Mere mortals

On many mornings of my sophomore year here at UC Berkeley, I would wake up and the first feeling my brain would register was resentment.

As my alarm blared and I struggled to pull myself out of a sleepy delirium, I would be overcome with bitterness. My aching muscles, groggy brain and tired eyelids stirred deep sensations of frustration and anger. Who was the target of my early morning hostility?


Not my political theory professor, who had assigned an essay due later that day. Not the Daily Cal news editors, who missed the news deadline by three hours the night before, resulting in my staying at the office until after 2 a.m. Not the other hundreds of people who I could probably point to as sources of stress in my life.

The person I would wake up in the morning resenting was myself — I resented my own body for needing sleep, for experiencing tiredness, for having physical limitations that I felt were holding me back from doing all the things I wanted to. I used to lie in bed at night, and before succumbing to exhaustion, I would ruminate on all the ways I could spend my time if my body didn’t need to sleep. I could rewrite my crappy political theory essay, I could cook myself a healthy meal, I could read a book for pleasure. I hated knowing that I was wasting several hours every night lying in bed, when there were so many other things I could do.

During this phase of my life, I liked to think of myself as a kind of supreme being who could actually do it all — get good grades, hold a Daily Cal senior editorship position, be active in my sorority, maintain a healthy romantic relationship, go to the gym, keep my room clean and call my parents regularly. But the symptoms of exhaustion that I experienced nearly every minute of every day as I tried to take all that on, from fatigue to short-term memory loss, were brutal reminders that I was no superhuman. I saw myself with limitless energy and potential, but I was trapped in the body of a human that needed to shut down for at least six hours a day. My constant yawning and desire to nap as I tried to catch up on readings in Morrison Library were reminders that I was a mere mortal — the more I tried to take on in life, the more of a toll life took on me.

When we walk onto the UC Berkeley campus as freshmen, it’s easy to feel like we’re in the presence of some supernatural forces at work. From the discovery of new elements to Nobel-winning literature, the things accomplished here seem like God’s work — and wow, we get to be a part of it! We come storming through with our dorky drawstring bags and idealized visions of the world, thinking that we are earth-shakers, ceiling-shatterers, game-changers.

But as almost any student past their first year could tell you, it doesn’t take long for this godly self-perception to be broken apart by the giant that is UC Berkeley. Whether it’s falling asleep in an 8 a.m. lecture, throwing up after partying too hard at the frats or crying in Moffitt after seeing a midterm score, something will happen to every single student here that reminds them they are human. This university, with all the trials and tribulations it offers its students, brings us back down to earth, keeps us humble and, most importantly, brings us closer to the other mere mortals who are just trying to make a difference in the world.

So maybe we can’t do it all. Maybe we’re not superheroes, and maybe that’s OK. After spending years burning myself out trying to prove I was, I’ve come to learn that at the end of the day, it’s the most human parts of ourselves that will take us where we want to go. For some, it’s joining organizations where you make friendships with people who can support you. For others, it’s taking all-too-overlooked measures of self-care during dead week. For me, it was eating lots of Hot Cheetos while writing dumb articles about drinking, the Jonas Brothers and more drinking. And now that I’m looking back at it from the other side, when I wake up in the mornings, I feel overwhelmed by a different human emotion: gratitude.

To Janani, Kayla and Patricia: Thanks for taking a chance on me. I’ve never felt more godly than when I was writing punchy puns for centerpiece headlines, so I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity you all gave me.

To the “Hannah’s Tea” squad: Thanks for sharing my highest and lowest moments of college with me. The past four years have taught me that no one can do it alone, and I definitely couldn’t have done it without y’all by my side for Thai food and Angry Orchards.

To Matthew, Alex and Mallorie: Thanks for always pushing me to be the best possible version of myself. I won’t say any more because I know you’d make fun of me for it.

To Mom and Papa: Thanks for being as close to superheroes as I imagine people can get.

Besides all of the aforementioned people, there’s another thing I’ve come to appreciate since accepting the limits of my humanity — a really good night’s sleep.

Hannah Nguyen joined The Daily Californian in spring 2016 as a copy editor, before becoming assistant night editor in fall 2016 and night editor in spring 2017. She was the staff representative for fall 2017 and spring 2018, and she wrote for the Daily Clog in summer 2018, fall 2018 and spring 2019. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in history.