"It’s never okay to suffer in silence"Instagram/@carsonbmac

The University of Cambridge: one of the best institutions of higher learning in the country — nay, the world. With the likes of Isaac Newton, Emma Thompson, David Attenborough and the world’s best journalist and my personal role model, Borat, having cycled over Orgasm Bridge, one cannot help but hope that this wealth of intelligence will rub off on them. However, getting into Cambridge versus actually doing an eight week term are two very different concepts. With Freshers’ Week over in two days, the first week starting for some strange reason on Thursday, and essay deadlines already looming, I found Cambridge an extremely overwhelming experience from the start.

As someone who was already suffering from a chronic mental illness, the Cambridge world, while being both exciting and stimulating, slowly began to chip away at my already wavering mental stability. With other students spending their nights in the library and keeping on top of their never-ending deadlines, imposter syndrome hit me hard and fast. Without anyone to properly talk to, as I was still trying to present myself as the perfectly happy-go-lucky new friend, my overall wellbeing began to deteriorate. By the end of Michaelmas term, my mind was very much ready to recuperate over the Christmas holidays — but with mocks set for the first few days of Lent term, my relaxing vacation quickly turned into an elongated study session. My Cambridge dream was slowly slipping through my fingers and the prospects of dropping out seemed more and more likely.

“A medical intermission is a break from university to focus on improving your medical challenges and problems”

But I hear you ask, what is an intermission and how did you find out about it? A medical intermission, as defined by the university, is ‘the process whereby a student can take a break from their studies and ‘disregard’ any terms in which they are unable to properly engage with their studies due to serious, unforeseen circumstances.’ It wasn’t until I emailed my DoS, relaying my struggles and my inability to meet any of my deadlines, that the urgency and seriousness of my situation became apparent to those around me. It was only then that I heard utterances of the term “medical intermission.” However, it became very apparent that this wouldn’t be a quick-fix or straight forward application, as it seemed anyone who was anyone within the college and university system had to be consulted. Having to continuously relay my private mental health struggles and traumas to one person after another was quite harrowing, and not knowing who exactly had access to my medical evidence, which was needed to approve my intermission, didn’t make the process any easier. Nevertheless, with the approval of my college and the university, I was allowed to go on a medical intermission for the rest of my first year of Cambridge.

I spent the remainder of the academic year either in my bed or my therapist’s chair, neither of which were particularly exciting. While it was paramount that I went on a medical intermission to improve my chronic depression and anxiety, scrolling through my Facebook or Instagram and seeing my new uni friends having what seemed to be the time of their lives without me wasn’t easy. Having to move back home with my parents whilst everyone else was enjoying their new-found autonomy and freedom definitely made me more anxious to return back to Cambridge. Will all of my new friends be much closer with each other? Will I still be their friend? Will I fit in? Will I be able to cope and complete a full Cambridge year? Am I Cambridge material? Should I go back?

“It’s never okay to suffer in silence”

While it was by no means an easy process, I was able to return back to Cambridge from my medical intermission to attend the 2019/2020 academic year. However, despite having a web page entitled ‘Returning from Medical Intermission’, the university’s information and guidelines only encompass the admin and academic side of returning to Cambridge; no one seems to actually talk about the mental and social challenges of coming back from a medical intermission.


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Feeling like a fraud: imposter syndrome and me

I spent the first couple of weeks of Michaelmas getting reacquainted with friends I had made during the previous year and, despite my worries, by the end of the term my social life was finally beginning to flourish. Having been given access to the University Counselling Service upon my return and finding myself able to open up to my friends about my mental health struggles, I began to create a nice, little support bubble for myself. And with my DoS and other academics now aware of my ongoing struggles with my mental health, I felt more confident to ask for extensions and extra help; I began to mould my academics around my recovery rather than sacrificing my wellbeing for my weekly essays. By taking a medical intermission to focus on my mental health, I was able to come back to Cambridge and resume my degree, something that would have been impossible to do without.

The question still remains: to intermit or to not intermit? While the case for every individual will be different, I do believe it is important to take a medical intermission if your physical or mental health is affecting your academics, social life and overall well-being. Whether you decide to intermit or not, talking to your friends, tutors, DoS and the people around you is paramount when undertaking a degree at the University of Cambridge. As Jessie J says “it’s okay not to be okay,” however it’s never okay to suffer in silence.