The week before finals my first semester of freshman year, the dining hall right next to my dorm made a major and marvelous change: every table was covered with gigantic sheets of paper and adorned with Crayola crayons. It was great because most (if not all) of us hadn’t colored at the table since we were ordering off the kids menu, and for a few minutes, we could take our minds off finals and scribble next to our plates.
You see, Bolton was on to something – finals, obviously, is the most stressful time of the semester because it kills students’ brains. And coloring is brainless – that’s part of why it’s so empowering. Even though some people say that coloring books kill creativity, they’re great for therapy because you don’t have to make any decisions grander that what color crayon you’re going to use next. You don’t even have to follow the rules. Your parents didn’t care when you didn’t color inside the lines, did they? No, because they wanted you to be happy, so they hung your masterpieces on the fridge or even framed them regardless of whether you filled the lines in neatly or scribbled all over the page. And that made you really happy.
Coloring is therapeutic for me because I can feel myself pushing my problems out through the colored pencils. For 15 minutes, I can cast whatever I’m worrying about (so, you know, everything) away and just focus on getting a job done, and nobody is going to assess my performance because well, criticizing how somebody filled out a coloring book is kind of ridiculous. Maybe you’re super anti-coloring book and hating everything I just typed, but you know, coloring works for me. It really does.
So, what did I think when I came across a Lisa Frank coloring book that’s selling for a dollar last night?
LISA FRANK. MY CHILDHOOD AND THE DOLPHIN STATIONERY I LOVED.
I can’t believe Urban Outfitters isn’t selling this same book for $15 yet.
Okay, but really, this is the only coloring book in the whole dollar section, and I think I’m supposed to take it home with me and use it.
I didn’t even flip through it until after I got home, and do you know what I found? Leopards. Puppies on a giant heart in a checkerboard dimension. Angel kittens in angel kitten heaven.
And then I saw it: a cow and her baby. This was the first page I was going to color, and it was going to make me feel better.
And you know what? It actually did.
Something very strange happened to me today.
I had just finished my last final. It was easy. Really easy. All I had to do was translate three short paragraphs’ worth of material: two from Farsi to English, and one from English to Farsi. Straight out of the textbook. Probably the easiest final I’ve ever taken.
I walked out of the room and down the stairs. I went outside, deeply inhaled the scent of warm, wet sidewalk (which I really love for some reason) several times, and started walking towards the bookstore so I could take my textbooks back.
Everything should have felt perfect. I was done with school. Done! And halfway finished with college! Another year closer to becoming a writer. Well, at least writing professionally. Another year closer to true independence and living for myself, because I cannot wait to embrace that cheesy stage of my life. My summer had officially started. I should have felt elated, right?
I felt drained, and the tension in my arms and stomach increased. My shirt started feeling tighter and tighter, and my heartbeat sped up. I was about to have an anxiety attack for no reason at all, and that scared me even more.
Whatever happened to me really troubles me. I am all about reason. I’m ridiculously rational, and even before I was an English major, I was known to seriously overanalyze things. I feel like everything I do revolves around reason. I’m uptight. Sometimes I come across as spontaneous, but realistically, I don’t think I have it in me. I can’t do something without thinking it through first. The only exception to that letting something I shouldn’t say slip out.
I think the anxiety I put myself through over very justifiable worries is ridiculous, even though I can’t bring myself to stop it. This, however… this was just terrifying. All I can call it is a panic attack, because it practically came out of nowhere.
The whole time I was panicking, I kept thinking about how I can’t really comprehend or retain things that don’t relate to writing. It’s like my brain won’t let anything else in or even pay attention to it. I have to be reasonable and at least say I know it isn’t true, but I feel like writing is all I’m good at. It’s all I can really show for myself.
Like school, I’m not really good at school. If I were good at school, I wouldn’t be stressed out about it all the time, right? And people. I’m terrible with people. I can’t even talk to people. And my body. I put shit into my body. I’m clumsy and awkward and uncoordinated, and my stamina is ridiculously low. Possibly because of all the chemicals I have to put into it, because even my brain sucks at doing its job. My own brain, the center of my being, cannot keep me stable. Sometimes I just feel like a huge failure.
With writing it’s different. Words are the one thing I’m really confident about. I can write a story and push my opinion on people without ever actually stating it. I can write a mean paper. I’m really good at analyzing literature. I can recognize the roots in words that belong to different languages. My brain’s a little shot right now, so I can’t really come up with good evidence, so just trust me on this one. I’m a literary genius. I’m not a journalistic genius yet, but I’m catching on pretty damn quickly. Words are my forte.
They’re also my life. All I ever do is think. And my thoughts aren’t really pictures, they’re words. I’ve noticed that words are the only thing that calm me down when I’m really stressed out. I don’t even have to be near a piece of paper or a keyboard. If I start writing sentences in my head, I immediately feel better. I’m not joking when I say I depend on words, because I really feel that way. Words have saved me from feeling sick, pressured, and well, dense again and again.
