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I think I'm burning out: Being a ghost in my own life

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APRIL 02, 2023

The strange thing about burning out is that you don’t realize you’ve burned out until your clothes don’t completely dry while you’re doing laundry, so you start sobbing uncontrollably. I’m not crying about my clothes still being wet but because it is yet another thing I need to do — one more thing on my list of things that didn’t go the way I wanted it to. So now, I have to do another drying cycle, catch up on lecture recordings, read a book I was supposed to finish last week, go grocery shopping, finish a rough draft and (maybe) take a shower.

Then, I realize I haven’t called my mom in three weeks, and I have no idea what was going on in my best friend’s life. Then, I’ll cry some more. Sometimes, the smallest thing will be the last bit of snow before the avalanche.

Burning out is too common of an experience for UC Berkeley students, and there are remedies, tricks and habits to prevent it from happening but little on what it’s like to just feel it. Experiencing something common among all students to the point where it can become a ubiquitous joke can be really discouraging as it undermines our individual experiences. Just because burnout happens among so many people does not mean that it doesn’t completely and entirely suck, or that it’s not valid and worth talking about when it happens to you.

I know I’m burnt out when I suddenly feel this sense that I am a ghost in my own life. It happens when things are happening so fast around me, and I have so much to worry about. I don’t feel like I have any control over the events of my existence. I feel like I’m invisible as the world is going by so quickly and I keep falling behind. The feeling that life is continuing on without me, leaving me to watch it go by.

In a desperate attempt to catch up, I distance myself from my friends and family, feeling intense guilt when I’m away from my studies because not only do I have much to do, but there are people doing more. I lose grip of reality in a way, becoming sucked into this mundane routine of going to class, clocking in at work, studying, going to sleep and repeating until months have passed and I have not a joyful memory to show for it. Burning out is an incredibly lonely process. The complete disconnect from the world around you and the people you love, trying to reach the surface and gasp for air.

Good things have happened this term, but I feel like I can’t completely enjoy it because I still have more to do — like I don’t have the time. Or I don’t deserve to take pride in what I’ve accomplished when there’s more to be done. Getting accepted into the Daily Californian has been one of the proudest moments of my life because I put myself out there by writing on a larger scale than what I’m used to, which was previously and exclusively my journal. However, I still haven’t given myself a moment to even be happy for myself as it gets overshadowed by how difficult this semester has been for me.

Where do we go from here? At least for me, when I feel like I’m working the absolute hardest I possibly can, I think encouraging better studying habits can only go so far. So, my best advice for myself and my friends is to just let it pass. When you are doing your best, there is only so much you can do, and I really think you will catch up to your own life and everything will fall into place. Remember that it eventually ends and just try your best until then. Summer is approaching, the weather will get warmer and there are good things waiting for you.

I’ve been trying to reach out more. Just recognizing that you’re having a rough time can be really grounding and place you back into reality. I’m working on not being ashamed of not being okay. Tell your friends that you’re having a difficult time; this will prevent them from feeling like you no longer care about them when you just need to figure life out for a bit and get better. The people that care about you will have kind things to say that remind you that you are loved and this will pass. They’ll still be there when it does. If you have no one to tell than tell yourself. Write it down and recognize that things aren’t going so well. It can be really freeing just letting it out.

As hectic as life can get, I will never be as studious as to pull all-nighters or stay up late studying. Burning out is an incredibly exhausting process, and it’s important to give your mind and body the rest it deserves. There are only so many hours in the day, and there is not enough for all the things we want to do, so we might as well get a good night’s sleep.

The most important thing to remember is that you will be okay, and it’s also okay and completely normal to not be. Remind yourself that your existence is an accomplishment in itself — that you have provided goodness in the world and that is enough. Remember times in which you have been a good person and made someone feel a sense of joy and comfort. There is so much pressure to be the smartest and most successful in the room that we overlook the small ways in which we make others happy and the world a better place.

Everything else is extra.

Contact Mary Huynh at 


APRIL 02, 2023