Here’s my big secret: I’m taking 12 units this quarter. And guess what? I took 12 units last quarter too. I’m taking 12 units and I’m getting pretty tired of justifying it to everyone. The thing is, you never know what’s going on in someone’s life, and you never know their reasons for making the academic choices that they do.
Throughout my years in school, from high school to college, I’ve noticed what I like to call the “whose day was worse” phenomenon. I think that just about everyone has noticed this or participated in it in some way — it’s the toxic culture of putting an exorbitant amount of pressure on ourselves to do as much as we can, regardless of whether or not it makes us happy, as a result of the romanticization and glorification of being overworked. There’s this idea that if you’re not driving yourself crazy with all-nighters, double majors or extracurriculars — well then you’re just not working hard enough. I’ve come to the point in my life where I’ve decided enough is enough, and you know what? It’s okay to take 12 units.
As a dancer, I am often involved in performances in the Dance Department at UCSB, and thus required to give my schedule to my choreographers so that they can find rehearsal times that work with the cast. I remember being in one particular show during Spring Quarter of my freshman year. That quarter, I had made the decision to take 12 units. My choreographer made multiple comments about how my schedule was so easy and it was such a “freshman schedule.” These comments are not inherently bad; she was right — my schedule was pretty easy. What she didn’t know, however, was that the previous quarter I took 19 units of S.T.E.M.classes. I had taken these classes because I thought I wanted to study biology, but what I discovered that quarter was that those types of classes led me down a toxic path of anxiety and self-loathing. I found that although I love science, it wasn’t in me to study it in college and I should instead go toward my other love: writing. What she didn’t know was that I struggled a lot with allowing myself to take 12 units that quarter; every time I looked at my schedule my head filled with voices telling me that I wasn’t working hard enough, and her comments only solidified those ideas.
Every person you encounter has demons, and unless you have a particularly close relationship with that person, you will most likely never know what those demons are. For me, I have a lot of anxiety around having a busy schedule. In my example of my Winter Quarter, it got to the point where just looking at the long list of assignments I had to complete was debilitating. This is my particular problem, but there are so many others that might cause someone to take fewer units than what you deem normal or expected.
I know people who struggle every day with depression. This type of struggle is something that could prevent someone from going to class or studying. This also goes hand in hand with the same type of anxiety that I deal with. Issues like these can make college really difficult for some people, and unfortunately there are all too many stories of students who struggle with mental illness and push themselves too far. Being able to say how busy you are when someone asks what you’re up to this weekend is not worth the loss of someone’s happiness, or their life.
While mental illness is one reason a person might choose a lighter workload, financial stability is another. Although I believe that everyone should be able to attend school full time and not worry about having to work, that’s just not the case. All too many students are working to put themselves through college. They could be working anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week, and they just might not have the time or energy to take as many classes.
In my case, I have made the conscious decision to do my best to take between 12 and 17 units for the rest of my time in college because for me, my mental health is more important than bragging rights. You might be thinking, “But how will you graduate on time!?” To that I say, I don’t have to. I am more than willing to take an extra quarter or two, or perhaps summer classes, if it means I don’t have to overdose on Yerbas just to keep my head above water. That being said, I do want to acknowledge that not everyone has the freedom and flexibility in their lives to be able to say they don’t need to graduate in four years. The emotional and financial support of my parents allows me to prioritize my mental health, but I recognize this is not the case for everyone.
Regardless of what someone’s reasons are for choosing the course load they do, I ask that we never judge. I mean sure, maybe that guy in your psych section is a trust fund baby and only came to college to party, but I promise he’s the minority. Everyone has a story we know nothing about, so instead of figuring out whose day was worse, let’s start trying to make each other’s days better.
Anabel Costa wants students to know that it’s okay to prioritize mental health over units.