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Lithium I’m not sure I know how to use my time

Jan. 10, 2019
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Illustration by Anna Sudit

“I have so many things to do. I’m so tired,” I tell my friend as she and I lie upside down on the couch in my San Diego apartment, scrolling aimlessly through Twitter. “Like, my to-do list keeps building. I have no idea where to even start. Oh, hey, look at this picture of a turtle wearing jeans. That’s so funny.” 

“Big mood,” she empathizes, “at tired and turtle.” 

I’m the kind of person that likes to stay busy. There’s an odd satisfaction in running a finger down inked task lists in my journal, setting reminders in multiple forms to stay on routine, and seeing my color-blocked calendar boasting rainbows through every hour. Purple is class, then I have Green and Orange lab and student org meetings followed by Yellow study sessions. Tomorrow there’s Purple again, then I’m going to book it to Blue aquarium work. Red exam coming up this Saturday. Better minimize the empty time and capitalize on the Yellow.

I am often absorbed by the oxymoron of a stressfully-empty schedule. “I’m a go-with-the-flow type of person,” I always say, which is true—is it true? It must be true, because every time a chance to try something new, work on a new project, or take on new responsibility arises, I adapt to make it fit into my life. An empty calendar means I’m not doing that, right? Right. 

So what’s the color code for aimlessly browsing the Internet? 

Coming into college, I was determined to take full advantage of the plethora of opportunities available to me as an undergraduate. I’ve learned that in addition to absorbing all I can from lectures, an equally important part of college for me lies in my extracurriculars—there are so many doors waiting to be unlocked. The color code exists not only for my sanity but also for reassurance that I’m doing all I can to not take these unique opportunities for granted. When else will I get to design layouts, work in a lab, and host a radio show all in the same day? 

It’s a Wednesday. I only have two discussions today. Technically, I’m not required to go, but my ecology class is getting tougher and chem is already giving me a run for my money… At least they’re not back to back, and at least I have a gap in between that is neither long enough to study nor short enough to go straight to the classroom. As usual, I resort to stopping by my second home on campus.

I sit on the familiar blue couch in the radio station’s lobby and listen to the back-and-forth conversation around me about everything from new music to obscure films to circulating Twitter threads. 

I am struck with the fear that I am not enough. 

“None of that even matters, though? This is such a…little thing to worry about?” My friend stares at me incredulously. “You’re such an interesting person. Don’t feel like you have to do everything. I think you’re doing great as you are.”

I can’t get through a conversation without mentioning how hard my chemistry class is, how cool the new exhibit at the aquarium is, how great the people I interact with in student org meetings are.

But I worry that my existence has become defined by the activities and nothing more, that everything I say is constrained to only talking about what I’m doing. 

“I dunno, I think conversations just…happen. Like, they just do.” 

These are the same things I say to uncles I see once a year at family gatherings, family friends when they ask me how school is going. The small talk. 

Sometimes, I resent the color code. 

So, I resort to lying on the couch, legs braced against the headrest and hair draping over the seat toward the floor, scrolling through Twitter in an attempt to become more well-rounded.

Well-rounded. I don’t even know what that means anymore. It’s what we were told to be growing up, and the years went by so quickly while trying to be well-rounded that I don’t think all of me even registered that I enjoy learning something about everything that comes my way. 

Yeah, maybe conversations do just happen. 

I look at my calendar and wonder if it’s too much. “It’s okay to not be doing something all the time. That’s just self-care.” But what if I enjoy the activities? What if the activities are my downtime? What if I feel worse when I’m not using every second? 

But then I think about how I’ve been so bad about journaling, how it’s suddenly become a chore to sketch the world around me. How many deadlines should I be putting on myself? Have I opened too many doors?

I have yet to find the answer to that question. But in the meantime, I think I can focus less on “well-rounded” and more on “mindful”—I’m suddenly getting used to the idea of being more decisive about how I spend my time, from schoolwork to extracurriculars to scrolling through various social media timelines. A long year has come to a close, and I’m going to leave the open doors as they are.