Two weeks ago, I almost considered dropping out of school. I was (am) entirely exhausted and I was (am) completely overwhelmed. But instead of giving up on a degree I’ve been working on for two years, I decided to do what I do best: turn on the T.V.
I’ve been rewatching Pretty Little Liars in honor of the fall, and one thing that has changed for me is my newfound understanding of the character Spencer Hastings. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, let me catch you up: Spencer is the know-it-all genius of her friend group. She is a field hockey star with incredibly overbearing parents and an older sister who can do no wrong. She is under an insane amount of pressure at school and home and eventually breaks.
The first time I watched the show, I found her quite annoying. Despite every character within The Liars dealing with the absolute worst forms of harassment and traumas, Spencer always managed to make things about herself. I found her whiny and didn’t understand how or why school could cause so much anxiety on top of everything else going on.
Spencer’s character has substance abuse issues, and eventually finds herself placed in Radley Sanitarium, the psych ward in the small town of Rosewood, Pennsylvania. This particular plotline changed a lot for me as a child — I had never seen someone going through a breakdown like Spencer before. When I faced severe mental health struggles in middle school, I think I finally understood her character. Looking back, I think that allowing a character like Spencer to break and eventually put herself back together was incredibly important.
Today, I look at Spencer with appreciation and a sense of relatability to my former self. The issue, however, is that it’s not just my former self that relates to her. A few weeks ago, I experienced academic burnout. This was on an unprecedented level, I’m talking about one small thing pushing me over the edge and I exploded into a pile of tears, level of burnout. From the outside looking in, I most definitely resembled Spencer during her Radley days.
I cried hysterically, which I hardly ever do about schoolwork, because I was just so overwhelmed. No matter how much work I got done, there would still be a pile waiting for me to do later on. Maintaining a strong GPA, being a part of multiple student organizations and working a part-time job nearly an hour from campus wouldn’t be easy for anyone, and I am definitely not the exception.
In a weird way, though, being at my worst kind of made me feel really successful. It sounds ridiculous, I know that, but I can’t help it.
Maybe it is just some twisted form of self-brutalization, or maybe burnout can be kind of beneficial.
Having so much incentive to work harder in order to get ahead of the curve can inspire some of the best outcomes. Many people work better under pressure, and I think that I am one of them. I’d say that this is one of my better qualities overall, and it is definitely something that Spencer Hastings and I share.
Once I got a hold of myself and managed to meet (most of) my deadlines, I felt a whole lot better. But the weird feeling, that sinking feeling of anxiety that we all feel sometimes? It stayed. I still felt something heavy weighing down on me, and it pushed me to work even harder. Now, I am once again struggling to keep up. The semester is getting even busier, bringing me along for the ride. I’m just hoping that I look half as good as Spencer if I start to crack again.