Week 0 might be the biggest roller-coaster of emotions possible to experience. The anxious anticipation of waiting for your collections timetables (released maybe a week in advance, if you’re lucky). The hustle and bustle of moving back in, trying fruitlessly to stop your parents from embarrassing you in front of your friends. The revision stress that you know you could’ve easily avoided if you’d just spent a little more time studying over the vac… Catching up on what everyone’s been doing for the past five weeks (for some reason, everyone’s been in Italy this vac?) The dichotomy of desperately wanting to socialise after five weeks of sitting at home, but also knowing that you will fail collections if you don’t put the work in. Those awkward few minutes when you see your friends again and wait patiently for normality to settle back in, knowing you probably should’ve texted them a few more times over the holiday. 

I’ll be brutally honest: collections ruin me every term. I curse myself for picking Oxford over Cambridge, where the start of term is stress-free. I distract myself with anything and everything (including writing this article), pretending not to notice the countdown I put on my phone that I thought would give me an adrenaline kick, but has instead just reinforced the sense of impending doom in my chest. I make timelines and summarise previous notes, convincing myself that it counts as revision. I text my former tute partner, trying to take comfort in the fact that they haven’t revised either – note: they’re definitely lying to me. I consider superstition, religion, witchcraft, turning to whatever could provide me with a glimmer of hope (no human sacrifice yet, but we’ll see). I read over my essays from last term, trying to convince myself that I know what I’m doing, ignoring the fact that I struggle to remember simple things like dates and names, which are kind of essential to a history essay. 

Trinity has allowed for new ways of alleviating stress, especially nature walks. Collections may strip all the happiness from my life, but nothing could ever strip away the beauty of the Christ Church meadows. When Oxford decides to embrace Spring, it is truly one of the most gorgeous cities in the world. Walking across the grass on the quad and taking in the centuries-old buildings can be breathtaking, particularly after being deprived of such views for weeks. The college library at night is also comforting, and restores some confidence that I might actually pass collections. 

But I have become scatterbrained. I lose my train of thought mid-sentence as the overload of information I’ve been consuming starts to wreck my mind. I have never been one to stress about exams; they used to be a breeze. Now I feel physically ill as I sit at my desk, exam paper in front of me, staring blankly at 20 questions of which I must choose 3 to vomit all of the useless facts inside me upon. 

I chug a RedBull. It does nothing but make my heart rate spike, unfocus my brain. I drink water to stop myself from hyperventilating, telling myself that if I’m drinking water, my throat won’t close up. I mourn the loss of the past version of myself who always had the answers.

It is as if I pour my very soul into my collection paper. It strips away my energy, my brainpower, my ability to stay awake. After 3 essays in 3 hours, I stumble out of the exam hall half-drunk with exhaustion, and somehow manage to make it back to my room before I pass out in my bed, on top of the covers, in jeans. I wake up an hour later, disoriented and confused, feeling like it’s been a thousand years since I was last awake. 

And then I do it all over again.

I wish I could make this a Love Letter to collections. I wish I could appreciate the practice that we get before prelims/finals, appreciate the challenge of what is, if I’m being totally honest with myself, actually quite a thought-provoking and interesting exam. I wish I could take pride and joy in answering questions that I’ve spent weeks preparing. I want to rise to the challenge of collections and come out the other side, battered but still whole, and all the stronger for the experience.

But I can’t. Collections have sapped me even of my optimism, leaving me a shallow husk of who I once was. I counted down the days, waiting to get back to Oxford, and before I could appreciate it I am thrust back into mountains of stress and mountains of essays. Even with collections over and done with, I am given a grand total of three whole days to prepare for my first class. My professor oh-so-graciously gives me the pre-reading the week before term starts, whilst I am mid-exam panic, so that by the time collections are over I am expected to have already started working on the new term’s subject. I come out of my exam and walk straight into a reading list that is taller than I am. I allow myself four hours of downtime before the never-ending task list that is an Oxford degree envelopes me again, and I am sucked back into the cycle of essays and tutes. 

Despite this, I still manage to listen to Taylor Swift’s new album, even if I’m a day late. I make plans with the friends who I couldn’t see in 0th week. I start drinking again and go to Bridge for the ritual collections afterparty. I join new societies. I clean my room and do my dishes, embarrassed at how messy I let my life get in under a week. I organise my schedule and plan how I’m going to handle the upcoming essays. Life falls back to normality, or at least, an Oxford version of “normality”.

I wish I could make this a love letter to collections. I can’t. For all the times over the past week that I’ve felt myself lose my grip on reality, I can’t. So instead, it is a love letter to normality. The cycle of essays feels like a warm embrace compared to the chaotic stress of collections. I ignore the looming threat of prelims, and allow myself to settle into a routine once again. Perhaps it makes me boring, that my glimmer of hope in the darkness is normality. That’s fine with me: I never claimed to be interesting. If loving the ordinary is wrong, perhaps collections should be praised to the stars. I leave that task to others.