Beginnings are difficult for me. The first day of classes has poisoned me with anxiety. It’s the beginning of the new semester, and I’ve been dreading it…well, since the beginning of last semester’s end.
In efforts to mitigate COVID-19 spread by condensing the semester, Southern Miss announced over winter holidays that its typical breaks were going removed from the calendar, which now comes to a close at the end of April. In doing so, the university has cursed me – along with many other students – to endure a semester-long anxiety attack.
Sure, the university is giving students three Fridays off from class this semester to make up for that fact, but the majority of students at Southern Miss don’t even have Friday classes. These new “holidays” make about as much sense as a doctor prescribing sleeping medicine to a patient with narcolepsy. We’re just being given something a large portion of students already have.
Now, I’m a pretty anxious person by nature, but this winter break ate me alive. I panicked about the upcoming semester while balancing work and an intersession class. Kicking things off a little earlier than usual limited the scant amount of time I did have to mentally and physically prepare for this semester. I couldn’t see past my Canvas to-do list, and before I knew it, intercession had ended. The new semester was here.
Don’t get me wrong. I love learning. I came to college because I’m passionate about expanding my horizons and challenging myself. However, last semester was almost too challenging.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large part of my education has been facilitated virtually. The Fall 2020 semester introduced a slop of new anxieties centered around this unfamiliar, strange way of socially distanced life and learning. This semester looks to be more of the same, only worse.
That makes me very, very anxious, for more reasons than I can even imagine. If the stress I bore last semester is going to persist, I wonder if quality of life during college will ever improve. What am I getting from this bi-yearly punching bag of mixed emotions?
Last semester did teach me a lot about how I prefer to learn and how I like to go about my life while learning. Most importantly – and most unfortunately – I learned online classes are not for me.
I know a lot of people went through the exact thing I did with online learning last semester. Learning in-person allows me to eliminate the seemingly endless distractions that plague me when I attempt any work from home. It’s frustrating when you have to shoo your cat off your notebook every five minutes during a Zoom lecture filled with an anonymous body of students with their cameras off and mics muted. At least they can’t hear me yell at my cat.
I can’t recall ever truly connecting with any Zoom classmates in the ways I would if we were face-to-face. Zoom simply isn’t conducive to facilitating a lively classroom-style discussion among strangers, not when I have to constantly mute and un-mute myself. It’s even harder to make friends via Zoom, since you can’t exactly lean over to whisper something in your neighbor’s ear.
Even the few in-person classes I had were off. Though we were physically together, I felt miles apart. We were all just bodies in rooms at a fraction of their normal capacity. It was as if my classmates and I couldn’t remember how to connect with one another after a summer in isolation.
To put it plainly, the vibes were just off all semester.
The social distancing didn’t help. The masks we wore to protect ourselves from the virus only added to this sense of alienation I felt in the classroom. I just couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room that uncomfortably pulled my ears forward and left red marks on the bridge of my nose.
At the start of remote learning, it was hard for me to justify what exactly I was doing. I felt guilty for continuing business as usual when thousands of people were, and still are, dying every day from a virus which won’t spread if I stay home. But, because I’m bound by four-year scholarships at a university that cannot afford to close down indefinitely, I’m left with a decision that has already been made for me: continue going to class – for free – during a deadly pandemic, or drown in student debt for the rest of my life because I’d lose my scholarships if I disenroll.
Thus, I endured a whirlwind of a semester. Each week of Fall 2020 felt like the latest revolution of a never-ending carousel. Or, better yet, it felt like I was perpetually trapped on the teacup ride at Disney World, and I was about to hurl.
I trudged through Canvas Modules without really digesting what I was supposed to be learning. Online assignments, many of which only unlocked the day they were due, continuously slipped my mind.
I remember thinking over and over again, “This isn’t how my education was supposed to be.” But there wasn’t a lot that could be done to fix things, save vaccinating as many people as possible to return to some sense of normalcy.
I knew that was pretty far off, so, hopeless and restless, I sat through too many Zoom calls directed toward empty boxes on my computer screen. Add that onto daily Microsoft Team rehearsals for a virtual theater performance, an on-campus job and several extracurriculars, I was up to my eyes in anxiety.
It didn’t help that I could count on one hand the hours of sleep I’d gotten almost every night. Rehearsals would always end at 10:30, leaving me seven hours before I had to get up and do the whole thing over again.
You’ve probably heard the old adage, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day.” Well, no other anecdote had ever resonated with me like that one had last semester. I had overloaded myself at the worst possible time. My brain melted after each Zoom call. I was burned out before I could even buy my textbooks, and I had forgotten how to relax.
Pandemic or not, each new semester brings new anxieties from familiar problems. My whole world blasts into hyperspace in one day. The rest and relaxation in which I indulge during breaks evaporates, and I’m left with a rigid, never-ending to-do list. My life recenters around usm.instructure.com, and I can’t log off for months.
I have a horrible feeling these issues, along with the onslaught of new pandemic-related problems, will persist into this semester, if not intensify. This one will prove to be a new beast entirely, too, as students must take on the stress and confusion of another semester in isolation without any days off.
If I want to survive, I’m going to have to rethink the habits that fill my days and the attitudes I lug around. We, as students, must take this all in stride and rely on one another, working harder than we ever have to succeed.
This time, I want to side-step my usual exhausted and resentful attitude that pops up whenever I feel semester burnout. Anxious as I am, I know it’s time to buckle down. My reluctance and trepidation will surrender to dedication and perfectionism as I attempt to steer this beginning to smoother waters.
Here’s to more of the same, but here’s hoping it will also be a little bit better. Best of luck this semester, Golden Eagles. Stay strong and stay healthy.