3/21/14 2:01 AM: I fell asleep at 6 and didn’t wake up until 11, which is essentially a full night’s sleep. SO I watched t.v. for several hours and now am going to watch a movie and go to sleep. I really wanted to hang out with people tonight since I agreed to babysit tomorrow and Talia’s (my sister) going back to school on Sunday. Why didn’t I at least do something remotely productive like read? I hate wasting time but it’s all I do.
I can sense the frustration dripping from the tip of my ballpoint pen as my angsty and helpless 17-year-old self deliriously scribbled this entry. I recall feeling buried under the amount of commitments I had while simultaneously feeling like I wasn’t doing enough, like I was falling short of my peers’ accomplishments and my parents’ expectations as well as my own. Things began to fall by the wayside as I dove into these commitments. Decision making and prioritization were not skills I’d developed yet. This resulted in a cycle of sleeplessness and frustration at the lack of hours in each day.
I doubt that this sentiment and experience is unique to my junior year of high school. The trope of the triangle of priorities in which students are jokingly called upon to “choose two” out of sleep, social life, and good grades, was pervasive in my high school and is, I’m sure, one that many Tufts students were exposed to at an early age. There are few things that make me feel quite so anxious, frustrated, disgusted, and helpless as the idea that success comes at the cost of either my sleep or my social life.
Sleep regularity and meaningful human connections are arguably the two factors that contribute most to mental health and quality of life. The culture surrounding stress and competition, however, regularly devalues the importance of these variables while encouraging students to continue to do more. In 11th grade, I found myself unable to balance these basic human needs. I worked myself to the point of exhaustion, so that getting sleep meant not spending time with friends or family, and then beat myself up for the time I had “wasted.”
While I don’t think this journal entry was indicative of my everyday life (I’m not a hardo, I swear!), what’s evident is my “difficult relationship” with prioritization and my tendency towards feeling a constant need to do more. I felt a disturbing level of kinship with my 17-year-old self as I read this entry—I suppose disturbing isn’t the right word, perhaps disappointed would be more appropriate. After three semesters of relatively easy course loads and essentially nonexistent extracurricular activities, this spring I’ve found myself drowned in commitments, experiencing once again the inability to prioritize or strike a balance between the various things I value.
This entry made me think about the cyclicality of habits in our lives. I then realized you can’t really refer to something as cyclical if it’s simply an ongoing, unresolved problem. However, just because it’s unresolved doesn’t mean progress hasn’t been made, as I have witnessed through reading all of these old notebooks. Different environments call for the development of new habits, and different circumstances give rise to varied situations.
The course of this semester has forced me to confront an array of topics that I had never necessarily considered to be ongoing problems in my life before. When I made the decision to base my column around my childhood journal entries, I think it came from my near-obsessive tendency towards nostalgia. I’ll spend hours going through photo albums or looking through the overflowing black and gold cigar box of collected mementos on my shelf at home, smiling at memories that I’ve catalogued and recounted dozens of times before. Going through my childhood journals, however, proved a much more revealing experience than flipping through pictures of my chubby-cheeked, bowl-cutted former self.
As a child, I feared the passage of time and the implications that came along with it more than anything else. While I would rarely shy away from going down a slide head-first or leading the charge in a night swimming excursion, I developed a deep-seeded fear of growing up. I think this stemmed from an early realization that one day, I alone would be responsible for my actions and I would no longer have the freedom to simply nap, play, and read all day.
Writing this column provided me with an excuse to indulge my nostalgia, but also allowed me to evaluate some of the habits and tendencies that have shaped my life. I was hoping to document growth through this process, and while I have done that in part, I’ve also spent a good deal of time reflecting on the early formative experiences that shape us into the people we become. For me, journaling in and of itself has been one of those experiences. It has provided me with a much-needed outlet for expression and emotion, given that I’m not a person who has ever been particularly comfortable doing so in person. While engaging in conversations is a beautiful thing and writing for others can be extremely worthwhile, I believe that writing for oneself is a uniquely powerful medium. It allows us to engage with and build on our own thoughts, beliefs, and ideas in a tangible and permanent way, unimpeded by fear of judgement or external pressure.
Sharing my private childhood reflections has felt strange and occasionally dangerous—as a fairly private person, sharing feels like a reckless move at times—but writing this column has reminded me of the importance of writing and reflecting upon my own life.