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Opinion: To question is to live — My experience escaping burnout

If you asked someone what they did today a week ago, they’d have to think hard to tell you. Whether it be caused by the apathy of second semester or the toughness of work, most of us can be swept away by a tidal wave of monotony. It’s simply that time of year, I believe.…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/briannapham/" target="_self">Brianna Pham</a>

Brianna Pham

February 20, 2020

If you asked someone what they did today a week ago, they’d have to think hard to tell you. Whether it be caused by the apathy of second semester or the toughness of work, most of us can be swept away by a tidal wave of monotony. It’s simply that time of year, I believe.

In the hypothetical hundred years of life we are granted, our heartbeats are constant, yet our cognizance of life is not. Time tends to blend together into an incomprehensible mixture of days and nights. Sometimes being on “autopilot” is a sweet relief, so many defect to a mindless stupor of responsibilities.

It’s saddening that every person is given a finite amount of hours, days and years of life, but none of us can hold onto the memories of every moment. The limitations of the human mind met with the added non-uniqueness of daily routine have led us into indifference, and we fail to appreciate what’s in front of us.

Though no one is truly above living on a low reserve of energy, I think all of us deserve memories. Sweet ones, bitter ones, and difficult ones. Even the worst memory is better than an absolute absence of recollection, which is an evil that is perpetuated by our demanding, fast-paced lives.

To Observe

I don’t know how qualified I am to be giving life advice, as I’ve only been alive for 17 years. However, I earnestly believe that humans need to get out of their own heads. You will never notice if someone else is sad if you’re so focused on how sad you are. You never know an answer until you ask and you never become the person you want to be until you attempt to grow.

These are all blanket statements, I’m aware. To apply them to everyday life, though, here is the most recent example from mine.

Many of those who know me are aware that I was born into an ardently science-oriented family. However, to be frank, I’m rather mediocre at the sciences — I respect these subjects and take difficult courses to appreciate them, but they don’t come naturally to me.

Numerical answers, chemical expressions and proofs don’t flow from my brain nearly as easy as words do, so I have to study that much harder.

This year, I took the most difficult classes offered to me. Seeing that Arnold O. Beckman High School is a strongly STEM-oriented school, this entailed a warm embrace from PreCalculus Honors and AP Chemistry.

The “school is pointless” funk hits everyone, and I definitely didn’t dodge it. At its worst, I remember sitting in class and listening to everyone around me endlessly tirade about how useless and banal essay writing and history are.

Discussions and atmospheres like these perpetuated my outsider mentality (as I’m humanities inclined, to say the very least), despite the fact that I’m performing fine in all of my classes.

Situations like these can make one feel inevitably oppressed by their responsibilities, unable to appreciate what they are truly good at and instead subordinating to the high standards their surroundings hold them to.

For a while, I stopped drawing, reading, writing and seeing my friends — it was either study or watch an unhealthy amount of Netflix. I was absorbed into an embarrassing amount of self-pity. I think this is something most students can relate to.

Nonetheless, after a little while, I had enough of wallowing. I forced myself to get out of my head and tried to take in my surroundings.

To Ask

I started small. First, I checked my email and read the news. I remembered the constant political crisis America seems to be in, so I pre-registered to vote. I brought myself to check my grades for the first time in a week, and I was still doing well — actually, better than expected.

I paid close attention in all of my classes and asked questions. My efforts, even in my painfully difficult subjects, did not go unnoticed by my teachers.

However, with observance comes the truth, not just the positives. I had asked how people close to me were doing, and learned that one of my friends was struggling with depression and another a toxic situation with her friends and family. Shocked, I had made ample time to support them through these trying times.

As I look back, I’m shaken by the fact that I wouldn’t have known to be there for them if I hadn’t asked.

To Remember

Although we are indeed a First World country with a developed economy and education system, all of us are subject to struggle in life.

Whether it be a lengthy to-do list or a class filling you with unhinged existential dread, the struggles of your day-to-day can catch up to you. As a harrowed junior that still has yet to get through AP season, I’m the first person to admit that.

Everyone experiences academic stress, especially when contributed to by friends, family or other factors. Such a cloud over one’s head can blur how life is perceived and surroundings are internalized.

Problems ranging from simple burnout to clinical depression stem from a deep unhappiness with the self as well as several external circumstances, and their consequences can be drastic.

Measures to be taken can be anything from spending time doing hobbies to therapy and medication, and all of them work to an extent. In my personal, unprofessional opinion, though, I think the best way to face burnout in any intensity is to look around you.

Maybe you’ll find people who love you, or maybe not. Regardless, happiness, sadness, and everything in between is present in plenty if one dares to look. Asking questions about others’ situations and investing, not autopilot-ing yourself into everything you do (sometimes by very reluctant brute force) can broaden your awareness about life itself.

Suddenly, joy will no longer seem impalpable, because you’ll see it around you at some point. Moreover, struggle will be more of a shared burden than an individual gripe, because, trust me, it’s everywhere.

Getting out of your head and looking around definitely won’t solve all of your problems. You will see the truth, the weighing reality of the world, and it is not sweet. Observing my surroundings has given me a fair share of both positives and negatives.

Alas, despite the bitter taste of reality, I still question everything around me. I immerse myself in information of all types: what occurs around the world, why things happen as they do, what the answer to this homework problem is, why someone is feeling lonely, what I can do to fix it.

I’m not perfect. I’m not ecstatic and high on life. I’m surely as troublesome and chaotic as the next person.

But, by constantly looking for something new to learn, ask, or appreciate, I remember my days. I will remember each one as it passes and settles itself into a year, every one of the hundred in my life.

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