Your body is asking for a break, exhausted, but you have to keep going…
For the past month and a half I have been preparing for my final exams of the first semester of my Master’s degree. The Herculian task that was deemed unmanageable from the beginning has finally pushed me to burnout. I am writing this post from a bad place but maybe that is what it’s needed. These are the raw ramblings of someone that feels burnout in the hopes that whoever reads them and is coming from the same place does not feel alone. This is a rant from a subjective personal experience but it might resonate with you. In fellow burnout companionship we can persevere.
For context, I am an English major taking an MA in the same field. I was assigned 123 texts for my exams, which comprised a number of lengthy novels, poems, critical essays, short stories, and plays. I have been reading more than 10 hours a day, every day, with a short interval of “free” time spent in meals, getting ready or unready, the slight procrastination, and sleeping. Needless to say, my free time is not leisure; my “procrastination” has been a way to calm my mind for the moment, a mere distraction that after the extreme amount of work is not only deserved but needed. Sometimes that “me time” is also invaded by productivity, multitasking my required readings during meals or travel. Thus, my mind has not relaxed in spite of my efforts.
The problem stems from two main things: broadly, our society has learned to value people by how busy we are; narrowly, the educational system has aligned to that dogma by imposing syllabi that run a mile long and an inch deep, as they say. The university that I come from did this to an extent but it was a shock and a revelation to discover that the one where I’m studying my Masters carried the doctrine to an extreme. Almost two months before my exams I prepared my readings and used my all-time favorite time management app to organize myself. To my surprise, the app said I did not have enough time to complete my assignments. Let that sink in: a time management app said I did not have enough time. This was a red flag through and through but there was nothing to be done.
I set out to the Herculean task and five weeks later I am crumbling to pieces. I feel dizzy, my eyes hurt, my brain feels as if submerged in a pool, I am hypersensitive (and I am hyperemotional to begin with) so all my emotions are carried out of proportion and I have bouts of intense joy, love, sadness, anger, and despair. Standing above all is the loming, dreadful expectation, which stems from the outside as well as the inside. People expect me to not only perform exceedingly well on my exams but also to have a balanced diet, exercise, relax, work, enjoy, socialize, and more. But no expectation is as difficult to bear as the one I have of myself. I entered this MA degree aiming to graduate with honors as I did in my BA. The fear of failure strikes hard.
I look into Google to find possible solutions to my state of burnout. Blog after blog, video after video, there is a rephrasal of the same key ideas: get enough sleep, don’t forget to eat healthy meals, go out on walks, travel (!), don’t take more than you can chew, manage your time properly, etc. It all sounds good in theory but in practice this is harder to attain and in my opinion victimizes the sufferer of burnout. As if it were our fault for being lazy and unorganized and not society’s obsession with busyness and information overload. I lead an overall healthy lifestyle but there are moments where you cannot control what happens. “You should start early so that you don’t have to cram your study before finals”. I started almost two months in advance and I don’t have enough time.
Online tips and hacks come across as happy pills, prescribed without empathy or thought. Everyone’s situation is different; not everyone has the privilege to afford easy solutions to prevent burnout.
My solution? I don’t have one for the time being. I’ve never had. What has kept me going time and again throughout the inevitable periods of burnout each year is the deadline: after exams, when the project or essay is due, when holidays arrive, when the weekend comes, etc. I know how to bounce back from burnout once its source has been promptly dealt with. I don’t know how to prevent it or eliminate it as it arrives. Maybe no one really can because life is unexpected and no matter how much you plan, things get thrown at you and unsettle it all. If by the next exam period I have come up with a plan, I will write an addendum to this post. But for the time being, the one thing I can tell you, which I tell myself, is to keep going one more day until the deadline arrives and you are free once again.