Summer is officially over.
On the morning I accepted this fact, I had known there was something different about the breeze blowing through my window. But it wasn’t until I stubbornly and optimistically walked out the door with my ripped jeans and thin top that the fact hit me, full force.
I went back inside to change with mixed feelings. It was a relief to know I wouldn’t be sweating like a pig anymore. But it was a shame to see the end of an era, to put my summer clothes away for good.
I felt something else too: the uncomfortable foreboding that this weather was a pathetic fallacy in the making.
I have an extremely nerdy appreciation for literary devices, and the pathetic fallacy is one of my favorites. A pathetic fallacy is when human emotions are attributed to animals or inanimate objects. A classic example is any ridiculous comedy you’ve seen where someone gets dumped, and — as if things could get any worse — it starts to rain cats and dogs, drenching the character, while a miserable, “woe-is-me” song plays in the background.
Using the weather to symbolize human emotion is an extremely common storytelling technique, and I couldn’t help but feel that real life was somehow imitating fiction.
As summer disappears, it takes with it the happy first days of returning to college.
These are the days when it’s easiest for any unsuspecting campus visitor to believe that we students really like this school. The air has an energy to it. And everywhere you look, there are reunions, people hugging and talking about their holidays.
But by the time the first clouds come, you begin to realize that you aren’t just reuniting with old friends, but also old demons.
We all have things that haunt us. Our GPA. A difficult and boring requirement class. That one ex that we’re still trying to get over.
Most of us don’t think about these things all the time, but now, as the semester really gets going, our unwelcome friends make their presence felt.
My demons grew a lot louder when the sun went away. Since I wasn’t partying as frequently anymore, I had the time to feel everything I’d ignored before. I worried about my class load and my relationships with people. I grappled with an overarching feeling of ‘not-right-ness.’ In all honesty, I felt burnt out and school hadn’t even started.
For a while I wondered if I was the only one who looked ahead at everything to come this semester and felt exhausted.
Tentatively, I broached the topic with a close friend — and felt my center of gravity realign when she said she felt the same way.
I’m writing this piece to all returners who, like me and her, feel goddamn beat. If you’re wondering where all your energy has gone, how you’re going to make it through the semester, or how you’re going to make sure this year is better than the last: you have at least two people who feel you. I’m almost certain there are countless more.
Though advice from me is like the blind leading the blind, I do have one nugget to offer that’s been helping me through.
This time of year is also when flu season creeps toward us, and it’s helped me think of my tough times as a sort of mental flu.
As society becomes more aware, we often hear people make the comparison between being mentally ill and having a broken arm. But, I grew up believing that mental illness was either something people had and would always have — like allergies — or something that came as a result of a deeply emotional experience.
So to me, the idea that I’ve caught a “mental cold” is the perfect way to explain my intangible feelings of uneasiness and periods of demotivation, and I think it’s important for a few reasons.
One reason is that it reminds me that feeling good inside is not a given. It comes with care, and slides away with neglect. The same way I wouldn’t go out in the winter without my layers and scarf and gloves, I cannot enter this grueling, drama-filled, non-stop college life without my psychological defenses.
The idea of a mental cold also helps me remain calm. When most of us start to sneeze and sniffle, we don’t call an ambulance; we understand that it will pass, probably in a few days. But when I came back to college and began to feel so different emotionally, I panicked. I was confused by the feelings and lost myself in them. But now I just tell myself, “it’s okay, you’re just a little under the weather upstairs.”
To all my returners, if you start to feel a bit under the weather this semester, remember that your feelings are always valid, and that it’s okay to take it easy.