As another finals season looms over the Vassar campus, I find myself thinking about the pressures existing in the dorms and study spaces of our community. We hear a lot about self care during finals because we put a ton of pressure on ourselves to do well, but what about the rest of the year? How are we managing our expectations for our work and mental health on the regular? For me, that means not downplaying my workload. I’m busy. I have papers to write, I’m active in my student org, I write for the paper, I have a work-study job, and I’m raising a rambunctious toddler. I’m busy. But you know what I tell people when they ask how I’m doing? I say I’m fine. I tell them that I’m handling it or that I have a great support system. If someone tells me it sounds like a lot of work, I have the habit of saying that it’s not that much. While I do have a great support system, telling people that it’s all fine isn’t doing me any favors, and it’s not fair to my peers.
I’m not the only one who does this. Everyone I’ve talked to about finals has given me a laundry list of things they need to finish before winter break. They always follow it up with reassurance that they can handle it and that it’s not actually that bad. With all of us telling each other we’re fine, it’s no surprise that students choose to suffer in silence. We aren’t valuing ourselves, our time, our energy or our minds when we downplay the work. Worse, we’re setting ourselves up to repeat the cycle forever. I’ve been downplaying my accomplishments and my work ethic for literal decades and do you know what it gave me? Anxiety and an inability to say no to others. Society has us schooled into believing that to talk candidly about our accomplishments is to be conceited and to speak honestly about our workload is just complaining. So we dismiss our stresses in favor of a brave front.
Society is even harder on feminine-presenting people and people of color in its expectations. Motherhood has made me keenly aware of the levels of martyrdom I’m expected to reach instead of complaining. So how do we, as a community, become more honest about our workload and the stressors that come with it? Personally, I’ve started trying to be more honest about my schedule. It’s not easy. I want to dismiss how hard it can be to juggle life, but this urge is important to resist. By being honest about my workload, I’ve found I’m less likely to take on too much. More importantly, because I’m being honest about how much I’m doing, I’m valuing myself a lot more realistically. I’m less willing to work for free and more willing to actually clock how much work I’m doing each week. I’ve even managed to get to the gym this week because I’m not agreeing to too many projects. I forgot what relaxing felt like. So as we all go home for the holidays to communities and families that don’t value us enough, I ask that we try to value ourselves. Don’t let society place a dollar sign on your time or your energy. Be honest about how hard you’re working and the amazing things that have or will come from it. You’re crushing this school thing and this life thing, and you deserve to talk about it with a caveat.