Photo by Tim Goedhart via Unsplash.
We’ve made it. We’ve gotten through the semester (or close enough, anyway). We are at that point where things are wrapping up, which is perfect because the holidays are right around the corner. And yet, if you look closer, perhaps you would see that the little bow adorning the present time is far from being a pretty one, instead holding more semblance to a scraggly knot tied with exhausted, shaky hands.
We finally got the “return to normalcy” that so many had demanded for. Some would say that precedented times are in our reach, if not already in our grasp. Diving back into in-person learning head and masks first, the days of incessant Zoom invitations and limited pixelated interactions are fading into a fever dream. There’s also the lingering burn of screen fatigue — do your eyes still remember its flame, or has memory snuffed it out, already forgotten?
I haven’t forgotten. And I won’t forget. Because it hasn’t been normal, and we have not returned to normal. With the news of the new Omicron variant, I would not be surprised if we do not return to normal for a long time.
During the 2020–2021 academic year, we had to transition from in-person learning to being wholly online, for the omnipresent threat of a global pandemic was spearheading its way through our lives. This period largely showcased a time of kindness and patience; the pandemic weighed on the mental health of the general population to a large degree.
For 2021–2022, we have had to do that same in-person/online transition, but this time in reverse; however, that same grace and understanding no longer seems to be present. Instead, the expectations tend to align more with pre-pandemic norms because we are in-person once again. All the while, the pandemic continues to surge around us, with so many people still trying to keep their head above water because of it — myself included.
The past two years have had a clear impact on the various facets of my life. For example, I don’t leave the house without hand sanitizer anymore. And for another, the smoke-and-mirrors show of my personal productivity and continued academic achievement are because I am just barely running on fumes.
To put it simply, I am burnt out.
The arrival of fall break was admittedly off-putting. I was used to the annual promise of a week-long Thanksgiving break, as had been bestowed upon us the past three years prior; however, our traditional week-long break was split into two instead this time around. No longer did we have a full week to rest, but rather a mere few days. I didn’t like the thought of it, initially — I wanted the extended time in full. But in the end, I was thankful for it regardless, for it ended up coming at just the right time: the weight of everything had me so worn out, and more than anything… I needed the time, no matter how small, to catch my breath.
Even daylight savings wasn’t the same. Rather than falling back into bed for an extra hour of sleep, I found myself falling back into the clutches of academia. “Oh, I can get some extra rest” became “Oh, I have extra time to catch up on my work.”
According to an article on anxiety and burnout by Healthline, student burnout was at 40%in August 2020, and as of April 2021, student burnout is now at 71%. Additionally, positive screenings for anxiety in students rose from 39 percent in August 2020 to 43% in April 2021, and positive screenings for depression in students rose from 24–28% within the same timeline. It is evident that though we are “normal”(ish), burnout is still here. The mental health struggle is still ongoing.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore having the opportunity to see my peers in a face-to-face setting. I am also grateful to have the privilege to study on campus. However, my personal value in these things does not diminish the exhaustion, and it does not alleviate the mental and physical pressures being felt right now, due to the pandemic — current events and things of the like.
To those who can relate in any capacity, know that you aren’t alone. Appreciation for the time spent together, while also harboring frustration can coexist. Complexity is inherent in the human experience, and your feelings are valid.
It’s the end of the fall semester. As the popular Bon Jovi song says, “we’re halfway there.
So take my hand” (I promise I sanitized it first). “We’ll make it, I swear.”
Julen Padillo is a fourth-year Media & Culture major with a minor in Digital Marketing. JP913571@wcupa.edu