Nearly half way through my first semester of college, I found myself trying to divine some cosmic answers about life from my bowl of cereal. Like a mystic scattering bones, I sifted my spoon through the peanut butter and chocolate flavors of the Reese’s Puffs, looking for some sort of fateful implication. Oh starchy balls of Red 40 and Yellow 5/6 dye, won’t you tell me what my future has in store? The cereal answered by becoming soggier. Soon the rioting of my slightly malnourished stomach overcame my pending existential crisis.
Surely I’m not the only college freshman yearning for something more than the trivialities of dorm life? Perhaps my experience is a bit biased; I have in fact started a semester later than everyone I’ve met. It’s seems as if they’ve all already been assimilated into some sort of social paradigm, and I’ve been thrust into a desperate game of catch up. The trek thus far is lonely, paired by an exponentially growing amount of school work. For the last several weeks, I’ve been stuck in a strange limbo state between the comforts of college and its discomforts, leaving me feeling occupied and productive yet not quite content.
The initial perks of college were made clear to me immediately, and the first two weeks I was absurdly happy. The new found freedom and independence of living alone was exhilarating, and my excitement to meet people and learn was surreal. These feelings were soon offset by the discovery of certain down sides. The food was my first realization. We are forced into what I can only call allowed extortion, paying $1,800 for three meals a day. This amount sounds fine on paper, but the food, for the most part, is awful. Hundreds of out of pocket dollars are wasted because almost everyone I know actively finds excuses not to eat in the cafeteria. The result, for me, is a constant feeling of malnourishment.
My second problem comes from trouble sleeping. Hours go by as I stare at the same, boring white dorm walls, waiting for sleep. This lack of sleep plus early morning classes create days where I experience the “Monday Syndrome.” You know, the feeling every person feels once their weekend is over. What’s topping it off for me, though, is an intense feeling of homesickness. Homeward excursions on the weekends (my school is 30 minutes from my Dad's house) offer an immense amount of relief to the stress of five days of being uncomfortable. It’s hard to feel comfortable in a living space slightly bigger than your own bedroom.
Is this all there is to college?
I don’t believe it is. Despite all of the lame inconveniences of such a crazy transition, there are a few things that make my experience incredibly redeemable. First and foremost is my exposure to classes that will help me figure out what I want to do with my life, a commitment that I am getting closer and closer to making. One such class I’m taking now is my Art History class. It’s one of the first classes I’ve been truly in love with; I’ve never been so fascinated with a subject before. The teacher assigned us to walk through a museum show of Paolo Veronese's work and write about it. I felt like I had caught a true glimpse at the man behind the paintings, his methods, and his goal in expression: to transcend the physical notion of beauty and connect with a deeper, metaphysics that hits you in your core.
The discovery of such a jewel of a class fills me with hope. The prospects of the future shine a promising light on the bleakness of the present. My high school friends and I are finally becoming real people, with real aspirations in a real world. In the purposeful swirls of the cereal's milky resting place, I look for times of contentedness: a nice living space, like minded company, invigorating learning, and by the grace of the gods… my own kitchen.
I guess the first thing I should do is disillusion any preconceptions that my Long Distance mom (Elizabeth Coffman) has built up in her probably much needed blog venting. Contrary to the popular belief of my parents, I actually ended up graduating with honors. Most people were surprised, in fact almost everyone except me. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame them. From an outside perspective, my progression through high school probably looked like a dangerous tight rope act--me running haphazardly with scissors in my hands. However, and I don't mean to sound cocky, I knew the entire time that I would come back and scrape by in the nick of time. Not that that's a good thing, but that's a different story all together. There are several things that I've discovered about myself, and how my relationships with my friends and family have influenced me, that fit into the equation explaining what makes a high school kid burn out.
My particular burn out, as burn outs tend to do, snowballed year by year, growing more intense and all encompassing as time went by. I'd say the initial cause of the burn out phenomenon, at least for me, was/is (I’m not sure how to put it now considering I'm in the limbo state between high school and college) depression. Not the “woe is me” or emotionally dramatic connotations usually attributed to the word. I'm not particularly sad, nor upset, I'm thinking more of a textbook definition of depression. With the magical powers of the Internet and Oxford dictionary online, I can provide you with one: “A condition of mental disturbance, typically with lack of energy and difficulty in maintaining concentration or interest in life.” I'm not sad, just cripplingly apathetic.
I'd say my apathy probably started developing around the age of twelve, in the 6th grade, around when I had to deal with a problematical cocktail of awkward puberty, growing self-consciousness, and the development of social structures. At first my reaction to the challenges of adolescence were more obvious and extroverted. I went through a Goth/Emo phase, donning all black and becoming a die-hard My Chemical Romance fan. I was depressed, not sad, but certainly unhappy with my life. The things that became important to me were the things that ultimately made me content and gave me purpose. This, perhaps a little ironically, led to my repulsion of academia. My fall from academic grace was not self-destructive, nor was it rebellious in nature (as my mom tried to rationalize it), but rather it was the product of my efforts to find purpose and to be happy.
During this pursuit of happiness, I developed several habits, some of which were positive and many of which were negative. The fickle whims of puberty eventually turned in my favor (a bit late, if you ask me) and I shed my ultra self-conscious shell and gained a considerable amount of confidence. Making friends and making out became pretty high priorities, although I'd say that's a pretty universal teenage, even human, experience. The more deep-seated issues revolved around escapism habits. I feel like a member of Alcoholics Anonymous writing this, but I became addicted to escaping. I think at the core of all addiction, escapism is almost always the core and catalyst, the only differences are the substances being abused. For me, I usually use some form of media interaction to distract me from responsibility. Video games, television shows, even things as stupid as the infinite trail of meaningless videos Youtube has to offer. I spent the majority of my time fully engaged in these things because they simulated a feeling of happiness. It was a cheap high, and a materialistic short-cut that was easily accessible and moderately affective. It just simply wasn't real, and it's unfortunate that I was too wrapped up in escaping reality to understand that. My saving grace was my avid love for literature; it was my only truly productive outlet and gave me real purpose.
I did eventually grow out of media escapism more towards the last few years of high school; my tastes (in terms of what made me happy) became a bit more sophisticated as I took a more Epicurean approach towards life. I took pleasure out of acts of kindness towards my friends, one of the main sources of happiness in my life. I spent my time doing the things that made me happy--playing French horn in my high school symphony band, playing bass guitar in several short lived projects I formed with my friends — all fulfilling none the less.
These more productive hobbies still distracted from my schoolwork. The more my responsibilities pulled and threatened my happiness and stress level, the more I pushed back. A discovery was made near the end of my senior year when I tried out Vyvanse, an ADD medication similar to Adderall. I'm not sure whether I actually have ADD or not, but it worked exceptionally well. A day late and a dollar short, perhaps, but that’s beside the point.
I'm not sure what you -- the reader -- are expecting from my post; in fact, I wasn't even sure what to write about. I hope all of the unfortunate series of events and deep analysis of my relatively average life serve as a pretty decent example of the thousands and thousands of burnt out teens who most likely went through similar experiences with the same results.
If I'm to give any sort of passing wisdom, I would say (assuming you have children), to not jump to conclusions about your son or daughter. Always give them the benefit of a doubt, sit them down and really talk to them if they have any of the same problems that I did. The sooner they realize what they're doing, the sooner they can work on making more productive choices. We're a generation bombarded by distractions, even more so than most generations, and the more we get distracted by unimportant things, the harder it is to discover our potential. The most important thing is to watch us closely as we traverse our tight ropes and to catch us if and when we fall.