Sixth. Form. These two words fill me with a sense of dread and panic that I’ve never once faced in my eighteen years of walking this earth. If you live outside of the United Kingdom these two words will be foreign to you, so I shall explain. Sixth form are two years of education for students between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, where we partake in advanced level education. We focus on passions of ours and expand our knowledge in those areas in the hopes, for most students, that we’ll end up at university. It’s taken me a while to write this blog post, partly out of fear of revisiting two of the most difficult years of my life but also because I didn’t have any words that could sum up my experience at sixth form. I have the words now, I am ready to share now. This is an extremely long blog post, so I’d suggest sitting down with a cup of tea and a snack, so you can settle in for the ride. I also want to warn people that there are sensitive subjects dealt with in this blog post such as depression and suicide, along with a whole other realm of mental health problems.
Education is always something that has always excited me, learning is something I wouldn’t be able to live without. When the prospect of sixth form became apparent on my radar I was ready, I was ready to move schools as quickly as possible and mature both in terms of me as a person but also in terms of my education levels. Deciding on what I was going to study at sixth form was not something I struggled with at all so checking the boxes for English Literature, English Language and History wasn’t difficult. This has always been part of the problem, I thought I was so ready for what sixth form had to give me that when I realised what sixth form really entailed I became overwhelmed. It was so much more that what I had been told. My first week at sixth form was perfect…until it really wasn’t. This was for personal reasons that I’ve never spoken about and probably will never speak about, it opens a can of worms that I’ve supressed so hard that it would inevitably be like opening Pandora’s Box.
It became quite apparent to me quite quickly that I was deeply struggling with the social aspect of moving schools. I felt like I was intruding on the secured friendships that people had made of five years. I felt like everything that came out of my mouth sounded ridiculously stupid. I felt like I was a swan; on the outside, for the most part, I looked calm and collected but under the water I was drowning. This very quickly began to show in all aspects of my life; my school work was nowhere near the standard that it needed to be, every social occasion that I attended I felt out of place and talking to both family and friends about how I was feeling became increasingly difficult. However, I stayed silent for months and months, pretending that I was just tired when I was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. I had nothing left to give, until one day I broke. There was one of my friends stood outside of the sixth form with me before lessons had even started watching me break my heart crying telling her in a room full of people I felt completely and utterly alone. That conversation was one of the hardest I’ve ever had but I do honestly believe it saved my life, as dramatic as that sounds.
March 2017, the 16th to be precise, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder with suicidal ideation. Even though I think it’s always been expressed on my social media platforms that these are issues that I deal with I’ve never written that sentence. There are tears in my eyes as I write that sentence for the pure fact that sometimes I give myself a lot of grief for not being able to live the same carefree lives that others do, however, there’s a valid reason for it and I shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it. This is probably the main reason that I’ve never properly spoken about my experience at sixth form; because I’ve been afraid of admitting this fact to myself, but I think that the person that I’ve grown into has realised that these problems aren’t going to get easier if I don’t speak about them.
This was a problem throughout most of my time at sixth form after my diagnosis. Speaking to people was an idea that I thought was ridiculous, because I knew what the problem was I believed that I could deal with it myself. Inevitably this didn’t work, and I fell out with my best friend over this because I refused to tell her that I was okay when it was obvious. Although at the time I cried and cried and cried and cried over this argument, in the long run its helped unbelievable amounts. Our friendship is stronger because I feel comfortable telling her about my problems and she helped me realise that people do care about how I’m feeling. During my last year at sixth form I took comfort in speaking not only to my best friend but one of my teachers about how I was feeling. Speaking to people is something that I still find difficult and probably always will, however, I really do recommend trying to find a small handful, maybe even just one person, that you feel comfortable talking to. This was difficult for me at first, I know that it is for a lot of people with mental health issues, but after I started opening up to people I realised my sixth form experience did change slightly.
Even though my mental health suffered extremely badly throughout my time at sixth form there was a point where my grades slowly started to improve. I threw myself into my studies as a form of distraction from what was going on in my mind, which is something that I probably shouldn’t have done but I do think taught me that perseverance through anything pays off. However, something else happened when I full throttle, highway speed chased my grades. I began to make friends who I, for the first time in a long time, felt comfortable around and felt connected to. We would sit during our free periods and talk in depth about issues that we felt were important to talk about and be discussed. Although not a lot of work was done during those hours they changed my aspect of the social side of sixth form. It made me realise that my mental health wasn’t the first and only thing that people noticed about me. For the first time at sixth form I felt as if I belonged somewhere and wasn’t a fish out of water. I’m still friends with these people and believe I will be for an extremely long time.
Throughout my two years at sixth form the one situation that I found the most difficult and stressful were exams. Whether it was a mock exam or my final exams the stress and panic that I felt was overwhelming, just the mere thought sends me into a frenzy. No matter how well I was able to write an essay during class or as a piece of homework the dots just didn’t connect and none of the information managed to slot together when I had to do it under exam conditions. This has always been a problem and always will, however, the stress was insurmountable during my A Level exam period. Exam stress is a factor of life that most people deal with but mine felt so other worldly that after every exam I cried so much that I think that I’ve cried all the tears that were put in my body. To be completely honest though I don’t really know whether I was crying about how I felt my exam had gone or because I had so much pent up emotion that there was nothing else that I could do.
Attempting to explain how much painstaking fear the idea of returning to sixth form puts in my body is difficult, I don’t think that there will ever come a day where I will have enough words to fully explain this. The other day I attempted to do this, and I failed miserably. Actually on a recent visit to my dad’s I had to pass my old sixth form building and the amount of crippling fear and anxiety that this put me in was overwhelming; I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move and my mind began showing me a sort of highlights of my time at sixth form, but it was just a series of bad memories instead of good. I know it sounds dramatic, and sometimes I am one who tends to exaggerate, this is in fact the one time that I will never be able to do so.
Although I will forever remember the pain, the heartache and the difficulty that I faced throughout my two years at sixth form, the memories that I made within those two years combat it all. Sure, there were bad days, there were awful days, but there were also good days. They came in many forms. They came on Friday afternoons in the middle of my Literature class with my favourite teacher and some of my favourite people in the world. They came from the videos I would send my best friend of me dancing round my bedroom on my mornings off. They came from the free periods I would spend in the Learning Centre on a Tuesday afternoon. They came from the sarcastic comments passed between my form tutor and I every day. They came from knowing that I had made it through a full day at sixth form. They came from merely knowing that I’d made through another at a place I thought I couldn’t belong in any longer.
My sixth form experience was rough, my sixth form experience is not the standard sixth form experience, my sixth form experience is not to be taken at face value. Sixth form isn’t easy, it’s true when they say that they’re the toughest two years of your life, however, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world. It would be much easier to not deal with the implications that it’s left on my mental health on a day to day basis, but I came out of sixth form a much stronger and a much wiser human being. If that’s all that I take with from these past two years of education that’s fine, I have no problem with that because that piece of information will forever carry me through my darkest days. So, although it feels like a contradiction to all the problems I faced, I’m grateful for the teachers, the friends, the memories and sixth form for showing me that.