Duck syndrome. You’ve heard of it, you’ve lamented its effects, you’ve at times been part of the problem and at others part of a solution. At first you may have thought it was just an issue related to academics. After all, isn’t academic pressure the only downside of an otherwise vibrant, sunny, exciting campus life? But if you have had a taste of it, you’ve soon realized that duck syndrome applies to a great many other things as well. It applies to imposter syndrome – pretending you belong and are confident in why you of all people deserve to be here; it applies to loneliness or abuse – pretending that you’re a free bird or that everything is going amazingly in your relationships; it applies to health.
I’ve had health issues for the past year and a half now, an unpredictable jumble of physical and mental ups and downs that have been (pardon the bad metaphor) like a blindfolded rollercoaster ride. They were manageable during the beginning of the year, but come spring break I felt like I was hit by a truck. When everyone came back from spring break and asked how mine had been, I talked of the two times I had been off-campus with friends, sweeping days of not getting out of bed under the duck syndrome rug. In doing so, I realized that duck syndrome also applies to health, and not only to social life or academics (although I’m sure others have realized this far before me).
Duck syndrome is everywhere and can be applied to almost anything. Just look at all the articles in the Stanford Daily, the memes, the joking or not-so-joking Facebook posts, the stories of those who have drowned in it or are just managing to keep their heads above water. It may be easy to focus on what seems to be the greater problem – a growing number of students striving to put on a show of confidence and happiness while keeping problems and insecurities locked up tight. This issue is a monstrous one — just thinking about all the problems it entails is headache-inducing.
This points to perhaps a more pressing concern. Yes, duck syndrome affects a disproportionate amount of students. But more worrying is the fact that it is seen as a single problem. We tend to talk of duck syndrome as an all-encompassing umbrella for any kinds of issues we might be hiding, be they social, academic, mental or physical. Everyone agrees duck syndrome is a problem we must address, but since duck syndrome is the Stanford way of calling any undiscussed issues, no one knows quite how to go about fixing everything.
We need to start a conversation not about duck syndrome, but about each of the problems it is composed of. We need to acknowledge that duck syndrome means something different for everyone.
We’ll fight against duck syndrome better if we acknowledge all the issues it’s composed of and tackle them as individual demons, not as one gigantic, vague, elusive beast.
Contact Axelle Marcantetti at axellem ‘at’ stanford.edu.