Opinion | It is OK to be extra tired this semester

By Talia Spillerman, Staff Columnist

When my friends and family ask how my semester is going, I feel compelled to tell them that it’s nothing short of amazing. In some respects, this is true. After a year and a half of missing out on events, celebrations, milestones and everyday social interactions, finally, I can partake in normal college experiences. I can go to football games, attend class in person, join clubs, eat at the Eatery and simply be around more people than just my roommates. It seems like I should feel nothing but grateful, thrilled and energized to partake in simple things that I yearned to do last year.

So why has this semester been so exhausting? Why hasn’t this significant step toward returning to a “normal” life been solely energizing? While I have not had any other in-person semesters to compare this one to, my professors and my friends — who have experienced many more in-person semesters than I — also relayed this same feeling of extreme burnout.

Along with the exhaustion that comes with “in-person” life, we added the task of transitioning back to face-to-face interactions in unfamiliar environments and circumstances this semester. 

First, we have to acknowledge — even though I’ve grown to hate the word — that we are still in  “unprecedented” times. Even though vaccination rates are increasing and hospitalizations are decreasing, the risk of getting sick with COVID-19 is still present, and life is still not as vibrant as it was prior to the pandemic. 

Even at the end of August, we weren’t certain how the semester would be structured. Many Pitt professors chose to entirely conduct class via Zoom for the first two weeks — making many of us wonder if this option would last the entire semester. It wasn’t until the week of Sept. 13 that all Pitt classes moved in person — meaning we only started attending in-person classes a little more than two months ago. Even though this change has been exciting, it’s also been exhausting altering habits that many of us, including myself, developed for Zoom college.

Going to class now requires more effort than just flipping open my laptop. Now I have to think about which route I should take, the time I should leave, and if I should eat lunch before or after class so my stomach isn’t growling in a quiet lecture hall. More times than I would like to admit, I have forgotten to consider these variables and found myself running up the Cathedral stairs.

On top of that, I was not aware that I couldn’t just get to class on time, but I actually have to get there early in order to avoid the entire class glancing at me as I pick my seat.  

This semester I had to start the seemingly foreign practice of structuring my time. During the last year and a half, I became accustomed to having very few strict commitments — watching a class and recordings of events whenever it fit my schedule. While I’m ecstatic to attend in-person events, I can no longer have two simultaneous Zooms pulled up if I double-booked myself. I actually have to be physically and mentally present — which is tiring. 

Not to mention the added exhaustion of seeing people again. I was not prepared for the amount of small talk I would have to engage in — as opposed to turning the camera and microphone off when the discussion in the breakout room ends. I’ve now become an expert on the weather each day just to avoid awkward silences. Instead of Hillman having seemingly endless rooms on any floor to study, I have found myself doing laps through the floors to find a seat — which could partially be attributed to the fact that only three of the five floors are open for use.

As we get to experience more in-person events, there’s a mix of being excited for the feeling of ordinary life and sadness when we acknowledge that we have been without these normal human interactions for so long. 

Last year, other first-year students and I only heard about what we would have experienced — orientation activities, in-person classes, club meetings, football games and other events that entail large groups. We had no other college experience to compare it to, making our restricted year seem somewhat normal to us. 

While I am happy that this year’s first years get to have a more typical year than I did, when comparing their opportunities to socialize and partake in Pitt events to my first year, my normalized college existence through a Zoom screen seems even more disappointing. 

Even though life is feeling closer to regular, it is still not normal — we did just come out of a year and a half of mass isolation, disappointment and unforeseen challenges. It’s expected that we would feel especially tired when we have to quickly alter our routine, while still having to process our emotions from the past year and a half. 

Honestly, I do not have any revolutionary answers on how to feel less tired besides carving out time to do the activity that gives you energy — whether that is painting, sleeping, walking or spending time with friends.  

Ultimately, remember to be kind to yourself — this feeling of tiredness is more than justified. 

Talia Spillerman writes about anything and everything. Write to her at [email protected].