Self-care, when you need it most, comes in lyrical forms.
After years of biology courses and common sense, I can tell you that the human heart is located off-center in your chest towards the left side of your body. But the moment Mitski walked onto the stage, I felt like my heart was everywhere at once. There is something special about screaming in a crowded room with your best friends while your hero is also screaming only 10-15 feet away from you. Feeling the drums reverberate throughout my body made me feel weightless. For the duration of Mitski’s set, it was as if my life was comprised of nothing but that moment.
I bought tickets over two months ago. At the moment I entered my credit card info, I realized this might be the one time I have planned and committed to something so far ahead. I had not even enrolled in my fall courses but I knew that I was going to make it to this concert. It has been on my calendar for months and times when I would start feeling overwhelmed, I would get excited instead thinking about how the concert was getting closer and closer. Yet, the week of the concert was surprisingly hectic compared to previous weeks: I had a paper due Tuesday at midnight, a final project that has had construction halted multiple times this week even though it is due Thursday, a problem set for a class that’s flown over my head this entire semester due Thursday, and a final project for which I need to collect and test samples. I was busy working through assignments up until the moment we got on the shuttle to begin our travel towards the venue.
It may seem ridiculous to many, but I recognized that this was one of those moments where I needed to put myself first. I had often canceled dinner plans with friends so that I could spend an extra hour finishing a problem set before section, or missing parties because I needed to spend the weekend working on a project. Rather than give myself credit for what I have done to better my academic career, I often reprimand myself for what I could have done better or how I should have done more. Perhaps it is a Harvardian characteristic to sacrifice your own well-being to instead plan for the future and work towards long-term goals, but just because I see my peers often doing the same does not mean I am not concerned when I do it myself.
Junior year has been a pivotal time of realizing what is positively benefiting me and forwarding my progress towards my goals, and the toxic self-criticisms and near-punishments I inflict on myself in private. I have grown an incredible amount in every possible direction since last year. I have learned to constantly reflect on what I am doing and whether it makes me happy. I am not afraid to walk away from something I have grown comfortable with once I realize it does not excite me in the same way that it used to. This semester, I have add/dropped classes late, switched concentrations, and tackled personal struggles I long had underestimated or overlooked, all while recovering from a concussion. It has not been easy, but something about the longing and reclamation of Mitski’s songs helped me to stay grounded this semester.
We have all been there: you have been in the shower much longer than is socially acceptable and you let the same song play on repeat for longer than the album it was originally featured on lasts. Maybe it is your first break up or when you got your midterm exam back or you just realized you have absolutely no idea what you want to do with your life, and maybe it is all at once because that is just how life works sometimes. It doesn’t matter, though, because there’s at least one song that you are going to find during this period that helps you make sense of everything. Even after playing this song for hours over the course of a week, you are still going to have a special spot in your heart for it because it helped you make it out alive from that point in your life. Maybe you will paint the lyrics onto your bedroom wall, or maybe you will just hum along to it on your walk home from class, but it will always be there and symbolize your strength for coming so far from where you were.
Often, we deal with issues like this in private and do not let others know what we have been going through. Perhaps it is out of fear of admitting we have weaknesses and need help, which is a common concern amongst Harvard students who time and time again strive to perform their absolute best for others. Even when students say they don’t care and are fine with “taking the L,” you will still find them in the house library at 2 am with their laptop out frantically trying to finish an assignment.
It is easier to pretend you don’t have a problem if you are the only one who knows about it. It is a lot like missing class but telling yourself you will watch the lecture videos later to catch up: The accountability to actually follow through is solely on you and it can be easy to keep missing lecture to watch videos online afterwards. However, just because you know where to find them on the course site doesn’t mean you’ll actually sit down to watch them. And even if you do sit down to watch the videos, chances are you’ll watch them at minimum 1.4x speed and try to multitask with another homework assignment from the comfort of your room.
At Harvard, it can be easy to keep a Google calendar full of office hours, extracurricular events, and work. It’s not natural for us to schedule in time to take care of ourselves. As often as we preach the importance of self-care, we still struggle with what that actually means. For me, it was taking a trip into Boston to see an artist who had helped me through my existential crises for the past few months even though I had four classes demanding more from me than I felt able to give. Junior year I have learned to accept my limits and allow myself the freedom to rest and recuperate instead of pushing myself to always do more. I understand that doing more does not equate to doing better.
Hunter Richards (firstname.lastname@example.org) is gonna be what her body wants her to be.