on surviving a-levels

If you let them, a-levels can become a crash course in self-destruction. As we embarked, with blinding naivety, on the beginning of the journey, a teacher prophesied "this will be the hardest thing you ever do".
I mean, I can't vouch for that as I haven't yet done much else.
But they were hard.
Academically hard, but emotionally, mentally much harder*.
Here are some tips and tricks, some I practised, some I wish I had, to hopefully make the 2 years a lil more bearable.


Also, just a heads up–way up the rational value of a-levels. I got great grades but also entirely lost myself in the process, they weren't as important as I thought. Work hard but care for your mental, physical and spiritual health,

Expect a jump between year 12 and 13
No one warned us. Everyone felt it.

Develop relationships with teachers 
I found this vital, made them more approachable when you had a problem (literally every day), meant they could notice when you needed help and created a nice atmosphere. Because my classes were so small (another thing to expect, unless you are doing a mega popular a-level) I found they could directly and personally help you if you had a good relationship. It also made lessons an absolute lol.

Use your free's
You get so much work done, have more time to do other stuff (or work more lol) and it just pays off. Plus, if your friends use them too it isn't that dull. I actually used to love the library.

yr 12 doesn't matter BUT IT HELPS
I worked too hard in year 12 but it helped unreal amounts in year 13. Especially with the new a-levels, your teachers will leave 3 weeks to revise work from September of year 12 (!). Work hard in 12 nd revision won't be so tedious. (But, from someone who ruined themselves by working too hard, also take year 12 to have fun and create a balance)

Don't forget to have fun (but don't have too much lol)
"Katie, are you doing things for fun? You're 17, you should be enjoying yourself": not an entirely helpful convo with my tutor because a) it makes u feel lame and b) there isn't actually that much time to have fun if you wanna focus. By year 13 I got better at the 'allowing myself to have fun' thing and found if I balanced time well, I could feel justified about a break. Dunno if it helps but my general schedule throughout yr 13 was:
Weekdays: work in hour slots from end of school until 8ish (generally in the library, with breaks for tea and procrastination obvs)
Weekends: saturdays I would have work 10-1 then revise all afternoon and go out in the evening, sundays was revision and beach walk/hungover essays (which are amusing but wouldn't recommend)

Stationary 
Expect to buy thousands of files (you'll need lever arch-trust me), pads of paper (pukka narrow rule was my life), pens and email yourself about 10,000 documents

ASK FOR HELP
I was shit at this. I would just let it all build up and then get so confused because I was overthinking it. This would result in inevitable tears and awks conversations with teachers while I broke down.
This was also essential in solving some teaching problems, because gurl its your education we're talking about.

Its all subjective 
The attitude, the success, the dedication. For me, starting revision early and working up to like 6 hours a day helped me feel remotely prepared and relaxed when the exams rolled around. Others felt fine on minimal work or didnt need to work or preferred to cram 2 weeks before. Use year 12 to find a groove that works for you and don't compare yourself to others

Work from the start 
Even if you don't have set work, go over your stuff from the day (esp if your teaching is questionable) and research/consolidate

Use to-do lists and revision timetables religiously 

Take your time with uni application 
Decide if you're ready, if not just take a break. No justification needed. In many ways I think not applying to uni removed some of the external pressure and I question whether I would have got my results had there been a 'need'.

Essays
(Obviously, this is entirely subject specific)
Essay practice is 110% the best way to learn and practise, esp towards the end. It allows you to consolidate, practise technique, understand general ability and also provides ace revision material later on. I did at least 1 a week, found my style and had immensely willing markers lol.

Sharing 
Especially in English, we all got really good at sharing notes, websites and materials–it helped immensely as it opened you up to new ideas.

Job
All my friends had some form of job in sixth-form. We were recommended 8 hours a week, some did immensely over, I did around 6 which I found I could maintain throughout exam season. The money meant I could fund my weekend antics but I wasn't sacrificing my work.

Carry on doing things you love
I was shit at this and stopped everything. Don't.

Its not boring 
I was terrified that dropping to 3 subjects would be so boring and that I would miss the variety. Man was I wrong. Most subjects have at least 2 'halves' (most have many more, whether this be English texts/genres, Historical periods, areas of maths) so in many ways its like studying more than 3 subjects. Also, you are so busy you don't have time to think about wanting to do anything more.
A necessity list:
- Tea (to leave half drunk cups around your room)
- A dressing gown (couldnt have survived without mine)
- Study music and headphones (for when the library is unbearable or your sister is having an argument outside your room-my go to's were penguin cafe orchestra, studio ghibli, bach cello suite and chopin lol)
- Access to the beach or an open and free place (to cry)
- Copious amounts of water (because filling up your bottle is honestly the best procrastination)
- Comfy clothes (because when exams come round you will live in 1 outfit)

I hope this offered some wisdom, good luck to anyone embarking on A-levels, they're a whirlwind. If you ever need any advice/support/understanding about the relentless stress, hmu, I feel experienced in this department.

