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You Asked: I Am Overwhelmed

Dear Sugar,

I have more than I ever imagined at this point in my life — I'm a student at a prestigious university, where I'm captain of a varsity sport, I volunteer with children on the weekends, I have the best boyfriend, and my relationships with my parents are better than ever, but I'm terribly unhappy.

When I was younger, my family didn't have a lot of money, which put stress on my parents and me. The need for a comfortable, stable income has always been my motivation to work hard. Currently, I am headed that way, but this competitive school has turned me off. I no longer see myself working a nine-to-five job; instead I think I would be much happier in a less stressful environment.

In the beginning, it was just fantasies about leaving school, but in the past year I've become so depressed about this situation that it's beginning to affect every area of my life. I want to sleep all day, I can feel myself being curt with my parents and boyfriend, and my grades plummeted last semester. I want to leave school, but I feel like so many people would be disappointed in me. Please help me!

—Under Pressure Paige

To see Dear Sugar's answer

Dear Under Pressure Paige,

I urge you not to let outside influences and a perfectly normal fear of the future affect your happiness and your drive to graduate. You’re worrying so much about a future that’s not even here yet that you’re missing out on the good things in your life right now.

There is nothing that says you must work a corporate nine-to-five job just because you graduated from a prestigious school. In fact, most people don’t even end up in the industry for which they majored. Furthermore there are plenty of decent-paying jobs that don’t require competition and debilitating levels of stress. But it’s all about having the options available to you — so don’t close any doors prematurely.

For now, focus on your emotional well-being. If you need to drop to a part-time schedule then do so — it’s much easier to pull back a little then leave and try to come back. Focus on the short term; don’t worry about next semester or even next month, just do the very best that you can do for this week. Open up to your parents and your boyfriend, and let them know that you need support while you work through this period of uncertainty — you will get through it. Good luck.


