By Gabriella Fleischman

My eyelids drooped slowly. “Just keep them open,” I told myself over and over in my head. I stared at my teacher intently with tired eyes, trying desperately to absorb her words. However, half of them washed right over my dazed mind. My brain felt as powerful as if I had left it at home, sleeping contently on my soft blue pillow. A yawn escaped slowly.
“Gabby, I’m sorry I’m boring you,” my teacher said apologetically.
My cheeks blushed a soft red. How could I explain?
“No, no – it’s not… I’m just…”
She nodded understandingly and, as much as I longed to slump my heavy head onto my arm and fall into a deep snooze, I felt guilty. It was not that what she had to say did not matter to me; I physically could not keep myself any more awake than I was.
This was not the first time I fought the urge to sleep during class. In fact, I fought it in just about every class and usually lost. Yet this was the first time I had been called out for it.
It was not that I did not enjoy school. Although, like everyone else, I usually did my homework grudgingly, I liked going to interesting classes and enjoyed learning. However, my sophomore year changed my mindset entirely.
With seven classes, most which were challenging and demanding, as well as sports or music every afternoon, I spent every tutorial and lunch hurriedly completing homework on which I had fallen asleep the night before. I spent every weekend catching up on the many hours of lost sleep. I spent every moment longing for the weekend, the next day off, summer, hoping it would come faster.
Homework: just the thought made me feel sick, exhausted, and anxious. I hated staying up well into the night, waking up early for zero period, fighting not to fall asleep in class, rushing to my various commitments I had after school, coming home in the evenings to mounds of homework, and repeating the whole cycle again.
There were days I was so exhausted I was afraid I would collapse. There were other days I wished I would collapse so I would have a viable excuse to bypass homework for just one day. And every day I asked myself the same question: why did I push myself so hard?
My parents did not pressure me to be a perfect student. In fact, they pressured me to drop my hardest classes, which only motivated me further to prove that I could handle it. At the beginning of the year I had set goals for myself and I wanted to achieve them. I competed with no one except myself.
And then suddenly it was summer. Although I was proud of my achievements and relieved, I still was not satisfied because of how drastically sophomore year changed me.
I was a different person. Where did the bubbly, optimistic girl go? I no longer tried to make others happy. I no longer made an effort in my relationships with my friends and my family. If I was annoyed or upset I dwelled in it and moped in self-pity; I lost my gratitude. I was a zombie going through the daily motions of life.
Last summer I became the person I wanted to be again, and I dreaded the start of the school year. If sophomore year had affected me so considerably, how would the demands of junior year, SATs, and searching for colleges affect me?
By the second day of school my body was already reacting to the stress. My nose became congested, my body exhausted. The unfortunate fact is that balancing a social life, doing as well in classes and extracurricular activities as possible, and maintaining one’s health is impossible.
I am not fooling myself: this year is going to be hard and if I want to achieve my best I am going to have to push myself. However, I have gained enough self-respect to realize that my physical and mental health deserve better. My high school grades are important, but will not follow me into college or beyond. My experiences, relationships, and wellbeing will.