We recently read an article in my US Public Policy class on the “Submerged State”; essentially the layer of tax codes that are hidden from the public’s view (a poor summary of a 20 page article, but it’ll have to do). Looking around my blog, I realized that there is a part of campus life that I seem to have hidden from view: stress.
Look at any college student and you will see in their eyes a constant anxiety, whether it’s about a test or a paper or registration or a roommate. I’ve spent alot of time in college seeking the “college experience” but this is the only thing I’ve found that comes close. Indeed, the only theme I’ve found to be universally true is not partying or playing guitar on the quad, it’s not slacking off in class so you can sleep in, it’s stress.
So this post is dedicated to the submerged state of panic buried beneath our smiles. Here’s a week in my life (two weeks ago, in fact) as a way of giving you a glimpse into the true college experience. Or, at least, my college experience. Spoiler warning: life is fairly mundane, which the post may also be.
This week began, oddly enough, on Saturday when I woke up feeling incredibly ill. Strange, especially considering I had gotten a fair amount of sleep the night before. The illness, though, took all day to wear off and as a result I was unable to do homework. My Poetry professor graciously extended my paper on Paradise Lost so I could rest. But my rest didn’t last long.
Sunday I was up bright and early for Orientation training. As an Orientation group (I’m a Passages leader but Perspectives and Res Life were there as well) we discussed the logistics of August and together mulched an entire hill down by Point Defiance for Metro Parks Tacoma. It was a long, great day which excited and saddened me (my final time leading Passages?! I’m officially in denial about moving into senior year), but a poorly timed day as well. That night I had a paper due; the first of many this week.
The paper, for my Contemporary American Literature class, could have been awesome. I wrote it on the narrative structure of The Plot Against America, a book by Philip Roth about a boy growing up in an alternate 1933 New Jersey where Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR in his second-term run. With the stress of the last couple weeks, though, I was unable to start (with the exception of my professor’s office hours) until a day or two before it was due. It was in on time, but as all my papers these days it seemed hastily written and I was unable to include some of my meta-epiphanies during the writing process.
A main focus of my week was not a paper but a presentation. For my US Public Policy class I, along with my group of three others, were to present for an entire class period (one and one-half hours) on the topic of “welfare.” Broad in itself, so we narrowed it down to comparing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Heading into the week, though, we were pretty unprepared. We met for an hour or two every day, collectively reading a few hundred pages of research and scholarly work throughout the week and met with our professor twice. By the time our presentation time came around we were ultra-prepared and enjoyed presenting, too. It did, however, come at a decent toll of stress and time.
It was also the infamous ASUPS budget week, where every club on campus submits their paperwork for a budget and re-recognition. I’m currently running two clubs (and next year will only be running one, take that stress); Safe Men and Hillel. Minnesota Club, of course, is still going strong, but our fearless new President Katie took on the budget process all on her lonesome. To give you some brief idea of what each budget packet included; a two page questionaire about the club, its goals, its events, what it adds to the community, how it enriches lives in general, number of members, etc., paperwork to figure out new leadership, capital requests, a Log Jam (the annual activity fair of sorts) form, and the budget request itself. Leadership is a funny thing, simultaneously fulfilling and unnecessarily stressful. Looking at the money my clubs will spend in a year is both exciting and horrifying; luckily our student government is pretty great at fairly divvying up money for clubs. This is also, of course, not to mention going about day to day life.
“Ian, I don’t care about your trials and tribulations.” Rightfully so, reader, rightfully so. But I offer myself as a case study of college life on the inside. Of course not every day is this jam packed, not every moment is spent stressing over life, but it’s certainly a theme. Not a fruitless one, certainly, but also one that need not consume you.
Last year I went to CHWS (Counseling, Health, and Wellness Services) weekly for some help with stress management, but I feel like I could distill those many hours into a pretty simple message: make time for yourself. It’s really easy to get caught up in meetings, get absorbed in budgets, or psych yourself out about a presentation. But in the end you are your number one priority. Period. And if you find that you haven’t had a moment to breathe or even enjoy your cup of coffee, it’s time to step back. Make a list of your commitments, make a list of things you’re stressed about and give yourself an ultimatum: “By the end of this week three things on this list will be gone.” Lift your state of stress and fatigue to the surface and embrace it. Learn to “love yourself,” as my friend Tosia says. After all, if you keep it buried it’ll soon take the enjoyment of the things you do down with it. And if you can’t love what you love to do, what’s the point in doing any of it at all?