Slice of Life: Hitting a wall

Catie Byrne
Features Editor

Last night I was clutching my head, rocking back and forth in a chair, avoiding work, groaning; I hit the wall. The wall, otherwise known as the buildup of stress due to end of semester assignments, can be observed as the manifestation of apathy as a result of pushing one’s body and mind past its physical limitations in order to succeed academically.

My experience of the academic wall, currently, is a dull headache after two hours of sleep, an intense sensitivity to light and sounds, the inability to notice physical discomfort after sitting for several hours and a pronounced disconnect between my head and body.

While the experience of hitting the wall is likely familiar to most college students, I think the psychology behind what drives students to this level of exhaustion needs to be examined.  

For example, when sipping heavily caffeinated tea at three in the morning as my eyes glaze over at a dim computer screen, I realize that there are three thoughts motivating this behavior; “I need to get this done,” “I need to do this right” and “I am willing to subject my flesh-prison to whatever necessary in order to sustain the energy to complete this assignment.”

I am keenly aware of how much my thoughts sound like the human incarnation of Boxer, the workhorse from Animal Farm, yet I feel as though the metaphor is apt in that students hit an academic wall because they are literally working themselves to death.

Admittedly, I’m being dramatic, but in all seriousness, I believe the cavalier way in which students brush off elevated stress levels caused by a heavy course load is not only unhealthy, but disturbing.

However, it is not the fault of students for the popularization of this mindset, as academia has been molding minds since infancy to encourage the idea that the “good student” must sacrifice whatever energy, time and leisure is needed to embody the standard of a bright, hardworking student.

What is, I believe, concerning about this, is that not only is there no guaranteed reward for “good student” behavior, but a stigma emerges for students unable to attain this standard of academic labor.

Again, the structure of academia is to blame.

From a young age, certain students are related to as the “good student,” while other students, particularly working class, poor, minorities and those without access to resources to bolster academic success, are related to as inherently unable to attain the standard of the “good student,” and consequently endure social and academic stigma.

For students unable to fit this academic standard, the resulting stigma invariably shapes their process of learning, their desire to learn and has the potential to stunt their intellectual growth and development.

While the degree of academic pressure for good grades in college may not be as intense as it is in high school, the degree of autonomy students have in college often solidifies perceptions of what the performance of good and bad students looks like.

This brings me back to the wall.

If one is consistently related to as having unattainably high or unfairly low academic ability, coupled with the standard pressure to reach academic success, then it would not be unreasonable to argue that these students may feel trapped by the expectations others have set for them.

The damage caused by a pressure to uphold or transcend these expectations can increase anxiety in the event that students are pushed beyond their limits and hit a wall.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers of how to push past this wall.

In fact, I, along with millions of other students, continue to struggle within the performance constraints set for me in my early years of school.

How do I deal when I hit a wall?

Well, the short answer is that I don’t. As I write this, my neck hurts, my chest aches and my eyes are extremely strained, yet I proceed to work. I have no practical solutions as to how to transcend the wall, and that, in essence, is the problem.

I continue to work past my limits because I feel as if I need to. The way I see it, to work is to care and to care is to suffer.


Categories: Features, Human Interest, Uncategorized

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