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The ‘Oxford bubble’ is a concept we all know well – when in the bubble you can think of nothing but your Oxford workload. Completing your essay feels like a matter of life and death. But it is also a dangerous one. When I was in my worst place, the pressure of the university made me feel as though I could not stop. Even when I reached breaking point as a result, I was pushed further. The way we talk about essay crises makes it feel just like that – a crisis. But the University needs to shift its priorities; not necessarily away from academia, but towards a more sensible work balance that doesn’t make every essay feel like it is a case of write or rusticate.
When I was in my worst place, the pressure of the university made me feel as though I could not stop
My first year at Oxford was difficult, as many peoples’ are. The combination of a workload unlike anything I’d seen before, and a new environment completely different to my background and life back home meant that it was only a matter of time before the stress of Oxford life got to me. I had not yet formed some of the close friendship groups I have now, and I felt like I was constantly being reminded that my subject was “easy”, despite my struggling with it.
So, when Trinity Term came around, having built up Prelims in my head, I began to feel the lowest I ever have. Home life began to take a dramatic turn and it felt like I couldn’t deal with everything that was happening. It was after this when, following a drunk night out, I decided to do something which landed me in hospital.
One of the worst things about spending time in hospital was that Oxford life did not stop just because I had. I missed a tute and found myself falling behind as a result. I felt so much pressure to stay on top of work that ended up completing one of my essays for the week from the hospital bed. My tutors offered me an essay extension but, with weeks to go until Prelims, I was so scared of allowing myself to slip even more behind then I believed I was. My tutors and the welfare at my college were amazing, and had of course told me to take a short break to recover. However, the pressure of Oxford told me the opposite, and I was convinced that I would now have to work twice as hard to catch up with the work I’d missed from my short stay in hospital.
I felt under constant pressure to prove I had recovered at a rate that in hindsight wasn’t possible.
I felt under constant pressure to prove I had recovered at a rate that in hindsight wasn’t possible, simply to try to shake off the threat of rustication, which I know just wasn’t possible for me. I had heard about and seen the snowballing effect that occurs when people begin to struggle with the workload, where one missed essay becomes two which becomes a term of missed deadlines. With exams on the horizon, and a fear that I already hadn’t done enough to get that sought after 2:1, I couldn’t let myself spend even a few days resting for my mental health to get back on track.
Now, looking back on it, I think it’s ridiculous that I felt such unnecessary pressure. I felt like Prelims were the most important thing in the world, and the university did not do anything to change that perception. I got the 2:1 I had wanted, and I now feel incredibly proud of this. But I also feel upset that we are pushed into thinking that these results are more important than our mental health.
I feel upset that we were pushed into thinking that these results are more important than our mental health.
My experience is one which is extreme but not unheard of. The mental health crisis at Oxford will continue to worsen until the University lets people know that it is ok to sometimes miss an essay; that you can suffer from mental health problems and not be required to rusticate; that you will be given the appropriate time and space to recover when things like this happen.
I now love my Oxford experience. I have finally settled in, I have a close friendship group, and I am enjoying my subject. But most importantly, I learnt that the essay deadline is not the be all and end all. I learnt to enjoy Oxford for what it is, and to prioritise my mental health over getting that essay done on time.
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