Many of us know the overworked-fever-faint trope. In Kaichou wa Maid-sama, Misaki tries to balance her part-time job and her duties as student body president. The stress builds up, and she gets sick, but she refuses to acknowledge it until she faints and Usui carries her home from work in the first episode. Of course, she doesn’t learn her lesson, and she continues to take too much work on herself throughout the anime. The laid-back Usui subtly takes off what stress he can, but she’s not very cooperative.
The scenario in Kaichou wa Maid-sama is cute, but ridiculous, right? Sort of. I’ve seen a lot of exhausted students. We become more susceptible to colds and flus, yes, but the biggest consequences seem to be emotional, spiritual, and psychological. In fact, for me, those are the main consequences. And I can keep them under control about as well as Misaki and other anime heroines can control their fevers. Eventually, no matter how much we smile, something’s got to give.
For me, the smiles ended on Friday. I felt it coming. I couldn’t remember the last time I got eight solid hours of sleep. I knew my brain was operating with decreasing efficiency, and my time management skills were dropping as quickly as my processing skills. When I called my mom Friday morning, she wasn’t surprised—she’d seen the signs even from over a hundred miles away.
I didn’t want to make my failure worse. I knew all the things I’d done wrong to lead me to that point. I should have taken steps to avoid it—slept more, gone directly to my professor with my concerns—but I hadn’t. So I stubbornly stayed on campus, hoping to salvage something, starting with an email to my professor… but the vestiges of my can-do attitude collapsed mid-email.
Instead of fainting with a fever, I curled up on the couch in the university’s library, having an emotional breakdown under my coat. Fainting would have been more graceful—I’d prefer that over being a sobbing mess in public.
Like in anime, a friend found me and put her hand on me. She told me to take care of myself, prayed for me, and convinced me it was perfectly okay to skip class. She even cheered me up enough to attend one of my three classes. I was able to drive myself home… where I curled up in bed and stayed, except to eat.
By the time this post goes up, I’ll be back in class, smiling and assuring my professors that I’m perfectly fine. I’ll don my Can-Do attitude and try not to make excuses for myself. But if I want to avoid another collapse, I need to find balance—real balance, not that rushed stop-and-go schedule of overwork, little sleep, and TV-binging.
The same friend who sent me home Friday often warns me to take it easy. I always wave it off and think, She doesn’t see all the times I slack off. But maybe I should pay more attention. It makes me think of a recent Shirobako episode. Miyamori is production desk, even though she’s only been in the business a couple years. In the nineteenth episode, she confesses her insecurities to Erika. The anime is running behind schedule, and she is largely responsible for getting it back on track—or at least minimizing the damage. Erika’s solution? “Go home for the day.”
Miyamori: “Huh? But nothing’s been solved yet.”
Erika: “Nothing is going to come of you trying to tough it out tonight. More importantly, you look awful… You haven’t been sleeping lately, have you?” She gives Miyamori a bag with a candle in it and tells her, “Listen. Just take care of the emergency contacts, then go home and sleep properly. Then come back to the office tomorrow morning, full of energy. That’s an order from your senpai.”
Sure enough, Miyamori rides to work the next morning chipper and ready to go. I should follow suit more often. I learned long ago that, after a certain time of night (technically, morning), I just can’t work efficiently. But I still try. At 3:00am, I stare at book pages or an open Pages document, willing myself to focus. It doesn’t work. Nothing comes from toughing it out. Instead, I’m just twice as exhausted the next day. This week, I’m going to try prioritizing sleep. I’ll aim for lights out at 2:00am, starting “tonight.” Yes, that really is an improvement. Eventually, maybe I can work my way down to midnight.
But there’s another kind of rest I often neglect, a deeper rest that comes from time dedicated to God. I wrote about it a month ago, and I’ve thought about it since, but clearly, I still haven’t learned my lesson. In that post, I wrote about imitation, and I asked, “What did Jesus do when things got busy, when there were a lot of demands on his time and energy?” Jesus retreated from the crowds to pray. In the same post, I noted that, no matter the demands around him, he kept his priorities straight.
Since today’s a day for reviewing past lessons (I’m a slow learner), I also refer to my post “Aiming for the Championship,” especially to the points about life as a team sport, personalized training, and trying again. I’ve definitely appreciated my team lately. I have a friend who helped me stay on track when I worked on an assignment on Wednesday—it was due in an hour, but I’d lost my sense of urgency and wandered to Tumblr “just for a minute.” And then there’s the friend who helped me out of my breakdown on Friday, and the professors’ gracious replies to my “truly sorry but I can’t function today” emails. I’m still working on proactively seeking help, though.
It’s hard to aim high when I can barely get through each day’s homework. I need to give myself more wiggling room, and more rest. A girl can only give up so much sleep and take on so many projects before she collapses, and I can’t take on as much as some people can. I need to stop deluding myself about what I can do on my own. A can-do attitude is vital to getting anything done, but self-delusion eventually leads to collapse. Anime tells me that. Experience tells me that. So this week, I’m going to try prioritizing sleep and prayer time. Without those (and lots of grace from God), I might collapse in a ball of tears again, and I’d really rather avoid that. Since I clearly won’t go anywhere without actual goals: Starting tonight, I aim for lights out at 2:00am. Starting tomorrow morning, I’m going to take out my journal and Bible for at least a few minutes as I pray and reorient to the day and to God’s priorities. I know from experience that focusing on God for even ten minutes in the morning can help make the whole day better. I don’t expect myself to do it every day. I know of Christians who have daily morning devotions, but I’m just not there. I’ll settle for small servings throughout the week and longer prayer time on Saturdays, unless God intervenes or I get stressed, in which case I need to stop what I’m doing and retreat.
Maybe, with balance (which I’m terrible at) and grace (which God’s great at), and some more help from my friends, I can avoid another emotional version of the overworked-faint trope. Maybe.