Join The Conversation
belletrist9 belletrist9 9 years
I'm also in college, I'm a bioengineering major and I work about 15 hours a week because my dad's not paying for my tuition (I'm out of state so it's expensive, it's not like he can't afford it, and even more unfair - he's paying for my brother, it was always an unfair abusive situation) and my mom is cosigning for my loans (though she's trying to help out with my rent). I had been really stressed and unhappy for a while, even though I have a great boyfriend and moved all the way across the country to go to a college far away from my family and all their problems. After one incident where I was basically left by myself for a weekend (during the San Diego wildfires - my boyfriend stayed as long as he could but went home for his dad's bday party) and could barely drag myself out to the kitchen to eat once a day, I finally decided to go to my college's psych services for counseling and it's really helped. My boyfriend's wonderfully supportive, but he can't really understand why I feel so overwhelmed sometimes and my parents would just freak out so it's great to have someone to go to to talk my problems out with. At first, I was really skeptical about counseling because I've had some bad counselors in the past (one actually wanted me to quit high school a month before my graduation and finish during the summer with some bullshit about how my "tears" were my "greatest wisdom" then) but there really are good counselors out there. You may not be able to get the best match the first time, but college psych services are usually very willing to help you find someone you're comfortable talking with. My counselor's helped me move out of a bad living situation, get myself uninvolved with making up the rent there, exercising more, take less classes and not feel too guilty about it, etc. Sometimes just having someone consistently encouraging you to do things for yourself first really helps. She told me this at my last appointment - "Put your own oxygen mask on first, before assisting others." And it's really great advice. You've got to take care of yourself first. You've taken a really brave first step by admitting that you're not happy. The next step is admitting that you need help. It took me almost seven years to do it, but the sooner you get help the sooner you can start being happier. Good luck!
Jacinthe Jacinthe 9 years
You could try dropping some of the extracurriculars and focus on just the academic portion of school, or spend a semester as a part-time student to give your mind a little time to re-group.
karlotta karlotta 9 years
Dear Paige, The problem is that the world is so incredibly formatted. There is this path that we shall all follow - school, college, work, marriage, children, death - and those that do otherwise are treated as outcasts. It is such a shame that there isn't more room for individuality. I think that it's the reason why so many people are depressed; this incredible need for an identity that can never be fulfilled because the pressure of societal conformity is too strong. We need to be accepted and respected and RECOGNIZED by our peers, by our families, by our loved ones; and in order for that recognition to take place, we choose to all do pretty much the same thing. If we were too different, and led our lives too differently, we'd be afraid of each other. Anyway, I digress. I think you must have a very strong sense of yourself, even though you may not realize it now. You must have some very strong desires that are being muted by your need to fit in and to get approval. Of course - we all do! Some of us deal with it better than others. I come from a family of strong academic background; my parents are doctors, my brothers all went to grad-school... etc. I went to a very prestigious college and never felt like I fit in. It wasn't the classes, it was interesting and I wasn't struggling - it was just that something was always off, I didn't belong there. So I dropped out. And my parents were very mad at me for a very long time (it's been 12 years, they haven't forgiven me yet!); but at some point, I managed to detach myself from their opinion enough that my choice became okay with me. That's because I pursued MY OWN dreams. I took a plane for New York and became a filmmaker and photographer. Nobody's ever given a damn that I didn't have a degree in those industries! And I am not rich, but I spend much of my day doing things that are good for my soul - I make pictures for a living, and that is what I was meant to do. Art and creativity are taken for hobbies in our society. Real passions, aspirations, are never taken seriously. You are supposed to go out there and spend the next 40 years of your life doing some mindless 9 - 5 thing that doesn't make your heart thump or your mind explode. Well - take a very good look inside yourself: if you have a dream, however wrong it may seem to the people around you, you owe it to yourself to follow it. YOU DO. This is your life, your own, your only shot at it. You don't have to do like everybody else. It's okay if you want to quit this, because something else is waiting for you. You volunteer with children on weekends, you say - is that fulfilling to you? Is that what you would really like to do? Or, is it to play the viola? Or to do watercolors? Maybe you don't know yet? How about you spend the rest of the school year concentrating on that? Finish up the year, but also, explore what makes you vibrate. Think about YOU, and what YOU like, and what YOU want to be doing 10 years from now. When you picture yourself happy, what are you doing? Traveling? Taking pictures? Caring for sick people? Whatever it is, if you realize that the options in this world are endless, you will find out what it is. Then get some real information about it. Take some classes outside college, if you need to - workshops, whatever. Meet people who do what you'd like to do, and talk to them about their lives and the satisfaction they take from it. Then you can decide whether you can pull off finishing college (it's always a little better to have a degree, because we live in the stupid world we live in, with labels and stuff), whether maybe all it would take is a change of major, or if it's time to hit the road. I hope that the journey of discovering what you really want will be uplifting enough in itself that you will get out of that funk. Don't worry - there is nothing wrong with you. You are only suffering because you are being asked to be like everyone else; and of course... you're not. Congratulations for feeling it so deeply. Good luck!
