Expectations and pressure. It’s just everywhere. And for some reason, we seem to associate being able to handle stress better with “becoming more mature.” I have news for you guys: Becoming more mature is finding new ways to avoid stress. For example, we have this eras version of high school. Kids are expected to get up at five a.m. every week day, never be late to school, wear professional clothes or uniforms, and not feel sleepy in class or fall asleep. They get out at about 2:30 or 3 p.m. with only one break that is necessary because a meal has to be taken. Then they have about an hour of homework for each class. And that’s not the only set of expectations they have. They have parental expectations, too. Chores, family time, and, usually, a job, has to be fit in there as well. Get a license when you’re at that age, have friends, go out with friends, put away money for college, etc. etc. The list goes on and on. Now, let’s look at the typical middle class adults schedule looks like saying they’ve gone to college and survived high school and all that. Go to work, make money, spend time with the family (if they have one), and maybe hang out with friends when they have the time and cash to spend. But adults also have a ton of bills that have to be paid or they will literally not be able to survive. Seeing the theme here? Expectations. We expect high school kids to need no time for anything but what is expected of them. Society expects you to have friends, family expects you to take care of housework and pull your own weight in the dynamic, and school requires that you literally dedicate almost every moment of your time to study things that ammount to no more than studying to pass a graduation test. Adults are expected to pay for a house, a family, electric, multiple cars, water, food, heating and cooling, phone/television services, etc. etc. all with one job that…let’s say…pays about $15 an hour for doing something they don’t even enjoy. *drops mic* Gee, why don’t you take hard working peoples’ souls and livers while you’re at it you anonymous higher entities. God has to be shaking his head at us right now.
And through expectations, we have pressure. Let me describe this to you in a way that makes sense. Life is like a mountain range. We all have our own mountain range. Of course, like good hikers, we brought our own baggage along. We are prepared for the hike (haha yeah right). We start up the mountain. Let’s use my life as an example. My mountain is high school and college at once. So, I’m trudging through my full course load of college courses while trying to balance three foreign languages from high school on the side. My expectations are that I have good grades in all of these, and that I never get behind on anything, and that I keep up on chores, get a license to drive, keep up with my friends, get a job and start saving for the things I want to do, and still enjoy the hike. There’s my daily baggage I have on my shoulders. My boyfriend is on the next mountain with his own baggage, and he’s trying to slow down and wait for me just a little. I have my friends behind me, struggling with similar problems and similar baggage. Then, I’ve made it to the top. There I stand, my lungs burning in the cold, thin air, my legs radiating with the pain and my head throbbing from burning blood making me so faint my knees are shaking. My hiking partner is already on the other mountain, and he’s waiting for me to catch up. I’m confused, because even as I take the next step to head back down, I’m reaching out a hand to my friends behind me. Half of me screams, “You don’t have the strength! Leave them to carry their own baggage.” While the other half is chastising, “They are your friends! Your legs are strong enough. You can support just one more person.” And for periods, I have one friend on my back with a sprained ankle or a broken heart because she just can’t go on any longer, and I’m holding someone else’s hand and some of their baggage because the climb down this stupid, goddamn mountain (excuse ma francais) is just too ridiculous for any one person to handle by themselves. The little voice goes “You’re hurt too. You’re scared too. He won’t wait much longer.” While the Scottish in me rages, “If he doesn’t have the patience to wait on you and the ones you care about, then screw him! I can’t be responsible for his decision to hold back and wait, either.” Back and forth, up and down, forward and back again. The constant repetition of “it’s fine” in the back of my head.
I’m not fine, though.
Blood is leaking from my nose and I think I might throw up. I’M FINE.
My head is spinning and I think my legs might break. She’s really heavy on my back. My hand is going to cramp if I hold hers any longer. I’M FINE.
Just one more thing. I can handle just one more thing. Just. one. more. thing.
There. That’s how it feels, right? Now, don’t get me wrong in any way. I love my friends. I’m the own offering my hand or asking if she needs a piggy back ride, and they have no reason to feel guilty for leaning on me. Because they’ve dragged me up some mountains or helped bandaged a couple broken hearts as well. And my hiking partner? It’s his decision to wait on me or move forward and let me catch up later. All I know is that I’d be happy to meet him at whatever destination. The point is that the stress of these expectations we give ourselves is just plain exhausting, and that no one should be associating “maturity” with “handling stress.” Handling stress is basically defense mechanisms, and usually, they have a negative impact. Being mature isn’t handling the stress, it’s finding ways of avoiding stressing yourself. How do I do it? For the most part, I struggle with it myself. But, I balance my schedule for college so that I can build high school around it. Afternoon and morning classes so that I can do it after college or before college and still have it done before evening so that I could have a job and do household chores. That also gives me time for homework, even though I struggle with the ever present hell of procrastination. Weekends are spent with friends or with family. And, above all else, I try to avoid telling myself “I’m fine.” Now, I try to ask myself “Can I really handle one more thing?”