November 8, 2012 § 1 Comment
One of my brother’s old friends from elementary school had a mental breakdown in high school because she took on too much and broke under the weight of everyone else’s expectations. Sometimes I worry that I’m on the verge of a breakdown. Generally speaking, I feel okay. I’ve got post-its full of to-do lists. I’ve got a planner that’s color-coded and up-to-date. I know what I have to do. But while my brain is saying “We can do this” my heart is expressing something a bit more concerning. This isn’t some emotional wah-wah shit. I’m literally referring to my heart, the physical organ. It’s been doing weird things lately.
My brain is an expert at making lists, prioritizing, multi-tasking, and compartmentalizing, but somehow it can’t seem to control the way my body reacts to things. My body has been screaming lately that I’m taking on too much, that I’m pushing myself a bit too far. My heart, in particular, has been expressing this stress through irregular, pounding heartbeats, as if it’s trying to morph into some other thing, but the evolution is a painful process. A friend of mine told me about a story he read in a medical journal where scientists were developing artificial hearts that did not “beat” to move blood. I voiced concerns about people feeling strange about that, about their bodies rejecting the artificial heart on the basis that the heartbeat would no longer be present. Chase scoffed, “who feels their heart beat?” I do. Lately I’ve had trouble sleeping because I lay in bed feeling my heart pounding away, noting every irregular beat that follows every two or three normal beats. I googled it, of course, and found that it can be caused by a number of things, one of which is stress, but I shouldn’t be worried because I’m young and have no health problems to speak of. But it is distracting and I picture the different chambers of my heart trying to run in opposite directions, writhing against itself and its own limitations.
My subconscious has kicked in, too, to tell me I’m reaching a breaking point. My dreams have turned to vivid nightmares and the recurring theme of tornadoes has overtaken my midnight imagination. Lack of sleep, or disturbed sleep, only makes my waking hours harder. I drink more coffee to stay awake and alert; my heart beats harder within my chest. I keep trying to remember to breathe.
I need to use this blog more and stop weighing my friends and family down with my problems. All I do is complain; no one should have to deal with that.
The issues I’m dealing with, that I must deal with, are these:
Within the next two to three weeks I must write at least four PhD applications,
a short paper,
an exhibition proposal,
three final seminar papers,
and prep for the GRE which I am taking the day after Thanksgiving.
And that’s just for school. I also have to stay late at work during “Hell Week” when we have an insane amount of tours, try to find time to catch up on all the other work I will not be able to do during Hell Week, write a wall text and label which I have no idea how to do for a piece in the Dutch gallery, and do training on the weekends for a totally different job. Oh, and find money to pay all the bills I have piling up, and somehow find an extra $700 for application fees.
It’s a tad overwhelming. I also have to order transcripts from the academic institutions I’ve attended and pay for those transcripts to be sent to the schools I’m applying to (yay, more money I don’t have!). And I have to do that pretty much this week because my first application is due December 1st. It’s Thursday already, isn’t it…
The work load alone is enough to send my heart into overdrive, but what is perhaps the most agitating is my own self-doubt, realistic or otherwise, about my PhD acceptance chances. I have literally worked for the last 6 years trying to get into a PhD program. Everything I have done has been in preparation for this moment. I got rejected from all 13 PhD programs I applied to when I was in undergrad and since then I have been busting my ass (I busted my ass in undergrad too, but apparently that wasn’t good enough) to try and fill my resume with everything that I could possibly need for a PhD application, within reason. I say “within reason” because unlike many of the Ivy League students I will be competing against, I’ve been paying my own way for a while now, at least as far as living expenses are concerned. I never had the money or time to study or travel abroad. I didn’t have time to volunteer for hours a week. I did the best I could and I thought I did a lot, but of course, other students have done more. I spoke with a professor from Princeton last night and she informed me that everyone that applies already has Master’s degrees, years of museum experience, and 4.0 GPAs. I have been busting my ass to be average, or even below average if you look closely at my resume. I’ve been doing the best I can, I’ve been totally running myself into the ground, but I’m still just average when compared to the best and brightest.
I could accept this, that I am doomed to live an average life and that I will never be particularly special or important. That’s fine, except I’m extremely unhappy. I’ve been dissatisfied at every school I’ve attended. As a result, I’ve been an incredibly lazy student, half-assing everything and writing all my papers the night before they are due (I’ve done this throughout graduate school as well. like an asshole.). Emory is one of the top 20 schools in the nation. Clearly I will only be challenged in the top 10. I want to be challenged, I want to feel educated, and most of all, I want to understand where my the limits of my potential are. I feel very strongly that I cannot know my own limits until I am challenged in a serious way, and I really do think that I will only get that at a tip-top tier school. So I’m going big or going home, but I literally have no idea what the hell I am going to do if I get 8 rejection letters in the mail in April. I have no plan B. In the past, my plan B was simply to try again in the future. I’ve reached my maximum of application attempts with most of these schools. Third time’s the charm? I sure as fuck hope so. Because my life cannot continue without goals, my life cannot persist without a clear plan, a set path to follow. I have no plan B.
For right now, the best I can do is keep breathing, keep making lists, keep trying to get things done. If I can just get to December, I’ll be in the clear. Of course, “the clear” actually has its own other set of problems that I’ve been “kicking down the road,” so to speak. One thing at a time, my mother says. One thing at a time.