For the past month or so, a group of friends and I had been planning a weekend getaway to Vermont. A friend of ours is from Stowe and suggested, almost on a whim, that we all come up to her house for a weekend in dreary February; we could ski if we wanted, or sled or just curl up under blankets and relax. Everything sounded blissful, and we quickly agreed.
Over the next few weeks, we absentmindedly planned, but I almost forgot that the weekend was coming up. However, when I opened my calendar a week before our scheduled weekend and saw the dates blocked off in all caps (I had perhaps been a little too excited when I scheduled it), I felt a moment of panic.
It’s not that I didn’t want to spend hours with my friends; I did. And it’s not that I didn’t need a break from Yale; I certainly needed that. But there’s something so bizarre, so magnetic about Yale that the thought of putting it in my rearview mirror for three full days filled me with a sense of dread. When I say magnetic, I don’t even necessarily mean it as a good thing: Sometimes I think that I would like nothing more than to leave for a few days, and yet Yale’s force, the sense of urgency and all-consuming place that exists here, keeps me from doing it.
Even to leave Yale’s campus for a few hours, which I do from time to time for a cappella performances, can seem scary and onerous. There’s something about the inertia of Yale life and the way in which we allow this place to consume the vast majority of our time and energy that makes it feel like leaving it behind for a few moments is the most dangerous thing in the world.
I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way, and I don’t think that this attitude is particularly healthy. Even as I was overcome with anxiety at the prospect of leaving campus, I also had to take a step back and wonder why I wasn’t itching to get away. The past two or three weeks at Yale haven’t exactly been great. Seemingly nothing was going right. I spent the first two weeks of the semester paralyzed with academic stress as I tried to pick my final classes and pin down a thesis advisor, lest I not be able to graduate. The snow seems never-ending, and my days are invariably, monotonously gray and slush-filled.
But more seriously, the past month or so has posed a fundamental challenge to Yale as an institution. The loss of a student, and one who I knew tangentially, seriously shook me; I attended the funeral in Battell and cried, and since hearing the news of her death I’ve found it much harder to motivate myself to do the things I know I need to do, like go to lecture or do my reading. In the wake of this news, I’ve been torn between pure sadness and also anger at the Yale administration for its outdated mental health policies.
It goes without saying that a great number of students here go through the motions of everyday life, all while grappling with seemingly insurmountable and inexpressible challenges and levels of grief. But even for those who are not struggling with profound, medical mental health needs, the fact of the matter is that most students here live their lives sad and stressed and anxious a lot of the time. I know I do, and I’d be hard pressed to think of a friend who doesn’t. Why, then, was I so reluctant to leave it behind, even for two days?
My friends and I went on our weekend getaway, my neuroses notwithstanding. We loaded up our cars and blasted music and played dorky car games for four hours. We sledded down an enormous hill and made hot chocolate; we talked about our lives and took naps when we said we were going to “do homework.” And it was one of the best weekends of my entire year. I think it’s not until you’re physically removed from campus that you realize just how heavily Yale weighs on you, and it was a nice reminder that life does very much go on, even when you’re not at Yale. And moreover, it was reassuring to feel that the things that happen away from Yale’s campus are just as important, if not more so, than the minutiae that we ascribe so much significance to here.
After a few weeks of feeling sad and overwhelmed, and of thinking long and hard about why so many of us feel sad and overwhelmed, this weekend seemed to present a solution: Take a break. Get away. Just the feeling of getting in a car and watching Harkness Tower get smaller behind you is liberating. The degree to which we cherish Yale has itself become almost oppressive. It feels as if everything here is the pinnacle of importance, but if we give ourselves the space to look at Yale a bit more critically, I think we’d all remember that it’s not. Or, at least, it doesn’t always have to be.
Victoria Hall-Palerm is a senior in Berkeley College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at email@example.com.