Drowning Sophomore

Madeleine Reinhard

Journal Entry: September 30, 2021

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a previous draft of this piece describing two types of people: those who love to be busy, and those who don’t. I resolutely grouped myself into the former. 


Duke was back and better than ever, and at first, Duke’s reclaimed hecticness was fun. As a sophomore used to the sluggish pace of last year, I was thrilled to arrive on campus this year and hit the ground running. I loved injecting coffee into my veins (specifically the 32 oz Panera coffee), rushing around from class to class, and finding tiny pockets of time to do work. I loved striking up conversations with new people, making friends, and recognizing familiar faces from last year’s Zoom classes. 


(left) Entering Wilkinson to do some work … (right) and leaving many hours later


As I talked to my friends who hated this chaos from the start, I felt reassured that the busy life was the one for me. Presented with endless obligations, whether social or academic or professional, my calendar was full three times over. I have always been a busy body, needing constant motion to feel energized and fulfilled, so it made sense that I was loving life. I can’t count the number of times I told family and friends back home that “I absolutely love Duke” and that “It’s so fun.” Their usual response was, “Everybody loves Duke!” 


But as I said before, Duke’s renewed hecticness was fun, but only at first. Now, entering the seventh week of classes, I would rather be anywhere but here. My headache has lasted for a week straight, and no amount of Advil can subside it. I have a lingering queasiness in my stomach. I get in bed at a reasonable hour, but the sleep I get is mediocre at best. I feel distant from my friends, despite seeing them almost everyday. I miss when my daily step count came from the morning walks to Duke Pond I took last year, and not running between classes.


Early morning sun on the main quad, which I saw when I unintentionally woke up at 6:00 am


I thought I was cut out for this craze, but here I am, drowning. It feels like Duke is amped up on steroids, and I am wondering if it will ever calm down. I am wondering if this is what Duke is normally like (is this something I’ll just have to get used to?). Simply put, I am wondering if I have what it takes. 


So when I started feeling the effects of too little sleep and too much stress, I began to doubt my status as someone who likes to be busy. Instead, I started to identify with the latter type of person - someone who doesn’t like to be busy. I saw others who seemed to still be afloat and wondered why I wasn’t as strong, as motivated, as good as them. I wondered why I seemed to be the sole person at Duke who didn’t love Duke. I thought I had failed (cue imposter syndrome).


But then I got to talking to people. Over the course of just 24 hours, I listened to countless sophomores tell me the same thing: “I’m exhausted,” “It’s been a hard week,” “It’s just one hit, after another, after another.” 


As it turns out, most of us are feeling the same way, even if it is for different reasons. Some are drowning in school work. Some are flooded with extracurricular commitments. Some are bogged down by job recruitment. Whatever the reason, or lack thereof, many of us have found ourselves at the same place: rock bottom. (Note: if you’re reading this and thinking, “I’m actually doing quite alright,” then first, hats off, and second, tell me your secret!!). Even for those of us who love being busy, or who consider themselves extroverted, Duke is a lot; regardless of our personalities, managing the elite college experience can prove to be quite challenging. Even if we love the school and can’t see ourselves anywhere else, it does not mean that it’s not difficult. 


Taken when I quite literally ran away from my problems and to Duke Pond (I joke that walking is my toxic trait)


After some reflection, I no longer believe there are simply those people who can do it, and those who can’t, because “it” is unattainable. “It” means straight-As and finding the perfect internship and joining clubs and going out every weekend and exercising and meeting friends for meals and everything in between … and enjoying it, all the time. I’ve concluded that Duke students lie on a spectrum rather than the two buckets of “got it” and “don’t got it.” We are allowed to drown sometimes.


It’s okay to thrive off of the business some days, and be deflated from it on others. It’s okay to love Duke, but have bad days, bad weeks. It’s okay to feel how you’re feeling. You belong at Duke. You are not weak. You are not alone. I’m right there with you.