At Cambridge we are always holding off. We structure everything around deadlines and supervisions and lectures, and very little around our own wants and needs. Missed dinner today because you were frantically trying to cram-write your essay? It’s okay, just have dinner tomorrow instead. We hold off – not just on necessity but on emotions too. Within the eight-week term there’s no time for a few bad days, least of all a bad week or two. There’s no time for food poisoning, or heartbreak, or to wash your hair as often as you need to. There’s no time even to properly feel and process the stress and exhaustion that term itself brings.
So we delay our wellbeing and we carry on with everything else. Then, when term ends we’re left in a weird lurch where everything catches up. My ends of terms are rarely ever fully joyous. Despite the general elation and excessive drinking, there’s always a moment when I sit on the floor of my semi-empty room and have a good old cry. Not for any particular reason, but simply because I’ve been overwhelmed too long. Then, my body gives in too. I’ll realise I’ve actually been ill for four weeks, and just in denial. It goes into recovery; I’ll need to sleep for 12 hours, the cravings for actual vegetables will kick in. I’ll spend necessary time sat doing nothing. And this will bother me – I’ll be confused by the lack of productivity, the lack of oppressive stress. I won’t be able to relax because I’m not sure I’m allowed to anymore.
Last term, I went straight from what was a rough term to France, on the Varsity Ski Trip. Despite having a great time, on the last day of the trip I had a full-fledged breakdown on top of a mountain. At the end of this term, which was mostly wonderful, I moved an essay deadline from the last Wednesday of term to the Thursday and my first thought was ‘you’ve only got to hold it together for one more day’. For me, it’s become a given that a barrage of emotions will hit once term draws to a close.
It’s a catch-22. The stress of this place is so all-encompassing that all your emotions are inevitably heightened and magnified. But because of that same all-encompassingness there’s no actual time to properly feel and process them. The workload always comes first. So when term ends, it’s the slowness that becomes unnerving. The halt is abrupt and sudden; there is no gradual stop. No one warns you about end of term whiplash.
We need to acknowledge that there is a necessary recovery associated with the end of term. Not everyone just packs up, picks up, and goes home unscathed. There is the grace period you have to give yourself before you can even attempt to tackle holiday work, internships, or anything else you may have lined up. I won’t be going home this Easter, partly because I’m a finalist, and partly because I’m an international student. Because I’ll still be in Cambridge it’s all the more important that I block out time for myself to decompress. No matter if you’re here, or somewhere else, make sure you do too. Your health is more important than the workload.