Growing up, I always felt the pressure to meet my family’s expectations; to get their approval for everything I did, everything I said or even everything I liked. Though no matter how hard I tried I was never good enough, smart enough, hardworking enough and simply ENOUGH. I had to be perfect to be loved or at least that was how I felt then. I knew that my family values formal education above everything else. For them, a person’s worth pretty much depends on whether or not he or she has a university degree. Often while talking about someone, they would use the absence of a diploma as an insult and the presence of it as a reason for respect and acceptance. Long before even understanding what higher education is and why people need it, I knew that I am expected to get one in the future. And I am not talking about becoming a competent professional in the field I was passionate about, being an educated or generally developed person. The point was to “earn” a diploma-an official certificate which would “prove” my intelligence and worth.
It was the last year of school when all my classmates and other peers started preparing for the entrance exams. Everybody around started attending private classes of specific subjects, talking about education and professions, asking each other about who is going to do what, and building for themselves the images of smart and ambitious cool guys. At that period I was singing at the State Song Theatre, and all I was living for was my childish and unrealistic dream of becoming the “Armenian version” of Hannah Montana. I knew that something so “fancy” and “stupid” as becoming a singer would not be accepted by my family. I had to get a “serious” profession. “Serious” was considered everything related to math or quantitative sciences, both of which I hated. But it didn’t even matter because my future was already decided for me. My mother wanted me to study business at American University of Armenia (AUA.) She wanted me to be accepted to the “most prestigious” department of the “most desirable” university of the country.
Ironically, despite her high expectations from me she never believed that I can actually be accepted and afterward study in such “challenging” educational institution. Because of my poor math skills, I was always considered not smart enough in both family and school. “Thank god you are beautiful, it compensates your lack of intelligence!” would say my school math teacher when I failed a test or refused to go to the blackboard to solve a math problem. My self-esteem and self-worth started to depend on whether or not I will pass the university entrance exams. I felt the need to prove everybody wrong; I felt the need to accomplish what nobody believed I am able to, but most importantly I felt the need to meet my family’s expectations. Soon, I started studying math and English simultaneously and dedicated all my time and energy in preparing for those two exams (SAT and TOEFL).
Every single day I spent the daytime at my SAT and TOEFL classes and the nights on preparing homework for the next day. The struggle with math was the worst. My entire life I believed that I would never have any relationship with numbers, formulas, and calculations; and now I was faced with an unachievable task-to catch up in several months everything which I was supposed to learn during the last ten years. I struggled to understand even those math problems which my peers would consider too easy and primitive. I would spend entire nights for completing several homework exercises and would end up crying for hours because of feeling stupid and inferior which on its turn would be followed by feeling weak and pathetic. I would never ask anyone for help for not giving them a chance to remind me that I am not smart enough or hardworking enough. I gave up all the things I liked and enjoyed for the sake of studying even more for the exams. Eventually, I gave up even singing, and my life completely turned into a repugnant struggle.
Slowly I managed to improve my math skills and catch up with everybody else in the group. But this struggle had already turned into a nightmare. No matter how better my performance became, I was feeling less and less confident and more and more critical about myself. “It will never be enough,” I thought. “I will never satisfy their expectations…” The time was passing, and I didn’t even notice how I reached to the point when I was supposed to be ready for the math exam. After five months of stressful preparations, sleepless nights full of numbers, calculations and tears I was exhausted. I didn’t feel ready for the exam. I was terrified to fail, to let people down and become a disappointment.
Ironically, I succeeded in math test though I failed the English exam which was the next one. Nobody including me thought that I would have a bigger struggle with English than with math. Actually, after I was done with math, things got worse. That painful effort which I put on math led me to depression. I became irritable. I would cry all day long instead of preparing for the upcoming exam. I felt completely lost, frustrated confused and scared. All I could think about was that I was a failure, a disappointment. I felt trapped on my own mind. I felt helpless. I lost all my motivation and interest in everything I previously liked. I stopped attending my exam preparation classes and even school. I completely isolated myself from people and stopped socializing. I was feeling guilt and shame towards my family because I let them down. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t make myself to get rid of my depression and anxiety and overcome a “simple problem” which everybody faces.
Meanwhile, my family was blaming me for being not hardworking enough, smart enough and resilient enough. They were shaming me for being unable to do what everybody else at my age was expected to do. They were comparing me with whoever was possible and criticized for being “worse,” being “less hardworking,” and “less smart.” Eventually, I ended up feeling useless and unworthy…
No matter how much I wanted to snap my fingers, get out of depression, take another exam, pass it successfully and get accepted to the university, I couldn’t. I hated everything, I hated school, I hated my friends, I hated my family…I hated myself. I lost interest even in living and wanted to hide or disappear. Everybody kept asking what I’m going to do next; whether I am going to take another exam or apply to another university. “You are not going to ‘lose a year,’ are you?” they would say. I was telling them “I am losing my mind” they were telling me “you will lose a year.” What did it even mean “to lose a year?” Wouldn’t I be a living human being if I wasn’t a university student? My mom kept shaming me by asking “what am I supposed to tell the relatives if they ask about you?” I felt that everything was more important than me. Other people’s opinions, being the student of that “prestigious” university, having a reason to be proud of me, to brag in front of friends and relatives was way more important for my family than I and my mental health (the existence of which everybody preferred to ignore.) Unsurprisingly, my depression got even worse, and of course, I wasn’t accepted to AUA that year. After that every day was full of shaming, blaming and reproaching. They wouldn’t miss a chance to remind me that I am worse than my peers, less intelligent, less hardworking and that my only value is my physical beauty. For an entire year, they couldn’t “forgive” me my “fault.” Next year I applied to AUA once again, and I was accepted this time. Though, even then instead of finally being “satisfied” my family kept reminding me that because of my laziness and stupidity I lost a year of my life. “If you could do it why did you “lose” one year?” they would say…
I got accepted to the “most prestigious” department of AUA- Business and studied an entire year with even worse sufferings than while preparing for the SAT. I hated Business; (which wasn’t unexpected) I hated everything about it. “Why am I even here?” I would ask myself while trying to concentrate my attention on the lecture I found useless. I cried before, during and after every exam and kept asking myself “was this supposed to be so insufferable?” But the worst, I kept feeling less intelligent and less worthy than others. I wanted to change my major to English and Communications (E&C) so I could enjoy my classes and find my place in something dear to me. But even this choice wasn’t obstacle-free. After a year of huge fights and struggles against my family, I changed my major to E&C and finally stopped proving everybody my intelligence and worth. I accepted my family’s opinion about being stupid if you can’t/don’t want to study math and stopped beating myself up because of it. This experience changed my perception of education, life goals, values, and priorities. I understood that the only person who should like and approve what I am doing is me. The only person who should be proud of me is again me. Those who mastered the tips and tricks for easily passing the standardized exams were not better than me; those who are better at math and sciences are not smarter than me. And being accepted to a university from the first or second attempt does not define my worth. I didn’t “lose” a year of my life, as everybody liked to tell me. That was the year when I learned to put myself and my mental health before other’s opinions, expectations, and priorities. That was the year when I learned to live in the endlessly criticizing society without letting them define my worth. That was the year when I finally felt I’m enough…