The final year of my engineering degree was hectic, and that’s putting it mildly. Generally the final year of any degree feels the most intense. Lecturers no longer feel you need any kid gloves. You’ve learnt theory for 3 years and now it’s time to get practical. That year I also got a little freedom, I moved to a self-catering housing and now had grocery shopping and cooking on my to-do list. In order to pay for those groceries, I got a part-time job tutoring 2nd year engineering. It wasn’t much but it covered my costs, especially since getting money from Mah was (is) as reliable as an African politician with his promises to improve the country.
Now the way our varsity system is structured, you need to complete a certain number of units to move to the next stage. In final year, we had to clear 144 credits, where 1 credit was equivalent to 10hours of work in the semester. I had 188 credits that year. In order to graduate that December, I had to complete 144, plus an extra 40 extra credits : one third year course comms which I couldn’t take because I failed maths the year before; a third year mechanical engineering course; two fourth year courses; and a media course in between semesters.
I was determined to make it work. This was the last chance I had to prove myself. My past years at varsity were nothing to boast about; well, at least that’s what I felt. I was mediocre and I hated it. See, I had big plans for myself. Ideas that could change the world or disrupt life as we know it, but who is going to listen to a black African girl if she is just average? I need to be perfect, brilliant, superhuman even, if I was to get what I wanted.
The year before I had researched techniques to do well in college/university and had started applying them with my comms course. It was a course that you essentially just needed to do past papers because the convenor repeated a lot of the questions. But I didn’t do that. I really wanted to understand the content; since it was part of my big master plan. I read each chapter in the prescribed book before each problem set. I had a bone to pick with this particular lecturer. The previous year he didn’t allow me to take his course that year so I pingila’d that I would do really well in his course.
It was an intense course, I’m not going lie. Not because of the complexity of the content but the sheer amount we had to do. Like I mentioned earlier we had a weekly problem set that took several hours to complete. There were two tests and three laboratory sessions and they all contributed to our continuous assessment. And that was just one out of the seven courses I was taking that semester.
It was hard but I hustled. I was running on a strict regime, planning every hour of my days, a week in advance. I was running on 4 hours of sleep (on a good day), just trying to make every last deadline. It was the end of the first term and I was studying in my room when suddenly I could no longer read. I don’t know exactly what exactly triggered it, but it was intense.
The room went silent. I was all alone in world; nothing existed outside of these four walls. My breathing became erratic and I was hyperventilating and it felt like the 4 walls were now closing in on me. I stopped whatever I was doing and went to the kitchen.
“That was weird!” I thought.
I started to look at my study materials again and within moments my body hit play and I was right back in my shrinking room. My heart was beating too fast and I was breathing heavily again As this was happening, my mind decided to chime in,
“What’s wrong with me?”
“I don’t have time for this. I have to study, I have to cook and then do other assignments.”
“I can’t be sick!”
Thoughts were racing trying to figure out what was the cause of my sudden affliction.
“Stop it!” I told myself as my eyes welled with tears, sitting on the floor devastated. I shouted at myself again, “stop!” hoping by some miracle, it would all go away. I had no control over whatever was going on in my body and whatever it was, it was going faster than I could process. Then as quickly as it came, the chaos went away. I was left on the floor in a state of exhaustion and humiliation.
“I’m so stupid. Why were you crying? You still have so much to do. Now you have wasted time, and for what?” I belittled myself as I get off the floor. Then I decided to leave my work that maybe all I needed was a nap and afterwards I would be fresh to tackle my work.
That was the first of several anxiety attacks. Though at the time I didn’t know what they were. There was no rhyme or reason as to when they would happen. They just did. I never told anyone about them. I thought they were odd but I hadn’t the time to do anything about it. I was just trying to get my degree on time.
The biggest one came at the worst possible time. It was the morning of my comms final exam. I had covered several topics and only had 3 or 4 topics left to cover. I was feeling confident because I had a good mark for my continuous assessment going into the exam, and I felt I knew my stuff. I made breakfast, ate, and showered. Afterwards I read through one topic and then moved on to the other, making sure I was ready for my paper at 7pm.
I was moving through my remaining topics a little slower that I hoped. Then like lightening, it happened again. I was breathing erratically and my brain was jumping from one thought to another at light speed.
“If I fail, I would have to repeat the subject which would mean coming back for yet another semester. I would have to renew my visa which is about R10 000. The course costs R3 500, accommodation is R6 000 x 6 which is R36 000, and wwhat about my cost of living?”
Horror crept through my mind as I kept on thinking about the worst case scenario.
“How am I going to tell the family? What about the shame I will bring to them? I nagged to get here, the whole clan contributed to my fees and to mess up so close to the finish line? I was supposed to be the smart one and I couldn’t even finish my degree.”
My body was full of adrenaline, like I was holding on to the outside of a plane, mid-flight; holding on for dear life worried that at any moment I could fall to my death. I got up and it got worse. I was now pacing like a caged animal ready to break free the first chance I got. I could feel my heart pounding in chest. Heck, I heard it beating like it was ready to burst out. I kept pacing, with tears running down my face hoping to God, it would stop.
“You know what, I will make it stop.”
I walked over to the cupboard and grabbed the small scissors from my manicure set and without hesitating I motioned to jab myself in the neck, only stopping just as I felt the tip touch my skin. I had the scissors pushed against my neck as I fought with myself.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“I just need a release. It will stop and then I’ll be fine.”
“Dude you have a scissors to your neck, this is not fine. You are not fine!”
With that realisation I dropped the scissors and a wave of despair and self-hatred washed over me. I was on the floor again crying my eyes out with less than 3 hours to my exam. My life was a big mess that I had no control over.
Next thing I knew I was talking to Sweet&Bubbly. I’m not sure who called whom but I suspect she called to ask about my exam preparations. I don’t know if I tried to hide my feelings but in the end I actually opened up and told her I was distraught. We talked it out for a while and she eventually talked me off my train to crazy town. By that point it was late in the afternoon and the sun was beginning to set. I went to wash my face and composed myself before going to write. Once I got to the venue, I took a deep breath and wrote my exam like the past few hours was just a bad dream.
Edited by TheWalkingWeave
Pictures from Google Search