***
Some P.S's

*I think your reaction to this entirely depends on your state of mind and approach. If you don't feel stress, aren't particularly academically conscientious (i.e. you don't really care, which 70% appeared not to) it might be a lil tricky but you'll be chill. But from personal experience the vast majority of my friends found it overwhelmingly stressful and all cried awkwardly with a teacher at some point. And me? Well you can guess the answer to that.

(sidenote: just  because they're hard doesnt mean you won't enjoy the time, I honestly had some of the best 2 years which seems oxymoronic and incomprehensible if you counted the number of times I cried, but honestly I had a lotta lotta fun)

ALSO: I'm gonna do specific history and english a-level tips posts because i gotta lot to say about that

euphoria

Thursday was an overwhelmingly euphoric day. I look back and it is a memory drowned in the golden sun that blessed the 17th August.
Walking to school had been a silent affair, blurry eyed, consumed by the fear towards the letters that would define our future. Sleep deprived, we entered the room where everyone, now distant memories of the landmark past, was gathered.
A general mood of happiness, tinged by some tears and inevitable disappointment. Phone calls, hugs, photographs facing the path to my realisation.
I teased my envelope open, surrounded by an audience of eager bodies, wishing to see how another had faired.
I peered in to assess my reaction, prepare for the drop of my heart.
Happiness.
Wait. 
No. 
"What the fuck" I screamed, much too loudly, and pulled my best friend, and then her mum, into an embrace of utter relief and glory. The swelling conversation had dulled and the pulsation of total happiness ripped through my body. The room had silenced and, in my undeniably warped view of the day, it was just us standing in the middle with me screaming "oh my god". 
And people were so undeniably kind to me, I wish I could bottle their love and my happiness and pour it into my darkest days.


I don't remember much else of that morning, drunk on the exhilaration of eurphoria. The day melted into pure happiness, an emotion I liken to the thrill of birthday's, if I didn't feel the pressure to enjoy them. I couldn't stop smiling, couldn't sit still, high on the adrenaline of something I never thought possible and cured with a sense of oxymoronic calmness, as though nothing else mattered. I spent it eating, bathing in the sunshine and talking to, and feeling immense love for friends. 

Results night out felt truly celebratory, in a non-twatty way I felt I could truly have fun and relax. 
The night was filled with prosecco and j├Ąger bombs and trebles as I was driven with the mentality that "I can do anything now" (vom). We danced and hugged and loved and my friends were unbelievably kind and happy and I felt so much pride for surviving 2 years and achieving what I had never believed possible. 
The night ended on the beach, beneath the morning sunshine, with some of my best friends, cold, exhausted but driven by the excitement of the future. I am still suffering from the 30 hours of overriding emotions and no sleep but fuck it was such a happy day.

***
I am documenting this day in such detail because a) I never record happy things on here and b) if you read my last post you know how significant my a level results were lol

the world i live in

"Today is going to be a hard day" I said to myself as I rolled over to turn on my radio. There wasn't really a reason, it just felt empty and dull, with no energy to ease the boredom.
The past week or two have been bliss, surprisingly. I say surprisingly as I have been dreading these summer holidays but I am enjoying the freedom and relaxation. Much of it has been reuniting with friends, partying, trips and a general sense of ease towards a slower pace of life with a pleasant feeling that I still have time to do all the things I planned over summer.
But today is hard.
And the darkest moments over the past year (which have all stemmed from the same stimulus) have felt so unbearably lonely as my fears and wishes felt stagnant and lame, I figured maybe I would write about them, partially to make today a little easier (which it will become) and also to maybe reach out to another who is in my (arguably strange) position.

