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Light streams in through my north-facing window, waking me before my alarm can go off. Chirping birds harmonize with the delivery truck backing into the parking lot behind my building. I turn onto my side and tap the trackpad of my laptop, which lies open from last night. I wince at the brightness before it reveals final essay prompts and job application forms. It is finals week, and I must scream.
This semester has been 14 weeks of classes, a student job, another student job, research and extracurriculars. Throughout this semester, I became too familiar with the steady light of Hillman’s cavernous ground floor, too used to reaching for an almost empty cup of espresso, too weary of walking to the bathroom at 3:37 a.m. just to remind myself that I have a corporeal form.
During the day, I woke up to five alarms in five-minute intervals. I stared at a color-coded to-do list, my eye sockets aching from sleep deprivation, wondering if that day would finally be the day I’d get to check everything off the list rather than move bullet points two, five and seven to the next day’s list. I went to my classes, ran errands, drank espresso at 1 p.m. and again at 11 p.m. because I needed to stay awake until at least 4 a.m. to avoid falling behind on research.
But now it is finals week. There are no more classes to attend, no more readings to stare at while slumped over in a chair outside the Cathedral Cafe. Now, I sit slumped over in a chair outside the Cathedral Cafe to work on papers. Because this is my last semester, I take a break and pull up the tabs filled with job applications, hoping that my cries into the void — accompanied by a resumé and cover letter — will be heard. And through it all, I come to a realization. It is no longer enough to scream into the void. I must scream here, too.
There is a long tradition of screaming in response to stress, whether it is during labor or for funerals or even postmortem as banshees. It is a way of showing emotion to the world, a way to make people bear witness and recognize what you are going through. The motivations for screaming vary, from intense physical pain to confronting suppressed trauma, and as I wake up to the beginning of finals week, it’s a little bit of everything.
My bones ache and my neck is constantly stiff. I have the stress of eight semesters clinging to me like waterlogged clothing, cold and weighty and unable to dry. Anxiety about graduation looms, sitting on my chest and pressing a damp cloth into my skin.
I try to be excited, and I truly am proud of my accomplishments during undergrad. I spend time with friends, and it is like standing in front of a heater for a few moments, still damp but warm with the hope of drying and with the companionship of others who are similarly situated. Perhaps, I think to myself, this is enough. Perhaps it is enough to continue on with damp clothing and aching bones, so long as there are moments of warmth.
Sometimes, it is. But other times, I need to scream.
Screaming can be a source of catharsis, a way of facing what you have pushed down so you could deal with the next midterm, with the next essay, with the next project for work or extracurricular. And as students, we are expected to keep pushing those things down in favor of getting through the semester.
There are activities and events and support available to us through the Wellness Center and the Stress Free Zone, but sometimes you need more than meditation or yoga. Sometimes you need more than an hour-long intermission that turns into a two-hour long break because Netflix just keeps going and you’re not quite ready to jump back into studying. Sometimes, dare I say it, you need more than a nap. Sometimes you need to scream.
But where, then, does one scream? In their apartment, where they have spent too many late nights surrounded by textbooks and notes? In the classroom where they have spent far too many hours trying to follow discussions on readings they barely skimmed over? In the library, where other students are trying to study? No. One must scream where they are far removed from those sources of stress, lest the environmental stress immediately fill the chasm of catharsis that screaming will open. One must scream in Schenley Park.
It is close to campus, making it convenient to walk over whenever one realizes that they must scream. It also has enough wooded area that, depending on where one is, one no longer sees campus buildings, even in the distance. But of course, one cannot simply go into Schenley and scream. One must prepare for it. Take a few minutes of self-reflection and look inward to reckon with the stress and anxiety building up. Identify it fully so that the catharsis will be sweeter.
Once you are ready, bring nothing with you into Schenley. Descend carefully, for the path can be slick after rain, and find your screaming spot. Lie down on the ground and feel the dirt and rocks scratch lightly against your skin. Stare up into the sky and inhale deeply, then exhale. Do so again until your lungs feel ready. Conjure up the reflections of several minutes prior, open your mouth and scream.
People may hear you, and if they do, invite them to join you as you scream. Share in this moment of catharsis. Once you are finished screaming, lie there until you are ready to move. This is an important moment of self-care, and you do not want to rush it. As you ascend from Schenley, thank it for providing you with a screaming spot. Tell it, Schenley, dear old Schenley, adjacent to alma mater, thank you. May student screams preserve thee evermore.