lemassabielle lemassabielle 9 years
I think you need to cut out a few activities and make time for counseling. I know you're probably screaming at this post "You have no idea! I can't ditch the kids for the weekend! the entire sports team will be lost without me! how dare you!" but I strongly believe personal health is better than feeling lost in everything going on around you. Breathe, take time to yourself and relax. I know school is important but it's not the definition of how our entire life will be. Talk to your boyfriend and parents about how overwhelmed you feel. I only take this seriously because the amount of kids just like you have incredible suicide and depression rates. Unfortunately, they hide behind this perfect veneer and never let anyone know. So that is why I'm telling you to get help.
frieddumpling frieddumpling 9 years
I think to be realistic, you have to evaluate what you are willing to put in and what you want to get out of it. A LOT of people are in a similar situation as you are right now - probably 90% of those students around you are feeling the same pressure. I don't agree that you're depressed, but I think you need to make a decision for YOURSELF and stand by the consequences/pressures and NOT base it on what your family wants/expects. However, let's be realistic, a lot of people "love" their jobs, a lot of people do. My friend wrote on her blog the other day that "To what extent do we live in the eyes of others? --> How many people truly work because they enjoy their job? How many investment bankers like to sleep 3 hours per day and for the rest of the time watching the market? How many defense lawyers like to defend a guilty person? etc. etc. It's all for money and status." This sounds a bit cynical, but it illustrates a point. Sure, 5 to 10 years down the road, you could say that that could've been me in a corporate job with high salary, when you chose to take a different path --> I find that people easily forgets what those people have given up and the pressure they faced on their way up to achieve what they have now. I think you just have a decision to make and stand by your decision. My suggestion is not to drop out of college because it'll offer you much more opportunities and I think if you just relax and step back, you'll find that university REALLY is not that bad.
Beauty Beauty 9 years
I was once in this situation. In fact, this sounds like something I could have written once! Looking back, I wish that I'd learned how to say no to things a little bit better. For you, that might mean pulling back on volunteer time (maybe you volunteer twice a month instead of four times a month, for instance) or talking with your sports coach about ways you can delegate certain tasks. Don't drop out of school. You'll make it through, promise, and when you do, treat yourself to a vacation. Even if it's just a vacation from your normal life!
pinkmermaid23 pinkmermaid23 9 years
Wow. I can relate to you totally. It's like there is so much to be happy for...a great school, boyfriend, family, volunteer work...but you aren't happy even though everyone thinks you should be happy. Try to slow down your thoughts and Dear Sugar is right...think about your life week by week. Sometimes things are crummy and you don't feel like doing anything, while other times you can conquer anything that comes your way. It will be alright. I suggest you stay in school and get your degree so you don't have to go back later in life if you change your mind. Talk to your loved ones and explain how overwhelmed you feel. They will support you. Also, if you feel like there is more inside that people won't understand, visit a counselor at school. Speaking to an outside source will help. That's what I did. Good luck, stay strong, and focus on your self.
facin8me facin8me 9 years
I think the fact that you are overwhelmed is clouding your judgement regarding quitting school. The first thing you need to examine is the place that your extracurricular activities are playing in your life. I disagree with DearSugar that you should drop down to a part-time school schedule- you should think about dropping down to intramural sports instead of varsity, or cutting back your volunteering schedule on the weekend. It sounds like you have overscheduled yourself- you need to realize that you can't do it all. I think you should talk to somebody about how to move from the stage in your life where you live to please your parents and progress to the point where you live to please yourself. It will be impossible to live up to all of the expectations that you imagine your parents have for you. It's time to figure out what you want and pursue it without getting bogged down by all of the things you think you "should" be doing.
mcreverie mcreverie 9 years
oh, and about what kind of job you want after college, please don't try to make that decision now. get your degree, take a breather, and decide then. you don't have to get a 9-to-5 job! but when you're stressed out, and all you wanna do is sleep, who wants to work anyhow? wait till you get your life back and your voice of reason will come back too
mcreverie mcreverie 9 years
I come from a similar background, where my family always struggled to make ends meet. They sacrificed a lot just to help me find my way to a prestigious college and I always felt the need to make them proud and pay them back somehow. I know you want to succeed, and you think filling up every moment of your life with something "productive" and "responsible" is going to take you there, but I promise you, it will do nothing but drain you over time, and make you LESS motivated to succeed (and it seems you already feel this way). Here's the practical advice: I'm not telling you to completely change your schedule and "be wild" in college. What you need to do is set three priorities in your life NOW, and focus on those. Just three. What do you enjoy? What makes you love life? your boyfriend? playing sports? finishing the degree? what REALLy matters to YOU? once you decide that (and be very selective about it), and JUST do those three, then you can have a life that's really successful. i honestly don't think its the school that turns you off, it's just all this pressure you put on yourself to do everything and be everyone all at once. set aside one or two nights to watch tv, go to a college party, be young! you're not unsuccessful or a slacker if you take a break once in a while =)
