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Why Week Two Terror is the new kid on the block

…and how to avoid saying “Hi.” to him

Coming back to Cambridge after the Christmas break brings with it a mixed bag of feelings. I spent the month back home in Australia, visiting the beach, throwing shrimp on the barbie, hanging out with my beloved pet kangaroos, screaming at the occasional (correction: frequent) spider. A turbulent first term where 1/4 of my essays went unwritten and the swapping of the Australian summer for the British winter meant I was far from pleased about returning. In fact, I think the words I used on the phone to my parents included “dread” and “hell-hole”.

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Simpler times over the Christmas break: if only sunscreen could block out my problems as well as it does UV rays…

It was much to my surprise, then, to find I sailed through Week One. I bagged a new room in college (with a sink!), finished two essays without shedding a tear, got a bike, caught up with friends and generally had a good time. Seven weeks to go! I said to myself optimistically. I knew nothing of the turbulent waters ahead.

Cut to Week Two and things are not so peachy. I’d come down with a cold after Dangerspoons, I’d lost the keys to my bike lock (shout-out to everyone who sad reacted that post on the University Fresher’s Facebook page – I really felt the solidarity), and one of my essays was handed back with a comment reading “No!!!”. Personally, I thought the three (!!!) exclamation points were a bit excessive, but who am I to say. You can practically hear the tears running down my cheeks at this point. But hey, at least I have a sink I can cry into and, technically, I still have a bike, even if I can’t unlock it to use it.

I was a far cry from the Christmas cheer of a mere month before, but I recognised the feeling. It was how I felt last term towards the end of Week Five. ‘Week Five Blues’? That must be something for people who can’t organise and who procrastinate. Sadly, as I found out over the course of that week, that is exactly the type of person I am.

Beginning of Week Six and I had come down with a fever and postponed all my essay deadlines, crying on the phone to my mum about not being able to do this for another three years. So how was it that I was in this exact same position this year, but only two weeks in? I’d say it was disheartening, but that’s an understatement. It was absolutely soul-crushing.

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An actual selfie I took with a friend after we were kicked out of Lola's and I drunkenly broke down in tears – things, needless to say, were not going well…

Wallowing in my sorrow I noticed a lot of my distress boiled down to one thing: the classic Cambridge contradiction between expectation and reality. For most of us who study here, the effort which went into getting in took our blood, sweat and tears. It nearly put us into an early grave. You hoped that, in the end, there would be some sort of pay-off.

You pictured yourself rowing down the Cam as the sun sets, or cycling down King’s Parade with your college-stash scarf billowing behind you. The fudge man's there, and he's yelling at you about the free fudge samples inside as if he’s a young Victorian boy trying to sell the daily newspaper. You’re working so studiously in the library on your essay about political theory you think you see Karl Marx out the window. Tragically, these dreams are just dreams. It’s not Marx, it’s just another old man with a beard looking mildly displeased.

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Idealist expectation

So you put everything into getting here. And now you’re here, and it’s not what you imagined or hoped it would be. You feel like you’re struggling and that maybe – just maybe – Cambridge isn’t right for you. But then all at the same time you feel like you’re betraying the version of yourself who worked so hard to get here, and angry at yourself for every moment you spend relaxing, because you could be working instead. It’s a vicious cycle.

This perfectionism means you put off your work, and next thing you know your deadlines are at the door and you run yourself into the ground trying to meet them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Week Two, Week Five, or Week Eight – the cycle repeats with every round of essays, reports or presentations. There’s no room for mistakes.

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Slightly gloomy reality

Surely then, there must be a way to escape from this never-ending cycle. Suprisingly, I found that the solution actually didn't come in the form of saying "Yikes!" and going for a nap (trust me, I tried this for the first few days) but rather in some actual, practical action.

Now, I’m not saying keep pushing yourself to the brink just because you won't actually die, as if that's the best you can get out of this situation. What I mean is that you can solve some of your problems at the same time as making that deadline.

Whether it's booking an appointment at the counsellor to try to deal with the imposter syndrome or the mental strain that being physically ill can put on you, or even if it’s just finding a friend for that well-needed shoulder to cry on and a large dose of sympathy. Those things might not solve the problem directly – because the problem is usually just workload – but they can give you some peace of mind while you tackle the deadlines.

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Taking a few hours off to visit Medwards for their Apple Day included a stress-relieving painting session – maybe my future lies in art?!

For me, the very obvious contrast between the summer and winter made me incredibly nostalgic for the life I’d been living only a few weeks before. Hopefully with the challenges of what I’m affectionately calling ‘Week Two Terror’ behind me, I can move through Weeks Three and Four without having to give them both cheesy nicknames.

Even though Week Five looms in the distance like the prospect of cycling up to Girton on a cold and wet day (but then again – why would you?), we have to take it day by day, deadline by deadline, and find joy, as they say, in the small things. Find that Karl Marx look-a-like in the streets. Actually take advantage of the free fudge sample. Stare at that sink in admiration for hours on end – go wild! In the end, our degree and our Cambridge experience can be summarised by the wise words of an age-old proverb we all know and love:

There's always gonna be another mountain

[You’re] always gonna wanna make it move

Always gonna be an uphill battle

Sometimes [you’re] gonna have to lose

Ain't about how fast [you] get there

Ain't about what's waiting on the other side

It's the climb.” (Miley Cyrus, 2009)