I tend to make a habit out of denying an exam is up and coming. I will deliberately avoid conversations on revision, essays and timings. Inadvertently disguising my fear for an “I don’t care” attitude, but I do. I care too much. Which makes sitting in a silent room, clock ticking, pens scribbling, nails tapping, the faint cough of another student all that more frustrating.
I sit. I suffocate in the blank space that i really don’t need, that fills up the space that once contained knowledge like a vacuum. The room goes dark, the walls move in, the clock at the back of the classroom ticking away deafens me almost as much as the high pitch ringing sound that comes with being able to hear my heart beating, way too fast. The pressure holds me like a pair of black, decomposing hands grappling around my neck, letting in just enough air to breathe shyly, but still depriving my brain the oxygen it needs to make rational decisions. I feel cornered, like an animal in a tight cage being poked and prodded with sticks, asking me to answer impossible questions.
Anxious is not the word I would use to describe the way i feel when i walk into the exam room atmosphere that immediately takes place as you walk under the door frame. ‘Exam anxiety’ makes it sound so quaint when asking for a caring soul to tell me it’s okay. I’m not anxious. I am helpless, drowning in thoughts of not being good enough, every second questioning what can I do?… Where am I going wrong?… Why do I try?… Or exist?
‘Exam anxiety’ doesn’t quite capture the crippling effects of writing nothing but your name on a page and leaving the room feeling worthless. Like your purpose in that room was merely to fill space and pass time, like passing your exam is out of the question. Walking home smiling to passers-by and then closing your bedroom door only to fall to your knees and stare at yourself in the mirror, taking pity. ‘Exam anxiety’ is spending forty-five minutes sat at the bottom of the shower, silently crying under the sound of falling water, daring yourself to get out, but lacking the motivation because you aren’t worth the air you breathe. A deer in headlights doesn’t explain the way exams make me feel, it’s being hit by that car and having to drag my limp mutilated body off the road only to fix myself and continue to leap across the road is a closer metaphor.
A teacher telling you they are “concerned for your well-being” means nothing when you are holding back your sorrows, punishing yourself, and hating every inch of who you are because you can’t answer one measly question. It means nothing when you have spent a total of 18 hours in the past 48, making notes, writing post-its and praying to God you remember, only to be picked in class, and to answer a question with the wrong answer. Self-ridicule and hopelessness sets in and you decide you don’t want to answer anymore questions out of fear. Not the fear of other class mates, but the fear of knowing all your work was useless.
I feel beyond help. My lungs are filling with water. I can’t breathe. I am belittled.