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The “Best Years of My Life” Made Me Miserable

When I was growing up, I was often labeled as the kid who would one day have a lot of options. I loved school, I loved learning new things and I enjoyed going to class. I was a good student when I was younger. When I was in grade 5 I began attending advanced maths classes that were a grade or 2 ahead of me. I had potential, high self-esteem and more motivation to achieve than you could imagine. Cut to the end of grade 11. I sat at the end of year assembly, surrounded by people receiving certificates, scrolls, and medals for all of their achievements. I sat in a row where everyone had received something. Everyone but me.

My anxiety and how it started:

Since I began high school, my grades have been a touchy subject for me. I struggled a lot, I was discouraged and it all manifested in my main area of anxiety surrounding tests and exams. I’ve had teachers and lecturers praise me for how well I was doing throughout the semester only to wonder why I had achieved so low in my exams. Before each assessment, I would play it off as if I were prepared and totally cool but I’d often cry during or straight after the exam.

Maths was probably my biggest issue and it was definitely the biggest smack in the face. For a girl who’d done so well that she had required advanced maths, I was now in the bottom set barely keeping up. I walked out of one exam in grade 11 and broke down before I’d even left the hall. I sat in the car with my mom for half an hour just bawling. There was nothing I could do to console myself. Another time, during my June exam in matric, I had a panic attack not even an hour in. I had to be taken outside to calm down enough that I could keep writing.

The culmination:

In matric, marks became the be-all and end-all of my existence. I studied whenever I could. I didn’t sleep and I became short and irritable with friends and family. My anxiety got worse and I had to start taking anxiety pills to help me sleep and to numb my emotions. More days than not I’d arrive at school with less than 3 hours of sleep, depending solely on coffee after coffee to keep me functioning. There were more occasions than I can remember where I would be doing an ordinary task such as making my breakfast before breaking down in heaving sobs. I was an absolute mess.

Even with all the work I was putting in, it didn’t seem to do much for my marks. I began hiding from my parents when I had a test because I didn’t want to feel as if I was disappointing them when I inevitably did badly. When I did well in an assessment I’d try playing it up as much as is could to hide my failures but eventually, even that stopped. I didn’t want the topic of marks being brought up around me, I struggled to find the motivation to study and any successes of my siblings’ made me feel worse. It all felt like a personal attack against me. In my eyes, I was totally the victim.

teen stress in school

 

When the results were released, it was at 4 am the day before I left on holiday with my family. I sat there waiting to see terrible results. I ignored messages from my friends and sat alone in my darkened bedroom. When I got the results I was beyond devastated so I messaged them to my parents before crying myself to sleep. They weren’t what I had hoped and thus were a failure in my eyes. The next morning I was scared to face my parents and when I did, they congratulated me. My dad praised how much I had improved from my preliminary exams and my stepmom hugged me as she praised the work I had put in. I was shocked because, how could a failure in my eyes warrant such a positive response?

What I’ve learned since:

It took a while to come to terms with the fact that, given my history with struggling in school, my results were damn good. My dad reminded me that I had moved schools on average every 2.5 years and that, because I switched curriculums and then subjects, I’d be at a disadvantage. I now look back at those marks and I’m proud of what I achieved. I ended up improving 13% from prelims.

I got rejected from my first choice university and then my back up. I ended up going to a small uni where I met the most incredible people and discovered what its like to exist outside of a uniform. I’ll be heading to my first choice uni this year after reapplying and I’m now in a much better headspace to move out than I was a year ago.

The whole experience reminded me to look at my other achievements rather than just my results. While I didn’t receive a distinction or a medal at my valedictory, I did receive a spot on the Dean’s list with a shiny medal. The award was to honor individuals who had given back to the school throughout their schooling career. At the end of my year, there were 23 of us. While I was in high school; I took part in a school production, played on the hockey team, danced in a ballet recital, performed in my school’s vocal ensemble, tabled for water polo for 2 years and achieved my grade 6 in singing leading to me receiving half colors. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of these things. At the end of the day, they were just as important as my results regarding my growth as a person.

To end off:

I’m not going to lie and say I don’t get insecure. When my sister complains about getting ‘only 86’ on a test or my brother receives a trophy for being the top student in a subject, I’ll admit that I get jealous. I’ll feel bad about myself and all those negative thoughts that plagued me throughout school come rushing back to the forefront of my mind. But it’s important to look at what I achieved in my own context and to remember that they’re achieving in their own contexts.

So often we compare ourselves to others and completely ignore the fact that others may be comparing themselves to us. If we all focus on our own successes and victories, people may just start enjoying life a hell of a lot more.

 

That’s all I’ve got to say but I would be grateful for any feedback or comments from you. So don’t forget to comment down below and subscribe for updates.

Keep doing you,
Jos x

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