Whilst reading this article posted by Varsity, titled ‘Majority of students suffer mental heath problems, survey finds’ my eyes started to glaze over. It was so obvious, and all the statistics just blurred into one. Of course we suffer from issues in such a pressured environment.
It’s not just the compartmentalisation in terms of “week 5 blues” either, but the restrictive limitations we put on ourselves during term time; living life in term differently from outside-term. Just as we have huge highs and perilously deep lows with our timetabling of weekly (or bi-weekly) essay-writing, so do we, too, experience severe fluctuations as we move in and out of term. We are told that during term time everything is to be work focused, and so this becomes our ‘life’ here – work, work and more work, the romanticising all-nighters in the library, plus the “release” of Turf or other shitty over-priced events that get more hype than they deserve (apart from King’s Bunker, two pound entry every other Saturday visit the page for more info).
This restriction means, for arts subjects at least, more introspection, more alone time, more inevitable thinking about ourselves while we grapple with the essay questions that demand originality and flair. If they don’t seem to at first, these are pressures we end up putting on ourselves, wanting to stand out and make an impression (e.g. ‘Is Sir Gawain a Romance?’ becomes ‘Find Out Everything You Can About The Romance Genre and the Synthesise an Argument Never Before Seen Where You Plunder the Depths of Your Soul’). We aren’t meant to hold a job (which I find also, damaging) and we value ourselves on our academic output. Everything is put on hold, including sleep, the most valuable thing of all, until term finishes, where we crash and maintain this dangerous fluctuation.
What I’ve found after dealing with a handful of issues is that treating my time at Cambridge more like ‘life’ – rather than ‘student life’ – is a lot more beneficial. This means leaving Cambridge every other week and going somewhere – home, another city, my aunt’s place in Wales (cheap tickets when you book in advance). If you can’t do this, go to Grantchester. You start going mad when you see the same thing day in day out.
Doing some tutoring, or casual bar work (like at West Road Concert Hall, or a College Bar) is also helpful. Basically being a real person who doesn’t put their life on hold for work which ultimately ends up being a consistent ego-stroking affair.
But these changes can be met with other practical guidance, too, like meditation and mindfulness: issues with mental health can be attributed to our insistent inundation with information, thoughts, objects, things, not just inside the University but also in the Real World. This ‘thinginess’ wires us so tight around external props and gives us no rest that resulting fear, anxiety, stress and depression is no surprise at all.
The university offers courses on Mindfulness and Meditation but you can research these things alone. There are books at various libraries and lots of resources online. Meditation is free, it just requires effort. As for mindfulness, it starts with eating without a screen in front of you.
At this point I falter. Did I just write that? Who is this self-interested arsehole who thinks they have a right to tell people what to do? Of course eating in front of a screen is bad for you, so is bingeing on eight episodes of Orphan Black in one evening but I do it anyway out of self-pity and also because I love it. No I am not going to gather myself up, let’s wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow is a new day. I can’t speak for anyone else and when I speak it is from my own experience. Fucking narcissism. Fucking money-making mindfulness.