erratic-assassin erratic-assassin 9 years
I really think you should follow your heart and not what people have expected you to do. Who's life is it anyway? yours or theirs? The only person who is affected by this is YOU. At the end of the day, no one cares more about you than....uh-huh....YOU! Sometimes it takes a lot more guts to *walk away from it all* than to rough it out. Whatever your decision may be, make sure you are happy 110%...please don't settle.
TidalWave TidalWave 9 years
Why does college = corporate 9-5 job for you? Why not go into research or be a prof? They make a ton more money than a mba will get you. Also, unless you're at yale, harvard or princeton, no one really cares about your school. employers certainly don't care. the only ones who actually do might be grad schools.
Advah Advah 9 years
I agree with the above comments. First, I'd recommend not leaving school - think that in the long term, it'll provide you with a degree that'll help you get a job you *want*. Don't worry about your future job now; a degree is a passport for employment, just to show your employers your can work, it doesn't mean you'll be stuck with 9-5 jobs. It's great that you're doing sports and volunteering, but don't forget school is your focus at the moment. I don't mean only your grades, school is supposed to be a great moment in your life, when you meet friends or discover things about yourself. It really sounds like you could use more free time, or just time for yourself. Forget about volunteering and/or sports, even if only for a month, and you'll probably feel much better, and you can decide after that if you want to keep doing extracurricular activities. Like other people who posted, I've been through there (I was working 9-5, and tutoring or taking classes in the evenings), and one week where everything was cancelled I realised it was driving me insane - I was sad, tired, sick and grumpy all the time. There's no shame in saying you need more time, there's only so much your body can do in a week, and school is already a very demanding and stressful environment. Talking to someone in your school could help as well, sometimes you need to hear someone say you need to take care of yourself. And please don't think of your future as having a job you don't want - life after uni is what *you* decide to make of it. It's not an obligation to get a boring job, it's an opportunity for you choose what you like and want to do. :) Good luck!
JessNess JessNess 9 years
Last year I was exactly in your position. I was completely overwhelmed and hated my school, I withdrew from my friends and failed classes. For me the best thing that I ever did was change my major to something that I liked and that was not so intense. I went from a bio major to anthropology/archaeology. You need to really look at your life and figure out if you truly are not happy at your school or if the stress is getting to you. If you truly do not like your school then dont be afraid to look into transferring. Plenty of people do it all the time. Going to a prestigious university should not be a determining factor in your staying. It may be hard to do but take a day out of the week that it just for you. Sleep in, make yourself a decent meal and take time to relax. When I schedule my classes I always aim to have at least one day off so that I can unwind. I got lucky this quarter and only have classes two days a week. I dont feel as stressed now. Also I find that just getting out of town every once in awhile helps. Im lucky that I live close to home so when I feel I need a break I can just go home for the weekend. Is working a 9-5 job really necessary? Cutting back on your hours would probably help out a lot. Everyone hits these rough patches in their college years. It will get better
aeschere aeschere 9 years
i like what everyone else says. but if you still find it too much, most universities have a one-year period where those who had to withdraw can come back and re-register without any extra hassle at all. no re-admittance, etc. this might be different at a prestigious university, but it is always something you can look into. best of luck :)
JovianSkies JovianSkies 9 years
Your situation is almost exactly like the one I was going through some time ago. I'd just transferred to a new school, where the curriculum was far, far more difficult than my previous classes, (not to mention exponentially more competetive, which I wasn't used to) and I too, found myself overwhelmed. I felt intimidated and squelched by students who were wealthier, impassive, and more prepared than I was. My grades fell to failing, everyone saw me as a joke, and I was offered to "step out" of that class, and into one that was more something I 'could handle' after class one day. I was devastated, and depressed after that talk, but when I was in my next class, I realized that I couldn't let other people, and the stress get me down. I wanted to surpass anyone and everyone who ever doubted me, and it was an uphill battle, but I finally achieved that goal. It was the best feeling :-) I encourage you not to take any brash action, and stay in college, because it seems that you're in a rut, and that's almost never irreparable. You'd probably regret it if you dropped out, though I know that might be hard to imagine now. You have to find inner strength and pull through, and you'll be stronger for it. On a less personal note, college degrees are becoming more and more essential in the working world, regardless of what your career is. Even if you want to own your own business, it would definitely help! I wish the best to you!
catty114 catty114 9 years
I completely understand what you are going through. i too come from a family that has struggled financially. and the mentality that i must succeed and support my family has always weighed heavily on my mind, but it's hard and at one point i was burnt out. I went through the same patterns that you have been experiencing and i think it's very important that you see the schools counselors and talk out your feelings. having an objective opinion might be helpful. . I've also noticed, for myself, that these feelings tend to dwell and snowball when i'm surrounded by the same people and thoughts who perpetuate these feelings. take a break go back home and just exist for awhile.. step out of the whole grand scheme of things and look at everything you've accomplished so far. i'm envious at all your successes! when i was still in school i just had school and work and that was enough for me to have a meltdown. in the end the ONLY person that you will have to answer to is yourself. if you're unhappy make steps to be happy again and don't worry about everyone else they want you to be happy as well.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 9 years
