“Dude, I’m 🤏 this close to a burn out.” That one sentence is a brief recap of the last two years of my virtual college “life” and work “life” — minus the life in it, of course. Hi, I'm Mansi, and as someone who just graduated college, I am here to tell you that the kids are NOT okay.
If the pandemic is Thanos, it feels that for students, ‘burnout’ will be the endgame to this COVID-19 franchise. And I, like most of my peers, am simply one more snap away from completely losing it. The snap varies from an assignment on Foucault due at 11:59pm to the university’s email greeting citing ‘concerns’ for our wellbeing, while detailing the process to write an open-book exam in the very next line.
There is so much loss etched in our youth, in the classrooms and the corridors. Corridors that’ll never witness our lives and relationships, and the interpersonal solidarities that followed. The fear of academic backlog ties up with the emotional exhaustion of practising normalcy, as we witness the world burning outside our Google Meet screens.
The Second Wave stretched thin our physical, mental and emotional boundaries. The threat of losing another loved one, getting infected, bereavement care, disruptive familial settings, lack of digital capital, economic-job losses and an alternative compensatory academic structure were all possibilities beyond the reach of our ‘visionary’ university Prospectuses. Truth is, we are not built to handle the new normal’s abnormal demands being placed on us. Even if only virtually.
The falling apart arrives physically, too! We poured sleep deprivation, cognitive overload, attention deficit and general brain clutter into the average college-going students' stress bucket. The increased tension in the body manifests as headaches, sore muscles, altered dietary habits and fatigue. I’m clenching my jaws and losing sight, quite literally. My final memory of “college," you ask? The embarrassing yet very real bowel movements in the first 15 minutes before every single one of those final semester exams.
Capitalism has breast-fed us the idea that hustle is the be-all and end-all of our learning trajectories. The hustle rewards brutal cut-off lists, internships, and a shrinking job market. So I must ask: I have a degree now, but at what cost?
Rest, leisure and tacking burnout too, is an underrated hustle. Of what I know, on some days resilience resembles staying in bed, curled up and grateful for this body that held you through the past week.
Community care has constituted so much of the self-care I know today. If it weren’t for the randomly compiled class notes, shared peer explainers and hassled ‘bro, you good?’ texts via official classroom chats, I wouldn’t have made it. We’re collectively still in search of the compassion the university homepage promised us. The URL is probably broken :’) The only functional servers relied on our empathy, which too, was put to the test.
So, what can we do? The only way out of a burnout rut is acknowledging you’re burnt out. You spend your time doing and feeling what was denied to you. From uninstalling Instagram to taking a gap year, the answers may vary. We must carry on creating safety nets within which we can communicate. Because behind each screen is a person dealing with exhaustion, scarcity, and grief in the same ways that we are.
In the meantime, I wish all our email greetings the faith necessary to acknowledge the certain damage of these uncertain times. I hope we can retire from our current virtual roles to go back to being flesh-and-blood humans, off the screen. In parts unknown, where they don’t demand ashes and academic credentials as evidence of our “burnout”.
Do tell me if we’re sailing-slash-sinking in the same boat, though. How are you staying afloat? I’d love to know!
Until next time,