Reflections on Undergrad

Fall 2015

It’s nearing midnight. I’m at the kitchen table, bleary eyes glued to my computer screen, an umpteenth cup of tea clutched between shaking fingers. I’m one hundred and thirty-two sources into my thesis literature review. Thirty PDFs are open in Google Chrome tabs. Another word document peeks (barely) at me in the corner of my desktop – an essay for yet another graduate school application. My phone sits neglected by my side, twelve unread text messages lighting my screen periodically. My partner, wishing me a good night. An unfinished conversation or two. My best friend, coping with the death of her grandmother, my grandmother also in more ways than one, seeking reassurances I feel inadequate in offering just now.

It’s nearing one in the morning. I close my laptop, stretch, and shuffle down to bed, too tired to brush my teeth. I fall into my mess of covers fully clothed, and wait for sleep that just won’t come. A beer from the basement fridge goes down, and another. It’s nearing three in the morning, and I resign myself to no sleep once again. I shower and pull on leggings and a sport’s bra in preparation for the six AM fitness class I’m teaching.

I’m about to leave my house when the news appears on Facebook. An ex-coworker, a sweet girl my younger sister’s age. Condolences to the family, to her boyfriend driving with her when it happened. My heart stops for a moment. Beats once, twice, reluctantly resumes its too-fast rhythm. I think of the time I brought her homemade yogurt and strawberry jam. I think of the time she told me my new glasses were perfect. A familiar choking sensation grips my heart, then subsides. I shut the front door behind me with a click. The grief is there, but subdued. By this point, it has made itself a home in my thorax.

My fall months are occupied by applications, course work, work-work, funerals, and passive-aggressive messages from friends I no longer make time to see. They’ve noticed. I can’t find it in me to explain how empty my head and heart feel.

December arrives too quickly. I submit my last assignments, one final application. A name from my middle school days falls into suicide’s abyss. I find out during a radio interview. “Did you hear about…” says an old classmate’s mother as she escorts me back to my coat and shoes. I have nothing left to give to this. I wander aimlessly, searching my heart for answers it doesn’t yet know. “I think I’m cyclothymic,” I tell a friend, describing the rapid-fire ups and downs over coffee. He shrugs in reply. We discuss his own mental tangle, sip our drinks, and part ways, half-heartedly making plans we know we’ll never consummate.

I leave in the middle of the fall exam session, unwilling to be here just now. I visit three friends. One is too depressed to deviate from his routine, one is too anxious to leave her house. I re-evaluate and confirm the disappearance of certain unwelcome feelings; this seems productive. By the time I get to my best friend, I’m craving adventure, which is promptly delivered.

Cortisol has been wreaking havoc on me for months now. In the lab, we study hypertension, norepinephrine, the catecholamine biosynthesis pathway. I’m hypotensive, general rule, but these glucocorticoids are contributing to my erratic heartbeat. I check it sometimes – it hovers around 70 bpm. Higher than it’s been. I wonder how my blood pressure is doing.

Summer 2012

All 94lbs of me shows up for my first university class. My general apathy for the things in my life – post-secondary education, a new boyfriend, and therapy sessions I honestly don’t want but am attending to silence the noise from my parents – is overwhelming. Or, rather, underwhelming. I pour pieces of myself into my school work, into music, into purging my dinner into containers in my closet.

At the end of term, the professor teaching that first-ever university course pulls me into his office. I sit awkwardly in a chair at the head of his desk as he tells me that he thinks I’m going far and that I absolutely must pursue graduate studies.

I shrug, simultaneously flattered and terrified, not exactly clear about what he sees in me.

Winter 2014

“You can’t make me the centre of your life,” I tell him firmly. This is a better season. I’ve developed some semblance of confidence, and along with it the certitude that I don’t want this. I don’t want to be here, lonely, on top of this pedestal he’s made for me. “People ultimately disappoint. Choose something more solid.”

“You never disappoint me,” he says, completely serious, leaning against the kitchen counter.

“Oh, I will.” I can tell he doesn’t believe me by the way he crooks an eyebrow and shrugs, so I add unthinkingly, entirely too matter-of-factly: “You disappoint me sometimes.”

This is the wrong thing to say. His look of shock and sadness has me rushing my words, desperate to reassure, “That’s not a bad thing, though, not at all – it means that we’re growing. It means that there’s stuff we can work on together. It means that there are lessons here for me, things to love you all the more for.”

He shrugs again, a small movement. We turn back to our homework, and I pour over the organic chemistry reactions I just can’t seem to make sense of. I’ve overcommitted this term, with seven courses (four of them with lab components). I’m afraid of sitting still, afraid of what the quiet might do to my new, precariously balanced mind.

Spring 2016

I defend my thesis on a grey morning, the fourth of five to go in my session. The same prof who told me I’d go far eight semesters ago stands up and asks me to explain my thesis in French. I do so, watching his face; he’s smiling, a thin tight line full of meaning. He thanks me as I finish in record time, aware that there is still one more person to go after me, and says mildly, in French, “I think that it’s shameful that our Francophone students have to write and present their theses in this barbaric language.”

Afterwards, I make my way up the hill from the School of Human Kinetics to the Starbucks by the library and order my usual peach tranquility tea. There’s chaos in my heart and a fierce buzzing in my brain that I can’t seem to quiet. I think that I’ve fallen in love. I don’t yet know what I’m doing next year, and the uncertainty unnerves me. I don’t know what to do with myself, with the relationship that only I seem to see is failing, with this body that is more.

I persevere, because that it what I have learned to do, and think that maybe someday I’ll write about this. Right now I don’t have the words.

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