Stress, anxiety, pressure. Pressure from myself, from home, from school. I don’t just want to do well; I need to do well. Stress, anxiety, pressure. Fear of failure. Stress, anxiety, pressure. They don’t understand. Stress, anxiety, pressure. Keep breathing.
It doesn't help, this constant panicking, it just swallows your joy and your peace until you’re drowning. Drowning so deep that you can’t cope, all you can do is gasp as you inhale more panic from everything around you. There had been a time that I enjoyed school, just as there was a time that I loved swimming. But things change, and circumstance and experience changed me.
The period of time in the lead up to exams, when they loomed above my head, threatening to break me, was the worst form of torture. Add to that finding out that I had four weeks to prepare for a one and a half minute speech about health –in French nonetheless- and I had the perfect recipe for disaster. I practised for hours on end. Memorise, memorise, memorise. I was so afraid of messing up, that I made sure I knew my script inside out. That didn't stop the fear. On the dreaded day, my friend Emma came out of the room with a wavering smile. “I think I rushed too much” she said, “I was too shaky. She started asking things I wasn't ready for. Don’t worry, you’ll do fine” It was my turn next. I walked into the room with my notes, only to exit it almost immediately in a mess of tears and panic. I had blanked out. I had freaked out. My worst nightmare had become reality. And even though I got another chance, in which I got an A grade, the memory still haunts me. Last week the date for the higher French speaking was announced. What if I slip up again? I now have four weeks to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. At least now I know what I’ll be facing.
Wind back a few weeks, and you would have found me sitting at the back of a national 5 English class, anxiously awaiting my prelim results. “Sara Moffat”. I remember rising from my seat as soon as my name was called. I looked at the paper, and my heart sank. I got a C. “It was close to being a D” the teacher told me, as I nervously bit down on my lip. “You need to work harder” I felt as if my whole world was crumbling to its knees. What would I do? How could I possibly raise a C grade in English to an A- in 5 months! “You need to work harder” Her voice rang in my mind that night as I lay sleeplessly, over examining my failure. It was that night that it dawned on me. And in those five months, I worked harder than I ever had before. School days were no longer six and a half hours, they became nine hours long. Weekends were no longer times of rest and pleasure; they became opportunities for growth and learning. I lifted myself up, and when I got my results, I was pleased. While I believe in chance, miracles and luck, these things did not bring me the A grade in national 5 English. Nor did stress, anxiety, or pressure. No, it was hard work, perseverance, and determination.
The months spent suffering from the worst stress, anxiety and pressure, were awful. But eventually, as with all things, they ended. I let my hair down, and for a time, I forgot all about the exams, and I forgot to worry about the grades that I would get. For a time, I was free. That time didn’t last very long.
On the last week of the summer holidays, I encountered life in a way I never had before; on mission. Through Step out, I was sent to Broughty Baptist Church, to lead, and to serve. It was hard work, but as part of a team of five, we learnt that perseverance and determination were our closest friends. Before I left to go on mission, I made my Mum promise that she wouldn’t open the letter containing my results that was to come through the door while I was away. Once I got to Broughty Ferry, I regretted that decision. On the night before the results were to come, I lay awake at 1am, drowning in a pool of stress, anxiety and panic. I had completely forgotten all about the hard work, perseverance and determination; in that moment, they were nothing. At 2am, I decided it was time for me to call my Mum, and the next day she agreed to text me my results. As soon as I had called my mum, I called my church leader from back home; Lynn. We talked for several hours, and we prayed together. I would be lying if I told you that after talking and praying together all my problems drifted away; of course they didn’t. But it calmed me, and I felt a supernatural healing within my heart, an out worldly peace as I relaxed in the knowledge that I didn’t have to be in control- God had already taken the wheel. I received the type of comfort that only a perfect father could offer, and that night I realised that if I tried to go too deep on my own, I was certain to drown. But if I tackled my problems head on with a sense of determination and trust that God wouldn’t let me down, I too could walk on the water.
I almost drowned once, when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I haven’t been swimming since. And just as the water scared me, so too do exams. Last year I almost drowned under the pressure I put on myself. I collapsed. I became a shell of stress, anxiety, and panic. School did that to me.
Now, looking back I can see the places where I tripped and fell head first; the places where, if I tackled them with hard work, perseverance and determination, I wouldn’t have fallen. Now, I know what to expect, and I know that I need to have the right attitude about it. I can’t do it on my own. And in the knowledge that I have a God who is in control, I’m determined that this time I won’t drown. I will walk on water.