In case anyone was thinking otherwise, year two of the #gradgrind is the worst. It's truly abysmal. It's as if I'm in an eternal night with no light at the end of the tunnel. It's exhausting, I'm burnt out, and regardless of how much caffeine I consume, I fail to complete my to-do list nearly every day. Yesterday I drank 68 ounces of coffee and was still able to go home an hour later and immediately fall into a 3 hour nap/slumber. If that's not telling of the fatigue I've been experiencing, well, I'm not really sure what will.
Because of this, it's tough to stay motivated and energized throughout the day. Don't get me wrong, I love my students. My staff is a hilarious ball of energy, and working with first-year students in a community style hall is everything I remember it being from my four years of undergrad, only better. I love having the opportunity to guide these students, to challenge them with new perspectives and ways of thinking, and to motivate them to go out and try something they've never done before. It's inspiring, but it's also debilitating like no other.
As someone who has not taken a break since beginning my higher education pursuits, it's clear that I'm burning out. Despite enjoying the material I'm studying, my drive to push through and complete all of my research, readings, and assignments is dwindling more and more by the day. By the time I get home from work I'm ready to collapse into a puddle on my couch, so forget about those three chapters of Contemporary Issues in Higher Education Law I'm supposed to read. Research article annotation? Yeah right. I'm lucky if I remember to take my glasses off before I fall asleep. Somewhere between May and September I lost the ability to function on 45 minutes of sleep within a 48 hour time frame. Now I struggle to get out of bed after sleeping for 7 straight hours.
If you look at Tumblr or any number of Twitter accounts, it's easy to be convinced that it's normal to feel this way. That it's expected, and therefore perfectly okay. In fact, if your graduate school experience isn't like this you're doing something wrong. The glorification of being busy (and exhausted) is alive and well in grad school. But is this really healthy? Am I at my best if I'm sleep deprived, mentally checked out, and generally worn to the bone? Of course not. So how do you re-energize enough to minimally make it through the day?
Lately I've been doing my best to minimize distractions. After reading this article on having a distraction-free iPhone, I decided to adopt some of the recommended strategies. I deleted both Facebook and Messenger, but kept Twitter and Instagram as I also use these apps for work. Snapchat is next to go. I deleted all but one game (Snake - yes, I am that cool), and the only entertainment apps I kept were music apps as well as my Blackhawks and Scorecenter apps (the NHL and Florida State sports remain priorities in my life). In addition to minimizing the number of things that tend to take away my attention throughout the day, I also decided to try some apps designed to help me refocus, recharge, and stay present in the moment. I now have an app that sends me reminders to take a moment simply to breathe as well as one that prompts me to pause throughout the day to reflect on how I'm feeling and to continue to work towards my purpose rather than getting lost amidst the menial tasks of the day. It appears there may actually be an app for everything other than one that can sleep for you (Apple, let me know when this one is developed).
Are these things making me less exhausted? No, they're not. What they are accomplishing is forcing me to focus on the positives, to remember why I'm working myself to the bone, as well as to take some time for myself, even if it's a simple 30 seconds. They're not the solution, but they are helping me make it through each day. Realistically, I'm not sure there is a solution to the #gradgrind.
We'll see how it goes. Realistically, if I can survive the #gradgrind, land a job, avoid living out of a cardboard box next year, help my students succeed, AND retain my sanity through the next year... well, that's all I need. That and more coffee.