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Dear Friend,

I admire vulnerability. I have noticed throughout my limited years of experience, that honesty is one of the most refreshing sounds a person can hear. People often wear masks as they walk around and see people in everyday life, these masks are seen in the  everyday greetings we say to one another “How are you?” Good, You?” “Good” … It has become a reflex rather than a response to almost everyone in the world. It’s a response I give only to immediately wonder to myself, why did I say that? So today, I’m going to try and answer the question “How are you?”  (aka. me complaining about life and hopefully figuring something out by the end of it)

I’d like to start by acknowledging that this is hard for me to do… I frequently hear about other people’s frustrations and/or struggles, but very rarely talk about my own to anyone other than myself (I’m an introvert, talking to myself is practically mandatory) and I don’t like to admit to needing help. But it needs to be done, partly because it really isn’t fair to you to share your own lives and struggles with me, but not hear my own, but also because this is weighing on me and I’m seeking your help. However in trying to rationalize how I even came to be in this mess it is possible that I am being overly biased towards myself in some areas and believe myself to be doing more than I actually am… this is not purposeful, but I doubt it can be avoided.

(Note: the beginning of this ended up being a bunch of school related frustrations and rantings and was mostly for my own benefit… not that all of this isn’t for my own benefit… but if you’d like, you can skip to the last two paragraphs which are better at summarizing what I’m trying to say.)

I have no idea how I’m doing in any of my classes, but I suspect that I am on the verge of/if not already failing several of them. I feel as though I have fallen headlong into a pit and trying to stay afloat is taking all of my energy. It’s overwhelming. I want to LEARN, but feel as though the time it takes for me to take in and process information is forcing me to attempt to bullshit my way through this semester in a desire to accomplish the tasks and assignments that have been laid before me… but I don’t “do” bullshit. I don’t half-ass things because it will cut down on time, I do things the right way the first time. If I’m trying to answer a question I use the knowledge I have, to answer it to the best of my ability. If I’m trying to complete an assignment, I try to understand the purpose behind the assignment and then work to complete the assignment in the way in which I will most gain whatever it appears that the assignment is an effort to give me. I think this is why teachers have always liked me. It’s not because I’m a good student and get good grades, because I’m not and I don’t… in fact I’ve, on occasion, decided the fact that the education system is a bunch of crap designed for people who can and are willing to bullshit mundane tasks in order to “prove” that they’ve learned something they haven’t taken the time to learn/understand/appreciate and I could never get my gpa up to 3.0 nevermind a  4.0… it’s because I want to learn and I go to class and pay attention, not including Intro to Politics last Year, which I passed with flying colors because it was the most useless class I have ever taken (literally, ask ANYONE else who took that class with me). Anyways I’m getting way off topic… I want to LEARN, I AM learning, but I’m on the brink of burn out. (Burn Out is a social work term referring to when a social worker uses poor self-care skills or undergoes high levels of stress that impacts their ability to be effective or even continue being a social worker.) The weird thing is, I don’t know how it happened. Last semester was tough, I slept a maximum of 7 hours (per night), but usually 4-5, for over 2 months to keep up with school work. I knew I wasn’t taking care of myself, but I told myself that it was just one semester and I’d recover over the summer. It was only when my body began to respond negatively that I started showing a bit more restraint. I thought I had scheduled this semester to be easier… but it is so much worse.

I feel like a failure. I do not fit into this educational system, but I’m trying. I have had not one, but two profs ask me if I’m doing alright, and yet if you asked them right now how I was doing, they would probably both say that they’ve been worried about me, but think I’ll be alright… the thing is, I don’t know if I’ll be alright. To some extent, I am afraid that I’ve ruined myself. I pushed myself so hard last semester that when, after a mere three weeks, I started to realize that this semester would be  just as busy as last semester, my body responded to the crisis situation that it recognized in the distance. My body knew how I would respond to heavy loads of writing assignments and responded before these assignments even began to pile up, in fact I think I had everything turned in that I had been assigned (so far). It was like I woke up one morning and was on high alert. That next week, I lost my car key (only the one key… not the rest on the same key chain, which should have been impossible to accomplish right?), locked myself out of my apartment, “Lost” my wallet (not really, I was just so stressed that I couldn’t find it, even when I searched the place where I found it a day later), and homework assignments began to move towards the back of my mind… I had moved to survival mode.

