I write all of my columns in the little cracks of time that my school and work schedules permit me, always a little drowsy or hungry. I am always tired. I work on average around 20 hours a week and I’m taking 17 credits this semester, meaning that whenever I’m not in class, I’m at work, or vice versa. As per the usual Columbia University exceptionalism mindset, I told myself that it would be doable if I planned out my time, made the right choices, and limited my social engagements, but a Residencial Life passion planner isn’t going to help me find two extra hours in the day, no matter how many sections I highlight.
I work for financial reasons and health reasons. I have things to pay both to Columbia and to my doctors, as well as just having money for incidentals. I bought my own books this year and every year since freshman year. I buy my tickets home and all the clothes I’ve bought in my years at Columbia. But every purchase is a trade-off of my time, my dedication, my happiness, and my health.
For example, my work schedule has shifted my sleep. My body craves rest right when I leave my office, which most days is at 6 p.m., making me want to curl up in a ball as soon as I get home. However, I just spend the evening waking up in a panic because I know I have school work to do, so my sleep is never really restful. This lack of rest has made my body weaker, which has my doctors concerned. I also eat meals intermittently, always finding whatever is the quickest, not necessarily what’s best for my body. My weight has fluctuated a lot this semester and I can’t find the time to exercise like I want to—there’s no time for quick morning runs or stretching in the park with friends. I have even found myself getting sick more often this year. This week, after working outside all day on Saturday, I have a cold and my biggest fear is that my lack of rest will agitate it, that it will get worse.
Then when I sit and take stock of my social life, I find the same stunted growth. I never go out anymore, because every time I try I always fall asleep. Somehow, I have shifted into my grandmother, only going to work during the week and church on Sundays. My friends see me less this year, even though as a senior I want to savor all of our interactions together before we scatter after graduation. I don’t even have time to seriously date; I’m too busy to really be anything romantically for anyone, let alone a responsible, attentive partner.
I avoid telling people how much I work because it only worries the people who care about me. I just try to laugh it off, to smile about it to soften the impact of me saying that I am so tired that sometimes I will fall asleep in random places (even occasionally John Jay Dining Hall). When I tell people about my situation, all they can do is wish that things would change, but I can’t pay an e-bill with wishes, so I have to move forward.
I love the classes that I am taking, but I feel like I let my professors down when I’m this busy because I have such a hard time keeping up with everyone else. I don’t want them to think that I’m incapable of doing a good job or that I’m not smart enough to keep up. I have told them that I work, but I still feel anxious that my professors will get fed up with me. I just want to be a good student, to do my part of being in school, but it’s so hard when you have to think about money so often. I had a professor this semester tell me he thought it was impressive I work so much and continue to manage to be a fulltime student, but what he doesn’t know is that it’s like being a fish fighting to go upstream. The workload at Columbia isn’t conducive to working students; it’s as if working during the school year isn’t anticipated and accommodated like it is at other, mostly state, schools.
I sit up and ask myself: Why does it have to be like this? Why do I have to be so tired, so behind, so scared, so confused, so rushed? Honestly, I’m scared that I am whipping through life with too much to carry and that I’ll drop it. I am scared that my inability to do the impossible is because of my own personal irresponsibility, but the truth is that when you do so much, something is bound to get misplaced. I didn’t really expect to be in this position in college and I’m worried about it replicated in graduate school. At Columbia, I’ve cried ugly cries in my room, worried about how I am going to pull it all together, just for tomorrow, let alone for December or May.
This fear paralyzes me it makes me want to cry out, but something internally antagonistic tells me to stay quiet. I just want to be the best student I can be, the best friend I can be, the best daughter I can be, the best romantic partner I can be, but I can’t because somehow my need to survive in New York has become all-encompassing, eating up those idealized versions of myself, leaving me with nothing but taking stress naps and writing articles at 4 a.m..
Sabina Jones is a senior at Columbia College majoring in English & Hispanic studies. Her column Transatlantic Trade runs every other Wednesday.
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