Last night, university had one more punch in its arsenal. Provisional exam results were released two days early, so at midnight, amidst a complete and utter freak out inside of my head at what I may discover… I logged onto the university system and came face to face with my results. The results from the exams I sat when I was extremely unwell. The results from the exams I sat on 0 hours sleep. The exams I nearly died for, and a couple of which were sat when I should have been in the emergency department of a hospital. The exams I missed so many lectures for that I taught myself the entire module the day/ night before I opened the paper. The exams I fell asleep in… The exams I thought I’d screwed up but eventually managed to persuade myself I had passed.
I looked at my grades. I’d smashed a few exams that I thought I’d failed. I was surprised to see a few A grades for modules, which would equate to a first if this were my final year. There was a B, that would be a 2:1, and it was high, so I was ok with that. There was a C, for which I kicked myself (hey, I’m a perfectionist, the B irritated me at myself a little so the C… Nope)… And then I got to the exam that it wasn’t so hard to convince myself that I hadn’t failed… And in that I got… An F. I failed so spectacularly that the world slightly ended. I mean, it wasn’t even a little bit below 40%… We’re talking less than half of that. Less. Than. Half. (Keep in mind that I still have two exams to sit, and that over three years I can only fail 2 modules. 1 down, I guess…)
On group chats everyone was all
“I passed everything!” and I watched a whole string of following comments saying “Me too! Omg these exams are so easy how did anyone fail them?” (and other similar phrasings of the same statement) appear. I didn’t beat myself up as I sat looking at that F. I completely tore myself apart. I know it is just a grade, I accept that. I know that in the grand scheme of things I’m going through right now it should be tiny, but it isn’t. Shouldn’t matter, but it is all that matters. It was something I could control, the only thing I could change or shape, my way of proving to the world and to myself that I am not a waste of space. It was a measure of the functioning part of me. It was my chance to be like everyone else and it was my ticket to my next year of university. The little things are all that seem to matter to me at the moment, the big things are too big to even comprehend and so they are smothered with my denial. They are slow waves that roll in over time, this… This was a tidal wave, and it seems to have drowned me.
I am my own worst critic, and I am a perfectionist. I put far too much pressure on myself, I have done all the way through school. I lowered my own expectations of myself this year, or at least attempted to, incredibly frustrated that perfection probably wouldn’t occur this time and there was nothing I could do about it – for the first time I wasn’t going to be “the one to beat”, but the lack of that pressure for my second year might be a welcome break (or so I told myself).
This didn’t work for everyone else. My friends seemed to expect me to ace everything, because I’d done alright with coursework and I can talk biomedical science even when drunk. They thought I was clever and I knew I was going to screw up. I then had the pressure of their reactions if I failed even a single thing, the shock, the way people multiply your own disappointment because they feel so much better about themselves in light of your poor performance. I didn’t want to deal with that. All through school if I got less than 95-100%, it was rubbed in my face over and over until anything less than that became a disaster to me (when I got really unwell, I totally stopped caring about my grades, but they didn’t suffer much from my lack of care).
Then came the lecturers. Every single one I spoke to expected a first from me. I tried to limit their expectations but they weren’t having any of it. They said they would be extremely surprised if I got any less than a first overall. One said there would have to be a complete car crash for me not to get a first. I had been told from the start of the year that even if this year went awfully, I could still pull the equivalent of a first from it (at this stage we only get letters, so… An A). In the midst of some banter one of them even told me he would shout if I didn’t get a first because there was no reason for me to do otherwise. So I looked at that F, and I worked out that I could just about scrape a 2:1 (at this stage a B grade) overall… And I felt like I had let so many people down. It wasn’t the weight of my own expectation that crushed me, it was the expectations of everyone else. I felt even more inadequate than usual. I feel like so many people are going to be so disappointed in me, surprised in a bad way… And I feel like the guy that in November told me to drop out of this year and start it from scratch this September because I would never get a first, can now say “I told you so.” And get a smug smile on his face. I was… I was scared of what those people would think of me. I felt sorry for wasting their time and for taking up a place at uni that someone else could have had and made much better use of. There were, in my mind, no excuses.
Never in my life have I failed a subject – not even A level chemistry which I hated and couldn’t be bothered to properly revise for because I was also extremely unwell then… I certainly haven’t every failed quite so spectacularly. I mean, how do I even get a grade that low in an exam that was so… Nice? Did I only fill in my name correctly? Did I label the cell types in the lungs with human names such as Tom and Rob? I mean seriously, I am some spectacular new breed of dumbass. It doesn’t matter to me how well everything else went, and the comment of,
“But you were so, so unwell when you sat those exams.” didn’t make me feel any better, doesn’t make everything alright. To me, my health is no excuse. I screwed up. I have nowhere to live next year. I failed an easy exam and nobody else who messaged group chats seemed to have failed anything. My heart sank spectacularly, I curled up in a ball, pulled the covers over me, and woke up at 9am this morning, at which point my disappointment once again hit me like a train.
“But nobody else was dealing with the things you were dealing with, if you’d have been healthier you’d have done so much better.” That’s just the point. This isn’t going to get better. Not before I take the two exams I have left to sit and resit the one I have failed. My health is on a downward spiral. This is as good as it will get for a while and therefore as good as I am going to get. This is normal now, this is who I am. Normal is no excuse. I let myself down and I have let so many others down. My family still see the GCSE age me who was top of the class for stuff. They still expect that same level of performance. They still think I am perfectly capable of 100% and stuff and everybody just needs to know that I am not. I am just not capable of thinking and remembering and… Functioning, a lot of the time and that affects academic performance significantly, but is not an excuse.
My friend who is currently in the middle of nowhere in a log cabin interrailing (and who is going on a road trip with me when she gets back) was all “This is just a blip, we will deal with it…” and as usual was surprisingly amazing at being motivated and determined enough for the two of us.
“There’s clearly a mistake. At the very, very worst you wouldn’t get less than 50%, they must have marked it wrong. You need to phone them and ask them to mark it again.” Was also not helpful, because here came that crushing old expectation again. My family refuse to accept the fact that I can fail and it makes me even more disappointed because I did.
The most helpful thing anyone has said to me this morning?
“It’s only provisional, don’t panic yet.”
I made this mess and I will just have to look at it until something else comes along. I’m disappointed in myself and still haven’t found a place to live… It’s also looking increasingly likely that my body is going to plunge itself into a medical emergency again sometime soon and we’ve no way to stop it. So much stress. And yet, I can’t pause to be stressed.
No way but through.