You studied for hours for that big science exam, but still obtained a below-average grade. You worked hard on your assignment, and yet your teacher didn’t see your efforts and heavily criticised your work. You memorised your oral presentation for hours, but still panicked and forgot some of your speech as you stood in front of your classroom, your sweaty palms and shivering hands plain for everyone to see.
Many of us have been there. Academic failure can leave a bad taste in your mouth and may even lead you to lose all your self-confidence and ambition. When you put your heart and soul into an academic project and receive negative feedback on your work, you may even feel like you never want to put your heart and soul into any new projects again.
I’ve been there a number of times, and very recently, I experienced a major academic heartbreak that left me waking up in the middle of the night with tears flowing down my cheeks. I am a post-graduate university student who is currently working towards completing a thesis.
Writing a dissertation of more than 120 pages, like all academic endeavours, is no easy feat. You will be criticised by your lecturers and other professors in the faculty you’re studying in, and some critiques may be harsher than others. In April, I received negative feedback on my proposal draft, which is essentially a plan of my research and how I intend to conduct it. The academic was so horrible in her comments and wrote pages and pages of negative feedback about my work. I had only just gotten the confidence to write well academically, and her words hit hard and left me reeling.
For days, I couldn’t open the two documents with her comments for fear of being triggered, and stayed in bed and watched Harry Potter movies because of the comfort they afforded me. When I spoke to my lecturers about how I was feeling, I burst into tears. I could not believe that a piece of work I had spent so much time and effort constructing was ripped to shreds in such an evil manner. I honestly wanted to drop out of university because my mental health was a mess.
Eventually, my lecturers, or supervisors, who are guiding me as I complete my dissertation, managed to calm me down. They told me that I am a good student and that I should not give up on myself because I am a talented writer.
In time, I got back on the horse, and I am still working towards completing my thesis before the end of the year, God willing. I still want to become a university lecturer and I won’t let anyone torpedo my dreams.
I know many of you have had slumps in your academic careers, whether you’re a high school, college or university student. Not obtaining the grades you want, or receiving negative feedback from your teachers or lecturers can often feel like a kick in the stomach, especially when you’ve put so much effort into succeeding at a particular subject or subjects. It won’t be easy to dust yourself off, that I can assure you of. But through sheer grit, determination and a few tears along the way, I believe you will be a success.
Here’s how I overcame my academic depression:
- I allowed myself to grieve
Receiving such horrible feedback from the academic who reviewed my work sent me into a frenzy. I spent two weeks feeling sorry for myself, crying randomly, eating junk food and watching every Harry Potter movie (ask me anything about the entire Harry Potter series, I know every scene by now!).
While I don’t recommend your mimicking my clearly unhealthy coping mechanisms, I do want you to grieve your loss. Spend at least a day or two journaling about your feelings; it’ll make you feel heaps better to express your feelings in some way. Taking walks or doing some yoga at home can also be very therapeutic for cleansing the mind of toxic, self-deprecating thoughts.
- I practiced breathing intently
If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you’ll know that I suffer with anxiety, especially anxiety related to academic performance. After I received the negative academic review, I had a number of anxiety attacks. I don’t struggle to breathe because of my anxiety, but I feel like my mind is racing at a million miles a minute and I sort of ‘zone out’, unable to focus on anything or anyone.
In those moments, my younger sister would come to me, and we’d breathe together, while being mindful of every breath and how it a blessing from Allah. After a few minutes of breathing intently, I’d feel so much more relaxed and I’d even have a chat and a laugh with my sister.
Life is very short. Every breath should be treasured, so remember to breathe well and remember you are worthy of life, love and success.
- I tried, tried and tried again
I was ready to give up on my dream of completing my master’s. I had such little confidence in myself that I struggled to type even a single word on my revised dissertation proposal. I was truly in a dark space. Every day I would try psyching myself up by watching those ‘never give up’ inspirational YouTube videos, but they mainly triggered me into crying again, and I’d struggle to calm myself down.
I would write ‘to-do lists’ and I wouldn’t tick a single box off that list. As the days went by, I became more panicked and less productive. I procrastinated more, and did much less work than I normally would. In short, I had lost my energy and ‘chutzpah’ to continue studying.
In time, however, I found the courage to start writing again. I started with 100 words a day, then 200 words a day, then 300. I had to be really disciplined with myself and some days I’d still end up writing nothing. I then just tried being kind to myself and took each day as it came.
You have to work consistently on your dreams each day. Even if you do something, like studying for an hour or writing 200 words each day, to complete that seemingly large essay, be proud of yourself. Instead of beating yourself up for not completing every task on your to-do list, try to reflect on what you’ve achieved that day.
We’ve all had academic failures. But remember to never give up on your dreams. You can achieve absolutely anything through grit, hard work and unending determination. Believe me, the journey won’t be easy and some days you’ll want to watch stupid videos of chipmunks on YouTube, instead of working on your assignments, but please don’t ever give up! You will be a success, keep affirming that to yourself.
Read one writer’s opinion on changing the way we measure success here.
Tell us: how do you cope with academic stress and academic depression?