Last Day

Today, I write my final exam of the semester.

That doesn’t quite have the impact I’d like it to have. Let me try again.

This evening, after 50 weeks straight of intellectual work, marks the beginning of my “Christmas holidays”. In quotations, because I’ll still be working and visiting people and cleaning my room (the struggle is real) and performing in a couple of concerts and that review paper will likely require at least another revision or two, but there’s nothing that will require CONSTANT VIGILANCE and LAB REPORT WRITE-UPS and IMMEDIATE STUDY FOLLOWING YET ANOTHER MIDTERM.

I’m dying for a break. I fear that my exam-writing stamina will fail me this afternoon, but I can hardly bring myself to care (don’t worry, the adrenaline should kick in as soon as I’m poised to begin writing).

To say I feel burnt out is an understatement.

I already have a mental (and physical, thanks to iCal) agenda for this week – it looks as busy as ever. Next week?

Bare, save Christmas. And though I know that this week will be taken up with friends and family and work, I. Can’t. Wait.

For now, my calendar looks bare. I can’t bring myself to pencil anything in right now. Just the aesthetic of a clean slate is so appealing. But tomorrow, or perhaps this evening, I’ll pencil in one two thing(s):

A day to myself. (And a day to clean my room).

I write my exam from 2 to 5 tonight, then rush off to play in a charitable Christmas concert. Following this, I’m going to pass out in my bed with a book in hand and sleep in until 8 (or, more realistically, until 7 or so) and get to work tomorrow around 9:00. It’s nice to be working just down the street again. After work, I may head over to the lab, or I may head home and begin to purge my closet again. And do all the laundry. Two loads – one for bedding, and one for all the clothes I currently own (I don’t have many any more, which is insanely liberating). In the evening, I’m celebrating the end of exams with the boy (who finishes tomorrow afternoon).

I have nothing specific planned for Wednesday. A dress rehearsal in the evening, and work (perhaps). More cleaning. I’d like to be done that by Friday. I also need to go do some Christmas shopping.

My mind is a mess of scattered thoughts.

Holiday Madness

Snow has been falling and melting since Halloween, taunting us with the promise of a white Christmas, only to be snatched away again as another warm spell hits. As of this morning, we have two – maybe three – inches of slightly crusty snow on the ground. The southern part of the province was blasted yesterday, but by some miracle of the multiple lakes governing our weather systems, we were missed.

Around me people are shopping and decorating; others are giving somewhat depressing lectures as to why they don’t buy into the holiday season, muttering things that half-resonate with me like “Consumerism and materialism”. To a friend, I casually comment that I kind of agree with the sentiment. They nod, only half paying attention, eyes shadowed with that familiar anxiety I know all too well.

The pile-up of exams and end-of-term assignments leaves little room to focus on other things, which I why I dub the Christmas lead-up weeks my “least favourite time of the year”. Not because I hate Christmas – quite the opposite in fact – but because I tend to feel absolutely burnt out and “done”. Between exams and abstracts and band and choir concerts and simple menial things I should do like clean my room and laundry (hah), I go to bed exhausted but unable to sleep, planning my agenda for the next day.

The new year presents “fresh starts” that I seize with gusto, adding more and more things to my plate until I’m just trying to keep afloat again, promising emptily that this time – this time – I’ll do less. Eleven months later, December rolls around once more, and the phrase that most often escapes my lips is “I’m so tired”, or it’s slight variation, “I’m effing exhausted”. There is no sympathy – my peers are in the same boat as me, and the older adults sit by knowingly and promise, “It gets worse.”

“I just want a day to myself,” I lament to the boy, typing up an essay with frantic fingers, a third cup of coffee close to hand. He gives me the cynical look of someone who’s spent two and a half years with my madness, and says, “Stephie, there’s no way you’ll take a day to yourself. You’d find something to do.”

“Would not,” I argue. “I might go to the gym, since that happens about once a month anyways, and maybe I’d clean my room, since that happens about never, but the rest of the day I’d just relax.” He rolls his eyes at me. “I know you.” He says simply, which I don’t deny. I’ve recently found a new job, and will likely be spending the holiday weeks training and working.

I point this out, half in desperation, half excited, worrying that I’ll watch my free time go in a blur of coffee cups. “You’ll love it,” He says with a smile, and pulls me close. “And you’ll have lots of time to spend with yourself, and with me, and with your family.” Which is exactly what matters anyways.

* * *

I love to keep busy. In part, I think it’s some kind of anxiety coping mechanism. If you move fast enough, it can’t catch you. If you’re contributing, you’re not wasting space. This seems to be a common theme among my peers.

The media proclaims that, according to research, we early twenty-somethings belong to an entitled generation, expecting gold stars on everything we do. While I’m sure that holds true for some, I don’t really see it in the majority of my consorts. Rather, some of us work ourselves raw, fearing that in a world where “everyone succeeds”, we’ll be the ones that fail. Others quit “while they’re ahead” – why even try to keep up? In all cases, I think we’re terrified we’re not living up to our full potential. I’d go so far as to call this a cultural disorder.

