Let’s begin with my story
In my 20 plus years, I have known life as a series of goals that I kept achieving one by one.
Or so I thought I had to…
I started school at an age of 2! And from the day I sat in the class for the first time, till only recently, I had been going on and on from one level of education to the other. It was just a few years ago that I stopped and realized, I don’t even remember who internalized this in me. The idea of achieving, and maintaining all those grades. I don’t remember who I was doing this for. Or who told me to begin in the first place.
I can say this for myself at least, and I know that most of you will relate to what I have to say. The society shapes your minds from a very young age, sometimes through your family. Sometimes your peers, sometimes people higher than you. I remember I used to cry ever since my O levels started. I cried for my exams, I cried for my results. When I entered into A levels, I cried for two whole years because I did not want to pursue pre-medical.
Yes! I LITERALLY cried!
I wanted to be an artist, a writer, a designer. Anything but the traditional expectations of me to be a doctor. Do not take me wrong, I have huge respect for all professional fields. But I knew I did not fit into that conventional framework.
I wanted to do what I loved, not what I was expected of as a girl.
After two miserable years of chemistry and physics (I loved biology, but not enough to pursue MBBS), my parents finally agreed that I go for what I really wanted for my undergrad degree. They did not understand my choices though, and even after I am almost done with my post-grad, they still wonder if only I could be a doctor.
The reason I have shared my story with you, is so you can understand when I talk about this, that even though my parents were supportive, I still did not have it easy. If I write about this, it is not because I was among the privileged ones so what would I know of the struggle!
Here are some things I will now talk about..
We are born anxious!
When a child is born, their destiny is decided for who they will become. A doctor if it is a girl, and an engineer if it is a boy! And I have no clue who set that standard to begin with! As they start school, all they can hear is that they need to do well, score more grades, improve their positions in class. This is where it all begins. The anxiety, the feeling of worthlessness, misery, fear, panic……
I can go on, but there is no end to the way we feel for the rest of our lives.
Our shoulders bear the weight of our future/school bags that only gets heavier with every passing standard!
We grow old before we can grow up!
Remember when you all had dreams of becoming a teacher? Or when you had a toy stethoscope that you would carry with you? Or an airplane that you pretended to fly as a pilot? Do you feel that same energy today?
As you graduate into middle school, and then high school, you are loaded with board exam stress, As, A*s are the only things you can think of! I remember when my A level result was announced, I locked myself in my room for 2 hours as if it was the end of the world (no I am not telling you my grades).
Anyway, we go blindfolded into this panic mode with the future, the medical school we have to get in, the SATs that we have to clear, the board exams that we need to pass. And not just pass, but get a position in!
Before we know it, we are doing this all over again in universities!
Now this is where I believe most of the frustration just has you done with everything!
Let me walk you through the issues with our systems.
No one really cared about a career until they hit the university level, right? No one really bothered about the practical stage of life that was waiting for them, the expectations that would suddenly change.
You need a degree so you can get a job, you need a job so the society can accept you as worthy of respect! You need to settle down, but who would marry off their daughter to a guy who does not earn? Who would want to marry a girl without a career in medicine?
These, and so many more pressures, not to forget the peers around us achieving grades, setting a benchmark. Even our siblings who we are told we should be like. How many of you grew up listening to your family asking you why you cannot do good as your other siblings?
Well… because… we are different people, with different capabilities?
And that does not make us any less worthy!
All of these social expectations and disappointments take a great toll on us when we are in the education system. The grade race, the GPAs, the constant favoritism, the unnecessary competition. Do not get me wrong when I say this, but the systems seem more into building academic robots than good, confident people who are secure in whatever they are able to achieve.
I remember how I used to play cricket back in my school days. And completely forgot how to play since I started university. I gave up extra-curricular activities because hey! I had to get a good GPA, I had to make sure my attendance was good enough for me to sit in the finals. While all of this is good to maintain a disciplined lifestyle, the excessive obsession over everything but the need to produce good people in these systems is a huge problem.
The system has its energy directed toward everything but a constructive social change. For instance, there has to be someone asking the bigger question!
What bigger question? Let me tell you…
THE BIGGER QUESTION
In all this chaotic growing up, climbing the ladder of achievements one after another, I have not seen the system, the society, or ourselves, in fact, asking this very question…
Where does the mental health fit into this?
Why hasn’t anyone talked about it? Or asked us how we are taking it on our nerves?
Read this carefully as I come to the main point…. Those who take their lives have to be going through A LOT. More than you or I can possibly imagine- to take such a huge decision.
Believe me… living may not be easy… but so isn’t ending a life that you had so many dreams for!
NO ONE.. And I say it again.. NO ONE knows what goes on in the heads of people who have been crushed on every level..
And by crushed I do not just mean in grades.. I mean in society, in systems, in their peers, in their confidence, their self-worth.. in their own heads..
The next time you see someone going through such mental turmoil, stop and look around them. Maybe you will be able to find the cause and try to fix it. Because trust me when I say this.. no one hated being born in the first place.. just that we were born anxious…
And for those going through what I can only try to understand, for I cannot imagine the suffering that weighs you down, I pray you have more courage to speak up than to silence it forever..
Let us all open our minds toward this bigger question and try helping each other in our struggles.