The struggle is real

Sophomore slump has established an unhealthy status quo that covers up mental and physical health problems.

By Zelda Mayer

I am usually able to gauge how my life is going by observing my reaction when I see a baby. If I want to play with or hold the baby, I am doing just fine. But if I want to be the baby—to be able to fling myself on the ground, throw a tantrum in public, and just be cradled and sheltered from the world—I might need to reevaluate my life.

More and more, I’ve noticed myself wanting to be the baby.

I’ll be honest: Fall quarter was rough for me. Things felt like they were falling apart—academically, emotionally, you name it. And not just for me, but for all my second-year friends as well. We joked about it, developing the struggle bus metaphor more and more until we were strapped to the roof of a struggle Hummer limo headed straight for Strugs City. But beyond the self-deprecating jokes, it was harder on all of us than we were willing to admit. Instead, we distracted ourselves, ripping open a bag of Cheetos and waiting for the quarter to reset.

All my third-year friends assured me that they too had had trouble navigating the ins and outs of their second year of college. I assumed that this was just the sophomore slump and that the stress eating and drunk crying would soon pass.

College—and life—is stressful, but with so much going on, sophomore year in particular tends to highlight this fact. As second-years, we are expected to know how to navigate the College, since we’ve already been here for a year. We are no longer required to schedule quarterly meetings with our academic counselors, and our parents stop checking in so much, confident now in our abilities to do our own laundry and pick up our own prescriptions.

But the really scary part is that we are not only expected to do our own laundry, but also to pick a major, figure out a career path, and effectively perform under a rigorous course load while balancing a busy RSO schedule. We prioritize our future over our present needs, losing much-needed sleep to study for a midterm or apply for a summer internship. Issues that have been lurking below the surface break through, but instead of addressing them, we assume that they are just part of the package deal, and keep working. “I am fine,” I told myself all throughout first quarter. “Everything’s fine.”

Then the quarter ended, and I’m…not fine. I’m starting to realize that this might go beyond the sophomore slump. How many days do I have to stay in bed in just my underwear, watching Netflix and feeling sorry for myself, before it’s considered depression and not just the slump? How bad does my self-esteem have to get? How inconsistent do my eating habits have to be before it’s considered an eating disorder and not just a college student’s unhealthy routine?

There is this notion that you’re not supposed to be a healthy, functioning human being during second year. Instead, you’re supposed to be depressed and crazy. Throughout the quarter, I would receive texts that said things like, “Haven’t slept or eaten a real meal in 36 hours. Running on coffee and tears. The sophomore slump is real,” or, “Just broke down crying in the middle of class. Sophomore slump.”

But it’s exhausting to laugh it off and wait for everything to pass. And if this is just the sophomore slump, I don’t understand how anyone makes it through the year.

Of course, not all moments are bad, and I do occasionally put on pants. Good things do result from hard work: I continuously justify the all-nighters and caffeine headaches with a good grade on a midterm, or numb the pain with a fun night with friends.

Still, because depression, anxiety, and stress are all the second-year status quo, it can seem like a form of failure to complain too much or to seek substantial help. It feels like my issues have to reach a threshold of urgency before I can go talk to someone about them or reach out for help. One night last quarter, I found myself sobbing at 3 a.m., feeling like I had exhausted my support system in Chicago. I realized that the longer I write off my feelings and attribute them to the sophomore slump, the longer I’ll be preventing myself from living a healthy, balanced life.

It was time to make a change.

This quarter, I’m making a conscious decision to work on my mental health. For me, this means finally making use of our free counseling services. Not because I have reached the threshold of depression or body issues, but because I’ve decided I’m tired of pretending that the things I am dealing with are acceptable aspects of college.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, but as students we often ignore it, casting it aside as “optional.” Instead, we order another latte, do another P-set, and call it a slump. I’m done with this unhealthy lifestyle. To all my fellow classmates: Just book an appointment with counseling services, go to that yoga class, or take a deep breath and call your mom. Let’s face our issues head-on. Because, quite frankly, this sophomore slump thing is bullshit.

Zelda Mayer is a second-year in the College.