In my Social Work Practice II course we did a crisis unit in which we learned that crisis is extremely time limited… I understood this to mean that to some extent our bodies are incapable of sustaining the crisis response long-term so they stop feeling the response even if the stressors remain. (Note: this is how I interpreted what we learned regarding crisis being short-term, but I assume that there are other ways of understanding and explaining it, not that one way is necessarily “correct” but in this case, use this description) I have found this true over the last several weeks I spent that single week feeling completely overwhelmed, and then I felt normal even though my life was in fact more stressful rather than less… and have since then had only smaller bits of feeling overwhelmed. What I suspect, and fear, is that this is like hypothermia. The body shivers in an attempt to keep itself warm until the shivering wears out the body and it is too tired to shiver so it stops… My body has been sending me the “extreme stress” signals it sent me near the end of last semester, despite my treating my body better than last semester (in more than one way) but I can feel myself being worn down. Not from myself this time, but by the stress itself. In other words, the fact that my body is trying to tell me I’m stressed is what initially caused my stress, and to some degree keeping me from successfully using my coping mechanisms. To continue the hypothermia analogy, it would be as though I was standing inside the closed entrance to a warm house preparing to go outside, and my body began shivering before I even opened the door simply because it knew that I was about to be cold. Then, when I actually go outside, my body has already been shivering so it has less energy to fight the cold, now that the cold actually exists and it succumbs to the cold sooner after leaving the house than it would have otherwise.  To sum this really weird explanation up, I think my body’s attempt to keep a bad situation from happening has only increased the severity of this semesters impact on me.

But it’s not just about school. I’ve been very removed this semester, TOO removed. I might be an introvert, but I need people to stay sane and have spent almost no time with the people I care about this semester. My sister (aka. crazy best friend/cohort) is in South Africa doing cool things for the year (she left the week school began) and I have had my first real contact with her since she left only this week. I have seen my outrageously hilarious, beautiful, and delightful roommates/neighboring suite-mates from last year a grand total of 2 times since the beginning of the semester, and other friends (equally delightful) even less (Not including a select few locals who I have had the pleasure of walking to my car with on several occasions) because I just don’t have the energy to set aside time, not to mention that a bunch of them are overseas. I feel ALONE. However, I work 15 hours a week and wouldn’t give it up for the best grades in the world (everything else the same) because it’s the only real social time I get this semester… and I LOVE the people I work with. In fact, work is the only time when I can answer “How are you?” with “Good” and it’s honest, because when I’m there… I actually AM doing well. But I don’t want to be working in the dining room at Chick-fil-a for the rest of my life, I want to be more than that. And that’s where you come in…

I’m falling apart over here, but I don’t know what it will take for me to keep all of my pieces together… I’m gonna need some help. I’m going to need hugs (lots of them) and for people to force me to make time for them (because as unhelpful as that might sound for a struggling student, I NEED more people). I need people to say, “Let’s get coffee” (just to talk about relationships and other lighthearted things) or “Come on over, study with me…” not to even talk, just to be a presence. And I’m going to need a lot of patience. (That last one is mostly from my profs who have to deal with my inability to not only understand what a good lit review is but how to put an example (of my own making) on paper (seriously… I am struggling with these so badly).) But mostly I just need some reassurance that even if I can’t find a good balance in this semester, I’ll be able to come back next fall, pick up the pieces, and keep on going. I’m hoping that those hugs I mentioned hold the secret.

Lots of Love and Bunches of Hope, Mandi Jo

P.S. If you do come give me a hug, you can probably expect some tears… that’s just who I am.