Devil's Tale


The drastic effects of trying to do it all

By Erika Wurst


I don’t know where I’m going. I’m already late. I’ve got to get up. Got to get up and get going.

Saturday morning, the alarm clock buzzes; it’s 6 a.m. I hit the snooze button as usual, hoping it will forget to chime, hoping I can stay in bed and nurse my cold, hoping I don’t have to replay last night all over again. No luck, the alarm clock is relentless: my worst enemy.

From the moment I wake, the little marathon runners inside my head begin their race, stomping away my sanity. And they’re off. I feel awful, but I have to smile. What if I get lost again? I don’t know where I’m going. I’m already late. I’ve got to get up. Got to get up and get going. My heartbeat begins to rise, thump thump thumping inside. I’m hot. My face is on fire. I can’t stop thinking for even a second. He’ll be waiting for me. I can’t let him down. I’ll make a fool of myself. I have to go. I’m in hysterics, I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I’m losing my mind. I can’t control anything. I’ve got to get up. I’ve got to go. Got to go. Better get going. Feebly reaching for the phone, I call my mom. I’m losing it, I tell her. It’s finally happening; I’ve driven myself insane.

I should have spent my Friday afternoon at the movies or doing homework. Perhaps if I had, I could have avoided this whole mess.

I made U-turn upon U-turn, hoping to see my exit, which I honestly began to think didn’t exist in the first place. I was lost, but then again, when was I not lost? I never knew where I was going, and it was usually something to laugh about. Everyone says that Arizona is a lot easier to get around than Illinois where I grew up, but at the pace I was learning, I’d have graduated before I could find my way to the dentist office.

Here I was, on the freeway, in the middle of Phoenix, lost on my way to the Associated Press Managing Editors Conference I had eagerly been awaiting. At first I was excited that I had been chosen to socialize with professionals and hang out in Phoenix. Not anymore. I was lost and in tears, and my day was ruined.

Photo by Brandon QuesterTake time out for yourself so you don’t get sick or freak out in class.

By the time I made it to the conference, my face was swollen, my makeup was running, my nose was red from the cold I couldn’t shake, and I sounded like Fran Dresher. I knew I was on the path to freaking out; I could feel it boiling up inside. I could feel the marathon about to start in my head. I tried to smile as I was introduced to my mentor, a real nice fellow from Michigan whom I would soon feel terribly sorry for.

We sat down and began to talk, about writing and journalism and all the things I loved, but the tears wouldn’t stop. I looked crazy. Are you okay? He kept asking that. Do you have someone to talk to at home? He wouldn’t leave me alone. Do you need a tissue? Look, mister, I’m fine, knock it off already. He thinks I’m crazy, totally insane. Everybody was looking at me, I thought. Everybody was thinking, what the hell is she doing? Why the hell is she crying? I smiled anyway.

You’re not going crazy, my mom says over my sobs. Just stay home, don’t go anywhere. At 10 a.m. she’ll be on her way to Arizona. I’ll have my mom in just a couple hours.

Time creeps by, and I find myself checking in at the lobby of the Banner Behavior Health Clinic in Scottsdale. I take a seat on the couch. I shouldn’t be here. This place is for weirdos. I should be at the conference, mingling with people, smiling, dressing up. At the front desk, a strung-out woman in a wheelchair makes a phone call home. She says she’s checking herself in; she’s feeling suicidal.

The runners in my head take their mark and charge. Get me the hell out. I need to go home—I have so much stuff to do. To do, to do, I need to make a list. I have deadline tomorrow, interviews to conduct, papers to write, and cigarettes to sell. I have to call in to work tomorrow. I can’t call in. I have to. I’ve wasted this whole day already. Why did I do this to myself? Why right now? How long is this going to take? I have to get to work. I’m losing my breath. My chest, it’s so tight, I can’t breathe. What is happening? Please, not again, I’m losing it.

I had been working at Campus Corner on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays for about two years, since I first came to Arizona State. I had a full work schedule and was pulling a primo grade point average. Eventually, I was lucky enough to land a job at the college magazine, which I really enjoyed despite the dedication it took. The workload added up and added up. Pretty soon I didn’t have a single day off. Not a single day to sit in front of the TV and watch cartoons or go for a walk. I would stay up late, eat little, and was always on the verge of being sick, if I wasn’t already.

10 ways to cope with stress

1. Get up 15 minutes earlier.

2. Prepare for the morning the night before.

3. Avoid relying on your memory. Write things down.

4. Practice preventive maintenance.

5. Make duplicate keys.

6. Say “no” more often.

7. Set priorities in your life.

8. Avoid negative people.

9. Learn to manage your time.

10. Simplify your meals.


On the outside, I appeared to be a powerhouse. We don’t know how you do it, they’d say. I wasn’t sure I knew how I was doing it either, but I knew it couldn’t last forever, and I was right.

Mom! I shout excitedly as she approaches me with a hug at the airport. I can’t believe she’s really here. Everything is going to be just fine, I convince myself. With my mom and boyfriend in tow, I’m finally going to endure a night out, something I hadn’t done in months. I quickly name the Arizona State Fair as the destination of my freedom. Bright lights, fatty foods, and Ferris wheels are surely the remedy to the longest day of my life. We chuckle at carnies and toss ping-pong balls into fish bowls for cheap stuffed prizes. Relaxation. Normal breathing. A steady train of thought that strays from schoolbooks and deadlines, and focuses on deep-fried Twinkies and ice-cold lemonade. All the while, I’m fully conscious of the fact that I had better enjoy it. The night could only save me for a couple of hours before the alarm clock buzzed again. Who knew what the next morning would have in store?

I could always do everything on my own. In high school I was in the National Honor Society, on the dance squad and the swim team, editor of the high school paper as well as on the yearbook staff. I worked throughout school, graduated with a 4.3 GPA, and swore to myself that I would do great things when I got to ASU.

Instead of dealing gradually with the drastic change of college life, I jumped right back into the limelight, aiming for greatness. When I saw others around me effortlessly moving up the chain, I was angry. I can be that great, I just have to stay up a little later, read a little longer, wake a little earlier. With no one to hold me back, I took on the world at once, never saying “no” to a single task I was given. If I said “no,” I was giving up, admitting I couldn’t do it. If I just had a little more time, I could do anything. If I just had more time.

I wasn’t the only student taking on the world, believe me. The fact that there were so many others going through the same experience made me feel that I shouldn’t be freaking out. Everyone was busy dealing with classes, work, and stress; I just happened to be taking it badly. If I had made myself aware of the stress in my life and how it had been affecting me, I would have realized that the problem was more severe than I had imagined.

According to Dr. Gregory Hall of Bentley College, changes in sleep patterns and eating habits, headaches, recurring colds, a greater sense of persistent time pressure, and increased generalized frustration are all signs of stress. All the signs were there. Getting lost usually made me laugh, but instead of giggling, I was freaking out. Time was now the most important thing in my life, and getting over my cold by eating and sleeping right were the last things on my mind. Hall says that excessive stress usually develops over a long period of time, going unnoticed until an emotional or physical toll forces you to address it. Unfortunately, I proved him right, but that was about to change.

I knocked on the door of my boss’s office at Campus Corner, tears already swelling up in my eyes. “I can’t take this anymore, Mike, I’m going crazy. I need to quit today. I’m really sorry.” It was like a stab to the heart admitting I couldn’t “take it anymore.” But if I didn’t come to terms with it now, I would go insane trying to take on the world. And honestly, how successful could I become in a straight jacket?


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