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Before Orwell Met Mindfulness

Updated: Mar 30

Photograph by Olena Bohovyk

The sheer volume of them, seemingly unprecedented. It’s almost as if they passed me by undetected while blaring like a foghorn into my ears. What was it now, Latin homework? No, no, surely it must be the advocacy meeting before my hockey game...

Commitments. Everyone is simultaneously plagued and graced by them. In university life, it’s not uncommon for students to participate in extracurriculars. Yet some of us feel compelled to saturate our lives with multiple responsibilities—is it because of high trait conscientiousness in our personalities, dooming us to produce as much as possible in as many avenues conceivable? Or are we just trying to beef up our undergraduate resume for graduate school applications? Whatever your reasoning, it’s essential to be aware of your true motivations. Being ignorant of your incentives can be more harmful than indulging existing self-destructive habits, potentially exacerbating them.

I graduated from my undergraduate program in 2016, possessing an honor’s degree with a specialization and two minors (a course or two short of a third.) Completing a standard four-year degree, success only started in the latter half. The first two years were spent scouring the university’s humanities database of majors for navigable paths, negotiating roommate drama and learning to make my pasta dishes edible. That is, when I wasn’t staving off severe panic attacks that resembled myocardial infarctions.

One dystopian night in the fall of 2012, I was tasked with the following: finishing a paper, cramming for an exam the night before it was scheduled, fencing with the woes of a recent break-up, receiving care at a local hospital because of multiple cortisol-induced panic attacks, finding a place for my parents to sleep in a one-bedroom apartment (they’d visited to help) and of course, trying every minute to distract myself from the advent of an unwelcome neurological visitor — a seizure. We rushed to the hospital and spent three hours waiting after having been screened in triage. Short on patience, I stormed out. With no assessment or further insight, my parents panicked and tried to assuage my frustration to achieve some sleep. Having given my bed to them, I tossed and turned in nervous anticipation. I hadn’t fully reviewed the class material, accurately diagnosed my heart palpitations or gotten adequate rest on a small living room couch with no heat on a cold winter’s night. The next morning was one of the most memorable events of my life.

Having stumbled into the lecture hall half-conscious and diffident, I received one of the final exam booklets. Seeing as this was an introductory course, the auditorium was packed to the point of insufficient seating. On an early Friday morning, throngs of exhausted and overly-caffeinated students jittered and mumbled, anxiously discussing which chapters they’d strategically omitted the night before. Upon realizing she hadn’t printed enough material, the professor declared, "ah, there aren’t enough copies ... if you haven’t received anything, just come back and write your exam on Monday!" I guffawed in disbelief. The amount of suffering and struggle that could have been avoided was incalculable. Awestruck and forced to proceed, I managed to stay awake to complete the multiple-choice questionnaire in front of me. My grade may have suffered as a consequence, but I learned an invaluable lesson about patience, humility and the strength associated with relying on your resources.

It may sound cliché, but had I appreciated temperance more than hubris, that night may not be as unforgettable. My rigidity and pride made me feel the need to do things "the normal way" by refusing to ask for an extension or prioritize health over academia. A lack of self-awareness and rampant egotism obscured my vision, making asking for help seem like a weakness. Though I still do struggle with moderating the number of responsibilities I undertake and my levels of productivity, I’ll never again ignore my true drives or the anatomical alarm systems they can trigger.


Adrian is a writer and editor with a passion for language, philosophy and psychology. He is returning to academia to pursue a career in neuropsychology, investigating the relationship between stress, anxiety, and the provocation of various neurological disorders. His professional contributions include personal essays for the online publication "The Mindful Word" and editorial work for LetsStopAIDS.

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