Break

It snows a lot in Syracuse. Billowing clouds of gray turn to mountainous drifts of white on the ground and build on the sides of streets until they become large brown boulders on the corners. The city is quieter, and the university on the high hill on the other side of the freeway from my apartment is on its last day of winter break.

The first semester was a mad sprint of feverish and frenetic energy, a series of harsh spasms and leaning against the walls of the basement of HB Crouse with sweating furrowed brows, yanking on locks of unwashed hair, and wishing for an ounce of anything left to give to the work I chose. There wasn’t.

There was compromise. There was giving up on showering and brushing teeth to get those last three pages for 632, there was two all-nighters in a row to keep from staring at a blank screen yet again for 635, there was three days without food to wrap up that argument the way I’d hoped for 751. But compromise is on both ends, so those last three pages were a fragment of an idea, and that opening thesis ignored what it was you’d set out to do, and that final argument was born out of a desperate need to be done. To rest.

Break.

I haven’t showered in a week. I haven’t brushed my teeth in three days. I haven’t left my apartment since I got back from a visit home. There is an email for a project I care about that I haven’t replied to in a month. In the office a pipe has burst over my desk. It leaks. There is the drip, drip, drip of the melting ice as it splashes into a large plastic case.

If I’m honest I don’t care. I stared at my phone for an hour and a half with the counselling services number in my phone unable to press the call button. I’d just finished crying when I saw they don’t schedule appointments online and I can’t press a button.

I haven’t done laundry in a month. I needed to, but I sat on the floor, surrounded by piles of wrinkled clothes and stared at the carpet. I wasn’t thinking sad thoughts, I was empty.

My mother tells a story. My brother and I were kids and she took us to school every day and made our lunches. She knew we needed to leave and was finishing up making two peanut butter sandwiches. When she finished packing them, she looked at the jar of peanut butter open on the counter, next to the sink with the dishes from last night still in them. She burst into tears because she couldn’t will herself to put the lid on the jar and put it in the cabinet in front of her.

No matter how well I do in my graduate education, my training has never prepared me for the breaking.

Break is supposed to be a time to recharge, to work on things that need to be done that you haven’t had time for during the semester. Or at least, that is our narrative. We have our ‘break lists,’ or projects we put off until this moment. Or maybe it’s a time of self-care.

But self-care and self-soothing are often two different forces.

And I don’t care.

I was breaking. And then I break. And now I am broken.

And the city is so quiet in the snow. Even the sirens of ambulances turning off the freeway behind me seem so far in the distance.

Break depression is something I have dealt with as long as I’ve been in higher education. I don’t spiral down. I don’t spiral back. Who I am breaks. I lose the semblances of self I put together during the year. I lose the trajectories and paths that I found myself on.

And I do not recover. I do not ‘right myself,’ whatever that expression means.

I rebuild from the shards, a little bit less.

When a new academic cycle begins, all I have are fragments and nothing to give, and I enter a different cycle of building. And then the semester shatters this delicate thing, and I rebuild, a little bit less. And then the semester shatters this fragile thing. And I rebuild, a little bit less.

And I am tired.

The stillness isn’t healing. I am still with the time. And I’m haunted by these patterns from which I’ve yet to cope. This is the work. This is the structure I’ve entered into. Is this the faculty person I’d become? Is admitting this a hindrance? Because of course, in the context of my graduate training, that is what I think about: am I allowed to be human, to be this human?

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