This article is a long one, and has been broken into four parts.
Part 1 describes the formation of the expectations and the attitude with which I start my graduate and post graduate academic journey. This is important as it sets the tone of expectation management that is necessary later on.
Part 2 describes my shock at the mismatch between expectation and reality and its psychological impact.
Part 3 (this blog) talks about how I react and try to deal with the shock – trying to overcome it or succumb to it.
Part 4 suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation. It may be tempting to go directly to this section, but it is important to understand and identify with the other sections. By doing this, I create detachment, and I see myself as a third person undergoing trauma, and with this detachment the solutions make sense to me.
Part 3: My reaction to the bad results
I start to deny that there is anything wrong. I assume that this is a fluke and I can fix this problem. I feel guilty about the parents who are funding my education. I put in additional effort in studies, sacrificing sleep, all social interactions, games and sports, etc. and give my 100 per cent to studies. But the results do not come up to expectations. I copy other successful students behaviours and mannerisms, study like them, make notes like them, look at their assignments, and try all means to do well academically.
I negotiate with everyone including myself. With friends to teach me and to give me support. With faculty to give me some hints on how to crack the course. With God to provide divine intervention and give easy questions in exams. I butter everyone, threaten who I can and try to use the stick and carrot approach on others and myself to motivate everyone to make me better.
I see others copying, doing illegal things and wonder if it is worth doing it. If I am afraid, I do not do it and hold them in contempt. If I accept the risk, I do it. Sometimes I get away with it, sometimes I do not.
I withdraw more and more from the support circle of well meaning but judging peers and parents, as I do not trust them to give good advice or support. They always seem to be judging me or making my life harder. I turn towards and seek the support of those who are similar to me, or worse off than me, or who do not judge me and who accept me as who I am, and use them as a standard to support my self esteem. I imbibe their attitudes and standards and deteriorate further.
Being alone brings negative thoughts in my mind, so I distract myself with friends and activities. I depend on these to stimulate me and keep me occupied. If they are not there, I have the internet, the movies and the social media. Along with these, I do substance abuse, (cigarettes, alcohol, glue, soft drugs, hard drugs) which either make me feel powerful and socially accepted or make me forget my worries and grind my thoughts into oblivion.
I sometimes make an effort to pull myself together, because I feel guilty and I cannot see myself as a failure, but I do not know how to prioritise, as so many things have to be done and all of them seem equally important in my mind. So I try a few things, without much effort or motivation, therefore fail and move into the same negative spiral. Ultimately, I give up and live life from day to day, doing the bare minimum to survive.
I feel ashamed of myself. Apart from parents, teachers and peers beating me up, I, too, beat myself up. I have conversations with myself about all my faults. I tell myself that I am no good, an imposter, a liar, incompetent etc.
I become paranoid, and believe the whole ecosystem is conspiring to thwart my intentions and I withdraw from others as well as myself, and try to sink into oblivion or distraction. I extrapolate my academic failures, predict bad future scores and start fearing the bleak future I have created for myself.
I hide my scores from my friends and family and lie about them. I give reasons for the bad scores and promise that I will do better.
I focus only on those things that I can do well, be it academic subjects or extra curricular activities, in order to keep myself busy and to recover some semblance of self esteem. I justify the inordinate amount of time spent by saying that these activities make me a well-rounded individual. Gradually, I lose all focus on academics. I also use arguments like “Most entrepreneurs did not do well in school or college” citing examples of people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
I look for support and answers on the internet, looking at sites that promise to make me smarter, that justify my failures, give me excuses, asking me to accept myself. I look at self help sites that promise to improve my memory, teach me time management and those that give me summaries of subjects. I look for instant solutions, since I have wasted so much time. Hypnotism, Visualisation, Meditation – all these promise great results. I try them for a time, but since they do not give me the results as promised, I ditch them all. I move from one experiment to another, and none of them work. I read motivational books, watch motivational movies (specially the Hollywood ones where one brainwave makes a difference to everyone’s life in 2 hours). Sometimes these give us some motivation, but for a short time.
I do not ask for support or help from real people near us. This is considered an admittance of failure, that I am not capable of dealing with my problems. It also brings to the notice of the administration that I have a problem or can be a problem. There is a social stigma attached to asking for help, either with the peer group or with a professional.
I reach out to anonymous people on the internet, asking them for solutions, and reading their answers, looking for something that will dramatically change my life overnight. Most of the answers seem like platitudes and none of them give the answer we seek. I have heard them all and read them all.
Nothing works. I swing between frustration and anger, anxiety and fear and depression, sometimes all these emotions at the same time.
Part 4 suggests various realistic measures that I can take in order to resolve the situation.