This is the second part to my post #8 – The Pressure to be Perfect (Part 1) – so if you haven’t read it, it might be best to give the first one a quick scan now by clicking on the link! However, having reviewed this post, it actually makes sense on its own, so it isn’t necessary that you read the previous one, just advised. 🙂
I’m conscious of the fact that this one is a bit of a long post – if you get halfway down and are getting bored, please at least read the end paragraph! But I would really appreciate it if you stuck through the whole thing. ❤
As I said before – if you can relate to this, please comment down below – we can all support each other! X
English is (by far) my best subject. Last year, I got A*s in every single assessment, and full marks multiple times. (That sounds like I’m just trying to show off – I’m genuinely not.) Obviously, I’m really happy with my grades – I’m grateful that I am able to achieve them. But towards the end of last year (year 10), something changed.
I remember, back in year 9, my parents and I went to my parent’s evening (as is the norm at our school – I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere). The last slot that we had booked was English, and as we walked to it, I felt my spirits lift. Not only was this one of my favourite subjects, it was taught by one of my favourite teachers, Miss S (who has previously stood up for me when no one else would – I might post about that in a while too), who seemed to really understand me and with whom I got along with very well. As we walked into the crowded hall, the buzzing noise of multiple conversations all going on at once washed over us. Around the edge of the hall, parents stood waiting with their children, chatting to each other. Quickly, I scanned the rows of tables. My teacher was smiling at me, and beckoning me over. As soon as we took our seats, she introduced herself to my parents, and then immediately began to praise me and my work. I felt happy – I knew that her praise was genuine, not just recycled phrases said in an attempt to improve my self-confidence (she knew that I didn’t think much of myself, but rather than the usual “but you’re so good at this!”, she helped by quietly praising me when I had actually done well, and just being that extra bit more supportive – so creds to you for that, Miss!). By the end of the ten minutes or so that she spent talking with my parents, I was glowing. However, as we stood to leave, she looked me in the eye and her tone changed.
“Be careful, Alice. I know how much English tests stress you out. We had a girl like you last year, smart, naturally gifted at English, on track to do incredibly well – but when it came to exams she just freaked out, and lost all of her confidence…Be careful that that doesn’t happen to you.” I nodded, sensing the sudden shift in atmosphere. She was looking at me slightly differently, her eyes filled with something that looked remarkably like genuine concern. Despite her serious tone, I sort of dismissed it. That won’t happen to me. I’m not like that! Yeah, I’ll be worried about my exams, but not so much that it will affect my performance. A second later, she was back to normal; with a smile, she said goodbye to us, and soon we were walking to the car, both myself and my parents happy and all thoughts of what Miss S had just said gone from my mind.
Over the last few months, however, her words have come back to haunt me.
As I’ve said, towards the end of last year things started to change. I had just started to feel like I was finally moving forwards. I hadn’t had a proper panic attack in or outside of school in just over a year. I had my phobia under control, our group of friends was closer than ever after a slightly rocky patch, and even my immune system was finally balancing out after my bout of pneumonia at the start of the year. But almost as soon as I began to relax a bit, everything started to go backwards again.
Through the last term of year 10, everything just seemed to be piling up faster than I could cut it down. Coursework/GCSE exams threatened (we do our core science a year early), English S&L crept up, and dance shows and singing concerts that I wasn’t prepared for loomed over me. Things started to go downhill – I had my first panic attack in nearly a year, and I began to feel sick again. It felt like everything was falling apart, tumbling out of my control. And I couldn’t stop it.
And that’s when things started to really change.
I’ve always had a mostly positive view on my subjects (except for maybe computing – but even then, I still try my hardest at it!), especially English. I didn’t really enjoy it much in year 7, because I didn’t really like my learning group and we didn’t really do anything. But as soon as we were set for English in year 8, I began to look forward to each lesson – I enjoyed the work we were doing, I was sitting next to some of my best friends (luckily 4 of us ended up in top set together!), and I had a really nice teacher (who then left and was replaced by an equally lovely woman). At the end of the year, the English department collected all of the data from every single one of the assessments that every single class had done throughout the year, took an average of people’s marks and grades, and compiled a list of everyone in the year, ranked from top to bottom. I was the first name on the list! I remember feeling shocked (I hadn’t realised I was doing that well!) and really, really happy – at first in an excited, euphoric way, and then in a glowing sense of content. For a while, I felt really good about myself (at least in English) – I began to volunteer in class more, and felt more confident about my work.
This newfound feeling of self-belief was short lived, however. The start of year 9 was absolutely brilliant – I was still in a class that had some of my best friends in it (although they had been swapped around somewhat), and we were taught by one of the best teachers that I’ve ever had. But then it came to the first assessment, an essay on a short film that we had been analysing in class. Year 9 was the first year that I really started to stress about tests in English; before, I’d always been a bit blasé (“Whatever, I’m okay at English, who cares what I get anyway?”), but now I had been labelled as top of the year in English, and had got an A* in an English GCSE mock without any preparation (which were both things that I was proud of, and gave me a huge confidence boost, but sadly changed others’ views on me). And everyone knew.
