Them, Not Me – I Never Was At All

I AM NOT A DUMB-ASS! I repeat: I. Am not. A dumb-ass!

A while ago I made a post where I announced that I was provisionally a dumb-ass. I had screwed up the one exam I thought I’d passed. And I hadn’t failed it a little bit, I’d got less than half of the 40% required to scrape a pass, and with it, all chances of passing that module or getting a first at the end of my first year were lost. Then, on the 13th of July, I became a confirmed dumb-ass. My grade increased from 18.7% to 18.9%. The paper had been remarked. I was officially stupid. It took me three days to actually follow the link and log-in to look at my grades because I was scared to come face to face with my failure… Except, I was never a dumb-ass at all. The system is a dumb-ass. Not me.

After a phone call with my department of the university, it turns out they only had one grade for that exam (there should be three, weighted at 1/3 each). Only 1/3 of the entire paper had been marked – the multiple choice section at the beginning which was on a separate sheet, and which I had left mostly blank because I was terrified by the thought of negative marking for incorrect answers. The written answer questions, which I’m not going to lie, I felt I totally smashed (I gave about twice as much detail and information as I needed to for the marks given, because I hadn’t panic revised the night before for nothing and was not going to waste my efforts) were on a typed word document which I then printed and, as I did for all my other exams, left it on the desk and wheeled out of the room. As if sitting the exam in a wheelchair (in a room that clearly was not designed for wheelchairs) hadn’t made the whole thing stressful enough, it turns out the typed document COMPLETELY DISAPPEARED OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH. THE EARTH!

(My friends told me there had to be a mistake when they found out my grade. My mum said there was no way I’d ever fail, let alone by that much. Instead of believing a single one of them, I crumbled under the pressure of fresh expectation. They had too much faith in me, I thought. No. They knew my brain better than it knew itself. I have never been so happy to be wrong!)

I was told to contact my personal tutor, but I knew she would just refer me to someone else who could actually deal with the issue, so I skipped the middle man and asked if there was someone else I could talk to about it all. This resulted in another series of scary emails (I finally emailed my consultant about ten minutes before all of this took place. There has, as of yet, been no response). I logged into my email account first of all to find an email from the deputy head of our department of the university (the guy who told me I would fail stuff and should interrupt my studies and come back next year? The guy who made me feel really unsupported when I stayed?… Him?).

My worst fear had happened, he had found out that I failed. He had also been informed of how unwell I was during the exam period and why I missed my last two exams. He was nice about it for a change. Even though he made a point of reminding me how many modules I needed to pass in order to continue and asked me to possibly meet him or make a phone appointment, and if not just reply to his email… But before I could respond to him, I emailed the lovely lady who runs the module I failed (but didn’t actually fail, because hey read what I just wrote!) and copied in my disability advisor (who I’m sure will support me through this if needed), my academic advisor, the deputy head of the university (so he knows I DIDN’T ACTUALLY FAIL ANYTHING) and the student support woman who deals with everything. I explained the circumstances and said the whole thing had been extremely distressing for me. Then I replied to the deputy head’s email reminding me how many modules I needed to pass, confirming that despite his offer of me putting in another extenuating circumstances form, I will be sitting those damn exams even if I’m half dead (I actually sat three of those exams with bloods worse than those that I had when I was in the ICU. No idea how. Doctor said I was superhuman and invincible. My friend called it incredible. My tutor group called it stupid. I called it stubborn and pretty amazing. Adrenaline and a fear of the deputy head finding out you missed an exam really are quite powerful!).

I went shopping. I bought myself a load of fruit and vegetables and salad and meat and fish. No gluten. Barely any carbohydrate (I also bought my dog a toy, and very nearly invested in a free-standing, above ground, 10ft wide pool because it is now 32 degrees and I CANNOT HANDLE THE HEAT). My mum paid for it but kept a note of how much I owe her. I was so happy I practically flew around the supermarket. I just kept saying, “I can’t believe I didn’t fail.” We had to stop off at Dad’s work to pick up some shopping bags on the way and I was so excited I even told him. He didn’t really know what to do but he was pretty happy, so happy that he ruffled my hair like I was the dog. It was weird, but I was too happy to acknowledge the slight awkwardness of this action. Moments like that between me and my dad are very few and far between. I rarely give him reason to be happy and it is even rarer that I make him proud. Shout? Yes. All the time. Without even meaning to or sometimes knowing why. Smile? Nah. I kind of have the opposite effect. I bring out the sulks that ruin the atmosphere for everyone. He’s a nice guy, I’m just toxic to him. Ok… I’m not going any further into this. Dangerous territory and all that. I will say something I shouldn’t and talk about stuff I promised myself I wouldn’t. We don’t get along well, although at the moment we barely talk which actually works very well… Let’s just say that and leave it be.

Anyway, I came home to a response from my email, in which my lecturer (also head of that module) sincerely apologised for the distress the whole thing had caused and said of course that are going to look into it. That was the first line. The rest of the email already didn’t matter. I just need her to sort it all out before the 1st of August, when I am due to re-sit the exam that I failed (BUT DIDN’T FAIL), at which stage my coursework grade will be wiped out, and my overall grade for the module will be capped at 40%.

I could have been angry at the university for putting me through yet another unnecessary stress, as they have done so many times, and my mum was all “Why is it always you?!” but honestly, I’m just so stunned and so happy and so… Grateful. It’s all being sorted now, and that is all that matters. (I am sorry that you probably really don’t care about this, but I am so happy and excited right now, and I only ever seem to share the bad on here, but this was so good I had to share!).

I have had so many near breakdowns over that result. I hated myself, I nearly gave up on the entire degree because I thought I was so stupid I didn’t deserve to take up a place somebody else could make better use of… I almost cried over it. For days I felt like life had slapped me around the face because university was is all that mattered matters, no matter what other stuff I am going through. As if recent near death experiences and health hiccups hadn’t been stressful enough, a university screw up brought me to my knees. I was so ashamed for not just falling short of everybody’s expectations that I would get a first overall, but by doing so in such a spectacular way. For two days after I learned that grade I couldn’t look in the mirror – I covered them all up and turned them all around. I fell apart over that result. I believed it and doubted myself when everyone else did the same thing the other way around, doubting the result and believing in my ability.

I am not a dumb-ass. And oddly, I seem to be the only one who ever thought I was.

No way but through.

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