College is like sleep paralysis.
For those of you lucky enough to never have experienced sleep paralysis, allow me to explain. The effects vary from person to person, but it essentially it is a state of consciousness somewhere in between sleep and wakefulness when one is conscious and aware that he or she is awake, but your brain thinks you’re still sleeping and therefore shuts down all muscle movement. You feel paralyzed, and it’s scary. Some people report terrifying, nightmarish hallucinations. For me, it usually happens when I wake up from naps (a practice I now try to avoid). I can hear people making noise if anyone is around me, and sometimes I can wiggle a toe or let out a grunt or half-open an eyelid, but for about ten seconds (though it’s difficult to tell), I’m paralyzed. The more you try to fight it, the scarier it gets. It’s taken practice to train myself to remain calm and still until it’s over.
How, you might ask, is this sensation anything like college? In several ways.
First, it’s just plain bizarre. I often find myself walking down Comm Ave., and I think, Wow, what a weird place. Thousands of young from all over the world, packed like sardines into Warren or some other dorm, indulging in debauchery at night, then sitting next to each other in class during the day. Sometimes, it feels unreal. And the weirdest part is that I know it is real, and everyone agrees it’s normal. And even when I find it fantastically strange and scary, I’m powerless to say or do anything to express how strange and scary I find it to be. See? Just like sleep paralysis.
Second, it’s temporary. As with sleep paralysis, time is distorted in college. Certain weeks trudge like months, but a weekend–reflecting back from Sunday evening through a foggy lens–can seem merely like a couple of hours. Each semester has highs and it has lows, and then it descends even lower, and then you’re sick and you have finals, and you’ve almost given up, and then it ends. And after it’s over–so I’m told–it almost all feels like a dream. The kind of lucid dream that one recalls in times of nostalgia or self-doubt, when one looks to the past for clues to the future. When one attempts to conjure the complete picture: the nightmarish hallucinations along with the moments of euphoria, but in the end all that surfaces is paralyzing ambivalence. What is that feeling?