It’s more like the zombie apocalypse than an oncoming asteroid

by Kat

Since I began college, December finals has been a difficult time for me — primarily because I find myself confronting feelings of impending doom. I become convinced that this will be the semester that everything falls apart: when I can’t finish my research papers for lack of information or time and when I fail my exams miserably (even though I studied the semester’s material quite thoroughly). The hardest part is knowing that these feelings are most likely irrational in nature, while at the same time acknowledging their existence — the emotional reality of the situation.

I remember talking with my therapist a few semesters ago about this sense of imminent failure — that my graduate school career was mere weeks from falling apart — and her referring to this experience as “the gorilla looming over you.” We ended up creating a list of responses I could make to my irrational thoughts about completing projects and help-seeking. Last week I found myself placing the “responding to the gorilla” list nearby my laptop as I worked on a research proposal due the following day.

In conversations about finals in graduate school, which tend to be project-based rather than exam-based, I developed an analogy that made sense to me: “It’s [finals] more like the zombie apocalypse than an oncoming asteroid.” Finals in graduate school are based on a series of steps that lead to a final product, and in my case, involve a considerable amount of self-doubt and emotional turmoil. Managing these thoughts and feelings oftentimes feels like fighting off zombies: You take care of one and others seem to keep coming. They attack you on the way down and you find yourself exhausted after confronting them. An oncoming asteroid (one big test) would almost be easier — you study; you take the test; there’s a sense of finality to the experience. The zombies keep on coming…

As I type this analogy, I’m also reminded of the song and accompanying attacking creatures analogy from the musical [title of show], “Die Vampire Die!” (1)

“Listen closely, a vampire is any person or thought or feeling
that stands between you and your creative self expression,
but they can assume many seductive forms. Here’s a few of them!”

So during this season of final projects and papers, I’m honoring the emotional reality of my anxieties connected to finishing projects and papers, while also recognizing their inherently self-defeating nature. I’ll remind myself, “There’s not enough time for me to do everything, and I may not have everything read or done, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the class is going to go badly.” I’ll manage the metaphorical zombies and vampires in the meantime.

  1. Die Vampire Die! — from the musical [title of show]: