Long Story Short: a train ride taught me to slow down

I thought that if I wasn’t doing everything, I wasn’t doing enough

Illustrated by Tiffany Chan

By: Kim Regala, Staff Writer

It’s a Monday evening and I’m two hours into my four-hour class — my professor’s constant lecturing entering one ear and right away coming out the other. I feel my stomach gurgling and I realize that I hadn’t had a single meal at all that day. I mean, how could I have managed? There was no way I could fit in time for food when I’d gotten caught up in a last-minute club meeting right after my nine-to-five shift, where I was so busy that I forgot to take my lunch break. But the next thing I know, I’ve sprung completely out of my seat. Without a single warning to my friends, nor the professor, I walked right out of the classroom and headed straight to the SkyTrain station. I remember the train ride so vividly, as I sat on the corner furthest from the other passengers, sealing my eyes shut as to not let any tears fall down.

I think that the hardest part about being burned out is acknowledging that you are, in fact, experiencing it. But there I was, on the verge of a mental breakdown due to all the stress that I could no longer cope with, and I knew it was about time I admitted to myself that I was in fact in this very state of burnout.

My grandfather used to tell me I had a tendency to always be in a rush. Though I knew I had a habit of walking too fast sometimes, I knew that what he was really trying to say was that I needed to slow down in chasing too many goals all at once. But with my fourth year starting up, it was difficult not to feel the pressure of looking as if I — for lack of a better term — had my shit together. It didn’t help that everyone else around me looked as if they had their lives figured out, whereas I was only in the beginning stages of that. And so, I did what any student in their quarter-life crisis would do. I took on as much work as I could fit into my weekly schedule, thinking that if I kept myself busy enough, I too would come off as perfectly put-together.

First, I decided to take on a full course load at school. “But everyone else takes four or five classes too — surely, I can be more productive than that,” I thought. And so, I accepted more hours and responsibilities at work too. Feeling like that still wasn’t enough, I was determined to contribute a lot more for The Peak. Finally, when a mutual friend reached out asking if I was interested in becoming the Social Media Director of their club, I was so thrilled with the opportunity that I had no hesitation to say yes. Despite my friends and family warning me that I was putting too much on my plate, I carried on with this busy schedule, pushing the thought in my head that if I wasn’t doing all of these things, then I surely wasn’t doing enough.

This period of hustling worked well for me in the beginning. I had the kind of motivation that only seemed to grow overtime; my weekly checklists were always completed and I kept my calendar updated at all times. Most importantly, I enjoyed my classes, work, and all extracurricular activities, even with the long hours and hard work they took out of me. However, as time went on, I began to lose this drive. Coming home from a long day every single day had me feeling physically exhausted. Sooner or later, the checklists remained unchecked and my once productive days were replaced with lazy ones due to my lack of energy to keep up with any work.

Eventually, physical exhaustion wasn’t the only thing that weighed me down; I began to feel it mentally too. I’d be sitting in lectures, and despite how interested I was in the topic, I’d be so mentally drained that none of the information would register in my head. At any time of the day, regardless of what I was doing, I would worry about whether or not I had enough time for X, Y and Z. When my mental calculations told me that there was no way I could fit all of my work within that week, I would try to rationalize how I would complete everything on my to-do list. “Maybe if I just write my paper while I’m in this Marketing meeting?” “If I finish my food in five minutes, I could spend the rest of my lunch break studying for that midterm I completely forgot about!” I became less focused on each task, only delivering half as much effort as I would have had I been given more time to get things done.

At this point, my busy schedule was the only thing that occupied my thoughts and without realizing it, I had completely pushed aside everything else that wasn’t work-related. It didn’t occur to me that I hadn’t seen my friends for a long time or even asked to see how they were doing. My guitar remained unplayed, collecting dust in the corner of my room, while my camera was tucked away in my closet, unused since the summer. It was nearing the end of the year now, and even though I had the most frantic semester of my whole life, I felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything at all.

A few months down the road, I still look back at that night on the train. I wanted it to take me home, but at that moment, I no longer knew where home was. It took me a long time to accept that I had lost parts of myself while pushing myself, and even longer to overcome the challenges of picking myself back up again. While I’d like to say that I’m fully better now, the reality of it is that the road to recovery is a long one. I’ve learned to slow down, yet every once in a while, I still slip up and have my rough days. Recently, however, I’m starting to enjoy my train rides. I look up every once in a while to admire the view, assuring myself that no matter where it takes me, I can always find my way back.