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Overwhelmed by Exams

pile of open books

The stresses of law school are most apparent in the lead up to exams. You feel run down, overwhelmed and pushed to breaking point, but you get on with it because that’s a ‘normal part’ of being a law student.

I’ve been feeling stressed for a while, and it came to a head this week. All week I’d been telling myself that it’s normal, that I’m just busy, just balancing a lot, just tired, just anything. But yesterday I did something that made me realise my levels of stress aren’t okay or normal.

I was studying in the library with friends and I left my notes for a minute. When I got back, two of my friends were huddled over my book – one was writing something, the other laughing. What was just a harmless, everyday joke suddenly overwhelmed me so completely that I couldn’t control what I was doing. I shouted at my friends in the middle of the library; I swore at them and I said a word I never say and then swept up my books in a rage and stormed to another table. I sat down in a sulk and I started to cry.

I was terrified of what had come over me. How removed from my real self and how out of control I was. As I sat there by myself I realised that no matter how busy or stressed, people who are okay don’t shout at their friends, they don’t lose control of themselves and they don’t feel on the verge of tears every single day.

I have so much trouble admitting when I’m not coping. I feel like I’m not allowed to be struggling. I have it so good – I live at home, I have a loving family and supportive friends, I’m doing well at uni and I’m a happy person. I’m seven semesters into law school; I’ve done all this before. When I do have trouble, there is always someone there to help me out. What stresses could I possibly have in my life?

I realised yesterday that denying these feelings and preventing myself from feeling this way only makes it worse. Not allowing myself to feel sad and stretched only overwhelms me more because the guilt at feeling stressed when I shouldn’t compounds all my other negative feelings. As hard as it is for me I have to understand that it’s okay be feel overwhelmed; that I don’t have to be perfect all the time and that there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to someone or asking for help.

After a few minutes a friend came over to my table, asked if she could sit with me and quietly continued her work without mentioning what had just happened. Her company made me realise that maybe I wasn’t as horrible a person as I thought, and that maybe if I ask for it, help will still be there. After a while I apologised for shouting and explained why I had snapped. I told her all about how overwhelmed I felt and how I just wanted everything to stop because I felt like I couldn’t do it all anymore. She listened to everything I said and when I was done she told me, “it’s okay to feel like that.”

It’s okay to feel like that. Everything I was feeling, all the stresses and worries and guilt and pressure, it didn’t make me inadequate; it didn’t make me a failure.

I went back to the other table and apologised to the friends who had written on my notes. Every single person there who had seen me storm off had nothing but concern in their eyes. They were so supportive and understanding. They reminded me that we don’t have to do everything by ourselves and that we’re always able to reach out for help and guidance.

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