Fear and loathing in Berkeley: A personal essay

Photo of a pile of books on a desk
Kimberly Fong/Staff

Related Posts

It’s Friday night, and a paper I have due the following Monday stares up at me from my desk as I get ready to go out. It’s collecting in a pile of dust — I received the handout 10 days earlier and have hardly touched it since. I know I’ll get it done. I mean, I have to. I know the same reverberating deprecating thoughts of how I’m horrible with time management will echo in my mind Saturday morning as I begin, and I know how the inevitable feeling of dread will anchor in the pit of my stomach Sunday afternoon as I pore over my laptop, trying to pull together something that screams punctual, organized, A student. Or at least something that looks like the work of someone who isn’t constantly self-sabotaging. But old habits die hard, and this is something I’ve always known.

I also know that I’ll also feel a certain sort of smugness when I manage to pull it off. I’ll feel cunning, I’ll feel seductive; I’ll have “beat” the assignment, so to speak, vanquishing it within a seemingly implausible time frame. I will have once again reached the final step of this frenzied, almost hysteric, cycle I live on — procrastinating, rushing, procrastinating again. I know this cycle will repeat itself, regardless of how much I kick myself for putting this and most other assignments off. And regardless of how disheveled I become, I know I’ll always get it done — I have to, even if it is at the expense of my sanity. 

I try to maintain the same mentality when it comes to my finances. You always remember where your card gets declined; I’ve felt the sting at shops, the glare of cashiers on my burning cheeks as I was forced to put back the products in my cart. Yet recently the words “INSUFFICIENT FUNDS” flashed on a vending machine screen in a way that seemed almost too eager, leading me to wonder how rejection from a 22-inch box of steel stung even worse than from a cashier. I scraped my dignity together and did what anyone would do: I pretended to have an emergency to respond to on my phone and walked away. I didn’t need to check my bank account to know it was the second of the month and the end of a pay period; so I hurried away in faux confidence, typing and retyping “sksjksskdhsk!!!” into my phone to play it off as if something incredibly important had just suddenly come up and that I didn’t have time for water after all. It could’ve happened to anybody. 

Even as I find myself wildly procrastinating, cosplaying “Chopped” with tortilla chips and a slice of American cheese for dinner, I know I’ll be fine. I get paid regularly, and all I have to do is save money, work and complete my assignments. While the bold flash of INSUFFICIENT FUNDS burned a hole through my ego (why did they have to make the words bright and flashing?), this was something I was able to maneuver through — maybe because this wasn’t the first time it had happened, or maybe because I knew it was destined to happen again. Regardless, my forced frugality and self-discipline remain at an all-time high, my newfound sufficiency inclining me to believe that perhaps this is what Emerson was talking about when he went on and on about self-reliance. Maybe. 

Regardless, my forced frugality and self-discipline remain at an all-time high, my newfound sufficiency inclining me to believe that perhaps this is what Emerson was talking about when he went on and on about self-reliance. Maybe. 

Deep down, I know there’s something inside of me — something that I won’t fully admit to — that longs for this dishevelment. I complain and postpone and loathe, but I know that a part of me enjoys it. Perhaps it’s my obsession with mastery, some deeply-rooted instinct for control. Perhaps it’s both of these, and perhaps it’s also the fact that it’s simply fun to play up these melodramatic day-to-day affairs in my life simply because I am a student, and somehow therefore allowed to be unrestrained. It’s what’s expected of me. 

Maybe part of the “college experience” is existing through these minor obstacles; maybe it only makes for a student all the more well-rounded, all more experienced, all the more tortured. I’m kidding. Kind of. But my point is this: Perhaps these are the things I’m going to miss after I graduate from this microsociety of students just like me when I stop playing this “game” that is college. Being in my early 20s makes these miniature panics permissible and this reckless time management slightly more acceptable because I know I’ll be able to get things done eventually. Some would consider it self-sabotage; others might consider the possibility that I just love the drama, the thrill, the self-inflicted repartee I have with my assignments on the eve of their assumed completion. And both would be right. 

Sure, it can get bad, and there are breaking points — there are many moments of fear and loathing in Berkeley, as there are everywhere else. Often, though, the cure to my dread is grounding myself in the very minuscule troubles I allow myself to get worked up over. I remind myself that years from now I’ll miss my time at UC Berkeley, when I was balancing my midterms with my plans for the weekend and my Thursday night endeavors; I loathe and I complain, but there is something inside of me that relishes it. I’m just not allowed to admit it to myself yet. Because that’s the whole point — and I’ll use my agency for the sake of artistic torture because I’m in a place where I’m allowed to do it. 

So I’ll take advantage of it, while I can. 

Contact Taylor Carolan at [email protected].