October 25, 2021

MEIDENBAUER | Take Care, Cornell

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In the midst of exam season, many college students are reckoning with their mental health in a very real way right now.  As a senior, I’ve certainly had my ups and downs over the years, but as I’m listening to the constant state of anxiety emanating from the libraries, I can’t help but think that there’s got to be something we can do about it. 

Just listen to the conversations as you walk through Duffield, or get your lunch at Trill;  

“I’ve only had coffee today.” 

“I spent four hours on that one question and still don’t know the answer.”

“I have to write a ten page paper in the next 24 hours.” 

“I got three hours of sleep last night.” 

Phrases like this are normalized here, as I’m sure they are on many college campuses.  Sure, poor time management, a rigorous course load and procrastination are partially to blame. But not eating, sleeping or just generally not taking care of ourselves is all too common among Cornell students right now, and the general culture among students perpetuates this.  

Usually this is in the form of one upping- 

“You got five hours of sleep last night? Lucky. I only got three” 

Comparison is the downfall of happiness.  Pretty much everyone at Cornell is a high-achiever; we’re all smart, capable and talented in our respected fields.  Most of us want to do well, almost to the point where it seems like we care too much, sacrificing our health and wellbeing for grades.  What’s this all for? Dream internships of course, strategically aligned in order to secure the best job offer possible post-graduation with a ridiculously high starting salary.  

This is definitely a generalization, and not everyone at Cornell is like that, but many, many people are.  It’s funny, when people ask me whether Cornell is cutthroat, I’m never quite sure how to answer- in many ways no.  The professors, at least in my experience, are incredible, passionate people who want their students to succeed.  Yet in many ways, at least among students, yes, there is an underlying “cutthroat culture”.  This starts with the individual expectations we have of ourselves, trying to achieve good grades at all costs. 

There are many resources at Cornell in place to address mental health concerns of the student body; CAPS, EARS, Body Positive, just to name a few.  I genuinely think that the school does care and try to support the wellbeing of students.  Yet, there still exists an undeniable gap in the mental health system, and many, many students fall through the cracks.  It’s easy to try and blame Cornell Health; and while I think, as with any organization, there can definitely be improvements, the issue is more deep-rooted than that.  

I too forgot to eat, was so stressed I couldn’t sleep, and still failed exams anyway.  It took hitting my own personalized version of rock-bottom burnout for me to realize I needed to change, and luckily I have. Now on the other side of it, I’m wondering, was it all worth it?  

As I’ve discussed all of this with my friends, a few common questions arose.  How do you support a friend that’s struggling?  How do you convince someone to take care of themselves, without overstepping?  Do you even notice these things happening, or are you just barely scraping by yourself? 

Mental health is incredibly personal, and many people still are uncomfortable talking about it, for so many reasons.  There’s so much more to the issue than just ‘talking about it more’, or demanding more resources from Cornell.  Yes, both of these things can and will help, but there’s also a cultural shift that needs to happen.  

Be cautious of the comparisons.  If your friend casually mentions they haven’t eaten at all yet, encourage them to do so.  The more we consciously combat the burnout culture at our school within the student body, the more likely change is to happen. 

At the end of the day, we’re all just doing the best we can.  I’ve been that person struggling, and I’ve been that friend on the sidelines, wishing they could just fight the battle themselves.  None of this is easy and I feel for you.  This is your friendly reminder to look out for yourself right now.  Eat, sleep, leave the fluorescent lights of the library behind in favor of some fresh air, and bring your friends along with you.  

Take care, Cornell.

Lorelei Meidenbauer ’22 is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Hot-takes and Handshakes runs every other Tuesday this semester.