By Ashleigh Pauls

Stress sucks. I’m a first-year university student fresh out of high school, and I know how while high school may be fantastic for its struggles, achievements, and friendships… It can also be a big real-world wake-up call for stress. Being in university now, the comparison feels like I hit snooze during that wake-up call. Thinking on this, I am going to go back down memory lane, to remember how far I have come regarding stress, and how being aware of it is so much more important than handling it perfectly.

So, here we go back in time to one year ago. Exams were closing in, but there were still weeks before anyone would start studying for them. The assignments leading up to the exam were putting more pressure on me and my peers to succeed more than ever before, in hindsight, for me, more-so than the WACE exam itself.

My school had constant reminders to take care of your mental health and stress levels, saying that “too much stress isn’t good for you, but you need enough that you aren’t asleep.” I felt sleep deprived. Despite all the attempts for help, including the mandatory mindfulness sessions, I just couldn’t get my head on right to study productively, even though I was following many of the provided study skills.

This had continued and had built up for weeks, without my own conscious knowledge of it. I was still giggling and being a ratbag with my friends during recess and lunch, as if we had become 5 years-old again, even days prior to my day of reckoning. We sang Disney songs at the top of our lungs, just because we could; we attempted (and mostly failed) roly-polies that we hadn’t tried out for nearing a decade, and we had an attempt at a picnic. Why? Because we could!

And still… even with all these memorable moments. Something hung in the back of my mind.

It wasn’t until for some reason, I was feeling quite numb one day. I wasn’t giggling and I felt somewhat distant. I thought I was just having an off day… but something felt wrong. I know that I was a little stressed out due to the oncoming assignments but I felt more wrong than I could understand why. 

It was later that I discovered, not only had my friends noticed my slight difference on this one day, but my relief teacher of two days did too. And yet, I hadn’t…

The day was moving slowly and I felt ill. Not like I had a cold, but the kind of ill you get when you don’t get enough sleep and you aren’t used to it. So, I decided while walking to our usual lunch spot that I would lie down for a bit. With my leaver’s jacket over my head, head on my bag, I closed my eyes and concentrated on my breathing. 

An unsuspecting friend, oh I am sorry my friend, thought that I was just a little tired, so he tried to cheer me up by tickling me. Now, I should state, I don’t mind being tickled, in-fact I am a little too ticklish but today was not a tickling day. I told him “…don’t”. Not hearing because of how quietly I had said it, he tried again “Don’t.” I said with a sharpness to my voice. Two of my other friends were clueing in, but not the tickler, he thought I was playing.

I hear one of my friends say, “just let her rest.” But you know when you are feeling fun, and it’s odd when someone isn’t in the same mood as you, yeah. This was that moment. He tries one more time, while simultaneously signing his death contract.

I yell with an unexpectedly broken, angry shout “DON’T!” to which everyone within a 20-meter radius goes silent. One of my friends pokes her head under my jacket and notices that I am balling my eyes out, at the same time I realize it myself. 

Being a brilliantly amazing friend that she is, and the dorks that we are, she gives me a hug like she is fitting the broken pieces together again, and pulls me awkwardly into a standing position from behind and brightly says: “Let’s go on an adventure!” Classic.

She pulls me away, with the jacket still on my head mind you, and we begin a chat that is so rudely interrupted by the rain beginning and my panicking realization that my books are sitting where they could get ruined. So, we bolt. I’m starting to giggle in a way that I feel like I am breathing again and she clumsily flops over my books to protect them from the sprinkling rain, accidentally flashing everyone. She was embarrassed, I was gasping for breath from running and laughter, and we both remember it as an incredibly unusual day.

Afterwards, we had a long chat that was long-awaited. I can’t really remember what I said but I do know it wasn’t just the assignments coming up, it was anything and everything almost five years-worth that I didn’t even know I was thinking about. She listened and gave small inputs, but the thing is that while she tried to help with advice, the best help she gave was just letting me vent and complain. It was liberating.

My friends, my family, even my relief teacher at the time, got me through my unexpected breaking point that I now have a happy memory to this day. 

We are now in university, you need to be aware of your own hints and your stress. We are now independent learners and it’s just going to get harder but you’ll feel so proud when you get through it.

So… Let’s go on an adventure.