Exam results and clarity

There’s a moment of clarity that comes right after closing doors and burning bridges.  Sometimes that clarity brings peace, but sometimes it’s painful and bittersweet.

I got my exam results back Sunday.  It honestly feels like forever ago.  The moments since then have been a roller-coaster of emotions for me.  I had put off deciding on a career path and university course until my exam results came out, so there were difficult decisions for me to make.  Decisions so difficult that when I should have made them months ago, I didn’t.  My options looked something like this:

1. Medical school in Hong Kong.  Not sure whether I’ll get in or not with my grades, but certainly worth a try.  I think I’d be a decent doctor.  I think I’d even find it meaningful to be a doctor.

2. Engineering in Canada.  By far the best safety option.  I can’t say engineering thrills me.  I don’t even have a very good idea of what they do.  But it’s vaguely sciencey, and it’s a degree that leads to a career, and it’s achievable, which makes it ideal as a safety choice for me.

3. Going to Cambridge and trying to switch to medicine.  I actually didn’t make the conditions of my offer from Cambridge, but since I only missed the conditions by one mark in one subject, it would be worth appealing.  My parents want me to choose this option.  It’s the perfect environment for me.  I’ve always learned better in a smaller-group setting (like the Cambridge tutor system), and having a university full of interesting people doing interesting things might make it more likely that I’ll actually be able to make friends and be happy there.  At the moment, there are few people I consider friends or acquaintances.  I think I’d be happy there (or at least as happy as my depression will ever let me be).

Guess what I decided to go for?  I chose to wait for medical schools in Hong Kong to get back to me and to keep engineering in Canada as a safety option.  Against what seems to be every single person in my life saying that Cambridge is what’s going to bring me the most joy, I chose not to appeal the rejection.  I wrote an email to Cambridge, burning my bridges behind me, and now I have clarity.  There’s a certain relief in that.  In the certainty that I can no longer change my mind, and whatever happens, happens.  On the flip side, though, I’ve been crying for over an hour and couldn’t stop.  I had reasons for not going to Cambridge (most of them bad ones), but they don’t really take away the pain of losing an opportunity I might never have again.  I’m afraid I made a mistake.  When I sent that email to Cambridge, I was more afraid of changing my mind.  The fact that I was so afraid I might change my mind probably means that deep down, I want Cambridge.  I think not-so-deep down, I want Cambridge.  But I also know I’m not ready and I’m not willing to take that chance.  Because of that, there’s a certain bittersweet clarity I have now.


In Which I Ramble About Anxiety and Self-Diagnosis

I’m in the hospital so I now have a lot of free time to write stuff so I can get a few things off my chest. Wednesday was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me. A lot of stuff happened and because I’m not currently in a depressive episode, I felt a lot of it pretty intensely.
I finished my mock exams. Chemistry. Three papers of it in a day. I was feeling really, really apprehensive about it because I feel a lot of pressure to do well because I’ve always been good at chemistry and therefore people have high expectations, or at least I think they do. I was also feeling a bit excited because my chemistry teacher had said that he thought I’d find the questions fun (which in his language, means they’d be really hard, but interesting…that didn’t help with the apprehension much). Anyways, the exams were fun, as promised, but because I hadn’t studied and because I missed a week of school right when we were doing the chapter on carbonyls, I found there were quite a few questions I wasn’t confident about answering.
Cue anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder enters stage right. Honestly, I was kind of expecting that I’d have anxiety about the chemistry exam afterwards no matter what. That’s how my anxiety disorder works. I worry about everything, but particularly about things where the public perception of my intelligence and/or ability might be at stake. Reason and logic do not play a role in anxiety and even when I know how to answer a question, I worry about getting it wrong, or writing a technically correct but silly answer. Couple that with having to be assessed in a subject taught by my favourite teacher and it’s a near certainty that I will spend a great deal of time worrying about how I did.
Lately I’ve been having a new kind of anxiety. In addition to my performance/social/scared-of-the-dark/checking-behind-doors anxiety, I’ve started to have anxiety about my identity. Specifically about appropriating struggles of other people. I was initially self-diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Having that self-diagnosis made it possible for me to ask for help from a therapist (otherwise I would have thought my problems were too insignificant to deserve help) and it allowed me to accept that certain things are difficult for me due to my mental illnesses. The emotional validation of a diagnosis, even a self diagnosis was, for me at least, a major part of self acceptance and taking the steps I needed to take to improve my life and move forward. I didn’t take self diagnosis lightly at all and I carefully considered my symptoms against the diagnostic criteria and against the stories of personal experiences of people with depression and anxiety. Even so, I did have a certain degree of self-doubt, wondering if maybe I was overreacting and exaggerating (professional confirmation of my depression and anxiety made this worry go away, thankfully). More recently, I’ve been wondering if I might be autistic. On one hand, I see a lot of myself in some of the autistic people I’ve met, I identify with many of the things autistic bloggers write about and as far as I can tell, I meet the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder according to the DSM-5 and ICD-10 (I don’t meet the criteria according to the Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service, but on that one, the only criteria I don’t meet are the ones for lack of imagination).  My mother has mentioned that she can see why I might be autistic.  A few autistic individuals I’ve met online as well as my counselor who has an autistic son believe that I might be autistic.  Despite this, and despite my previous self-diagnosis having been confirmed to be correct, I worry nearly constantly that I’m appropriating the real struggles of real autistic individuals.

