Exams, stress and expectations
- Discusses depression in relation to school and examinations.
- Briefly acknowledges an eating disorder.
I’m currently a first year undergraduate studying zoology, something I have been working towards since secondary school (high school for those in the US). Yet still I find myself hating parts of what I do,namely exams and namely what exams do to my mental health. Since primary school I was a kid labelled with the ‘gifted and talented’ sticker, a sticker which told people to expect great things and also told me that I had to achieve highly. Thus began my descent into obsessive grade checking and the inability to enjoy learning the information I was so desperate to cram.
The ‘gifted and talented’ label combined with a lack of friends and a fervent belief in the catholic church, I can safely say screwed me up. Cutting a long story short I developed depression, guilt issues, mild anxiety and a eating disorder throughout secondary school. It was around this time I stopped believing in God which as anyone who has renounced religion will tell you, is not easy. I hated school and myself, but I continued to excel with little effort which led me down the path of resting my self-worth on the ability to get good grades.
Then along came college. By this time I was recovering from my eating disorder and depression, it seemed as though the long summer had allowed me to work through a lot of my own issues. At college I made more friends and things were generally moving on up. Until my first exam results came through. They were less than the excellence I expected from myself and depression began clouding my mind once again, only aided by the immense guilt I felt when my closest friends had received worse results.
So the frenzied two years of stress, revision and self loathing began (yay!). In short I went through spells of feeling horrendously low after taking out time for myself, to periods of hyper productivity and my personal favourite; sessions spent sobbing over a pile of notes only to scream incoherently at being told to take a break. Achieving was now not only about achieving the highest grades, it was about escape and it was about realising my dream of university.
Well I passed the exams. I got into university despite spending the morning of results day sobbing because I got an A* and two B’s rather than three A’s, the requirement for my course. Which is incredibly sad and only now after identifying my clearly unhealthy mind set about exams can I see that.
‘Okay, thanks for the sad story Manatee, but what is the point of this post?’ I hear you ask.
Well, dear reader.
Firstly for anyone who can identify with this I want you to know you are not alone. The friends I have made at uni are some of the best people I know and they’ve all felt like this to one degree or another. I also want you to remember that even if your exam results fall through, there are always other options, your life isn’t over and your future can lead anywhere.
Secondly, there is something very wrong with putting so much emphasis on kids achieving highly in school. You either feel the crushing weight of producing perfect results or conversely you feel worthless for not being able to achieve those results, you feel less because you are not viewed as ‘gifted and talented’. Education isn’t about letters on paper. It’s about understanding the world, it’s about understanding yourself and it’s about finding what makes you tick, whether that’s a paint brush or a calculator.
It upsets and sickens me that I find it hard to love what I study. Zoology is a dream I’ve been chasing for a long time and it’s the area of science I find both intriguing and at times downright weird. The most recent January exams I’ve been through have brought back the memories of previous examinations and rather than get sad, I got angry. I got angry because I love science and whether I can cram facts for an exam does not prove I have learnt fuck all. I got angry because my friends who are lovely, incredibly awesome people were throwing up due to stress. I got angry because we couldn’t sleep properly, because we couldn’t take a break without feeling intense guilt and because we’re at university where we’re meant to excel not regress.
There is no small solution to this issue. The way we think about our education needs to change, alongside how our education system is set up. It’s a mess, but I’m writing here to try and raise awareness, to reach out and plenty of other people are too. Life is too broad, too weird and too bloody incredible to spend it crying about a letter on a piece of paper. You are more important than any examination, if nothing else I want you to remember that.
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