Studies

JC: The 2 hardest years of my life

Tan Ying Hui // January 4, 2019, 3:47 pm

Reflections on my JC life-1

I recently emerged from the trying place that is Junior College and the A-Levels.

It has arguably been the most difficult two years of my life, but looking back, God has led me out of the darkest valleys and given me beautiful testimonies in His time.

I’ve always considered myself a hardworking student, placing immense pressure on myself to perform well academically. It became harder as I got older, because the streaming system in classes and schools pits you against brighter students each time you go up a level.

I was also a hardcore planner. I didn’t like it when I couldn’t plan my week ahead, and I applied this to the longer-term future as well. I went into JC knowing exactly what I needed to take up, to score the best chances of entering my desired university course.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

I had heard that students typically do terribly for their first set of Common Tests (CTs) and improve from there.

I was determined to not let that happen to me – I wanted to do well all the way. While my friends were prioritising their CCAs and taking the first term a little more lightly, I studied as hard as I possibly could, spending the bulk of time at the library.

It certainly paid off – I achieved all As and Bs (considerably well for the first CT!) These results set the bar high as I wanted to improve for every subsequent exam.

I often longed to go home so I could cry silently in my room.

Besides mugging away, I was also struggling with my CCA. In JC, I decided to push myself to try out a sports CCA. What I learnt from this experience was that while I didn’t mind exercising, I would much rather do it alone, with no pressure to pass the ball to anyone or be responsible for the team’s defeat. Call me a wimp, but that period of continued failure at the sport and the lack of support from my coach made me feel worthless, to say the least.

The combined stress from studying and performing badly in CCA took a severe toll on my mental health. I went through a similar phase back when I was in Secondary 2 and 3, but something about the A-Levels being “the most important exams” made it so much worse this time.

When I look at my scarred wrists, I think of the man with the nail-scarred hands

In the early half of J2, I battled with the monstrous voices in my head, which constantly reminded me of how useless I was.

So I turned back to cutting again. I don’t know why I did it, since it never released my stress, nor did anything good at all for my state of mind. Somehow, sadness had become a feeling that I’d allowed myself to indulge in and be consumed by, and the blood and scars on my wrist fed that vicious cycle.

I often longed to go home so I could cry silently in my room. If I was in the MRT, or in the car on the way to school, I’d shut my eyes to hold the tears back. The tears swelled against the back of my eyelids, like an ocean held back by a paper-thin dam. When I was safely alone, I’d cry till it felt like I had no more tears. I’d lie in the dark, face frozen in place, glazed over with sticky tears.

Some days I would try to numb myself to all emotions, devoid of feelings altogether. But, in case you didn’t know, emptiness feels worse than sadness.

The first mini turning point came one morning before school.

I don’t remember what exactly triggered it, but that day I was overcome with emotions and sat dazed in my room, dressed for school but unable to bring myself to pretend any longer.

The tears rolled down my cheeks just as my parents came in to check on me because I hadn’t gone out for breakfast yet. Caught in the act, I couldn’t lie that everything was alright, because it was so incredibly far from that.

I poured out my heart to my parents, telling them how stressed I was from all the studying I subjected myself to, about how much I hated CCA because of how worthless it made me feel, and how I just really wanted to die.

I thank God for my parents who were strong for me, and saw me through this tough season of my life, telling me that I should do whatever I needed to get back to a healthy state of mind. They said that if quitting my CCA was what I had to do, it was a hundred percent okay.

Studies, stress and suicide

I am a first-generation Christian, having been brought to church by my friend approximately 4 years ago. My parents have just come to know the Lord a year ago. But that morning, my mother reminded me of the truth, saying, “Remember, you are a child of God.”

My identity as a Christian was the only thing that kept me from taking my own life. Disillusioned as I was, I thank God that I was rational enough to know that killing myself would in no way encourage my parents in their faith. It would surely have been a stumbling block to many of my pre-believing friends from knowing God.

Through this whole period, I went to church every Sunday, breaking down at countless worship sessions and altar calls and asking that God would reach in and pull me out of this black valley.

The second and final turning point came shortly after.

While I had told my mother about my cutting and promised her I would never do it again, I somehow found myself on another night with my penknife in my hand. Instead of making small incisions on my wrist, which I could easily hide with my watch, I ended up reaching down and making three large slashes near my ankle.

I cut too deep.

This time instead of slight pale red slits, dark red blood gushed out. My hands recoiled in fear and it felt like my heart almost stopped. I hadn’t meant to take things that far and I was horrified by what I had done to myself. I cried and cried and tried to use tissues to cover things up but the blood just would not stop flowing.

At 16, I checked myself into the Institute of Mental Health

My parents eventually saw my injuries, and I lied to everyone but my one closest friend about what had happened. To this day, I don’t know if my parents really knew what had happened, but they (outwardly, at least) accepted my explanation.

Now knowing the full extent of what my hands could do, I never cut again. I realised that every cut was a cut too deep. I was traumatised by that experience and I can still recall the feeling of helplessness, being unable to stop the bleeding and just wanting to turn back time.

I realised that every cut was a cut too deep.

Though this episode was psychologically traumatic, it marked a turn in my life.

I was resolved to leave behind the destructive habit of feeding my fear and depression. I took time off studying whenever I felt like I needed a mental health break, and confided more in my friends and my family. I learnt that self-care should always be my priority and that asking for help was a sign of bravery rather than weakness.

All along, I’d thought that as a Christian, I should project the best image of myself and be that one strong friend that everyone could count on for encouragements and godly counsel. I’d missed the point that we are ultimately fallible human beings, and it is precisely this that makes God such a necessity in our lives.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11)

It is so tempting to hide behind a façade of perfection and flawlessness, but I have since learnt that when we admit our brokenness, God’s glory can begin to shine in our lives.

While I most certainly do not wish for these two years to ever repeat themselves, I know that God had a purpose in bringing me through this distressing journey. It took those lonely nights of crying my heart out and the scars now etched permanently on my leg, for me to learn never again to lock myself up with desolation and entertain the lies of the enemy.

Now more than ever, I continually remind myself of God’s truth, that His promises for my life are beyond what I could ever imagine, and His love is more than enough for me. Above all, it is not what I do or don’t do that establishes my worth, but rather, who He says I am: His precious daughter.

At the beginning of 2018, I felt God impress upon my heart that this verse would be my verse of the year:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2)

To all the students or to anyone who ever feels inadequate in any way: I pray that God will use your struggle to strengthen your faith.

Someone once told me that if the devil tries to rob you of your life, there must be something mindblowingly amazing in God’s plan for you.

God is so much bigger than our fears, and our good, good Father desires to bless us abundantly.

In Singapore, it is so easy to bend to the standards of the world and measure ourselves by how well we do in school, be it in our studies or our other achievements. While I don’t deny that God wants us to try our best, I pray that we will never lose our souls in the pursuit of worldly accolades, but instead prioritise living out our faith in the journey.

Knowing that God already has a plan for our lives takes such a great load off our shoulders. It frees us from the burden of having to work ourselves to death to attain our goals. No more need for thoughts like, “What if I don’t do this one question and it comes out in the exam?” or “What if my friend does better than me and takes my spot in this university?”

God is so much bigger than our fears, and our good, good Father desires to bless us abundantly. May we live our lives in light of this truth, walking by faith and not by sight.