Fifth Week Blues?

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Image description: blue smoke 

Fifth Week Blues (fĭfth wēk blooz͞)
pl.n

. The burnout or unhappiness conventionally experienced by the students of Oxford
during the fifth week of term.

fifth week blues (fĭfth wēk blooz͞)
pl.n

. The burnout and unhappiness I experienced in the fifth week of term.

One of the things I find alarming about this university is that fifth week blues is a thing: fifth week blues, due to its revalence and consequent relatability in Oxford, have become Fifth Week Blues. Fifth Week Blues is a phenomenon—an institutional tradition defined and owned by Oxford (no offense to Cambridge, but my Google search tells me it prefers the very different-sounding term “Week Five Blues”), and sometimes even openly acknowledged as such by its colleges and faculty.

There are several significant benefits to recognizing and trying to fight off these “Blues” at a university and community level. On the other hand, though, this kind of generalizing approach runs the risk of predesignating what these “Blues” are, and overlooking their individual nature.

“The notion of the Fifth Week Blues, a feature of Oxford student life, risks neglecting, and even rejecting, [this] individuality.”

The fifth week of Michaelmas 2020 was, for me, perhaps one of the most emotionally challenging weeks since I matriculated last year. Coming from a small private school in South Korea, I experienced a culture not unlike, or even worse than, Oxford’s in terms of competition and glorified overworking. I was once told that a student was supposed to be a studying machine; one of my former teachers, quoting Edison, said getting anything more than four hours of sleep was an indulgence. Although, after coming to Oxford, I had worked on becoming better at managing stress and working at a healthy pace, such a mindset would still occasionally haunt me. Then, of course, there was the pandemic.

Lockdown found me living an extremely precarious lifestyle: sometimes I would have to go without any human interaction for days, and I found myself relying more and more heavily on work and grades to get me out of bed in the morning. As someone who usually used their free time going to see the orchestra or organizing in-person society events, there was simply not much else for me to do other than study in solitude.

When the inevitable mid-term burnout hit again this term, therefore, it hit pretty hard. I was tired, lonely, and unhappy. This was my fifth week blues.

But I would rather not frame this experience as Fifth Week Blues, because, as you might have noticed, this was all highly individual. It involved deeply personal factors, such as my Korean background and lockdown difficulties that were specific to me. And so did, I’m sure, everyone else’s.

“[This] generalizing approach runs the risk of predesignating what these “Blues” are, and overlooking their individual nature.

The notion of the Fifth Week Blues, a feature of Oxford student life, risks neglecting, and even rejecting, this individuality. It others those experiencing “blues” that might involve, for example, worsening homesickness or friendship issues, instead of the classic essay crises or tutorial stress. It potentially reduces fifth week blues—a student mental health crisis—into a simplified, overgeneralized, and hashtaggable trend, whereas in reality, these “blues” are complex, and honestly, quite serious.

I am in no way trying to devalue the wonderful efforts made by students, colleges, and welfare teams to help everyone beat fifth week blues, or undermine the phrase’s effectiveness in helping Oxford students relate to each other and start conversations on mental health. I am saying that, alongside the relatability and prevalence of fifth week blues, we must also acknowledge that they involve individual experiences and real problems, and need to be treated as such. The tendency to approach fifth week blues as an Oxford thing—a trend, a tradition, a feature of student life—runs the risk of rendering our mental health discussions casual and blinding us to the obvious reality that these “blues” are real welfare issues. Mental health problems are mental health problems, no matter how common they are across Oxford.

Image credit: David Gunter, CreativeCommons

 

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