Confessions of a High School “Burnout”
I’m afraid that I’m a high school burnout.
As a once high-achieving student, I cannot explain how much I’m afraid of being a burnout. Maybe I don’t need to explain, maybe some of you understand the feeling. The feeling of sitting at your desk working on one homework assignment for much longer than you should, so then you decide to set it aside and start working on another assignment only to come to the realization that your brain won’t cooperate and it’s only 6:00PM but you just want to lie in bed and sleep for a thousand years. It coincides with the feeling of hearing your classmates talk about how ahead they are in homework while you sit and listen with dread in your stomach, knowing that you still have homework you need to finish for a class later that same day. Yeah, that feeling.
I have a confession: most, if not all, of the essays I’ve written for any class ever were written the night before it was due. It doesn’t matter whether I’ve had a week or a month to do the essay, it just somehow always turned out that way. As you can imagine, this habit put me under an insane amount of stress. I’ve come to dread essays because I know that no matter how much I plan and set time aside to work on the essay way before it’s due, it somehow gets to the point where I’m writing 800 words in about two or three hours all at once. For a while I tried to convince myself that it was just how I work best; “This is how your greatest essays come to life, Michelle!” I thought that I could only write in those situations because I need the thrill, the pressure of an incredibly close deadline to motivate me to create a masterpiece. This was not the case.
Rather, my essays typically have received the same critique of being all over the place, and I’m often told that I tend to jump from one idea to the next before fully wrapping it up. Well, yeah, that makes sense considering that I literally typed out my entire stream of thought in a panic-induced frenzy during the late hours of the night and gave myself minimal time to review and edit. While reading some of my essays you might get a sense of the sort of zigzag track my train of thought runs along, with sharp, abrupt turns as it flies at 100 miles per hour. High risk and no reward- well, maybe some.
Okay, I might have exaggerated a little bit. My essays were not always crafted like this, though I think it’s fairly easy to tell which ones were and which ones weren’t. Suffice to say, I do not recommend
this method. I would argue that those daring nights have brought my current state: on a train with a one-way ticket to Burnout Ville.
I can’t remember a time when I was not tired. I can’t remember what it feels like to approach each and every set of problems with the clear-minded intuition that I know my brain is typically capable of but is incapable of under the stress of a heavy workload and busy schedule.
In truth, I have overloaded myself with homework and bitten off much more than I can chew. And it’s okay to admit that. It’s okay to admit that you’re overwhelmed. Actually, I suggest that you do tell someone, be it a friend, family member, advisor, or teacher. We’re expected to do so much and sometimes we’re made to believe it’s not enough- I mean, are you even doing anything if you’re not a three sport athlete, the head of three different clubs, and take four AP classes? In all seriousness though, you don’t need to do everything nor are you expected to, what matters foremost is your physical well-being and mental sanity.
Every person has different capacities, different breaking points. Clearly, I have reached mine. My mistake was in keeping this stress to myself, refusing to ask for help or even talk to anyone about this. I thought that if I kept pushing on in my sleep-deprived, zombie-like state that I would eventually reach the clearing.
I’m sure I would have eventually, but I don’t think I would have been satisfied with the path I left behind, full of things that I could have done better. Right now, I’m trying to work on changing that by prioritizing my mental health and being honest about how overwhelmed I feel, with teachers especially. I’m still getting my work done but it’s a relief to know that there are people who understand and are willing to help me back up on my feet.
I may not be a full-fledged burnout but I know I’ll never be the same high-achieving student I was in 9th grade who took everything in stride. That version of myself may be long gone but her love for learning has not burned out yet, nor will it ever.