Why you need to cut us some slack

Published: March 29, 2012
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Stress is the sleeplessness of many a youngster, whose parents expect them to churn out just as brilliant results as their older siblings.

Stress is hoping against hope that the History notes you have been reading till 1 am, with your brain telling you to go to sleep, will somehow show up on the examination paper tomorrow.

Stress is a row of kids sitting in an examination room, suddenly turning around in their seats to laugh – nobody has any idea what the numbers swirling on the Math paper actually mean.

Stress is the sleeplessness of many a youngster, whose parents expect them to churn out just as brilliant results as their older siblings have had done in their student life.

Stress is trying to explain to your counsellor that you really do care about Physics – it’s just, well, doesn’t she know that the past few months have been an exercise in gruelling academics and activities, and that you, your school, and your parents, expect you to accomplish all of that?

And just when you think you’ll survive school stress, college stress kicks in.

Stress is setting an alarm at 3 am so that you can call your friend while she is checking her (foreign) college application decision. It’s that silence right before the log-in, the one that, depending on the decision, precedes screams and instant facebook status updates, or a casual “Whatever, man, I didn’t get in.”

Stress is the surprise birthday party, thrown not just because the 18-year-old in question is finally an adult, but because his friends think he needs a break from worrying about the Aga Khan test. Stress is a girl saying, “If my mom calls, tell her I’m on my way home,” while taking a time out with her friends, as her parents are under the impression that she’s studying for her various medical tests.

Stress is the fear of an 18-year-old girl who confides to me that her decision to leave Pakistan for higher education could put her parents in the line of fire of nasty conservative relatives. She wonders out aloud whether it would be better to stay in Karachi instead, and get married “like most of [her] cousins.” Stress is having to deal with that opinion, the fact that there are some parents who heap on pressures of a social kind, which has nothing to do with the marks you scored on a Math test.

Stress is the girl who is sitting in the back of the class and using a pencil and calculator to try to figure out if her parents have the income to afford her education.

All of these examples are kinds of “stress,” but perhaps only to a few of us who should be grateful that we’re attending school at all, unlike the 18-year-old household helper who is not. It’s not that we suffer from stress – that’s expected. It’s about how we perceive others.

A teacher once sympathised with us:

Beta, I know how all of you are being turned into pressure cookers,” and suddenly the whole class seemed to explode with laughter.

We seem to be dying for acceptance of the fact that we are not “lafangay,” as an aunt of mine once labelled my generation.

We are instead the kind of people like my best friend, who flips through Newsweek Pakistan’s Hundred Women Who Matter edition, and then calls me later to talk about film makers, heads of non-profit organisations, and the 14-year-old who wants to study in Swat.

I wonder if we’re old enough to know what words like pressure and stress mean yet. At 18, it feels like we do.

Read more by Meiryum here.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.