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Feel the Burn

Can we talk about college student burnout for a sec? I hope I can find the energy and brain cells to do it, because its important. I had 3 classes this semester; College Algebra, which I’m not required to take for my major, but was a co-requisite for Chemistry 1, which also had a Lab, plus a half-semester Ethics class. Friends, I am FRIED.

My Ethics class was as much as a cakewalk as any class could be. I’m relatively sure I did more writing for that, between all of the assignments and quizzes, than I’ve done in the last four semesters combined. In the moment, when I was squeezing it in amongst mountains of chemistry and algebra, it was a LOT. In retrospect, I got off extremely easy and I’m grateful that I got the requirement out of the way.

Algebra, on the other hand, seeing that its not even required by my program, was an incredible mental workload. Math is not my strength, so it took me an extraordinary amount of time to learn how to do these problems (do people actually enjoy this nonsense??). Chemistry was a whole other ballgame. Its not that its DIFFICULT. Maybe I’m just old now. Maybe I’m losing my edge for powering through stuff successfully with little effort. Maybe its just relatively challenging material with a professor who acted like he was tutoring peers who already have a bachelors in Chemistry, with the condescending nature of an equally burnt out professor who is, by nature a very inflexible person. Who knows.

I have always struggled with memorization. Just ask my castmates from the scant few speaking roles I ever had in school plays – I would literally blank out on the whopping 2 sentences of lines. I have a grudge with higher education (or any education, really) that either 1, assumes you will never have access to materials to support you in a time that you’re unsure “in the real world”, or 2, relies exclusively on your ability to memorize under extreme time constraints with no real repetition and millions of other responsibilities on our plates. Or, like I guessed earlier, I am older, stressed to the breaking point, bad with memorization, interrupted 489,398,726,094 times per assignment…. we will never know.

It has taken me four days to finish this post alone, I am so burnt out. I haven’t had an actual lecture or lab since December 2nd. I finished my last final on the morning of December 9th, and its been nearly 14 days since then. My kid is bonkers. His schooling has been a disaster. Its cold and we have no yard to let him safely blow off steam in, without me being right there with him. My house is ~still~ a wreck because I have no energy to stay on top of it. I just feel exhausted and its barely been more than dreary outside for what feels like a whole month. I decided, if any year was the year to not complete the tedious task of decorating and un-decorating the tree, this was it – we only have lights, and I’m not sorry about it. If I had forced myself through the ritual (for just the two of us to admire, since no one else can really come to our house, thanks covid), I would have just been really mad at myself in a few weeks when it came time to undo it all. This makes me less stressed, while still appreciating the fun of the season. We have last year’s matching pajamas, and I’ve only baked one batch of cookies. I’m not mad at all. I’m glad that I prioritized myself. I’m still marveling at how fast this month has whipped by, after how long this year has felt. I’m still wrapping my head around the idea that Christmas is a mere 3 days away.

I’m trying to embrace little things that aren’t exhausting, and sometimes even things that I know will make me feel like I’m losing battles, but make me and Nicky smile. Even that late afternoon sliding through the blinds, making you squint because its smacking you right in the eyes, but is such perfect lighting that you don’t even mind. I take delight in a cheeky meme. I savor the song that plays at exactly the right time. I slowly sip the perfect cup of coffee. I am amused and thrilled with the new and wild things my child decides to say. I savor the quiet time I get at night when I can enjoy my crystals, incense, and, well, silence.

I’m encouraging you to do the same. Its been a hell of a year, and one can only speculate at how long this will drag into 2021 (I’ll spare you my commentary on how Americans are acting), so, in case you’ve lost sight, reclaim those little things. Don’t let this absolute mess dictate your mental health – and DON’T beat yourself up if it has!! I have more bad days than good days. But recognizing it and prioritizing anything I can possibly grasp onto is how I keep going. Enjoy that hot chocolate. Breathe in some fresh air. Soak in some silence, or dance to that favorite tune. I hate the sentiment “we’re all in this together,” because some people are on a yacht with a staff, while some of us are in rowboats with holes in the bottom, and some of us are in outboards with burnt out motors. Just know that you aren’t alone, and you are allowed to be mad. You’re allowed to feel however you want. You’re allowed to hate this. You can scream at the moon. Whatever it takes; just know that you are wildly important and you’re needed here. Don’t give up.

