Escaping the noise

Brooke Mayer

My public high school, situated in the middle-of-nowhere Arkansas, was fluent in one language: sports. We chose to invest 3 million dollars into a new football scoreboard before creating a college advising department. We hosted 25 athletic team banquets, extending to our girl’s golf troupe of only 6, before having a single event to commend our national merit finalists, AP scholars, or honors society members. We even lined our entryway with religiously-polished glass cabinets boasting hundreds of state and regional athletic titles. But missing from these display cupboards or our celebratory event calendar were any attempts to recognize the myriad of accolades won by academic school groups or individuals, including national title-holding quiz bowl and science bowl teams, state-honored Model UN club members, and prize-winning debaters. Thus, in coming to Duke, and leaving behind a world that revolved around physical success, except, of course, during basketball season, I am constantly refreshed by and grateful for our campus’s prioritization of scholarly achievement. 


However, in gaining access to this rich, new environment, I have unhealthily placed an intense pressure on myself to make use of every educational opportunity, resource, and free minute that Duke offers. As a consequence, it has felt impossible to shake my ever-present fear of not doing enough. 


This dread and self-placed burden, mixed with a personality that thrives off of being busy, concocts Brooke: a human that litters an array of meeting and lecture sign-ups with their name, always seems to be running from one event to the next, google calendars the minutiae of their life, repeatedly destroys their sleep schedule, and constantly questions whether they’re truly making the most of their time at Duke.


This produces a nearly endless stream of noise within my head, flooded with queries and anxieties: did I complete that extra assignment? Do I have time to make that gathering? What club should I be joining next? What summer internship should I be working towards? Who do I need to get in touch with to learn more about that industry? What are my plans for this weekend? Did I even secure a band for that event? 


When? Can? I? Breathe? 


The answer to that final inquiry too often feels like never. Recently, my overloaded schedule of trying to pursue and invest in a million activities, events, and friendships at once began to rapidly deplete my social and mental battery. And on the eve of the weekend of November 7th, I felt an almost intrinsic need to escape the noise of Duke University. 

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So, on a late Thursday evening, I consulted with two of my best friends and began a feverish search for cheap airbnbs within an hour and a half drive that could comfortably house our friend group of 11. After scouring all night through various images of possible rent locations, we came across our hidden gem, directly northwest of Duke, stationed on Hyco lake. Within the next 12 hours my 2 co-coordinators and I organized the house’s purchase and accommodations, group transportation, and food stops (all on little sleep) and finally left Duke’s campus to traverse through mountainous, rural North Carolina to our private oasis. 


The journey alone, in the middle of a gorgeous fall, with trees on all sides adorned with bright red, rugged orange, and vibrant yellow tones, throwback hits on the radio, and laughter emanating from each passenger, allowed me to take my first few deep, content breaths in what’s felt like months. And for the first time, I entered a weekend with a completely blank google calendar, and the empty white space decorating my screen didn’t elicit emotions of horror, but of peace. 

The following few days provided remedies to a sickness I was unaware I even harbored, that of exhaustion and an unhealthily frantic state of mind. As the weekend entailed movie watch parties, collective pancake making sessions, coffee talks on the dock, a night full of games, bed snuggles, and more importantly - moments to catch my breath  -  I was reminded of all of the beauty of living life simply, without the cluttered mental noise I too often generate. 

Duke moves at a frenzied pace, with nearly 100 events occurring each day across and within the 150+ buildings, 1,300 acres, and 2 separate divisions of campus, and onerously, I had attempted to mirror that speed. It wasn’t until this trip, sitting in the middle of the woods, among an array of dear friends, that I became aware of how detrimental this goal - of being everywhere at once - truly was. For in the recent weeks, I had lost both my energy and my sanity, as I had strayed far from the idea of dedicating myself to the present moment or prioritizing time for rest and rejuvenation.


While driving back to campus, it became obvious to me that in order to safeguard my internal battery, a delicate balance must be struck between what adorns a google calendar, the “busy”, - class, schoolwork, club activities, meetings, social events and the blank space in between entries, the “rest”, - where you take time for yourself, sleep, journal, enjoy nature, attend spontaneous events, and practice your own forms of self-care. It’s only when the two are suspended in a healthy equilibrium, where you avoid spreading yourself impossibly thin, that you can better invest yourself in each moment you’re a part of.


After all, the prolonged break from the incessant thoughts of “what am I missing out on on Duke’s campus right now?” showcased to me how unhealthfully I had prioritized the answer to this question in my daily life. For all along it could’ve been phrased “how can I better devote myself to enjoy the moment taking place?”

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