By Eleanor Pitcher
On bonfire night, as so many others did, I attended the annual fireworks display on Midsummer Common with my friends. It was an excuse to escape the library for a couple of hours, and enjoy one of the first events of winter. I’ve always loved fireworks – completely ignorant to the science behind them, I find them enticing and beautiful. Exploding in countless colours before an entirely black backdrop, they silence the rest of the world for a few minutes. It seems like nothing else really matters, nothing but the enthralling eruption of light and colour before our eyes.
That night, a friend’s comment resonated with me- as vibrant and, often, scary as fireworks might be, they are temporary, and in a few short minutes, the sky will return to a state of clear blackness with no record of their ever being there. It was week five, and I thought this analogy applied ever-too aptly to life at Cambridge.
Since arriving here, the ‘it’s not the be-all and end-all’ philosophy has kept me (mostly) sane and (hopefully) grounded when it comes to work and deadlines. I attempt to keep a level head (attempt being the operative word) and not slave away over pieces of work I don’t enjoy. However, when too many deadlines, duties and dramas all come to a head at once, it can feel like nothing else exists outside of our little stress- and panic-fuelled bubble. Especially mid-term, everything seems to erupt in one go. We know too well that this feeling of helpless dread and worry will fizzle out come week eight, but for now, nothing else matters. Just like fireworks, I suppose.
It’s often hard to source the all-too-necessary daily reminders that, actually, nothing really matters, especially when our mental health and general well-being is jeopardised for the sake of finishing supervision work. Stress is a fleeting sensation, and we are restored to a state of temporary calm when we finish a piece of work. Yet, despite being short-lived, constant worry builds up, having detrimental effects on our state of mind, and of course, our perspective. Caught up in the moment, we often forget where we are, or indeed that anything else might actually be going on beyond our essay crisis. I’m not saying that we are ignorant to the rest of the world, or that our work-centric attitudes render us self-centred, but stress can make even the best of us narrow- minded sometimes.
My brother came to visit me for the first time at the weekend – his amazement at the stunning architecture that lines the streets of our daily commute reminded me that, caught up in the haste of life here, I hadn’t truly stopped and looked in a while. He compared it to ‘something out of a movie’. I realised that, actually, he was right. This place of crippling assignments and foreboding deadlines is visually and intellectually inspiring, and it’s far too easy to forget that. My friend’s comment on bonfire night was no different. Anxiety and stress that burst into our lives momentarily reduce everything else to a vacuum of meaninglessness. This is why, in those moments, we need to retain our sense of perspective.
Even after week five, and away from the bonfire, I want to step back and consider what’s truly significant. Of course, work is important, but so are many other things. Mental health always comes first. We should remind ourselves that the stress will soon pass, as it always does. And, now that bonfire night is over, let’s hope Bridgemas brings us some further grounding, and helps us to remember the real excitement of being at Cambridge.
Photography by Hollie Berman | @hollie.rosa