health, wellbeing

Testing Times

May. It signals that a third of the year has passed, we should be settled and know, within reason, how the year will pan out, and yet, for some, this month will be the worst of their lives.

As I sit here this morning in the garden with my cereals, seeing the beautiful shades of green punctuated with rising sunflowers, feeling the gentle breeze tickle my cheek and the building heat of the sun, listening to a variety of birds singing joyfully around me, I can’t help but feel a hint of sadness.

Not for me, you understand. As far as I’m concerned, I’m very fortunate. I’ve another 15 minutes before I need to leave this sanctuary and head to work, and even then it’s a half hour walk this morning through more of this great planet.

My concern this morning is that despite Mental Health Awareness Week starting yesterday – this year’s theme being Stress – there are at this current time thousands upon thousands of young people sitting down at a two foot square desk in a dreary school hall (or worse, sports hall), worrying not only whether they will remember what is going to be on that page, but a million other things too, and getting stressed.

For them, this is the start and end of their lives. The buck stops here. If they don’t do well, they may as well kiss life goodbye. Am I over exaggerating? Sadly no. I’ve worked with enough young people in the past and recently to understand what they’re experiencing. Heck, I’ve been there myself, as have many before.

Some of my recent skills sessions have been real eye openers. I got a group of teens just this week to write their thoughts and feelings down. ‘Stressed’, ‘Am I good enough?’, ‘I can’t cope’, but it didn’t end there. ‘I’m worried about my family’, ‘relationship troubles’, and ‘my head feels like it will explode’.

We’re worried about their stress levels during exam season, but this is only added pressure to what they are already experiencing, and we often forget that normal life and worries don’t stop for the exams. If life wasn’t stressful enough at this age with understanding changes to the body, gearing up for adulthood, and being enveloped in the madness of the modern world, we’re literally torturing future generations and making them feel as though they don’t even want to continue in life…and they’ve not even started, not given it a go, not experienced the joys of learning to drive, getting into serious and meaningful relationships, or getting things wrong only to realise that actually it doesn’t matter and isn’t the end of the world.

They’ve a lifetime of mystery ahead of them. They’re our future, they can change this world for the better, and yet, we’re stopping them from wanting to realise this potential.

If you are a young person reading this, let’s get one thing very clear. If you do horrendously over the next few weeks, this is not the end of the world. Just because you didn’t get an A* or a 9 or a squiggle or whatever the heck the government have decided is the new ‘top mark’, understand this. You are better and more capable than you will ever give yourself credit for.

You can retake exams, if you so wish. You can go to Uni. I did. It was called the Open University and suited me very well. If you fail miserably, you can still learn to drive a car, can still camp out with your mates, watch the sun rise, and you can still get a job. It might not be the one you want, and it might not be immediate, but you’ll get there. You can still get into deep and meaningful relationships, and you can, above all else, do well.

When all is said and done, this period is a snapshot of what you know at this point in time but you are always learning, will often get things wrong, will get knocked down, but you will find strength and courage and power to get back up and fight through to the next day. You’ll reach a point where you realise that it doesn’t actually matter if you can do a certain maths equation, or remember the difference between a verb and a noun, or even how a Bunsen burner works…unless you work in those areas of course.

One day, you’ll reach a stage where you realise how much more important it is to live a life that works for you, and how you have proved yourself more by the way you have acted and reacted to situations and others than what you wrote in a two hour exam whilst staring at somebody’s back and the slowest ticking clock in the world.

When that day comes, you’ll probably wake up early, sit outside, eating cereal, listening to the birds.

Wherever you are, this is not the end of the world. Hold on to that. You are an amazing person. It wasn’t your choice to be put in this situation, but you can make the best of it. Smile through it and remember that life continues. You can get through this difficult patch, and your life can still be more amazing than any test can ever tell you it will be.

Be like that sunflower I mentioned. Don’t fret the small stuff. Get up, smile, and enjoy the sun.


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