I think words are the only way I’m going to be able to get through my anxiety. You know, my big anxiety. Not just one little attack, but the fact that I have them so frequently and can completely go off the edge in a matter of minutes. Waking up several times every night from nightmares and not being able to go back to sleep because I start worrying is the big anxiety. There is ample evidence that shows I can’t tackle the big anxiety on my own, not even with medication or anything like that; I can’t overcome this if I’m just Sarra who takes a pill to make something go away. I have to be more than that. I have to be Sarra who utilizes words and channels them into saving her from the big anxiety. I really don’t think there’s any other way.
Despite the fact that I am a somewhat normal human being, I’m not really abhorring finals week this time around.
I don’t know, I actually feel kind of good about my finals. I mean, I got a 90 on my Paradise Lost test. My Milton final should be manageable. I can write, and I write better closer to deadline. I have to turn in 10 pictures for my photo class, and we’re allowed to use pictures we’ve submitted before.
Do you have any idea how awesome this feels? I’m not worrying. I’m eating whatever I want, and it feels awesome (I actually don’t eat that unhealthily when I’m not sticking myself to any sort of regimen, I’ve discovered). I even think I look okay. All of me.
This is crazy stuff, guys! This does not regularly happen to me!
I am making great decisions this week. I might as well get fat now instead of waiting for Austria. Actually, this week can be practice. I can test my stomach’s capacity limits. It’ll be fun! I don’t think eating prosciutto has ever been a mistake for me before, so I’m completely okay. Oh, and I found out about this class that’s going to be offered spring semester that would be perfect for my emphasis (because I’m a huge nerd and wanted to create my own emphasis, radical religious literature): comparative Islamic literature. Doesn’t that sound awesome? The answer is yes!
I’m also going to a party dressed as that fine-ass bitch ballerina ostrich from Fantasia. Let me be honest, I kind of wanted to be her when I was little.
This bitch. Just… wow. I thought she was the greatest character ever when I was a kid. Well, I thought almost every character in Fantasia was the greatest character ever when I was a kid, minus the dinosaur part. It was boring to me.
What else am I feeling good about?
Actually having a little spare time. That’s actually why I’ve been on here so much. I have time to write things! And I’m actually inspired to write about things. That hasn’t happened in a while. Well, I guess a few weeks since I’ve been fantasizing about spending six weeks in Europe this summer so much.
I have time to read too, so I’ve gotten a little more of The Flame Alphabet out of the way (I guess I should be rereading all those Milton poems I had to learn about in the beginning of the semester… Nah). I still like it, by the way.
See how carefree I’m being this week? Shouldn’t I be acting a little differently? I studied for my Milton exam outside at 10:30 tonight. I’m blogging about a cartoon ostrich I idolized about a child when I have a test in a day (and a half, I guess).
I’m feeling great. I’m feeling really great. And I know I’ve picked the oddest time to unfurl my optimism, but hey, at least I’m not pulling my hair out anymore.
Well, the semester’s almost over and for some reason I’m not panicking. For the first time in well, ever, I’m being motivated to do well on my exams and projects by excitement instead of anxiety. In two weeks, I’ll be at the beach, and in two months, I’ll be getting fat in Austria. Thinking about what lies ahead is much more motivating and comforting than worrying about a number on top of a piece of paper or on a computer screen.
I’m in a somewhat cheesy mood since I’m almost done with school. You know, reminiscent, reflective, calm. Kind of like the end of an episode of a TV show or a book. So I thought I’d verbalize (or, um, type) the important things I’ve learned this year because hey, I’ve learned a lot both in and out of school. The things I learned really helped me, and I hope they can help somebody else too.
Make time for what keeps you sane. It’s important. (This is why I’m writing a lot more even though my finals start Monday.)
The people who want to hire you don’t necessarily care about your grades. Now if only my father could learn this….
The AP style likes to make certain words and sentences less appealing.
Talking to people you don’t know isn’t as scary as you think.
Don’t be afraid to take on experiences you normally wouldn’t or talk to people you’d avoid otherwise. This is especially important if you want to be a journalist.
Just because something was written hundreds of years ago doesn’t mean you won’t be able to understand and appreciate it. (Case in point? Milton is a genius.)
Although I hate to say this, there really is a thing as too much sleep. If it’s severely interfering with your life, try to eliminate or reduce whatever may be responsible.
Pills may suck, but anxiety attacks that are so bad I can’t leave the house or drive are much, much worse. Take the damn pill.
Remember that 3-subject notebook you bought at the beginning of fall semester? Well, it will take four classes and one news writing lab to fill that notebook up.
Have at least one guilty pleasure and try to incorporate it into your routine. When you’re down, go to it. (This works especially well if your guilty pleasure is Degrassi. It really just puts things into perspective.)
Pay attention to your body. If you keep having nightmares, you’re probably really stressed out. Analyze your dreams and try to find out what’s bothering you. If you’re shaky, eat more, take some iron pills, and get your blood tested. Even if you don’t have anemia, you’ll be relieved that you got checked out. Also keep cold and allergy medicine nearby, because you will get sick at least four times a year in a university setting.
People are kind of like tennis matches (or whatever game you wish to insert here): you win some, you lose some. Don’t let it bother you so much, because that’s just the nature of the game.