I had great plans for this year.
Last semester, I started out on a bad note, feeling stuck and overwhelmed and not getting any of my readings done. This year, I decided I would start out the semester more organized. I would plan better, and overcome my anxiety so that I could be prepared for my classes. Instead of feeling disconnected from the subjects I was studying, I would do all my readings and feel fully engaged. I would emerge knowledgeable and triumphant. It was going to be amazing.
So I started my semester with the goal of preparing for class. And for maybe two glorious weeks, I came to all my classes with all or most of the reading done, knowing exactly what we were going to be talking about and prepared to make insightful comments. Finally, I felt like a good student, a good person.
I did some of this by being more organized and planning better, and this was definitely a good thing. But ultimately, here is where the extra reading time was coming out of:
- down time, relaxing by myself
- social time with friends
- time spent doing laundry and unpacking
As a result of this, the wonderful feeling of being a good student came with some unpleasant side effects. I felt unhappy, and sort of purposeless, with so much time spent cramming for class. I got more fatigued, until last Thursday I fell asleep in the middle of a really fascinating lecture. And I felt so mentally tired that I spent most of the weekend lying on my bed listening to an audiobook, panicking about getting my work done but somehow unable to attend to it. Halfway through Saturday I decided that if I wasn’t going to do work, I should at least get up and clean my room. I then continued to lie on my bed, despairing of my ability to do things.
Three weeks into the school year, I successfully burnt myself out.
The lesson learned from this lovely episode is that I can’t do all my reading. I don’t have the time to devote to it, the brainpower to process it all, or the emotional strength to deal a life of academic isolation.
I feel guilty about this – like I’m a bad student, a slacker, a cheater. I’m not the scholar I wanted to be. I also feel sad when I think about what I’m missing. I mean, in one of my history classes we’re studying Nazi Germany, a subject upon which I have spent countless hours perseverating. I want to do this reading, and I’m sad that I can’t.
But at the same time, I feel kind of liberated. I don’t have to walk around haunted by the specter of chapters unread, thinking I’m a failure, convincing myself I really will read those last 50 pages and then falling short. I can admit to myself that I won’t get around to reading those 50 pages, or the introduction to the next history text, or the poem we’ll be looking at in German on Friday. I can go out for dinner with friends, or read blogs, or do my fucking laundry, even if I haven’t done my reading. And I shouldn’t feel guilty about it (though I do). I know that by not finishing my reading, I’m preserving my brain to fight another day.