We need to stop prioritising academics over our mental and physical well-being
How to lose a kidney in 10 days
Warning: This was written word for word in my head at 6 a.m. in a hospital bed attached to a saline drip, fueled by a lot of painkillers and some sour M&S caterpillars. Be prepared.
Last week my kidneys decided to punish me for the above average amount of shower sex I was indulging in and plotted to end my life by engaging in what can only be described as a brutal game of kidney ping-pong. Flash forward past me lying down on a sterile bed on Bank holiday Monday while an old man felt my ‘loins,’ and you’ll find me shivering in A&E next to Louise who keeps wandering off for a fag despite her elderly caretakers begging her to come back.
My experience wasn’t awful: I enjoyed the painkillers and endless attention of friends and family, and the mashed potatoes were pretty good. What was awful was knowing that I had lost 2 weeks of revision to this kidney-related hell. With exams looming, the only thing I could focus my Paracetamol-soaked brain on was what a waste all this time spent in hospital was. All these days spent idle recovering seemed so unnecessary. Who even needs their kidneys? What do they do? Can they tell me how Parliamentary supremacy and the Rule of Law can be reconciled? I think not.
And this waste of time was my fault. A week prior, this had been a UTI (annoying but treatable unless left to the last minute). But rather than go to my GP immediately, I grinned through the agony and revised some stats (in the same way you might pinch someone’s arm to deflect from a scraped knee, substituting pain for pain). It wasn’t until close friends and family told me to stop being such a martyr and go and get it checked out that it dawned on me that I was once again putting academics above my well-being.
It’s always been like this. Students struggling through revision while fighting the flu/tonsillitis/chlamydia is hardly a Cambridge-specific phenomenon. We all feel the pressure that university brings and often it’s our health that pays the price, left on the shelf unattended next to that book on economic theory we’ll never open. Our willingness to ignore that we are unwell is quite frankly scary. Our relishing in exhaustion because we see it as a sign of our hard work, that’s scary too.
When you enter the realm of mental health issues, we go past just scary. When you’re hiding panic attacks from your close friends and feeling anxious with every textbook you open, that’s not scary anymore. That’s terrifying. And because it’s not physically noticeable, it makes it seem all the more impossible to seek any help. Your tutors might tell you to get some fresh air, or count to ten, or schedule to meet with you once a week to help find coping methods to deal with your stress. Which is even more stressful because now you’re wasting time pretending to be on a beach instead of procrastinating on Facebook.
What you really need is some perspective. Someone to tell you to ‘breathe – this is not all there is.’ It’s hard to grasp that there are more important things in life than a 1st, especially when you’re in such a competitive environment. But there is – and your well-being is the most important of all those things. So breathe. (And always urinate after sex to avoid a UTI.)
Do not let your pride or whatever expectation of perfection which is weighing you down land you in a potentially dangerous situation. Academics are important, but your health is and should always be your main priority.