How I underestimated week five
They don’t call them the blues for nothing
Up until last week, I was a denier.
I don’t mean I was arguing that the ice caps weren’t melting, or that a horrific Historical event didn’t take place. But I was a naive and fresh-faced first year, without the workload of any mathematical or scientific tripos to contend with. I believed that ‘Week Five Blues’ didn’t exist, and was simply a social construct whereupon people had meltdowns because they felt that it was the done thing. And I know that sounds ridiculous.
But forgive me for being cynical. I’m pretty sure I’ve been in perpetual crisis since about Week Three. Why should this week be any more horrific than the time I had to write 600 words on a single heroic couplet?
Plus, I had already fallen victim to the dangers of crowd following earlier this term.
Having felt like crap for the first week and a half, and dutifully ignoring everyone who told me to go and see the college nurse (I had paracetamol – I’m no weak bitch) I then submitted after missing one lecture of the only series I truly care about.
I’d been avoiding the nurse because I’d convinced myself that my cold, sore throat, and sudden inability to peel my eyes open in the morning was just a malevolent form of Freshers’ Flu, and I was complaining over nothing. Not, I should add, an unusual occurrence.
Turns out that I actually had sinusitis and conjunctivitis. But for once in my life, I wasn’t being unreasonably dramatic. Had I not been aware of Freshers’ Flu and the expectation that everyone falls prey to it unless they’ve got an immune system of steel, I would’ve probably gone to the doctors.
This is how I reached my suspicion about Week Five. I decided, once and for all, that I was a strong, independent (but still living in catered accommodation) woman, and I wasn’t going to have a breakdown simply because it was some sort of Cambridge tradition.
So I coasted through the first few days of Week Five unscathed, and feeling pretty damn smug about it. The workload was manageable (but I am an English student, I know) and I saw no cause to sink into despair.
And then, around midweek, I crashed.
I woke up unable to leave my room. My anxiety was at an all-time high, and I considered missing a supervision. For the first time since arriving in Cambridge, I was so consumed by my perceptions of my own inadequacy that I was immobile, lying on the floor.
In trying so hard to escape the clutches of something that I had convinced myself was a conforming to social expectation, I hadn’t noticed what was happening to me.
We all know – and sometimes despise – the fast-paced life here. Terms appear to pass in a blur, and five hours’ sleep is considered the norm. We all inadvertently take on more than we can stand, whether suffering from FOMO or desperately attempting to pad out that lacklustre CV before summer internship application season.
My Week Five blues experience wasn’t triggered by academic overload, but the realisation that I’d taken on too much. My ambition had certainly gotten the better of me, and in terms of extracurriculars I was spreading myself far too thinly. I felt as though I was everywhere at once, whilst simultaneously achieving nothing.
Cambridge comes with the expectation to grab all the opportunities which are even slightly relevant to the career in which you’re interested. It’s inevitable that we’ll all feel close to breaking point at some time during our Cambridge lives, and it won’t always be during Week Five.
Week Five Blues do definitely exist, and if this week has taught me anything, it’s that. You’re no longer stumbling around with uncertainty during the first week, and it’s not yet winding down towards the holidays.
I’ll be prepared for Week Five next time – and I’ll probably listen to people when they next tell me to see the college nurse.