappointing those around me; I want to impress all of my professors, all of my bosses, all of my friends. Sometimes something has to give – and all too often that thing is my own self-care. The other week I woke up in the middle of the night in a sweaty panic because I realized I had answered an exam question incorrectly earlier that evening. What kind of a good night’s sleep is that?

Stress does crazy things to you. It robs your happiness, your health, your ability to take a deep breath and fall into a sleep that doesn’t involve nightmares. It may seem to some like I have my life together… but this past semester has tested me in ways I never imagined. And sometimes, I’ve very nearly failed those tests.

I am tired, and I am scared, and I am not as strong as I want the world to believe. But despite the intensity of the past three months, despite the stress, despite the overwhelming highs and lows, I couldn’t be more thankful for the things I have learned.

I’ve developed strategies for handling so many things at once. My planner, full to bursting with scribbled handwriting and hasty doodles, has become my best friend. I prioritize exercise and work out at least five days a week, even if it means I’m reading my philosophy textbook on the elliptical. I monitor my nutrition and try not to succumb to too many unhealthy late night study snacks. I drink water instead of caffeine. I listen to music that uplifts me, I read books that calm me, I call my mother to comfort me and rely on my friends to share their strength.

But more than anything, I’ve stopped demanding so much of myself. I’ve stopped feeling guilty when I take a break to scroll through my Facebook feed. I’ve built time into my schedule to dedicate to Netflix and mindlessness. I have given myself permission to be less than perfect, and that permission has allowed me to embrace all of the challenges and madness of this semester with open arms.

Yes, I am a teaching assistant, and an honors student, and (I hope) a relatively good friend. I dress business professional at least a few times a week. I earn high scores on tests and go to office hours when I have questions. There are many things about me that seem ideal and composed… but I am also human. I am clumsy, and spacey, and sometimes I can’t get out of bed to go to the gym. Sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes I don’t get things back to my boss as soon as I would like, sometimes I forget to tell the people I love how much I love them. Sometimes I’m selfish, sometimes I’m naive, sometimes I’m downright ignorant.

But I’ve decided that it’s okay to be all of these things at once. I have years and years ahead of me to continue to grow. I’m never going to stop chasing improvement – but I’m also not going to condemn myself for falling a little short from time to time.

It’s been a wild semester so far, and sometimes I still feel like I’m drowning beneath the waves of all of these expectations. But I’ve found that the most effective way to manage the madness is to just dive right in. I’m thankful for every last crazy piece of my life right now because the busyness just means I’ve been blessed with a plethora of wonderful opportunities. It’s true that I’m tired, but the fulfillment is worth every drop of fatigue.