Time passes very slowly in a library. The bright artificial lights make it feel as if it is noon and midnight at the same time. I don’t know how long I’ve been here, slumped sullenly over my laptop and papers. I crack my knuckles, glance at the people next to me —it feels like I’ve been here for 9 hours. I check my phone and realize that it’s only been 20 minutes.
It’s becoming that time of year when everything is moving very slow and very fast at the same time. I’ve developed a comfortable routine over these past few weeks, which is so predictable that it’s almost monotonous but still stands as a victory for adjusting to college life. It feels like I’m moving slowly because most everything is practically the same week after week. But the midpoint of the semester is looming and with it comes exam season and course planning, and suddenly I wish we could start slowing down again.
Obviously, I can’t change how fast the world moves around me, so I try not to get bogged down by the daily redundancies and curveballs that come my way. I’ve found that one way to cope with it is by being kinder to myself by giving myself a present every day.
I first heard of the idea when my sister and I watched the show “Twin Peaks” in middle school. I’ve forgotten everything about the show except for a line from the main character, Dale Cooper, in one of the first episodes. Cooper’s gone to a diner with his colleague and orders black coffee from the counter.
“I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” Cooper says. “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt in a men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee.”
When I first watched the show in middle school, I didn’t think much about Cooper’s bit of life advice. But after entering college during a pandemic, I realized how valuable those little, unplanned presents are, and I tried to consciously make them a part of my day. I started gifting things to myself in freshman year and continue that practice now as a way to step back from everything and create a moment without worrying about a test I just failed or an assignment I have to complete.
The present I give myself changes every day, depending on how I feel. Some days it’s a cup of coffee and other days it’s a piece of cake. Sometimes it’s staying home doing nothing all day to recharge and other times it’s staying out all day because I can’t bear to sit in my apartment. The gift is taking a long walk, lying in the grass in the Law Quad, napping on the couch, taking a break for myself.
As I sipped my gifted cup of coffee outside a cafe one day, I reminded myself that this is something I gave myself. Gifts remind me of my agency and boost my spirits when I might otherwise crack under pressure. Gifts help me take care of myself and are a source of reassurance — I deserve to make myself happy regardless of if I feel I deserve it at the moment.
I know that after I finish that cup of coffee, that cake or that long walk, those stressors will still be there, but it’s easier to handle them after a mental break, thanks to me.
MiC Columnist Safura Syed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.