The hiss of falling leaves seemed to mock her as she sat on a shaded bench next to the Quad. She watched their slow descent onto an increasing decaying mount. Her breath catches the air; a gelid space filled with desperation. The evidence of a fast struggle. As she gazes into the fountain, her reflection breaks and winds; distorted and fading, every turn adds more confusion but her teary eyes never close.
Who am I? What am I doing here? Won’t the old me just return?
These are the questions that I have been asking myself for two-months straight. I can’t think straight; I can’t rest properly; I can’t find the motivation to even study the material that previously brought me so much to think about. Milton has become blasé; Rossetti no longer makes me ponder the religion of beauty. It feels as if the world is passing by, and I no longer know how to participate within it. It all began for me when I received a few poor grades in one of my classes. So far in my academic career, I have received stellar grades in my program—until I started this one particular class. No matter how hard I tried, all of my quiz results were dismal. It started to feel as if I wasn’t good at what I was supposed to be amazing at this whole time. It made me question myself, my abilities, and most importantly my future career. If I can’t succeed in this, well what good am I going to be in the field? Am I going to be successful in the future? The past few months have been some of the hardest times for me mentally. In class, I would just sit there silently, unengaged, and despairing. I couldn’t be in public for too long because I would end up becoming too anxious. Even with going out with friends, I would reach a point where I would break down and cry, even in the most happiest moments. It wasn’t even just the bad grade; it was the fact that I couldn’t dig myself out of the day-to-day disconnection. I didn’t go to work for a whole month; I did not talk to my family. Every day felt like a struggle to break out of my emotions. Sometimes, they would subside and I would feel back to my “normal” self. At night, it would all come crashing down again. I also contemplated self-harm. My friends noticed a big difference in me; even some of my professors noticed that I wasn’t doing my usual work. It felt as if all of my efforts to feel better were useless in the face of my pain. Going through this experience made me realize how different it felt to my former experiences of stress and anxiety; it was an entirely different monster. I lost myself entirely.
Does this sound familiar? For me, this is what the quintessential college “burnout” looked like. But every experience of this phenomenon is entirely different to any individual student. I am illustrating my side of this multi-faceted experience, and through this, how we can learn from an experience such as my own.
Burnout is the experience of an all-encompassing mental and physical exhaustion. For you, it might look like excessive drowsiness; for someone else, debilitating anxiety. UVic statistics on this matter show many different results; From 2014 to 2017, a UVic survey documented that within the past twelve months of a given study, 89.9 percent of the participants felt overwhelmed; 87.6 percent felt exhausted; 54.2 percent felt overwhelming anxiety; 9.1 percent seriously contemplated suicide (X). Other statistics on burnout demonstrate that this is not a uniquely UVic issue. A 2016 survey found that 15 percent of post-secondary students in Ontario showed symptoms of burnout (X). Another UVic survey suggests that “students of all ages [seem] to experience high levels of academic stress; which, has increased from 2013” (2016 X). Moreover, the gendered differences at UVic show that females experience feelings of anger, hopelessness, and anxiety almost ten percent more than males (X). Additionally, undergrad students aged seventeen to twenty-four are more likely to experience distress (X).
So, what can we learn from these statistics? How can we better support our peers in need? Most importantly, how can we better support ourselves? Practicing compassion towards others is a major factor in burnout. A lot of the time, we tend to “show off” our academic agendas; we like to show how much more responsibility we have over someone else. Somehow, it makes us seem better equipped, better able to handle external pressure. And while that may be somewhat true, the problem arises when we start to internalize those differences. We may start to question our own abilities as a student; we may become insecure because of our inability to match with the most successful people in our lives. Being compassionate of everyone’s strengths and limits is key to being secure in your academic career. Not everyone can handle six courses and a part-time job on the side, and that is okay!
Additionally, being able to recognize when you are in distress, and getting help early on is essential. If you start to notice that you are unable to break out of a cycle—ask for help. The most important thing to know, as students, are the resources available to us. There are many resources available on campus such as UVic Counselling Services, the The Peer Support Centre, etc. Sometimes, however, these resources are not always easily accessible to every student. With high demand comes a longer wait time to wait for an appointment. Resources in the Greater Victoria area are other options for students, such as Island Health . For emergency situations, either calling a crisis line such as The Vancouver Island Crisis Society, or 9-1-1 are your best options. The Calm Harm App is an amazing tool to have on your mobile device. This free app helps you calm down from panic attacks, or even the urge to self-harm. You can log symptoms, and even keep a journal about how you are varying from day to day.
I was able to break out of the cycle by receiving support from friends and professors. Experiencing burnout made me appreciate the fact that sometimes it is okay to be lost in what you want in life. Even losing a former aspect of myself was a great lesson for me to undertake. I was able to become more resilient to stress; I was able to understand my negative behaviour in relationships, and fix those gaps between myself and others. I could finally change my habits for my own betterment. While this episode was not easy, I am thankful that I was able to go through it, and learn more about my own needs as a student here. It’s okay to be lost sometimes; you just need to know that no matter what, you will be okay in the end.
Her ability to carry the weight upon her shoulders was a smooth voyage across the sea; she steals, she returns, she fixes her wrongs, and renews all. A wonder of the world.
Thanks for reading,
The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the University of Victoria. I monitor posts and comments to ensure all content complies with the University of Victoria Guidelines on Blogging.