Part of that self-doubt comes from the fact that I realise that I have a certain bias in this.  I want an autism diagnosis.  That sounds like an odd thing to say, because who would want to have a disorder?  But if you look at it another way, whether or not I have the diagnosis, I am who I am.  Getting a diagnosis won’t make me magically and suddenly autistic.  The only thing a diagnosis can change is how I approach who I am.  An autism diagnosis could help me learn to accept why I am the way that I am, and that is really important.

Some people don’t get that labels can make you feel like you belong. They can make you feel you have a place where you fit in. And that means a lot when you’ve felt like you don’t belong, like you’re disconnected… Everyone deserves to feel like they belong. Please quit attacking people for labeling themselves when it helps them to realize they’re not alone. What others label themselves really doesn’t affect you.


I don’t know if any of that made any sense, and I don’t think I really have a point I was trying to make.  If it didn’t make sense, I apologise, my painkillers are making the world feel a bit distant at the moment so my reality is distorted.


I was talking to someone about IB exams, and we both agreed that the absolute worst part of the exams is waiting for the exam results once the exams are over.  One of the things that came up is that we’re often afraid of failing, but if we do actually fail a test/exam, we’re normally less upset about it than when we are waiting and wondering if we’re going to fail.  Why is it so?  Why is the sense of finality (even if it’s about something negative) so comforting?
I’ve been thinking about this all afternoon, because that’s pretty much what anxiety is, isn’t it?  Worrying about things happening and making yourself even more upset than you would be if it did actually happen.  And the worst part is, I can’t stop thinking about whatever it is I’m worried about, even when there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.  In fact, I think I worry the most when there’s nothing I can do about the situation, which on one hand makes absolutely no sense (after all, why worry if the worrying can’t change things), but on the other hand, it makes perfect sense (feeling out of control in a stressful situation strikes me as a reason for being worried).
I think the reason why worrying is so much more painful than our worst fears being realised is that the finality brings us some kind of closure.  Certainty is always comforting, if only because an unknown fills us with a need to change, to do something to alter the course of our future, while certainty gives us a starting point from which we can assess possible options.  It’s hard to assess options and prepare for the worst case scenario before it’s happened because we’ll tell ourselves that we’re being pessimistic and ridiculous, but also because it feels too much like we’re getting ahead of ourselves and tackling a problem that hasn’t even happened.  Waiting for something to happen just makes us feel really useless and not in control, because there is absolutely nothing we can do to resolve the uncertainty.
Humans like to control their destiny.  Or rather, we like to feel we do.  We get so much comfort from the illusion of being in control that we blame ourselves for things that aren’t our fault.  It’s so much less painful to believe that we’ve done something to deserve the bad things that have happened to us than to believe that we actually can’t prevent them from happening and sometimes bad things just happen to people.  Feeling like we’re lost or floundering when we’re just sitting around worrying while we wait for something to happen is therefore far more awful than actually having something bad happen and feeling like we can take steps to minimise the effect it has on our lives.