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Published: May 5, 2023

"Red Paint" - Media From Wix


That’s the mark I scored on my third-year anatomy test a few weeks ago.

I reviewed all the material, I remained focused during my exam preparation, I even sacrificed writing time to study for it. For my efforts? Not even 50 percent. The memory of seeing 18/42 light up on my phone remains fresher — fresher than a strawberry-red drop of blood glistening in the sunlight.

Was I overtaken by my nerves? Did I fail to comprehend the material at a sufficient depth? Was I simply burnt out after a year of incessant university classes: calculus, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry of nucleic acids? After a year of being unable to catch my emotional breath, of feeling inadequate after almost every exam – even those I scored highly on?

I shouldn’t be hurting this much after one botched test. People suffer through traumas that make failing a test feel akin to dropping an ice cream or losing at a video game in comparison. I should be able to handle this. Yet I can’t. Pain, regret, disappointment — they’re hijacking me. They’re telling me that until I raise my anatomy marks, I won’t be worth anything. After all, university students are defined by their GPAs. Right?

It was the day of a student open mic: one I’ve practiced meticulously for. Unsurprisingly, I was invigorated – the opportunity to perform flashy, expressive piano pieces enchants me profoundly. I felt immensely proud of myself: proud of all the effort I put in to learn a memorable, complex piece.

An hour before it was my turn to go on stage, I received a notification from my online classroom app, informing me that the term test marks have been released. The rest was history.

Suddenly, I couldn’t think about the open mic anymore. I couldn’t think of my extracurriculars and other commitments anymore. I couldn’t even think about writing anymore.

It’s as though regret cut open my belly while pain pinned my limbs down to keep me still, as disappointment removed loop after loop of my emotional bowel. My emotional bowel — the metaphorical intestines which allowed me to absorb joy, pride, fulfillment from my day-to-day experiences.

Shortly after being attacked and disemboweled by a gang of three unpleasant emotions for failing the anatomy test, I performed for the open mic. My performance was successful, yet I felt nothing without my emotional intestines. No pride, no joy, no fulfillment, not even relief knowing that I finished the piece without messing it up.

I know it sounds nonsensical to be this distressed over botching a routine academic assessment, but it genuinely hurts profoundly. It’s a herculean task to separate your self-worth from your GPA as a university student, and learning to do so is a painful, arduous process.

Perhaps such is why failing a term test, feels like emotional disembowelment to me.

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