Taking time to concentrate on myself after meeting concentration requirements.
By HUNTER RICHARDS
Everyone says that doing a thesis is going to be difficult, but nobody admits just how hard it can get sometimes. Nobody wants to talk about struggling to take care of your health and well-being. There isn’t anyone there who is asking, “How is your thesis going?” that wants to know more than what progress you’ve made academically. In reality, this is a loaded question that isn’t easy to answer in the process.
The morning after submitting my thesis, I felt a weight lifted off of me that I don’t think I had realized was there. I knew I had been stressed, but no part of me could admit how overwhelmed I had become. Perhaps the hardest part was that I did not give myself nearly enough attention. But I know that I wouldn’t have made it to the end if it hadn’t been for those close to me who had picked up on those signs. I had been prepared for the academic criticism of my thesis, but not the personal check-ins that my friends and family brought.
When writing a thesis, you don’t give yourself a break to evaluate how well you are doing. A thesis is a nine-month period of becoming consumed with your work and letting your health, both physically and mentally, fall to the side. I spent the day after I turned in my thesis unconscious, making up for the massive sleep debt I had driven myself into. My immune system suffered from not sleeping enough, not eating enough, not slowing down enough… I destroyed my body for academia. I nearly destroyed myself. I tried to destroy my relationships in an attempt to have no one who could hold me accountable for taking care of myself. I went from calling my mom every other day for three years to barely calling except for during my almost-weekly episodes of extreme stress. Calling my mom a few days after I turned my thesis in, she quickly asked me what was wrong out of habit.
I hid the clumps of hair that I was finding on my shower walls the best that I could from my roommates. They started to notice red hair clogging the shower drain after every time I showered. After showering every day for the first three years of college, not allocating enough time to myself for even basic tasks like a shower became a symbol of not prioritizing myself. As much as you hear about self-care on college campuses, the truth is that taking a moment to allow yourself a full hour to just shower and do your hair and take time to pick out clothes is sometimes revolutionary.
Having my roommates bring me food when they knew I had been in lab for seven hours and missed dining hall hours kept me standing. It got easy to forget how long I had been working when it felt like I would never be finished. Stress can destroy your appetite. It got hard to tell the difference between whether I was exhausted from the countless late nights or from the lack of meals I had been making time for.
It became hard to keep track of how long I had been working on something when I wasn’t taking breaks for food, friends, or sleep. The moment I thought to myself that I was refreshed after three hours of sleep, I knew I had to change something. I kept promising myself that things would get better once my thesis was done, but I never took stock of whether I could make it to that point. It was realizing how hard it had been on those around me to see how little I was valuing myself and how much I tried to isolate myself that I had to get over myself. Although my friends refused to accept my apologies for how difficult I had been, I knew that I could never forgive myself if I didn’t let them know how much love and appreciation that I had for them during this time of my life when I was lacking that for myself.
It was easier to avoid admitting I needed to take care of myself if I distanced myself from the people who were close to me. Even though my roommates lived alongside me, there was a barricade up that they had to break down regularly to check in and make sure I was okay. When writing my acknowledgements, there was an incredible amount of emotion as I reflected on the people in my life who had supported me through this. I can never thank them enough for not giving up on me, even when I had trouble believing in myself. Sometimes self-care was flying across the country to take a nap on a couch far away from my project and advisors. Sometimes it was as simple as taking the long way home without harping on the extra five minutes out of my day it would take. It wasn’t easy, and I had to learn how to be alone with myself and still make sure I wasn’t self-destructing. The love and support and encouragement from those close to me gave me the strength to see value in myself outside of what I could create for my senior project.
At the end of the day, the only project I need to never lose sight of is taking care of myself. I might not win a Hoopes Prize for loving myself, but validating myself is more than enough.
Hunter Richards ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is taking the long walk home from here on out.