Snow has been falling and melting since Halloween, taunting us with the promise of a white Christmas, only to be snatched away again as another warm spell hits. As of this morning, we have two – maybe three – inches of slightly crusty snow on the ground. The southern part of the province was blasted yesterday, but by some miracle of the multiple lakes governing our weather systems, we were missed.
Around me people are shopping and decorating; others are giving somewhat depressing lectures as to why they don’t buy into the holiday season, muttering things that half-resonate with me like “Consumerism and materialism”. To a friend, I casually comment that I kind of agree with the sentiment. They nod, only half paying attention, eyes shadowed with that familiar anxiety I know all too well.
The pile-up of exams and end-of-term assignments leaves little room to focus on other things, which I why I dub the Christmas lead-up weeks my “least favourite time of the year”. Not because I hate Christmas – quite the opposite in fact – but because I tend to feel absolutely burnt out and “done”. Between exams and abstracts and band and choir concerts and simple menial things I should do like clean my room and laundry (hah), I go to bed exhausted but unable to sleep, planning my agenda for the next day.
The new year presents “fresh starts” that I seize with gusto, adding more and more things to my plate until I’m just trying to keep afloat again, promising emptily that this time – this time – I’ll do less. Eleven months later, December rolls around once more, and the phrase that most often escapes my lips is “I’m so tired”, or it’s slight variation, “I’m effing exhausted”. There is no sympathy. My peers are in the same boat as me; older adults sit by and knowingly promise, “It gets worse.”
“I just want a day to myself,” I lament to the boy, typing up an essay with frantic fingers, a third cup of coffee close to hand.
He gives me the cynical look of someone who’s spent two and a half years with my madness and says, “Stephie, there’s no way you’ll take a day to yourself. You’d find something to do.”
“Would not,” I argue. “I might go to the gym, since that happens about once a month anyways, and maybe I’d clean my room, since that happens about never, but the rest of the day I’d just relax.”
He rolls his eyes at me. “I know you,” he says simply, which I don’t deny. I’ve recently found a new job, and will likely be spending the holiday weeks training and working. I point this out, half in desperation, half excited, worrying that I’ll watch my free time go in a blur of coffee cups.
“You’ll love it,” he says with a smile, and pulls me close. “And you’ll have lots of time to spend with yourself, and with me, and with your family.”
Which is exactly what matters anyways.
* * *
I love to keep busy. I think that, at least in part, it’s some kind of anxiety coping mechanism. If you move fast enough, it can’t catch you. If you’re contributing, you’re not wasting space. This seems to be a resonant theme in those surrounding me.
The media often proclaims that, according to research, we early twenty-somethings belong to an entitled generation, expecting gold stars on everything we do. While I’m sure that holds true for some, I don’t really see it in the majority of my consorts. Rather, many of us work ourselves raw, fearing that in a world where “everyone succeeds”, we’ll be the ones that fail. Others quit “while they’re ahead”, or not – why even try to keep up?
In all cases, I think that we’re terrified of not living up to our full potential. I’d even go so far as to call this a cultural disorder – anecdotally, it seems that most university students suffer from this.
Busy and productive are the principle markers by which we measure success; we get off on comparing ourselves to what everyone else is doing. “Oh, you think YOU’RE busy? Well, let me tell you what I’ve done this month/week/today”. We pass this off as commiserating during our half-hour meetings for coffee with friends, sandwiched between two commitments off our ever growing lists of “things to do today”.
Sometimes this is just good-natured venting, but I also think that we’re usually seeking validation and approval. There’s nothing wrong with this in itself – it’s the fact that the fact that we’re putting aside self-care in the name of attaining some sort of arbitrary height of productivity that gets to me. I definitely see that there is something wrong here. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be productive, but when did neglecting our own wellbeing become so socially acceptable?
The other side to my personal “busy-ness” is that I genuinely love to do so many different things. I love to create music and play sports and go to the gym and bake things and curl up with a cup of tea and a book and attend school and learn as much as I can and help others out and play video games and travel the world and go hiking and skiing and swimming and skating and read articles and write. I just want to be so engaged in everything all at once, and so I attempt to split myself into as many directions as possible in order to accomplish everything I want to do.
Coming to terms with the fact that I can’t actually do everything is proving to be a challenge.
* * *
In the next seven days, I have two exams left to write and a paper to review; one rehearsal and one band concert; another rehearsal and two choir concerts; a lab lunch, and work training. That’s essentially it. My plans for the three or so weeks off I have include working, yes, and cleaning my room and sorting out more of my clothes (because this is absolutely something that needs doing). This said, I also plan on taking at least a few days all to myself, and many days to spend with the boy and my family, and at least a few days to spend with my friends returning from out of town for the holidays.
I don’t love the weeks leading up to the holidays, but once I get past these we enter my favourite time of the year, so I can’t really complain. I love the Christmas season because (at its best) it’s a time of rest and recharge following a year of growth. Maybe in the upcoming year I’ll focus more on my well-being, on not overwhelming myself. On seeing what I can cut out as opposed to what I can add in. I feel it’s time for a season of a different sort of growth.