It’s been four years since I left school, and I still don’t talk about it much. There’s far too much raw, pent up emotion for me to discuss it coherently, but writing it all down should allow me to give a logical account of my experiences.
My secondary school was situated at the other end of the road I lived on, and was just visible from my parent’s bedroom window. It was set on quite a steep hill, meaning that one side of the school had an extra level built into the hillside, and it had a central forum where large gatherings and assemblies took place, with all the classrooms built on a loop surrounding this. The school opened just as I transferred to high school, meaning it was brand new; the old, dilapidated school it had replaced was being knocked down a few metres from the shiny, new building.
I was half way through Year 10 (USA 9th Grade) when a virus decided to chow down on the protective tissue surrounding my brain. Given that our GP’s surgery was closed for the day, and no other medical aid would physically come to us unless my condition grew significantly worse, we couldn’t get proof that I had, indeed, suffered such a serious illness. Unsurprisingly, the school was sceptical as to my plight without the necessary proof, and stipulated that I still sat my GCSE biology exam just one week after first falling ill. The school also stipulated that I wear my uniform, including the stuffy and uncomfortable blazer, but assured my mum that I would be provided with a well ventilated room and access to drinking water.
A couple of days after first falling ill, I started to revise as much as I could, which in all honesty wasn’t much. I felt so rotten I don’t think I took much of it in anyway. Come the day of the exam, I hauled myself out of bed early, ate a little breakfast, pulled on my uniform, and went to school. I was put in one of the hottest rooms in the building, where none of the windows opened, and I wasn’t even allowed to get water from the tap outside. To make matters worse, another girl sitting the same exam had also been ill, and therefore was in the same room as me. She turned up extremely late without her uniform, and I was made to wait to start the exam until she arrived. All I remember of the paper is wanting to use it as a pillow for my aching head, and stumbling out over an hour later wanting nothing more than to be left in peace.
Another week of bed rest later, and the attendance team at my school were ringing up constantly, nagging my mum about my absence from school. Over the phone, the doctor had advised I take several weeks off to rest following the meningitis, but without the note our case would not be heard. I was pushed back into school on a part-time basis, while the attendance team continued to pressure me and my parents until I was back full-time. This included participation is both sports and dance classes despite my mum trying her best to make them see reason.
A couple of months after sitting the exam, the results came out. I had obtained a grade B, which I was pretty pleased with under the circumstances. Unfortunately, a grade B was below my target grade, and as far as the teachers were concerned, this was inadequate. It was quite the fight to prevent being entered for a resit of the exam, and being told that my best efforts under adverse circumstances were worthless did nothing for my self-esteem. I felt like my entire life was falling apart around me into an irreparable mess, and nearly everyone was against me. I tried to put it all out of my mind and concentrate on my future exams, keeping my head down and staying out of trouble, but this was harder than I could have imagined.
Shortly after receiving my exam result, I was pulled to one side during a gym lesson for a “quick discussion”. What followed was a lengthy and entirely one-sided lecture on how it didn’t matter how academically gifted I was, being physically ill would render it all pointless. She then told me to start running on the treadmill, not walking. Had I been the more confident individual I am today, I would have reminded her to have her quick discussion with Steven Hawking and see what his reaction was, but I just nodded mutely and did the bare minimum that would qualify as running to appease her. I think this was the point where I started to truly hate school.
Eventually the summer holidays arrived, for which I was grateful. Over the coming weeks I regularly saw the GP, running tests until I was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Now backed up with medical evidence, I was finally allowed to drop dance and sports, but it took a further six weeks to convince the school that my timetable was still too much for me to cope with. Eventually I was allowed to drop French, and I was on a timetable that I could manage while I was so ill. Even so I still had to take some time off school due to illness, made worse by the stress of the constant hounding from the attendance team.