The Psychological Cost of Education

I was working in the open space. Chasing one deadline that was giving me a tough time. I was directly facing the steps. From afar, one would think that I was checking out all the folks who were passing through the stairs. Funny enough I was too zoned in into my work.

Some minutes after, one of my classmates comes by. I have known her the entire semester, and I could tell that something was just not right. She neither waited to be invited to take her seat nor did she ask me if I was free to listen to her. She started narrating the academic challenges she is facing with her research paper. Tears started flowing down her cheeks.

‘I am stressed! I don’t know what to do. I don’t seem to be making any progress in my research paper. My supervisor tore my research proposal into pieces.’-she said.

‘I thought I had made some progress but it seems like there is nothing that I did. The feedback I got sounded like I need to rewrite this paper from scratch. You know I don’t have the time and the deadline is fast approaching. What should I do Chimwemwe?’

I honestly didn’t have the answer to her question. I also was dealing with my deadline. A couple of papers that were due the same week, and I didn’t seem to figures out a lot of things about the paper. Besides, my supervisor was on my case on my research question.

‘Chimwemwe, I had read your paper, but what is your research question?’- He asked.

A question that I was beginning not to like as days went by. I was sure about my research question until I was asked this question. I am like, I just told you my research question, so what do you mean, what is my research question? Anyway.

As my mind was wandering about, thinking about some deep stuff I need to share with her, I saw that her face did light up soon after sharing. It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t need to give her any wisdom, all she needed was someone to talk to.

She left and continued working on her paper.

As the weeks were drawing closer to the deadlines, you could smell the level of stress in the air. The library was usually packed and there was some dead silence. The only noise you could hear was of people typing. Occasionally you could hear people curse because they are stuck.

I doubt if all the people I met in the Library had a regular shower. But that is a discussion for another day.

As I was drawing close to my submission deadline for my proposal, levels of stress also began to increase. With regular meetings with supervisors, my paper kept taking a different shape. The stress was high but it was one that I could manage until I snapped.

I remember this day very well. It was a Friday before the Monday deadline to submit the proposal. The course convener demanded that all of us had to make a presentation of our proposal for her to give us some feedback.

My classmates and I prepared our PowerPoint presentations. We were grilled in this session. I was not spared from the grilling too. Very few people left with positive feedback. We did not only leave with negative feedback but also the confusion and the stress.

I remember getting on that bus going home, feeling like I will fail this course. I was so deep in thoughts, and most of the thoughts were negative. I almost missed my bus stop. That is how deep I was in thoughts.

I got into my room, dropped my books and clothes, and headed straight into the shower. It is the only time in my life, as far as I can remember where I got into the shower, opened the tap, and sat on the floor.

I was in the shower for close to 30 minutes doing nothing. I was deeper in thoughts trying to think about what can I do to rescue the situation. I could smell a fail coming my way.

‘I didn’t leave Malawi, to come to the UK, to get a fail in a course. No way! I have dealt with things like these before’-one half of me said. The other was like ‘my guy, let’s not lie here. Let’s be realistic. This paper is trash. There is nothing that you can do to rescue it. You only have 2 days to go. What can you do in 2 days to change this paper?

After listening to myself debate within for close to 30 minutes, I decided that it was about time that I stopped listening to myself and take some action.

‘Yes, I have heard you guys sharing your thoughts. You are all raising valid points. But I don’t see any of this talk helping me in any way. So, why don’t you guys shut up and let me figure this out.’-I told myself.

After the water therapy, I came up with ideas and I immediately jumped onto revising the paper. Was I confident with myself and my work at that time? No! All I wanted was to finish this paper and submit. I didn’t care about the quality of the grade. All I wanted was to let this burden off me and not get a fail.

Thinking about these things, I cannot help but think about mental health in the education system.

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