Exams and Your Recovery

Written by Tiger-lily

Exams. The word can instill fear and paralysis and send condition on it’s merry way to destructive thinking. But you know, they’re actually not the end of the world, nor are they the most important thing in the world. This year for the first time I had a different approach to exams than I’ve ever had before. It was more self-supportive and more balanced. I’m not saying it was plain sailing or easy but it was far less stressful than previous years and the reason why is so simple! I gave myself a chance.

Every year that I did exams I self-sabotaged – I engaged in behaviors and placed exams as my priority instead of my wellbeing because yeno, that can wait! But it doesn’t work that way and I see that now after years of being told it. Putting exams before my physical health, mental health, my recovery, my relationships and just my general daily living only led me down a very dangerous path. Any steps that I had taken up the escalator towards recovery prior to exams were quickly moving further away and I was being dragged down because I wasn’t making the pro-recovery decisions. I thought that it could wait, that exams were the most important and I’d get back on track once they were over and promised myself that the next time exams came around that it would be different, that I wouldn’t do this again. I did it every year from second year in secondary to school to second year in college and the yo-yoing kept me stuck!

The ironic thing is that by ‘putting my exams first’ I probably didn’t do as well as I could have. I used to envy and mock those that had a ‘balanced’ approach to exams and the people in the newspaper who claimed to keep up hobbies etc and still manage to get A’s. Sure they must have been lying. But now I get it. Balance is essential. Working myself to the bone and taking away any enjoyment only serves to take away my real chance of doing well. Because doing ‘well’ is more than about doing well in the exam – it’s about keeping my life going and not putting it on hold.

This year I listened and trusted what my therapists said and actually took the action instead of putting it off. I continued to nourish and didn’t compromise and in doing so I could actually remember things far easier than I used to – it wasn’t as much of a struggle and I didn’t have to read the same page over and over again because I lost concentration. I repeated reassurance and I BREATHED and it helped so much. Before, I thought it was ridiculous – how could such simple things even begin to help me when I’m so stressed, so overloaded, so behind, so not good enough blah *insert condition words* blah. But those thoughts just took up time and energy and space in my brain. The panic consumed any time I had so of course I couldn’t study as well as I wanted to. Don’t be like me and keep putting it off because it works. Remove the pressure and get fascinated. Listen to the wise words of those that have gone before us – they do actually know what they’re talking about 😉

The final thing I’ll say is that exams come and go. They pass. Recovery cannot come and go – it needs to stay and it needs as much attention as everything else in our lives. It is what will support you, not the result of the exam. The percentage or the letter on the paper will not define you, it will not help your vitality, your relationships or your passions. It will just be. So think about that the next time you think you ‘should’ be doing better or ‘have to’ study for hours. It’s quality not quantity. It’s balance and not distortion. Life is so much bigger than what schools and institutions make it out to be and the one route is not going to suit everyone – we all have different paths. So enjoy your journey and discover what you want – don’t let your dreams be governed by a few hours of exams because in the proportion of your life they take up only a tiny fraction of it. Something that my mam always says is – what’s the use of good grades if there’s nothing of me left at the end to do something with them?!

Exam update

Hello again fellow freedom fighters! I just thought I would update those of you still yet to do exams and encourage you that self-care truly works. As I mentioned in my previous sharing of my learnings, for the first time this year I had a pro-self-support exam time. I could concentrate better, I was less anxious and the doubtful thoughts were continuously stomped out through use of reassurance. I got my results on Monday and although I didn’t need external validation that what I did worked for me, it was nice to see that the marriage of recovery and studying can truly yield that results that one desires!! I cannot express enough my gratitude for those who have taught me this and also I am giving myself credit for my new approach. I actually kind of enjoyed the exams this year if I take away the condition trying to lure me into the drama J I remember another freedom fighter sharing with me on Iceberg when I was doing my leaving cert, encouraging the same thing that I am saying today but at the time I didn’t listen. Maybe things would have worked out better if I had of acted sooner?? So don’t do what I did and ‘pfft sure easy for her to say’ – because it’s not. This was new to me too and it was challenging but it is a worthwhile challenge!

So I have a little list of things that helped me and may be of use:

  • Before the exams, don’t engage or listen to classmates’ drama and fear. Steer clear!
  • …If you don’t know where to steer clear to, I suggest the bathrooms – go in and do a power pose like a superhero because you can do it ! (Watch TED talk!)
  • Use your favourite black/blue pen to write with
  • I have a little heart that M gave out at group one evening that I put on my desk to ground me and remind me to breath – so if you have something like that or a necklace or something or even a squirt of perfume
  • Bring water for hydration
  • Bring a snack! Those exams are long and a little something during the exam kicks your brain back into gear (choose something non-crunchy however to respect the others around lol)
  • Keep to your timing. Spending all the time on one question to make that one question perfect is not actually worth it. Having something written for each question is a far better tactic. There is only so much marks for one question so by not getting to the next question you get 0 for that and 65 for the other instead of maybe getting 50 and 50 for each. (I never fully got that concept until recently either! But it makes sense!)
  • Keep everything simple. Remember – what am I trying to say in this answer

Finally, well done for even turning up to the exam. That in itself is something worthy of massive credit. Keep breathing and grounding yourself and it will work.