Dropping out

Off the Beat

zahira-chaudhry_online

A couple of days before fall semester started, I sat in a café on Northside, aimlessly looking through my friends’ Instagram stories. Apart from the usual boomerangs of boba runs and beautifully assembled, overpriced brunch plates, I saw a common theme. Plane rides, suitcases rolling into new rooms and captions with friends exclaiming, “Finally reunited!”

I thumbed through these 15-second clips and was quickly overwhelmed with a sense of dread and anxiety. My hyperstimulated and overtired self from spring semester began taking over my emotions.

Summer in Berkeley is the literal opposite of the school year. There are far fewer people, longer sunsets and shorter lines at every ice cream shop. There’s finally a chance to get a seat in Moffitt without standing around for 30 minutes while staring hungrily at anyone who makes any slight movements. I entered the summer hopeful for a fresh start but still destroyed after a spring semester of extreme emotional anxiety from draining relationships and an overextension of myself in activities that I really didn’t give a shit about. But after being constantly bombarded with a semester’s worth of drama and anguish over uncontrollable circumstances, I was exhausted.

I missed the first day of my Session A class and took three weeks to finally submit the hiring paperwork for my summer job. I spent most of my days asleep in my new single room in a new house where people didn’t know me and no one bugged me. The emotional aftershock from the events of spring semester had thrust me into a state of extreme depression, where most days, I would wake up and be unable to wiggle my toes until 3 p.m. Unable to move, I felt that I had dropped out of my life.

As summer progressed my depression worsened, to the point where I missed an entire week of both classes and work, consequently dropping a physics class that I was four chapters behind in. My friends were either busy or traveling, so I was mostly alone with my anxious and cyclical thoughts.

In an attempt to “fix” myself, I started to focus on the small accomplishments — eating three meals a day, doing my laundry, FaceTiming my sisters, actually reading a book I enjoyed. The emptiness of summer gave me the space to spend time with myself. As I started to regain small bits of control over my volatile mental state, I began to dissect the events of the past semester. How had I let myself become so unhappy, both in the academic and social aspects of my life?

Entering UC Berkeley as a transfer student in the fall semester of 2017, I was immediately bombarded with images of perfection. I was surrounded by people who could do it all, both academically and socially, and still manage to make it through their lives without having breakdowns. In a community where mental health issues are rampant but conversations about them are stifled, I found myself struggling to keep up and look “fine” while I invested time into people and things that gave me no support in return. By spring semester, I was spread extremely thin in meaningless commitments and spent hours with people who would not reciprocate the same emotional investment I gave them.

As my life reached a breaking point, I was angry for investing myself in people and activities that had not valued the labor I had put into them and essentially betrayed me. I was hurt, and instead of removing myself from toxic environments, I blamed myself for not maintaining a fake sense of happiness for others. But after spending countless hours with myself over the course of the summer, I learned to value and forgive myself for my mistakes.

In the beginning of the fall semester, I still feel the pressure to perform as an individual who can balance all my commitments and also be a perfect friend, housemate and co-worker. But a consequence of spending most of summer with yourself is learning to value both your strengths and your flaws, mostly because hating yourself for not adequately performing for others is like a full-time job. So this semester, I’m dropping out. I’m dropping out of clubs I hated but joined for the sake of being busy. I’m dropping out of friendships where I’m only valued when I can perform with ease and perfection. I’m picking and choosing the few classes, activities and people I really need — and I’m leaving the rest of it on read.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.