Rachel Tookey: Week 8

Unhappy? Need somewhere to vent? In her final column, RACHEL TOOKEY speaks about her own unhappiness in Cambridge and offers a solution…

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For most of last year I made the conscious effort to not say aloud that I regretted having applied to Cambridge. I felt that if I said it out loud, I could never go back on it. By admitting it, I would make it a permanent truth – it would then always be true, so I would lose the chance at maybe being happy in Cambridge.

I tried to normalise my unhappiness. The standard thing to do here I guess. We give ourselves Week 5 or Suicide Sunday, prescribed occasions on which to vent or ‘be unhappy’ – whether it’s stress, anxiety, loneliness, or something much worse that’s getting us down. And everyone always seems to have something here. It becomes weird not to be highly stressed for at least part of the time.

For me, the prescribed Week 5 wasn’t enough. Last year, I just wasn’t fitting here. I hated my course, and managed to piss off my DoS within 2 days of being here. I lost all confidence in my abilities and found it hard to work. I ended up overcompensating for my perceived lack of content by writing mammoth sized essays (4356 words was my record for one week). I unsuccessfully bounced around extracurriculars but could never settle. And everyone around me, all the other freshers, were so happy that they’d made it here. I didn’t want to be the person who was ungrateful for all the opportunities Cambridge has to offer.

So I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling till Easter term. I’d never been the problem one before. I had a tough relationship with my family and I didn’t want my old school friends to see how unhappy I was, so I didn’t share with any of them either. Because on top of everything else I was embarrassed that, for some reason, I just wasn’t good enough to be happy.

When things finally changed for me – when they started to fit – I remember being surprised at being happy for quite awhile. It was nice. Cambridge can be an amazing place, and it felt like I was finally allowed to feel that. I really wish now I had talked about it sooner though, or at least commented on a Tab article, or dramatically deactivated my Facebook, or done something. But I felt so strongly at the time that admitting I was unhappy would be confessing some sort of self failure.

Most of us are perfectly fine here. The normalisation effect works equally the other way: if you’re absolutely fine and totally coping, it’s as if you’re doing Cambridge wrong – you’re not stressed enough. For the rest of us, I guess we could get rid of Week 5 – rename it Week 6 to avoid the blues. Instead of a designated week of unhappiness, we could just have a designated spot – where we all meet in the same back alley and whisper about it in the dark.

My life got easier once I started talking about it. But then again, if you’re reading this and you are unhappy, you’ve probably been hearing that advice all your life. That you shouldn’t ‘suffer in silence’, that there’s ‘no shame’ in needing help. But I couldn’t bring myself to listen to any of it for a long time, so I’m not going to lecture you to. What I will give you (sadly, it is not a renamed Week 5 or some sort of back alley dogging spot) is a designated space to vent…

Comment here. Let it all out – whether you’re angry, sad, had an unsatisfying lunch, or hate me, go for it. I got so scared of writing a column in my first week that I blocked The Tab website from my laptop and haven’t been able to work out how to unblock it since. No way I’m ever reading a single comment. My columns are yours: rip them all apart. That’s the best I can do for you. Here’s your space and punch bag. Give me hell.