* August 2022 Article of the Month Winner *
When the pace of the academic year is suddenly halted by the summer break, there are certain ups and downs to navigate. Ed Farley discusses his experience this summer, and what he’s been doing for himself, to reset and recharge.
The much-celebrated stretch of time. You go into cruise control and along the way, there’s road signs that tell you must enjoy every second of it. Don’t get me wrong, I like summer. I like seeing ‘Netflix’ pop up on the search bar instead of the word ‘NUsearch’. I like waking up after 10, and I like going to sleep at 2am. However, as the six weeks turn into seven, and as the seven is multiplied by two, you’re given a stretch of time that starts as a breeze, yet ends up being a stillness that happens to feel like a tornado at the same time.
Being in cruise control got me used to doing nothing
Being in cruise control got me used to doing nothing. I didn’t have to hold the wheel, and I didn’t have someone in the car to do it for me either. I began to feel less and less, and as I drove further through the first two months, the image of the things I wanted to do did also. I scrunched up newly written plans and threw them out the window. They faded further and further down the road until they disappeared in the distance.
Shall I start to practise yoga again? Yes.
Shall I do it now? No! I have another two months to do that.
Shall I try to learn a new language?
Sure – but now the Duolingo owl is hammering down my notifications because it’s been a week and I only know how to say “tomato” or “pencil”.
I think it’s rooted in that as students, we live mediated by time. YEAR one. YEAR two. YEAR three. Due THIS time. Due THAT time. Once we have it plated up to us for ourselves to use on our own accord, we don’t know what to do with it.
We feel like we must align ourselves with a form of toxic productivity
Gone are the school holidays we’ve known, but in equal measure – we don’t have the rigidity of the world of full-time work. Instead, we are positioned in the middle, where often, we feel like we must align ourselves with a form of toxic productivity. I say “we” as in “I”, but I’m hoping someone else feels this way. And from experience of chatting to a few other students, they have had similar take-aways.
Home is lovely, I love wandering around with my hair defying the natural order of physics. I love my family so dearly, for they know me more than most. But being at home also took away the control I needed and acquired as a student. I began to ask if I could have yoghurt instead of just taking one. And though I didn’t have to ask – it felt alien to not rely on my own agency.
Being at home placed me in a child-like state, where I was still the kid of the house. The kid that stayed at home as his parents and sister went off to work and were able to fill their day. After their long days (objectively harder than mine), doing nothing understandably felt like bliss. But for me, doing nothing made me feel frozen in amber.
After enough time, my inspiration dwindled, my sense of purpose withered. My eyes felt like they were pushing to the back of my skull as I watched another episode of a show I would under any other circumstance enjoy. I can acknowledge that this a privileged position, and to many, it’s surely laughable that I’m complaining.
However, being a target of mental health issues means my mind is already predisposed to seeing flat paths and seeing them as mountains, and time makes that custom worse. For having nothing to occupy my mind means that it goes back to what it knows what to do best: to attack itself. I’m someone driven by the need to have a purpose.
And if I don’t have a purpose, my mind tells me that I am nothing. Because I am nothing, I am unable or unworthy to fight those voices. It’s easier to sit there, and let them hurt you, because the exhaustion doesn’t allow you to do anything else to break that cycle. This time though, I found something to cut it.
After a long conversation with family, I cut my stay to go back to Nottingham to reset. I love my own company. But I love it in the way I love another people. I love it when they seem interested, engaged, and comfortable. I want that from myself too. I’m eerily contented with self-reliance. I get to do what I want on my own terms, and by doing so, I must try to trust and respect myself with those decisions in the process.
I have deduced that having that control is the reason why I’m hard on myself when I don’t have it. As I feel disappointment, I have a need to tell myself the pain is purely my own doing. I’m lazy, I’m boring, I’m uninteresting. On the reverse however, I can spin it and tell myself that happiness is up to my own creation as well.
It’s important to invest in yourself
My first day of self-imposed isolation, I ate by myself at a restaurant. I treated myself to something with money I saved; that for a while I blew off as being frivolous. The next few days, I cooked, read, cleaned, had walks, and looked back at those pursuits with a sense of pride. I began to see my use again. It’s important to invest in yourself, because as in any stock or savings account, what you put in will come out with interest.
The moment you start to realise that it can be a pleasure to self-help and heal is a moment that can change the trajectory of how you operate when faced with things that hurt your mind. In my experience of getting over this speed bump, it’s essential to accept the bad as well as acknowledge it. You know it’s going to come at some point, and sometimes it will be in more taxing times than a summer break.
For me, it wasn’t about finding things to fill the void – it was finding things that turned the void into a filing system, where I could organise my feelings so I could find healthy measures to treat the emotions for when they could come again. As summer wraps up, I have enough fuel in the tank to write this. I give myself the validation that I am worthy of spending time with myself, and for the first time in a while, I can explain why.
I am certainly in a better headspace to tackle the year ahead because of it.
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