I rejoiced on the evening of Friday, Feb. 26 — I could finally escape the clutches of my unfinished assignments and email drafts by basking in the light of 11 glorious letters: Spring Break.
After struggling through two months with a “just get through this week” mindset, I was more than ready to kick back and relax for a week. During break, I woke up at noon, answered some texts and then went back to sleep for a few more hours. After finally getting out of bed, I would eat a late lunch before watching some Netflix or aimlessly going through the same three apps on my phone. I saw a few friends who were still in town, but I spent the majority of the week staring at a small, glowing screen while hugging my old Hello Kitty plushie in bed.
I had made plans for this highly anticipated week: I was supposed to dust off my cello and give Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B Minor a quick whirl, open the piano at home and practice some Jay Chou and dig around my closet for some acrylic paints to mess around with. But the first day of break was for de-stressing, and so was the second, the third . . . until break had melted away like the snow.
I wish I could say the week did me a lot of good and that it was nice to rest so much, but the reality was that for an entire week, what I had intended to be a well-spent vacation had turned into an extended depressive episode. The worst part was that after prolonged fatigue from months of work, not only was I unable to truly relax, but I allowed myself to dismiss the ways my depression had wreaked havoc, instead opting for avoidant efforts of “taking a break” under the guise of “practicing self-care.”
I had given myself a week to fix my problems — to “solve” my mental health issues, restoring it to a condition just good enough to last me the rest of the term. I had somehow duped myself into believing that a week would be enough to placate my depression for the remaining month and a half of school, despite the fact that it had plagued me for a decade. At the end of spring break, when I was supposed to check Gmail and Canvas in order to make my transition to the latter half of the term easier, I instead did what I had done for the other eight days of spring break — absolutely nothing.
As a result, the first Monday back from break was agonizing. I skipped my classes, unable to find the energy to get out of bed, and forced myself to nap and try to forget about the assignments I still hadn’t completed — or even started — yet. When I couldn’t fall back asleep, I laid in bed and mourned the time I had dedicated to rest and recovery, which had instead been wasted.
But it’s alright, I would think. I can chug through this term. I did it every other term, so why not this one too, right?
The rest of my first week back from break consisted of me hardly eating a meal a day, continuing to skip most of my classes and randomly bailing on plans with friends in order to stay in my room for the rest of the week. As the days went by, my self-destructive habits made me realize how burnt out and depressed I was — how the “rest” that I had taken over the previous week had not been true rest or self-care. By never prioritizing self-care and always putting every other responsibility first, I had never gotten around to taking care of myself. As I had put aside this ‘task’ of self-care further and further until spring break, it was only until after the break ended that I realized self-care can’t and shouldn’t be an isolated event. Rather, it must be something that I constantly integrate into my life every day.
When I had skipped enough classes, I decided to start with reaching out to professors after checking the printed syllabi in my folders. It was like an apology tour, except my set list consisted of songs like, “I Apologize for My Recent Absences,” “Would It Be All Right to Receive an Extension” and of course, the number-one hit single “Thank You So Much for Your Understanding.” Writing the emails took time, too — it wasn’t that writing them was difficult, but that I had to first set aside the feeling that I was no longer a good student and that my professors were disappointed in me.
I won’t lie: a few of them were. Reading their responses and immediately picking up on their disappointed tones made me feel like my heart was getting steamrolled, but at the same time, I knew it meant that I had at least made small progress. On the other hand, when professors expressed empathy and extended kindness to me, I felt almost empowered to return to class. Knowing that they were at least aware (or at best, understanding and compassionate) of why I had been a completely different student than I was at the beginning of the term made the prospect of going to class easier — I felt like I no longer had to hide. Despite spring break having ended several days before, after emailing my professors and then going to class, the burning feeling of shame from missing class had eased up a bit. Simply being in the classroom helped me feel more like a student than I had in weeks, and going back to class started to help me with the other parts of my life as I started to get back into a routine.
Now, at the end of March, I am still catching up on assignments. I am still finding the need to go back to play my professors a few of my old hit songs, and there are still days where I am unable to get out of bed. On these days, I think of my stomach growling over spring break because I couldn’t find the energy to grab a bite to eat, or the agony of having to send my professors another slew of emails about my mental health while determining where the line between honesty and trauma dumping is. While stewing in my agony, I hug my faded Hello Kitty plushie, let my steamrolled heart ache a bit and swallow back the nausea I had felt from the shame of walking into a classroom I hadn’t seen in a month.
Now though, while I process the nausea, I roll around in bed and let myself answer a few texts before forcing myself to at least sit at my desk. I sit there, staring vacantly at the wall for a good 10 seconds before slowly opening my laptop. I open Gmail and log into Canvas before starting to write a to-do list. Even if I only finish one assignment or even if all I do is sort through my emails, I know it is better than staring listlessly in bed for hours. Sitting at my desk is enough of an accomplishment for me, and even though getting out of bed doesn’t mean my GPA will go up, it means that I have at least taken one more step in actually taking care of myself.
MiC Columnist Yunseo Cho can be reached at email@example.com.