You are strong. You are calm. You are happy.” I repeated this to myself over and over as I boarded Cathay Pacific flight 812 from Hong Kong to Boston. I tried to convince myself that I was okay, and that I was fine leaving home and flying back to Andover. As much as I tried to stifle the crippling ache in my chest, the long stretch from January to June loomed over me, and I choked. I struggled to find the reasons why I wanted to return to Andover. At that moment, sitting on my airplane seat, nothing came to mind.
When I finally got to my dorm room, I busied myself with unpacking and saying hello to my friends in the dorm, yet somehow the ache in my chest returned with full force, along with the dreaded jet lag. That night came quickly. It was dark by 4:00 p.m., and I felt a thick fog of sleepiness descend on me.
Upperclassmen warned me about the struggle of returning after Winter Break, but I didn’t take it seriously until two weeks ago. I was told that I may be affected by SAD — Seasonal Affective Disorder — which is caused by a reduced level of sunlight that affects a person’s body clock, or circadian rhythm. The reduced level of sunlight caused by short winter days results in a drop in serotonin, a chemical in the brain that affects moods. A lack of serotonin can lead to feelings of gloominess or depression. Common symptoms are a lack of energy, sadness, change in appetite, and sensitivity to social situations.
What I felt might have been SAD, or it might have been homesickness. Regardless, my mood worsened significantly. The lack of light lengthened the time it took me to recover from jet lag and the frigid weather and short days were shocking.The novelty of boarding school had officially worn off. The sudden change in environment and readjusting to the grueling schedule felt surreal. I trudged from class to class, drifted from meal to meal, and dreaded the nights.
To make matters worse, midterms were looming. It was so hard to motivate myself to study and make myself focus. 7:00 p.m. felt like midnight, and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed for a week. It is truly overwhelming at Andover in January. As a returning Junior with no foreknowledge, those first days back were like a long and dark tunnel with no end in sight.
Then one evening as the sun was setting over the bare old trees and the snow, the beauty of Andover lifted me up out of the doldrums for a moment. Andover can be so pretty. That moment reminded me that I was a little proud to go to a school that stayed open in a snowstorm when every other are school, including Phillips Exeter Academy, closed on the first day of school. For me, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” approach at Andover has definitely helped me to cope with my winter blues. The immediate deluge of work, extracurricular activities, and social events was a bit overpowering, and there were moments of real stress and fury, but they did divert my attention from my sadness. This, I found, was the most helpful coping mechanism for me.
There is no one good way to prepare for that first winter back at Andover. For me, I tried to find the things that make Andover beautiful, whether it be by leaving one’s room and spending time with friends or taking time for oneself to decompress from the busy pace of Andover. It is certainly something to be experienced and one must acknowledge that it can be tough. So far, Winter Term has been a lesson in resilience. I’ve learned to push through even though it gets darker in the winter, and there are moments when I just want to be in bed all day.
I wouldn’t be the same without the triumphs and struggles I’ve had to endure during these past couple weeks. I finally remember now why I love it so much here. It’s easy to lose sight of the things that make me happy and feel supported — especially during the winter and such a stressful time on campus — but I am so glad I keep pushing.