Do Not Be Defined

It’s unlike me to worry about exam results, and yet for the past few nights I haven’t slept at all. It’s funny how the past seven years of my life will be deemed a success or a failure based on a few letters written on a piece of paper; letters that are the result of a couple of hours of freaking out in an exam room. If I judged a person based on a couple of hours of silently sitting in a room with them, the world would call me insane.

I was very ill around the time of my exams. I could only stay awake for a few hours at a time, I could barely function, and after my first couple of exams I ended up in hospital. I was not expecting to pass, let alone to get the grades I needed. I told myself that whatever my grades were, they wouldn’t matter. But saying it doesn’t make it true. In the short term they do matter; it is only in the long term that we see the silver lining to the storm clouds, after we have learned to dance in the rain. In the short term I didn’t know how to deal with bad news…

I didn’t have to.

I was up most of the night texting quite possibly the loveliest, sweetest person on the planet. I took a sleeping tablet, but my nerves wouldn’t subside. I lay awake playing over every situation, refusing to let myself think for too long about the good, and allowing my thoughts to stagnate on the bad. I’d worked myself up into such a panic over the course of the day, and yet as results drew nearer I suddenly felt completely calm. I set an alarm for 7:55 and slept right through it. My mum woke me up at 8:20. I went downstairs by myself and logged on to track my university application. Forget arrhythmias, my heart was hammering away in my chest because of the adrenaline pumping through me. I tried to log in and had forgotten my username. Somehow I made it back up the stairs and found what I needed, before trying again.

I didn’t need to read the whole page, because as soon as the word ‘congratulations’ appeared at the top, I let out a sigh of relief. I had been tense for days, and I didn’t realise the tension was there until it was all released. I sank back into the chair and just stared at the screen. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I hadn’t got in, but it would have felt like it for a while. I didn’t have the strength to cope with that.

When I was younger I used to be the kind of person that obsessed over grades. They haven’t mattered to me for a long time. Until recently. But as soon as I found out that I had earned my place at university, I didn’t need to go and get my results. The waiting was over, the stress was over. I have my fresh start. None of my friends are going to the university that I chose, and that means that I will finally have to be independent and fend for myself. I won’t be ‘the ill one’, I won’t walk into a building knowing that somewhere within it there are people who spread things about me and my health issues that made me wish I’d never been born, and would never wake up again. I will be free to be me, to meet new people and to shake off the memories of the ones who have dragged me down. I have needed this for a long time. It is a chance to feel human again, to matter, to make something of myself. And then hopefully, I can get a medical degree and give back to the profession that has saved my life far too many times and left emotional wounds so deep they will never heal. I want to stop other people experiencing the mistakes that I have experienced at the hands of people who said they would help me. I’ve wanted to help people for as long as I can remember. For years I’ve dreamed of starting a charity or just making a difference, without using my own name, because the recognition doesn’t matter to me. The thing about borrowed time is that you have to pay it back. And some day I will.

I went out with my mum to celebrate, and we drove through the most almighty storm. The roads flooded and we couldn’t see where we were driving, and the lightening was disorientating… And it washed everything else away. Because everything else before today doesn’t matter any more. I had to fight a little harder than most to get here, but I got to where I wanted to go. I missed two years of school and got held back as a result. I’ve been bullied. I’ve given up on myself. I’ve been lost. I’ve hated myself. I went into school even when I felt awful, I refused to let them send me home (I got rushed to hospital in ambulances a few times after collapsing, but I was determined to carry on until I couldn’t carry on any more) I nearly died a few too many times in between all of that. I got rejected by every single medical school I applied to based on my predicted grades (AAB), so I decided to go for Biomedical science and take the long way round. I felt like giving up so many times. And many more times I gave in to that feeling and I lost all hope. Last week at my mum’s birthday party, a man came up to me and said, “I hear you’ve been knocking again… On death’s door, I mean. You’re lucky he was out.” But I’m here… A little later than planned, and not quite where I wanted to be a few years ago, but I’m on the right path to becoming the person that I want to be.

To anybody who has ever failed at something:

Do not give up. Do not let grades or words on a piece of paper define you, whether its exam results or the outcome of a job application or whatever. Do not let rejection defeat you. These things are a reflection of hours or weeks of work, but you are so much more than that. I’m not saying that it isn’t going to hurt. But life is about learning to limp on with those wounds, and in doing so realising that they will heal. People will put you down. You will put yourself down. But look up at the sky and realise that the world is still turning. Although you feel so stationary and stuck, you are moving faster than you could ever comprehend. If boxers fell down at the first punch there would be no point in a fight. We’re all made of the same stuff as boxers, and you might stumble now, but it will take far more than these letters to bring you down and take you out of the fight. Just hold on through the rough patch, it gets easier on the other side.

Our failures and our successes are not what defines us, it is what we do next that tells the world who we are. Moving in any direction is better than staying still (in a metaphorical sense, because if there is a shark in front of you or something I would not recommend going that way…)

“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” – Sarah Williams


I didn’t think I would be going to university so today has been a nice surprise! I couldn’t have done it without my awesome family, so thanks you guys; and also thanks to everyone else who believed in me when I didn’t. I owe you all a million and I can never pay you back.


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