((I know, I know. There’s lots of things you could be known for that are a lot worse than that! Probably most of you reading this just think I’m a stuck up bitch who’s making a big deal out of nothing. And maybe it is nothing; maybe it is pathetic; maybe it does sound stupid. But it’s something that has majorly affected my mental health and the way I view myself, so bear with me.))
It was the lesson before our third English assessment of the year. As per usual, the three of us on my row were chatting away as we prepared for it, going over themes and imagery, trying to retain various bits and pieces in an effort to ready ourselves for the next day’s lesson. Presently, the subject of conversation changed to the upcoming exam.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so stressed about this test!” one of my friends (we’ll call her Bluebird) exclaimed, throwing down her pen and giving an exasperated sigh. My other friend (who we’ll call Magpie) did the same, mirroring Bluebird’s actions as she too gave up.
“I just know I’m gonna fail this. Like, I just have a feeling, you know?”
“Yeah – I just genuinely don’t get how I’m gonna stay in top set!”
They both continued to moan for a few more minutes before, in a resigned manner, I also dropped my pen and slumped back in my chair.
“Ugh, I’m just so worried about this,” I said, joining in with their chatter, “I just don’t feel like I know the stuff very well! Like, there’s an actual chance I might fail, I feel so unprepared…” The other two immediately looked at me. It was as though I had said something terrible, something really shocking or rude. Then, after a moment of silence, in which the world seemed to hold its breath, they both began to have a go at me.
“For God’s sake, Alice! You’re obviously not going to fail! You’re going to get full marks in everything, as usual!” Magpie began, her voice loud and scathing (I would like to point out that, at this point, I had not once got full marks in anything.).
“Yeah! You have no right to be worried, like us – you’re just gonna get an A* anyway without even trying! So stop trying to act all worried, it’s stupid!” Bluebird chimed in, equally as withering. I felt myself slowly slipping lower and lower into my chair as their stinging barrage of words continued for what felt like hours (but must have been less than a minute).
“You don’t have the right to be anxious and stressed! There’s nothing for you to stress about!”
“Everyone knows that you’re going to get an A*! So stop pretending that it’s not gonna happen!”**
((**At this point, my amazing teacher jumped in, something which no teacher has ever done before, and basically began to have a go at them, telling them that they were just making things worse etc. But that’s another story for another day, and I won’t go into it here as I’m conscious of the fact that my word count is growing steadily – but I wanted to mention it!))
Their words had a lasting impact that has continued to haunt me long after the test was over (I managed to somehow get an A in it, if anyone’s wondering). Even now I can remember them – You have no right to be stressed. For God’s sake, stop trying to pretend you’re worried when you have no right to be. You’re just going to get an A* anyway, as usual. The biting tone with which the spat those words still has an effect on me today.
I’ve always wanted to get good grades. Everyone does. Before that day, I had only ever wanted to get them for myself – for me to feel proud, for me to succeed. But then everything changed. I saw their words as accusations, but more than that – I saw their statements as standards that they expected me to reach, and that if I didn’t, I’d be a failure. I saw my peers in a new light – saw every single one of them as another person in the crowd of people with impossibly high standards, people who would mock me and dismiss me as an idiot if I fell short of their expectations. And I know, it sounds stupid. It sounds stupid to me, too. But I couldn’t help feeling like that.
And now, 2 years on, nothing much has changed. I have begun to view English as a subject that I hate, a stressful lesson that I never look forward to. I used to enjoy getting results back from my assessments, but now I dread it, fearing that they will be “sub-par”. It doesn’t help that as soon as I receive them, people in the class heckle me, clamouring for me to tell them what I got, more often than not managing to snatch the sheet of paper from my hands and announcing my marks to the entire class. And I hate it.
It hasn’t just affected how I feel about English, however. I am easily stressed, and have been close to tears on several occasions just thinking about the things that I am expected to achieve in all of my other subjects. Many of my teachers have commented on how I’m a perfectionist, and how I worry too much, but I can’t help it. It’s a part of me now – it’s who I am.
This pressure that I feel, this crushing, damning pressure, is felt by many others too. Many others who, like me, may feel unable to talk to their friends about it, for fear of reactions like those of Bluebird and Magpie. Many others who, like me, are actually beginning to dread lessons that they once enjoyed, simply because they’re scared of doing badly. Many others who, like me, are so anxious about certain subjects that they just panic at questions they once found easy, who are conscious of their shift in mind set, who are worried that it will all affect their grades. And that’s one of the main reasons why I wanted to talk about it. This isn’t just affecting me – it’s affecting other people, too. And I want to connect with those people – want them to feel like they’ve got someone that they can talk to, want them to realise that it’s not just them feeling this way.
So, if any part of this resonates at all with anyone reading this, please reach out and comment below. Because if we support each other, things can only get better – right? ❤
((Normal service will be resumed next week, people – don’t worry, my blog isn’t going to be all dark and serious every week! 😉 I hope you enjoyed reading this post, but if you didn’t perhaps check out one of my other posts, like #5 – Autumn essentials ))