It sounds like you are depressed. I am oversimplifying things here, but happy people are happy and sad people are sad. You can put a generally happy person in miserable circumstances, and they'll find a way to make it good. You can put a sad person in amazing circumstances, and they'll still be sad. There are obviously exceptions to this. This is just based on what I've seen around me. So my thought is for you to seek some counseling, especially before you make any rash decisions like dropping out of school. Look at this way. You will have more job options if you graduate, not fewer. So you are more likely to get the non 9-5 job you want if you stick out school than you are if you drop out. If you finish school and you want to travel, do it. If you want to become a flight attendant, go for it. But having that degree is like a safety net that you will always be able to fall back on. I'm sorry you are feeling down. Good luck to you.
sweetrae80 sweetrae80 9 years
You need to pinpoint the factors that are really stressing you out-and then eliminate them. Sometimes we just have to make ourselves happy and when you have lived your whole life trying to please everybody else it can be really scary to actually think about yourself. Bottom line-a college degree is worth it. I understand that you feel that you owe the kids something, but honestly, they will be ok if you leave. You need something in life that you look forward to-everyone deserves to have a day off. And in regards to the sport-if you love it and see it making a big difference in your life, then keep playing. But remember, you can always play in your spare time for fun.
uptown_girl uptown_girl 9 years
I almost had an emotional breakdown my senior year. I too had fantasies about just getting in my car and driving away for like 3 or 4 days without telling anyone. I never did it, but I would lie in bed crying wishing I could. Luckily I graduated, and a lot of that stress was lifted off. I wish you luck, one day will pass.
aem2006 aem2006 9 years
I understand completely what you're going thru. I'm a full time student, work 25+ hours a week, have an internship and a boyfriend, family, friends etc etc. I get so overwhelmed sometimes but the key to getting through all of this is getting a lot of sleep, eating well and venting! Oh, and about a pot of coffee every morning ;) but seriously, I feel like I'm reading my own story. The future is scary and I know how you feel but I know that everything will be ok in the end! I promise!
cvandoorn cvandoorn 9 years
I went through something like this as well but I finally realized I have to do what makes me happy, not what makes everybody else happy. Needless to say, my parents are disappointed in me and feel that their "investment" in a private university wasn't worth it. I did graduate, but just don't want to go into banking or finance...I hate it. It is easy to be curt with the people you love, but you also have to realize that they are your best support system so you don't want to distance yourself too much from them. I totally agree that 9 to 5 jobs aren't for everybody, perhaps you can start your own business? Use that college degree and milk it for all its worth! Funnel it into something you're passionate about.
lickety-split lickety-split 9 years
there are lots of people just waiting for your school spot and your captain position. your parents and boyfriend will love you with or w/o a degree. other than the kids you volunteer with only you will feel the long term effects of quiting school; only you. i would suggest a trip to the school counseling office and then seeing if you can take a semester/quater off to get yourself together. you have everything you have been working for and you're unhappy. why is that? only you have that answer. do the work to find out what it is.
davisdavis davisdavis 9 years
Paige, hotstuff is absolutely right, you should check out your school's student counseling services. Just having somebody to talk to who you you don't feel like you have to be "okay" for could really help. And plan something fun and selfish for your summer. This semester will go so much faster if you give yourself downtime to look forward to... Some simple, relaxing time to yourself to read and rest and maybe travel could really help you recharge. Some time to catch up on tv or just be ridiculously indulgent and sleep for weeks. It really is okay to eliminate some activities if you can't give that much right now. If you need your weekends back, it's okay. If you need to take a lighter load next semester, it's okay. If you hate what you're studying, it's okay to change your major just to be able to take some classes you'll enjoy. Seriously. I totally understand where you're coming from, I put a lot of pressure on myself, too. I always want to do everything "right" and meet an impossible standard- perfect grades, perfect relationships, perfect community service, etc. But it makes me ill, and I'm a lot happier (and a lot more able to help others!) when I'm a bit selfish and take some time to do silly things. And finishing your degree actually increases the odds that you'll be able to get a job that has more flexibility! Having your degree will mean freedom and security, it's not a box that you're being jammed in. I swear.
hotstuff hotstuff 9 years
Paige, I really think your just going through a very stressful time in life and that's understandable with all that you have going on. I agree with everything Dear said try to cut back before you make any drastic decisions. Maybe you can just cut back on all the extracurricular things you have going on. It seems like you barely have any time for yourself between studying, volunteering, and school. It's a lot of pressure in school always having to compete and then trying not not let your family down so I totally understand what your going through. I'm sure your family wants the best for you also. With your grades plummeting and wanting to sleep all day I think you may be dealing with depression and this would be a great time to seek out a counselor or a psychiatrist who can help you sort out things. Hang in there we all feel this this way at times and I'm sure you'll get through it! Good Luck!
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