Busy and productive are the principle measurements of success; we get off on comparing ourselves to what everyone else is doing. “Oh, you think YOU’RE busy? Well, let me tell you what I’ve done this month/week/today.” We pass this off as commiserating during our half-hour meetings for coffee with friends, sandwiched between two commitments off our ever growing lists of “things to do today”.

Sometimes we’re just venting, but I also think that often we’re seeking validation and approval. There’s nothing wrong with this in itself – it’s the fact that the fact that we’re putting aside self-care in the name of attaining some sort of arbitrary height of productivity that gets to me. I can definitely see something wrong here. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be productive, but when did neglecting our wellbeing become so socially acceptable?

The other side to my personal “busy-ness” is that I love to do so many different things. I love to create music and play sports and go to the gym and bake things and curl up with a cup of tea and a book and attend school and learn as much as I can and help others out and play video games and travel the world and go hiking and skiing and swimming and skating and read articles and write. I just want to be so engaged in everything all at once, and I try to split myself up in as many directions as possible in order to do everything I want to do.

Coming to terms with the fact that I can’t actually do everything is proving to be a challenge.

* * *

In the next seven days, I have two exams left to write and a paper to review; one rehearsal and one band concert; another rehearsal and two choir concerts; a lab lunch, and work training. That’s essentially it. My plans for the three or so weeks off I have include working, yes, and cleaning my room and sorting out more of my clothes, because this is absolutely something that needs doing. But I also plan on taking at least a few days all to myself, and many days to spend with the boy and my family, and at least a few days to spend with my friends returning from out of town for the holidays.

I don’t love the weeks leading up to the holidays, but once I get past these we enter my favourite time of year, so I can’t really complain. I love the Christmas season because it’s time of rest and recharge following a year of growth. Maybe in the upcoming year I’ll focus more on my well-being, on not overwhelming myself. On seeing what I can cut out as opposed to what I can add in. I feel it’s time for a season of a different sort of growth.

Upcoming Next Month

Well, we’re down to the final push now. Exams are right around the corner, my last few labs are being handed in (done with long drawn out orgo labs!!! … Until January, that is 😉 ), and I’m trying hard to keep motivated. With the Christmas season coming up, that shouldn’t be too hard.

I’m working on configuring my schedule for next semester. As I was finalizing my program change from kinesiology to biochemistry, it was pointed out to me that I could probably do a double major, seeing as most of my kin degree is already done and I have the fortune of having accrued extra credits from high school and random courses like band and choir I took/am taking just for fun…

… That was a really good point. 

And so now it seems I have a double major. While it might sound overwhelming (and I have to admit, I’m a little bit worried 😉 ), I can recognize that having a degree in both biochemistry and kinesiology sets me up perfectly for what my current “dream job” would be, which entails applying to a concurrent PhD-MD program and completing the PhD portion in physiology and the MD internship in endocrinology, all do to clinical research.

I am fascinated by the biochemical and physiological processes that occur within the body, and the way our lifestyles and other extraneous factors affect hormonal action and the action of neurotransmitters. Clinical research is an area I’m passionate about and can relate to, and to work with people and hopefully develop proactive ways of treating/preventing many of the problems prevalent today would be a dream come true.

With this double major comes additional responsibility, and I’m the first to admit that I’m afraid of burning myself out. I tend to take on more than I can handle; it’s a matter of being more organized with my time, minimizing distractions and maximizing my productivity, while making time for myself and for the people who are important to me. I’m working on a “plan” of sorts that I’ll put into place next semester – hopefully it’ll keep me on track! 🙂

For now, I’m looking a little more short term – there’s still December to get through, after all! I’m so excited – the Christmas season is my favourite time of the year. Clichéd, for sure, but I can’t help it and won’t be apologizing. 🙂

On the 1st I’m accompanying a children’s choir on the piano for a concert celebrating the work of english musician Benjamin Britten. Also planned for that day is dinner and a movie (Catching Fire, because I absolutely loved the Hunger Games books in high school and so, for once, this is a movie I’m excited about seeing!) with the boy, to celebrate our “half-iversary”.

Classes finish that week, and you will then find me either at work, or at home or in the school library in HARDCORE STUDY MODE. I’m writing my first four exams from 7 to 10pm from the 11th to the 14th (ew), and immediately after the last exam I’m catching a midnight bus to Ottawa to spend time with my best friend and family.

The 19th sees me retuning home to write my organic chemistry exam on the 20th, also from 7 to 10pm (have I ever mentioned that my brain kind of shuts down in the afternoon? I’m a hardcore morning person, so this exam schedule is the epitome of lame), and then I will bask in my glorious two weeks of freedom from school. Time will be spent enjoying the company of my friends and family (and likely working quite a lot). I can’t wait!