It’s October, and while the leaves are falling in some places, you’re feeling like falling down a bottomless rabbit hole. If I could reimagine the scene where Alice does just this in the Lewis Carroll story, I’d imagine you’re seeing what I saw in the hole two years: deadline after deadline for applications and essays, webpage after webpage with textboxes and checkboxes, and perhaps more of your time slipping away in whatever form you’d like to imagine. The latter of the things that descend and disappear in the rabbit hole is a reality all too real for students like you – more and more so each year.
What’s amazing is that you could go on without realizing how far deep you could go down the hole and then forget to take care of yourself. And I’m not talking a matter just of taking your vegetables and exercise…
Tuesday after Veterans’ Day in 2012 was routine as I walked down the halls during our open lunch period. (I was a high school senior once upon a time, and you’ll have been one too!) It was earlier that morning that I had just gotten back from Hartford, CT on the Amtrak after a visit program at Trinity. Already I came to school with less sleep, and a research notebook lacking some pages. As I was about to turn a corner, my statistics teacher found me and proceeded to ask, “Hey! Are you considering coming to the Math Team meeting today?” To which I responded with no words, no gestures, save for me suddenly backing up against a wall and slouching down to the cold linoleum floor, sobbing. My binders and that thick research notebook that I was carrying all day weighed me down more to the floor. Mr. Cerutti did end up pulling me back on my feet, already knowing my answer to his question. I tried to walk over to his room to respond to his question more appropriately, avoiding the gaze of anyone in the hallway, and as I did so, I finally realized how far down my descent was in the rabbit hole.
I’m not sure if what I felt throughout some part that fall of 2012 was a college applications-induced depression. In fact, I would not be surprised if many students go through it. Everyone’s got different worries that can induce it, but as for me, it was just the nagging knowledge that I had virtually no financial backing to attend college then. For one thing, my parents’ finances weren’t up for investing in my education, by no fault of their own. Adding more stress was how I had to apply. At the time, I had to apply as an international student because of my immigration status. (Disclosure: I am not an undocumented student, but for simplicity, you could say I was in limbo waiting for my permanent residency status. It has only been two months now since I received my green card.) This spelled out having a smaller pool of schools to apply to, and not having federal and state funding since I was a non-eligible person. These worries compounded on top of the common concerns of being good enough for the schools I wanted to attend.
I sure did feel terrible for a while, crippled by worry. Thinking about that time in the hole, you could also say that I dug it out all by myself and then fell in. It was too easy to fall in, with all the things you could easily think about. Thinking about… everything. Too much. I thought too much. It’s a perennial problem, a habit that could get me in trouble like my time as a stressed-out college-apps-crazed senior. I can’t imagine, though, how it could get you in trouble, and I shudder at the thought. If only it wasn’t the case of falling down a hole, and more like bungee jumping into the college-apps hole, so to speak. I say this because in the case of bungee jumping, you don’t fall down completely, and you can get back up and out. That was something I didn’t attend to enough, this other way of taking care of myself emotionally and mentally.
But actually, I did have a few ways of getting out of the hole, more so than I thought. The trick is to find something to get out of the hole, to not think or to at least ponder something outside of college-apps. You’ll need to do it because you need a break every once in a while. Even if it’s just a few minutes a day, you’ll need a routine break. Taking care of your mind does help in the long run because you’re more productive that way for doing your college apps. But beyond the practical, you just need to take a mental break once in a while because it’s just good for you. Something that’s not a stressful commitment, something that you like to do. No, getting on the social media doesn’t count. Time with people counts. Video games with a friend counts. Exercising counts. Looking around you and reflecting on something appreciatively counts. This last idea goes along with something I’ve recently learned about mindfulness, about being more aware of where you are and meditating on it. It sure sounds like some strange wishy-washy sentiment but even to look outside and appreciate a tree is a good mental break and exercise. (Trees look beautiful anyways this time of year if you live far enough north.)
Turns out I did have my bungee cord out of the hole. I was already in my high school orchestra, which I did some rehearsal time with by myself at home. It actually was a commitment – and a high-priority one – but even if it was for a few moments, I could get lost in notes, a melody, a few repetitions on the viola to get better at a passage. It was liberating, and everything seemed somewhat beautiful for a moment. It’s these little things that can get you through the seemingly never-ending crazy times you’re going through. Search for them. Search for people too who can pull you up along the way, and their help. But above all, search for yourself, and check yourself. Besides getting enough sleep whenever possible and controlling your time, make sure you can find those moments to step out of the hole just for a bit. After all, life is indeed fleeting. Treat it preciously and treat some of it just for yourself.