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As a Duke student, I’m equipped and prepared to deal with exhaustion. Everyone tells you before you start freshman year that it won’t be a walk in the park. You will have endless days and sleepless nights. The homework will be never-ending and the exhaustion, relentless. And, in my freshman year, I must say that I felt that exhaustion. There were weeks when I averaged only four hours of sleep a night and days that I couldn’t find the energy to leave bed at all, but I sucked it up and I kept on trucking like I’ve been trained to do. Exhaustion is not new to me—physically nor mentally.

But, the exhaustion that I feel now—with two weeks left in my DukeEngage program—is different. This is the kind of exhaustion that makes having conversation unbearable, and sitting in a room full of people nerve-wracking. This strand of exhaustion has me searching my mind for answers and insights while simultaneously wanting all thoughts to cease. It lends me the feeling of wanting to lay in bed, in a dark room, alone for hours. And I know that these things seem extreme, and whoever is reading this might think that I’m certifiably insane, because they believe that there’s no way that a simple internship in San Francisco could drive me to this place, but I know that I’m not alone in this feeling.
I mean, think about my experience.

There is nothing easy about being 1,686 miles away from home.

There is nothing easy about listening to the trauma and struggles of different clients every day, and lending advice that won’t be taken but you give anyway, because you know they need it.

There is nothing easy about being catcalled on the street while being careful to avoid the constant stench of marijuana and cigarettes.

Now imagine all of these things together… it’s not easy—it is, in fact, exhausting.

This strand of exhaustion isn’t something we learn how to deal with at Duke. A rigorous high school schedule followed by attending an elite university doesn’t touch this kind of exhaustion. We don’t become resilient to this new form of exhaustion by learning better time management or catching up on our sleep on the weekends. I learned how to deal with this exhaustion on-the-go—trying anything until something worked. But again, like all exhaustion, just when I thought I was refreshed and renewed, a new wave would hit me—a little harder each time.

Let’s be clear: DukeEngage provides outlets for processing and reflecting on the impacts of our experiences on our psyche. I’ve felt heard and empowered by my group members and coordinator throughout this entire experience. But, like I said, this way of exhaustion makes reflection and introspection so constant that you come to hate it. In this hole of exhaustion, you don’t leave a reflection dinner feeling lighter—just distracted.

And I think a lot of people are afraid of this kind of exhaustion. I find that a lot of people can’t handle it, and so they find a way to escape it. That escape might look like quitting their job and moving or a drastic change in personality to something colder, less feeling. And throughout my experience at Larkin, I’ve realized that these escapes might be necessary, because social work—and jobs like it—takes a toll.

So, here I am, near the end of week seven out of eight.
Feeling drained.
Ready to head home and unpack from the constant intensity of my summer experience. (And also enjoy some real southern summer heat, because 60 degrees is not cutting it.)

But I want to leave these words.

The work in this world that must done will not be easy. And the people in this world who are equipped to do this work are found in places where they haven’t experienced anything close to the exhaustion I wrote about here. But, it is necessary—necessary that we, as highly educated, elite students, put ourselves in places where we are uncomfortable. It is necessary that we struggle with the ropes of civic engagement and swing full speed ahead into a realm of the underserved, unprivileged, and in-need. While we might be afraid, and we might become exhausted, we will come out of these experiences with wings. Oh, how we will soar! We’ll find the way to our dreams and the avenues to guide others to theirs. And even if this is the most service work we ever do, we’ll have the constant reminder of that exhaustion motivating us to challenge our world—to give everyone wings.