My job requires that I spend many hours talking to students, families and other stakeholders on my campus and in the local community about substance use by college students. My staff and I spend many hours developing and implementing educational programming for college students. Many of the students who visit my office talk about the pros and cons of consuming alcohol and other drugs. They often explain, in their own colorful expressions, how much fun it was to make memories having fun drinking and chilling with their friends. There are also the discussions about the day after when they realize that there are consequences to the behaviors. Most commonly, the students describe the symptoms most of us associate with a hangover.
I often describe my office as a triage-like environment. When I say that people laugh or chuckle because they think I am exaggerating. I’m not. Although we are not routinely dealing with medical crises, we encounter unexpected fact situations that vary from one moment to the next. While there are the routine and expected fact scenarios each day, it is the phone call or drop in visitor to the office that shifts the priority list in a moments notice. I try to get to work at least an hour before anyone else arrives so that I can gather myself for the day and check in with other campus stakeholders who also provide campus wide support for students, faculty and staff. I want to ensure that my thoughts and plans align with the needs and goals for particular cases we are working on at the time. In addition, I work to get some administrative tasks completed like responding to emails, drafting letters and making edits to the many categories of important things written in bright colors on the giant whiteboards in my office. About 7:45, the crescendo of energy begins to rise as I see the lights on the floor being turned on and I hear voices and movement. Just before the office opens, the phones start ringing and I can see and hear the foot traffic increasing near my building. By 8:00, most of the staff is present and the heads start popping into my office with student updates and folks checking in on developments I missed the day before or questions that need answers or someone looking for guidance on how to or who should take the task of addressing a strong-willed or very opinionated student or parent. Those conferences generally belong to me. The rise from a level one or two on a scale of ten happens quickly. The office springs to six about 8:30 and remains between six and eight until about 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon. My schedule slows at about 4:00pm at which time I think about the shifts in the priority list that occurred that day, what caused the changes in the priority list and how to establish my to do list for the next day. This process is pretty much a daily theme in my office.
Commencement was mid May. When the office opened to quietness the Monday morning after commencement, we sat with feelings of shock, fatigue and in need of sleep. Sound familiar? A colleague told me that we had “end of semester hangover.” I guess she was right. Like my students, I experience amazing highs when I am in my zone parenting all day and having dialogue with other campus and community stakeholders about all things related to conduct and the relationship of conduct to student success, retention and persistence. The come down, however, can be brutal and there is no me to direct me into an educational program with a trained educator to guide me through a discussion on how to make more responsible choices as I enjoy my drug of choice – parenting.
When my kids were younger, I remember complaining about being tired all the time. I have told young mothers over the years that raising kids is hard work so being tired is normal and expected if you are doing it right. Honestly, after raising mine and helping raise others in my village, I judged and gave side-eyes to parents who were well-rested and had energy to hang out several nights a week. Often that meant they had sitters or family members to help and I rarely had either. Maybe I was just plain jealous. I am not quite sure about that, but I am positive about this: Doing the things I love and feel passionate about provides euphoric emotional highs and a grand service to my village. However, as one veteran football coach so aptly stated to me, “the highs are real high and the lows are rock bottom.” He was speaking of the highs and lows of football, but it applies to the highs and lows of life and those hangovers too. I am two weeks out from the end of the academic year and I woke up this morning physically worn out. If not for the canine kid, Swaggy, who doesn’t recognize weekend or holiday mornings as vacations from early risings, I would have stayed way under the covers until noon. I got out of bed this morning contemplating a nap. Who does that?
- Somebody who needs to learn pace gets out of bed thinking about when the next opportunity for rest will come.
- Somebody who needs to learn emotional regulation and emotional management.
- Somebody who needs to remember the lessons I gave to an overwhelmed student recently:
- There are 24 hours in a day.
- “No” and “Not at this time” are acceptable responses and should be practiced in some situations.
- Schedule some time for yourself.
Well, I have done a better job respecting the 24 hours in a day rule and because I respect that time limitation, I want to spend time with Oprah and Steve Harvey to learn more about how to work smarter and not harder during the time I am gifted. The nature of my job and the other obligations in my personal life mandate that I practice saying some version of “No,” but the aftermath of the daily life of the student conduct lady results in me feeling hung over. My symptoms from my work highs sound very similar to those reports from my students when they describe hangovers that come as a consequence of substance use. They report fatigue, a mental fog, tiredness, and a lack of motivation. I think I need behavioral modification too. I think I need a harm reduction model for people who regularly function high on adrenaline. I must develop a responsible and safe come down that counteracts my high so that I can be healthier and serve the village well for a longer period of time.