Fall 2018, I lay on the tiled floor of the Stiles B20something common room, my feet propped up on the foam roller I had been using on rugby-ravaged legs moments prior. Looking back, I can’t remember what my meltdown was about. Might have been my responsibilities managing the Buttery (and its impact on my unmanaged eating disorder) or my attempts to navigate Stats 101 without the ability to download the proper software on my timeworn Chromebook. Either way, the real problem was the fact that my depression kept me in bed most of the week and I could barely interact with my friends without an ADHD-anxiety-panic bubble expanding from the base of my skull until it sucked all the air from my body.
“I’m wasting my Yale experience,” I lamented. “By the time I figure my shit out, I’ll be in grad school.”
My suitemate and former Peer Liaison looked down at me from their perch on the couch, their hands never pausing as they embroidered an orange dragon into a pair of denim shorts. “Figuring your shit out isn’t wasting your Yale experience, it is your Yale experience.”
The feeling of an ever-increasing awareness of ever-decreasing time was not unique to sophomore me or my crying on the floor of the common room; it would continue to be a specter in my therapy sessions and in general conversation about mental health and campus culture. As we come into adulthood, the ratio of each day to our total lifespans gets smaller which makes time seem to go by faster and faster. Combine that with the looming nihilism of a future governed by climate catastrophe, and we’ve got a real “shit, it’s May already?” situation every month. Especially when that May contains one’s commencement ceremony.
I’m about to graduate after ten semesters in New Haven, eight of which I was enrolled. Everyone— my mom, my professors, my therapist, my neighbor, the aerospace engineer I hooked up with on Thursday— have been asking me what my plans are. I’ve become fluent in the noncommittal small talk responses of “Oh, just waiting to hear…yep, still trying to figure things out…no concrete plans yet…we’ll hear after break…in a few weeks…closer to the summer…” Yet, even as I was saying I didn’t have any plans, I was actively establishing my life for next year. I had renewed my New Haven lease, told my little brother I’d come home for the summer and take him to see the Pacific Ocean, and stopped feeling bad about sleeping through gym dates with my underclassmen friends because I’ll be back in the fall. In between wondering if I should go to grad school or sellout to the Yale undergrad-to-administration pipeline, I eventually began admitting to myself that my post-bacc plans were shaping up to look very different.
I’m going to work some chill job that pays the bills and allows me to wake up without an alarm sometimes. I’m gonna make a bunch of art, lift a bunch of weights, and finally read my overgrown novel collection. I’m going to continue working with my therapist and ED specialist, work on living more sustainably, and learn how to make a personal website. I am going to rest. And honestly, I’m really looking forward to just being a person, not a student or a career woman or an applicant, but just a person who can be happy, healthy, and human.
My pitch for this piece read: “I want to write about taking post-Covid, post-grad gap years. And burnout.” I thought I wanted to tell my fellow graduates that it’s okay to pause, and I still do. It’s never too late to change your mind on that PhD program in nuclear biopraxis and the macroeconomic diaspora and admit to yourself and the world that your real passion is playing some smooth, smooth jazz. But as I reflect on that conversation with my PL-turned-suitemate, I am reminded of the same questions, anxieties, and pressures that plague my current PLees. So to y’all, I say, the only wrong way to do Yale is to lose yourself to an institution that doesn’t deserve the sacrifice of your joy and wellbeing. Sleep more, push yourself less, and don’t put life on hold.
Miki Cornwell is a graduating senior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at email@example.com