How do you measure, measure a year?
I don’t even want to measure the full year because the past four months have been so completely overwhelming on their own. I may be in the last year of my undergraduate studies, but this term posed new challenges in several areas, putting my abilities to the test.
It was supposed to be a manageable academic load: I only had three courses out of the five that make up a full course load. With only three courses, I’d have time to travel to a few conferences and do some extracurriculars, right?
Wrong. Every paper I wrote this term involved staying up to 4AM the night before it was due. I had seven papers, ranging from 1000 to 3000 words in length. The two days I had to head off to an airport were preceded by four hours of sleep as I was attempting to punch out as much of a paper as I could before departing. I couldn’t manage to submit an assignment before I left so I found myself hammering out a policy brief throughout a darkened plane to Hong Kong, while my fellow passengers snoozed blissfully or lazily pursued movies on their screens.
I found myself wondering why, as I prepared to embark on yet another sleepless night, I found myself in this miserable situation yet again. I had planned ahead to get work earlier, to manage the deadlines so I could breeze by papers one by one.
There were times when I didn’t follow that plan to the “t”, like when I met up with friends despite knowing that I wouldn’t get any work done in their presence. But those times helped alleviate my stress. I found motivation and inspiration to get work done afterwards. So, where had I gone wrong?
Aside from the stress of managing workloads, I faced severe doubts about my own abilities. Two term papers were written over weekends of crying. I was disappointed in my own work and felt like making a coherent argument was an unachievable goal. I recalled that at the start of this term, I was full of excitement for the opportunity to plunge into areas of interest through those papers. The prospect of learning more about these areas was as bright and sunny as a quest for gold at the end of the rainbow might be.
The actual process of writing the papers was akin to stumbling through a fog, completely lost. What was I looking for? How could I narrow the direction I had in mind into a topic, into an argument, into a feasible I-can-find-evidence-to-support-this argument? With my late start and slow progress on my papers, I forced myself to spend consecutive days leading up to the deadline, completely immersed in that one paper and nothing else.
Health and fitness
My fitness status currently: dismal. I’ve felt dismayed ever since I returned from my conferences. I surrendered workouts to travel and papers, and control over my appetite to mindless snacking.
I did run a half-marathon earlier this term and broke my personal record, but that’s an accomplishment long forgotten. That was a whole other me in October, who managed a pace of 5 minutes 11 seconds per kilometre for the 21.1km race. My most recent run earlier this week was 6 minutes per kilometre, and only for a short distance of 6.5km.
I set up another challenge after finishing the half marathon in October. I wanted to do a triathlon (race that involves swimming, cycling and running).
It didn’t work out. As a newbie, I followed a balanced plan of training each discipline i.e., sport) twice per week. Six workouts per week was demanding, for I only trained five times a week for running. Triathlon training wasn’t something I could just do without much thinking either. I hadn’t swum in eight years so getting back into it was difficult – I was often exhausted for the rest of the day afterwards. Cycling was even harder as I had to learn to ride on the road alongside passing cars, and also tried to figure out why I had a persistent shoulder pain (it came from my overly tense shoulders, gripping onto my handlebars for dear life for I still lacked the confidence and skill on the two-wheeled contraption).
If I missed a workout, I would have missed half of the practices for that discipline that week. With my schedule and energy levels, I couldn’t make up sessions by fitting two into a day.
What convinced me to stop was that I had two falls within a week on my bike. I’m not skilled, nor usually very alert at 6:30AM when I get my workouts in. In both those falls, I slid and fell due to poor road conditions (frost or wet from heavy rain) and lack of expertise.
Thankfully, cycling in the early hours of the morning offered one benefit. There was far less traffic, so I could safely get up, account for my injuries, and slowly head home.
Catholicism, a lifelong constant for me, is gone.
The irony is that my desire to have a deeper relationship with the religion triggered my departure. At the start of term, I decided to join a faith study to find a community with whom I could celebrate my faith and learn alongside.
The faith study did teach me about what Catholicism means, boiling down the religion to its core tenets. When the faith study culminated in a session that asked whether I did believe in those tenets, I couldn’t say yes. I prefer to keep the reasons why I couldn’t believe in Catholicism private for now, but perhaps I will expand on them in another post.
I suppose it’s not an irony that this happened because of the faith study. As a result of the faith study, I learnt that I was only floating along in this religion, never engaging with what it means to be Catholic. If I had never actively believed in Catholicism in the first place, it was unsurprising that I turned away when confronted with the question, “Do you believe?”
So, I walked away from the weekly Mass I had attended ever since I could remember. I stopped making the sign of the cross and praying alongside my family members before meals. In the holiday season, I was especially sensitive to wishes of, “Merry Christmas!” In prior years, I had wished others that as a Christian myself, but this year I only wished that to those who subscribed to Christianity. When someone inquired whether I was Catholic, I amended my answer from, “Yes,” to, “I was.”
September to December 2017. What was supposed to be a fairly sweet start to the end of my undergraduate studies was instead dotted with crises left and right.
There were many highlights and good things about this term too. The courses were the best I’ve taken in my degree and the conference experiences were great.
I have chosen to focus this entry on the pits of this term. It certainly is a product of me wallowing in my miseries and trying to process them by recording them, but I also wanted to share them because I hope to let others who may be experiencing similar challenges that they’re not alone. Behind every successful paper are long nights in front of the computer or in the library. Behind the completed race are weeks of training, missed workouts, and discipline. Behind a seemingly collected face may be a person who is pondering about where to go next in their spiritual journey. There is so much more beyond the surface. For me, it has been reassuring to hear from friends and other blogs that I am not alone in these struggles, and I hope this helps others too.