(side note this is going to be unbelievably frank, which makes me think of an excerpt from an interview with Tennessee Williams in the back of Streetcar. It will also probably not make sense to anyone else, but that's okay)



I gave A-levels my everything. I mean, I abandoned everything to focus on an arbitrary qualification. My life became defined by school and by exams. The reasons why I find hard to uncover.
Part of me was desperate to achieve, fuelled by an entirely self-inflicted fear of failure, need to prove myself and compare to others.
I was also excited by learning. It felt new and fresh and intriguing, presenting concepts that were so much bigger than my individual existence.
But I also used A-levels as a cape of ignorance, reflecting thoughts and events I didn't want to think about, didn't need to think about. I could neglect my health and my sanity for a short term fix of an hour of revision or a day of stress, filling the emerging emptiness. Work would take away the fears and the anxieties because I could focus, because the distraction felt necessary. But of course it didn't take it away, under a blanket of oblivion they grew erupting at crucial points in the year, leaving me crying in the yard, at my desk, in bed.
I became a physical embodiment of my studying. I would talk about little else, think about little else and enjoy little else, spending as many hours as possible away from home, in school, but it didn't matter, it felt justified, necessary.
And this focus became so narrow, so intense, the rest of the world fell around me. I forgot who I was, what I liked, how I spent free time. A pitiful example of this self-destruction can be seen in the composition of my birthday list. My family asked me what I wanted for my birthday and, after days of ignoring the question, I replied "I don't know what I want because I don't know who I am anymore" which was the truth.
And while I was slaving away, losing myself with a sadistic sense of satisfaction, it was completely covert. Because as long as I was academically achieving, and fucking hell I should have been, it didnt matter. There was no problem visible to outsiders. I was just a girl driven to do well. And of course I didn't speak out because how do you explain the mess of thoughts that are driving you to work so hard.

What was I so scared of?
The emptiness of my gap year, the loss of immediate support and care, the loss of identity, the disappearance of the sense of belonging and a sense of focus, independence and no longer a need to stress and an ability to blame everything on studying.

And I suppose now I am living the aftermath of the apocalypse.
In all honesty, its been okay.
Some days have been unbearable, some totally enjoyable.
I've learned to busy myself, adapt to a slower pace of life, allow myself to read in the day, bathe at noon, watch a movie in bed, sleep until 9, lie in the sun, and bake. Its difficult, I feel empty and lost without the sole thing that defined my being, I yearn for the structure and focus it provided and the opportunity to hide from the thoughts that I am having to confront. It feels sort of trapping, I can't go back but the future is terrifying. I love working hard and feel I'll never meet such a challenge–this is naive and irrational but a consuming thought.
I have, on too many accounts, cried "I just want to go back to school" because it is oh so safe but I know I don't grow in my comfort zone.
And the gap year, whilst physicalising my fear, is entirely necessary. I need to escape the sadistic self-neglect that will, inevitably, ruin me.
Maybe it will be the best year of my life.
Who knows.

I just want to learn to live again.

***
In the depth of this panic (kind of now, kind of throughout the whole of 2k17) reading about someone else experiencing my pathetic but existential crisis would have saved many a tear.
I suppose, as well as this being therapeutic, I want to remind people that a) loving school isnt sad (I thought it was even tho I did) and b) all fears are legit, no matter how irrational

cross roads


(an entirely over dramatic creation)
I exist in a window of transience, with the door of the past firmly bolted behind and an abyss of emptiness that disguises itself as the future expanding in front.
It is terrifying.
I feel my fabricated identity melt away, whispering as it leaves that all that focus, dedication, interest wasn't me.
There is no me.
I suppose this transience is the beginnings of adulthood. A word that terrifies me.
Lost in the whirlwind of my European adventure, I wasn't able to comprehend the reality of the official milestone that marks my maturity.
It now dawns.
I want to crawl under my duvet and retreat to my 5-year old self, lost in a world of imagination, tantrums and a belief of eternity.
And I wish I could divulge the tips and tricks to help you explore your identity, brainstorm who you are and empower a sense of love but I too am lost at that cross roads of life.
Alas, in an attempt to save myself fro the abyss of overwhelming panic, I will, in the parting words of my favourite teacher, "be kind to myself".
And you should too.
Listen to the sounds of your body, calling for sleep, food, warmth and not deny it of these things. They really are essential.
From the beginnings of self-love, I will continue with small building blocks. Bricks that will, I pray, soon render the definition of my being.
My favourite colour, food, song, time of day, smell–miscellaneous nuggets that, together, begin to form the person I used to be.
In a week, a year, a decade, I will be able to shout: "this is who I am" and know that I am a luminous embodiment of my true identity.
***

Fuck me I am so so so so scared for the 17th August. I carry on waking up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, limbs sweating. I feel unable to survive the day and the self-loathing that will follow.
GAH.
Anyone else feel this or just me????