Love, Light & Holiday Blessings

~ Jess

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Some of you may have caught my recent Facebook post where I implored local haunt-enthusiasts to please skip Pennhurst Asylum’s haunted attraction.

Pennhurst lacks no evidence of its otherworldly activity. The weight of sadness that patrons experience can be overwhelming. Countless “ghost hunts” have taken place on the historical premises, documenting thousands of events. And long before the facility closed its original operations, this heartbreaking documentary was filmed:

In this article by the Inquirer, you can see a detailed account of just a fraction of the institution’s horrifying history. Not that long ago in our history, persons who were deemed “less than” were stowed in facilities like this. They were considered an embarrassment, a burden, and not fit for society. Parents were encouraged to place disabled children in homes where they would be appropriately cared for. However, that was rarely the case. Facilities were dramatically overcrowded, understaffed and what staff was present was poorly equipped to care for anyone, let alone medically complicated patients. Doctors routinely performed experiments. Patients could be restrained constantly.


Some of the articles state that patrons of the haunted house attraction aren’t put off by it because the “atrocities didn’t happen in the areas they’re walking through.” That’s like saying its ok to be disrespectful in a courtyard of Auschwitz because the atrocities didn’t happen right in that area!

Pennhurst and other “schools” and “homes” for disabled, criminally insane, mentally unfit, and the like, speckle the history books with an embarrassing history of mistreatment. Mental health is a waning taboo in 2019, but is still a touchy topic that requires sensitivity. The real issue at hand is that there is someone capitalizing on this mistreatment. I won’t sit here and be some ridiculous mouthpiece for reparations or some other penance. A preserved, respectful memorial to those who were mistreated and lost their lives would be well more than enough.

Credit: Antiquity Echoes

In the discussion the other week, it was mentioned that, despite astronomical profits topping over a million dollars a year, none of it was donated to further services for the disabled. When facilities like Pennhurst began to close due to understaffing, overcrowding, and general misuse, the burden was again placed on the families, with little support offered. My own family has benefited from Early Intervention and Intermediate Unit services, but it doesn’t truly offset the heavy responsibility of caring for a child with any type of disability. Since I worked from home, I was not eligible for any type of respite care – one would think that a mother who is solely responsible for a child 24/7 would be the first to qualify for a break, no? Apparently not. Childcare services require you to be below the poverty line. Daycare’s require one-on-one aides that you have to conjure up (good luck with that; we are still waiting 5 months later). Leaving your child with someone requires an inordinate amount of trust in someone to understand your barely-verbal child. Friends who’s children have meltdowns and outbursts require caretakers who have mountains of patience and who are equipped to handle these incidents. Institutionalizing my son would have absolutely never been an option for me, but I can certainly understand the societal pressure to do so.

Now, all of that said, if the current owners of the Pennhurst grounds were to donate at least a large portion of their profits to improving services for the type of patients Pennhurst once housed, I could stomach the profiting off this tragic era much better. It still wouldn’t sit completely right with me, but I would feel better knowing that perhaps the entire state of Pennsylvania’s special needs care system would fare much better, as a tribute to its tragic history.

More reading on Pennhurst Asylum:

Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance

NPR: Haunted House Has Painful Past as Asylum

Philadelphia Inquirer: Thrills or exploitation? Pennhurst Asylum open for haunting season

Trigger warning on this article, but very well written piece by someone on the spectrum: PAranormal (and True) Crime

A&E To Premiere Record-Breaking Special On Pennhurst Asylum