Two years ago, I found myself crying outside in a snowbank behind the religion and philosophy department, hoping to God that no one could see or hear me. It was a sunny day, school was due to be done in a couple of weeks, and I had just gotten out of one of my favorite classes. But I was crying and crying hard. An old camp counselor once told me that I needed to be more like a poorly-tied balloon—otherwise, I would be so full that I would burst open from trying to keep everything inside. I was not very good at following her advice.
Besides desperately hoping no one saw me (if you were in the tour group that saw a girl crying behind some bushes as you walked past the back side of Hiemenga Hall in December of 2018, my apologies), I remember feeling petulant rage that I couldn’t have held it together just two more weeks! Emotional breakdowns are always such a bother. The sheer impudence of fate that I should burst in the week leading up to finals? Proposterous.
As I tried to get my crying under control and to scrub all evidence from my red and frozen face, I was distinctly overwhelmed with despair. And that despair is what brought me to the office of my English professor. She was kind and lovely and told me in her gentle way that “sometimes, you just have to say ‘fuck it.’” I stayed in her office for a couple hours, nibbled at the cookies she brought me, and wondered if the cave under her desk was really as comfortable as she made it out to be when she told me I could take a nap under there while she taught her 10:30 am class.
I thought about leaving campus and just going home to curl up under the covers. I didn’t—I probably should have—and ended up asking my English professor if I could take our exam early because “I’d rather get it over with, you know? Get it out of the way while I’ve got myself pulled together before it all falls apart again.” She understood. I went on my way and the rest of the day was a blur. The rest of the semester was bleary and tired, punctuated with neurotic baking and flailing haplessly to just pass my real analysis class.
As a college student, Christmas was always a little island in the sea of the school year after the exhausting mad dash with finals—a time to rest, yes, but more in the sense of catch-your-breath rest than rest rest. It’s supposed to be bright and happy but also cold and snowy (what an oxymoronic time of year). I’m still tired and sad a lot of the time during these long and dark winter months. And we aren’t even halfway through the Michigan winter.
I think back often to the time I found myself lost and sitting in my English professor’s office. I’ve been feeling less lost, now—happily married, well-employed, and all those other adult-y things—but I still find myself feeling small and overwhelmed. Sometimes I have to ask my husband to stop what he’s doing in the middle of the morning to just cuddle in bed with me while I cry for no reason. I have one of those “happy light” desk lamps that I doubt actually does much for me (thanks, sceptic brain) but I still hope it does.
Rejoicing has never come easily for me. It’s even harder this year with Covid-19, my dreams of owning ferrets being crushed, and the stress of trying to figure out whether to terminate our apartment lease early and move on short notice. I don’t know what your Christmas looked like this year. Maybe you’re rejoicing with a light heart; maybe you’re trying to rejoice with a heavy heart. Whatever state your heart is in this season, I hope you know that you are not the only one rejoicing in the dark.