Campus Life advice

Plague and despair

Auntie Matter on feeling better

If you have questions for Auntie Matter, please submit them at Questions have been edited for length, clarity, and content.

Dear Auntie Matter,

How do you know when to go to S^3? I’ve been feeling sick, but it hasn't been directly affecting my schoolwork. However, I feel like I should ask for something. Should I?

— Seeking S^3 Support

Dear S^5,

Why do you think you should ask for something? Are people telling you to do it? If so, their advice may or may not be relevant to you. Usually, the “something” that S^3 can help you with is getting extensions for assignments and working with you to create a plan for getting back on track after you’ve been sick.

If you feel that you have your work under control, you may not need help from S^3. In fact, extensions can just make you fall further behind because they can make work pile up. The main scenario in which extensions are useful is if you need rest time to get better from an illness or if your illness has kept you from doing work.  

The same situation in which it would be good for one person to have an extension might not require one for someone else. It depends on your relationship to work; that is, whether it would genuinely let you recover or just stress you out. Only you can really know. Of course, if you are unsure what would help you, you can go to S^3, and they can discuss it with you.

Auntie hopes you feel better soon.  

Dear Auntie Matter,

I fucking hate being an MIT student, but I have no idea what else to do with my life. Please advise.

— Miserable at MIT

Dear Miserable,

There is not enough information here to give you specific advice on how to improve your life. If you currently hate your life, you have to understand why that is — or at least have some idea — in order to change things effectively. Consider making an honest list of things you like and dislike in your life right now. (Do not do this when upset; the temptation will be to “dislike” everything, and Auntie sincerely doubts there is no shred of good in your life. If you tell yourself you “dislike” even the good, you will lose it, too.) If you can do more of any of the “likes” and fewer of the “dislikes,” that might be a good place to start.

But your letter suggests more than wanting to change your life at MIT — it seems almost as if the only other option you can think of would be dropping out. Auntie cautions against doing this as anything but a last resort. You do not have a binary option of either staying at MIT just as you are or leaving. Instead, there are many ways you could change your current life without changing your status as an MIT student. There are lots of ways to be a student here. It seems unlikely all of them would make you miserable. It’s possible that you can change your entire life here — where you live, what classes you take, what you do in your free time, who you spend time with, etc. Even if you cannot change all of these, you likely can change enough that your life could be very different. And if all else fails, of course you can leave MIT, but Auntie encourages you to try other changes first.

Of the other thing you say in this letter — that you cannot imagine anything that would make you happy — Auntie is highly suspicious. We tend to find nothing appealing because we cannot see anything as good, not because everything in the world is bad. The first thing to think about if nothing sounds good to you is your mood — you may be depressed or simply sad. As Auntie has written before, it is important to contemplate the future in a calm state of mind. Thinking about the future when we are already upset never fails to conjure trouble on the horizon. The other factor that may be at play here is your environment. MIT students can see a very narrow horizon of possible futures. Try speaking with adults who are not affiliated with MIT or even reading career books and taking career tests. There are many things that no one at MIT seems to do, even though they are wonderful vocations. For example, Auntie does not know anyone here planning to be a counselor, film-maker, lawyer, preacher, medical professional other than doctor, or writer, but these professions are not off-limits to you. Perhaps if the options look poor, you are not considering the right set of them.