Art by Oodley Doodle
This past week was Thrive week: a week to think about mental health and wellness, a topic that is incredibly important, especially for university students. For me, Thrive week came at exactly the right time this year, because a few days before the kickoff, I walked around like an emotional zombie after suffering my semester-ly burnout a few weeks earlier than usual.
Nothing in particular triggered my burnout. Looking back, I can see now that I had an exceptionally shitty week of just all the regular shitty things of daily life. Between having assignments due, trying to keep up with readings, trouble with relationships and just generally feeling not good (especially regarding self-esteem), I spent a lot of that week crying. And not crying in the privacy of my own room, which is what I prefer. I cried, on several occasions, in exceptionally public places on campus. I cried walking from the Bird Coop to the library. I cried in the Nest while on the phone with my mom. I cried sitting on a bench outside Brock Hall. I cried a lot.
To be fair, I’m normally a pretty tearful person. I full on bawled pretty much the whole film when I watched Inside Out – not just at the sad parts. But I do not cry in public. Last week I betrayed my golden rule of not walking around openly weeping because I couldn’t help myself. All of the things that I do on a weekly basis, all my commitments to myself and others, suddenly were too much. Like the straw that broke the camel’s back, all of my little things suddenly became increasingly overwhelming until BOOM: I was in full-on burnout mode. And it sucked.
The thing is, burnout is not that unusual. I think I’ve had at least one every semester of university, regardless of my level of involvement, or weight of course load, or hours worked at my part time job. It just always happens. The first mistake that I seem to make in every single semester burnout is not noticing the signs that I’m on route to inevitable train wreck until it’s too late. I ignore the warning signs in the hopes that I’ll just push through. That’s what leads to all the crying, for the most part: ignoring how stressed out I’m feeling until it’s too late.
Mistake number two is not telling anyone that I’ve arrived at rock bottom. Admitting to myself that I’m not okay is really difficult, never mind telling other people that I need support. I knew that I needed some serious self-care, but I was too busy trying to struggle through to take care of myself. As a result, everything I’d been working to stay on top of ground to a halt, because I was unable to do anything other than be a blanket burrito. While this effectively helped me heal from my burnout, it was a very tearstained affair that left me exceptionally ill-equipped to deal with anything. A lot of stuff fell through the cracks.
One of the hardest parts of all this is how I felt that my “burnout” was unearned, and maybe you agree. I live an exceptionally easy life compared to a lot of people – an incredibly privileged life. Seeking sympathy for the opportunity of an university education, something some people can only dream of, seems pretty pathetic. Yet here I am, trying to come to terms with my struggle for a healthy mental life by cutting myself some slack, while also feeling like I need to acknowledge that these are privileged problems.
I can’t promise myself that I won’t have another burnout between now and my spring graduation date. But maybe next time I’ll be able to tell someone other than my mom. Maybe next time I’ll notice I’m pushing myself too hard before it’s too late. Maybe next time I’ll feel like less of a failure for walking around campus sobbing, or for being unable to work up the energy to return an important email. Or maybe I won’t. At the very least, I hope that next time I can talk about it.