Bouncing back from a rough fall semester

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The hardest thing about coming back this semester was that I didn’t forget the last one. See, usually I am one of those lucky people who look back at the past and remember most vividly the positives. Sure, it was a rough semester at the time. But when I look back, I remember the high points being higher, and the low points — well, they don’t seem that low after all. Thus I come back the following semester motivated and excited for yet another great year at UC Berkeley!

But last semester was especially rough. So many different responsibilities were entrusted to me, from academics to my career to just trying to be an adult — and I quickly succumbed to the pressure. Suffice it to say, I didn’t know anxiety could make you physically ill until last semester, and I never really thought I would be the girl who was crying uncontrollably in a library until I was sitting in Moffitt Library at 2 a.m. with tears rolling down my cheeks. I would describe my completion of last semester as nothing short of a miracle. When I got home, I was finally able to rest peacefully knowing that, for an entire month, I had nothing to worry about.

But I didn’t get a month — not really. Instead, I got a second — a fleeting moment of rest that was gone as quickly as it had arrived. I swear I had just gotten over the novelty of being home when suddenly I was back, standing in the middle of my apartment in Berkeley, wondering what in the hell I was going to do. Unlike every other semester, I had returned just as broken as when I left. And I knew there was no way I could go through it all again. That first night, I couldn’t allow myself to fall asleep, because then tomorrow would come, and tomorrow was just one day closer to starting school.

The first two days of the semester were gray. If I wasn’t doing work, I was dreading what was to come. I receded into myself a bit, hanging out with my friends out of obligation instead of wanting to and spending the vast majority of my time alone. It wasn’t until Wednesday night that I really pieced myself back together. I was cooking dinner with my roommate when one of our friends came over. After just five minutes, I was shocked by how sad he was — it had only been two days, after all. But here he was, overworked and depressed and in exactly the same state of mind as I had been. I just hadn’t realized it yet.

After hearing what my friend was feeling, for the first time I told him what I honestly thought. I told him that at some point he needed to preserve his happiness and well-being over everything else. Success is futile without the mental well-being to recognize it. There was nobody else that could fix his problems for him, and he owed it to himself to do what he could to make his life better. I told this to someone else, but I was the one who learned from it.

I realized I had turned Berkeley into this mythic villain that terrorized and preyed on me when, in fact, I was in control. I was prioritizing things that stressed me out and put my happiness at stake, when I could have been working to grow.

That night, I dropped a class and pushed myself to look at clubs and activities that would take me outside my comfort zone and bring more joy to my life. That night, I started meal-prepping so that I could feed myself three healthy meals a day. That night, I reached out to people I hadn’t seen for months, sent a text to my best friend from home and called my little sister so she wasn’t alone either. That night, I took a step. An incremental step, but a step nonetheless.

It’s incredibly hard to be struck down and get back up, especially if it happens semester after semester until it seems almost pointless to get back up and pretend like you aren’t gonna get knocked down again. But I got lucky enough to learn that what happened outside of me didn’t really matter. Most important is how I bring myself up and stay strong against what’s to come. I have changed my goals so that now, when I wake up in the morning, I feel hopeful about the day. And if I get knocked down, who cares? I have experience in getting back up.

Contact Rhea Srivats at [email protected].