Carving out time and space to reset after a rough last semester

By SOPHIA LOLA | February 6, 2020

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COURTESY OF SOPHIA LOLA

Lola’s friends played a large role in helping her get through a difficult semester in the fall.

I think we all know how ridiculously annoying it is for a song to be stuck in our heads for days upon days. There was one song last semester, however — one I hadn’t even heard in years — that implanted itself in my brain and refused to leave for a good long while at what was probably exactly the right time.

It was a song called “The Garden Song,” which I was made to sing many times over in elementary school, and it was specifically the chorus that was stuck in my head: “Inch by inch, row by row / Gonna make this garden grow / All it takes is a rake and a hoe / and a piece of fertile ground.” It’s because of those lines incessantly playing on loop in my head that I found a name for this column and that I was inspired to even start it at all. 

But I think in this case it’s more like, “All it takes is a keyboard and a Google Doc, and an editor who will refine the word vomit this column is starting out as.” (Thanks, Sam)

Not as catchy, I know. But I’ve never claimed to be a Peabody student, or anywhere near as musically talented as one.

I am, however, a Hopkins student.

And that’s hard — always. But last semester, for me, was probably the hardest it has ever been to be a Hopkins student. 

A lot of it isn’t even really the University’s fault; many of the things I struggled with weren’t directly related to school or academics and they could’ve potentially happened anywhere. But they made being a Hopkins student more difficult, and being a Hopkins student made them more difficult too.

And being a Hopkins student isn’t something I can just stop being or put on pause. 

I go to school here. My friends are here. I live here, in good ol’ Charles Commons! It’s a full-time gig, and barring a decision to transfer, take a semester off or drop out (which are always possibilities I suppose, but also big decisions that I wasn’t ready to consider), I’m stuck with this place and the commitments I’ve made here.

As I said to one of my friends a little before Thanksgiving, I love Hopkins. I truly do. 

I love my friends, the people, the classes, my clubs, the events, Baltimore and the other fun places I’ve been able to go while here. And I am so, so grateful and proud to attend one of the most prestigious, well-resourced, opportunity-rich institutions in the world.

But, as I also said to her, I felt limited by this place in terms of my ability to take care of certain things in my life that I should’ve taken care of, like my mental and physical health. 

Those were both in really bad shape. 

By November, it felt like every day there was something new to topple the once-sturdy foundations of my well-being: rejection, heartbreak, an injury, another annoying doctor’s appointment, nightmares, lack of sleep, forgotten assignments, skipped classes, long crying fits that started at the tiniest provocation or sometimes just out of nowhere.

But I stupidly and self-destructively continued to put this place first, to convince myself that what I needed to fix was school. 

And I didn’t even make that just a little bit easier for myself by asking for extensions or seeking other academic support from professors or classmates. 

I was so caught up in the fear that Hopkins was the only key to my future and that I was wasting and running out of time; it was only five more semesters between me and a real fucking adult life with no more cushion. Every bit of energy and functionality I could scrape together at the last minute was put towards school. 

If I didn’t get everything done, if I failed, if my GPA crashed, if I just stopped doing my job as a good Hopkins student, it would all be over.

All my plans and dreams for internships, studying abroad, a career, for a happy and successful life, would suddenly be impossible. That was the only fire under my ass. I couldn’t be happy and healthy in the present, but I still wanted to be in the future, so what did it matter if I hurt myself even more now to make sure that happened? 

I kept telling myself I just had to make it to winter break, and then things would slow down and I could decompress and try to recover from feeling like the semester’s personal punching bag.

I am not alone in having felt like this. I am not alone in having a bad semester, whether last one or another. I am not alone in pretending that a happy future is worth sacrificing a happy, or even just sustainable, lifestyle in the present.

I was thankfully not alone in dealing with this — shout-out to my amazing friends who did everything for me on top of their own stuff: sat with me when I cried, hugged me, wrote me sweet notes to put on my door, cooked for me, helped me do my laundry, de-escalated numerous mental breakdowns, gave me melatonin and tucked me into bed, accompanied me to the hospital late at night and generally dragged me through to the end of the semester.

I am also not alone in saying there is something wrong with how we at Hopkins prioritize our academic standing over our well-being (and, let me be clear, that is what I’m saying) — look to Kedai Lee’s Opinions article or the hopkinsbike Instagram for some of the most recent people to speak up about what this place takes from us and why it shouldn’t. 

I’m not sure how unique or profound this column will end up being (hopefully a little!), but mostly I’m trying to be candid, and I feel like I need to write it — if not for anyone else, then at least for myself. 

I want an outlet, and a way to reflect on and hold myself accountable for the changes I’d like to make in my life this semester. Because, to get back to “The Garden Song,” I think it’s probably right: With the right tools, some work and some love, and by taking things an inch or a row at a time, something’s gonna grow.

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