Mental breakdown in 3, 2, 1…

way too much pressure

It’s the last week of the academic year starting from tomorrow. I have four exams (that I know of), then I should be done by the end of the month. For some reason, my Japanese speaking exam wasn’t added to my exam timetable, so I had to search for it myself, hidden away somewhere on the VLE, and I’m still left wondering if there’s supposed to be a listening exam as well. I’m a flustered, quivering wreck.

Aside from preparing for exams, I only have one major bit of coursework left to do, which is a 3,000-word essay for Narrative of Japanese Modernity: Fiction and Film. I’m thinking of writing it on the 1996 Shunji Iwai film Swallowtail Butterfly. I can’t do it on Ghost in the Shell like I originally thought (damn), so instead I’ll make GITS (lol) the main point of my discussion topic for my Japanese speaking exam in a couple of weeks. I may center it around the casting of ScarJo in the new live action adaption.

Speaking of speaking, I’ve acquired a couple of Japanese language partners over the last few weeks, who I chat with on LINE/Facebook and speak with over Skype. Both long-distance friends, living in Japan. I have Japanese friends here in the UK, and other Japanese friends with whom I speak regularly online, but it’s gotten to the point where I feel like I can’t converse with them in Japanese. These are the main problems I have:

  1. I find it particularly jarring speaking Japanese out in an English setting. Really unnatural.
  2. Some friends are much better at English than I am at Japanese, so our default conversation language is English, and for me, struggling to converse in my comparatively poor Japanese is mortifying.
  3. Because we’re friends, they don’t always correct my mistakes. But then, I don’t always ask.
  4. Japanese exchange students came here to study English, so even if I try to converse with them in Japanese, they reply in English.
  5. As a native English speaker, I have a horrible lazy habit of morphing the conversation back into English once I run out of steam. It’s a globally-recognized language and a lot English speakers are not required to learn a second language in school, so I feel native English speakers tend to be much lazier linguistically than people of other tongues.

So, er, yeah. Mainly the problems stem from me being awkward, embarrassed and a lazy native anglophone. I feel like I never had this problem before entering university, though. When I was learning Japanese at A-Level in sixth form, I was really enthusiastic about the language, worked my butt off and got an A*. In contrast, ever since starting university, I feel like I’m floundering rather than excelling.

With the new language partners, I’ve been getting much more well-needed practice than I was before, which is great. But in an effort to keep up with their native speed I stutter, forget really basic vocabulary and grammar, or start to talk about a topic that’s way too ambitious and then continuously falter each time I realize I can’t say what I want to say. Plus my accent slips embarrassingly and it’s a wonder they can even understand what I’m saying.

I practiced with one of them for my latest speech class presentation, but it was still no use. Public speaking makes me incredibly flustered so even though I’d practiced, my mind went blank, I just stared down at my sheet of paper with my notes and basically mumbled my way through the whole thing, occasionally looking up to glance at my teacher’s despairing face. It was maybe the worst presentation I’d done so far. Probably only worth a 3/10. My speaking test in two weeks will be worth 60% of the whole module, and I envision myself crumbling in front of both the Japanese teachers who will be there in the exam.

Never have I had so much exam anxiety than in the years I’ve been in university. The pressure is too much, and I’m not even in my final year yet. (That’s next year, oh boy.) And don’t even mention the English Lit side of my degree. There’s so much material and so little time. I’ve been borderline hysterical every exam season and coursework deadline I’ve approached. I am hindered by perfectionism and the desperate desire to do well, because all I can think about is that I’m not good enough and I’m going to fail. A few things in my personal life have also made it incredibly difficult to concentrate as of late. I am consumed with nihilism and bitterness and self-loathing. I often think it would be a stroke of luck if I happened to step in front of a speeding car.

I have to keep telling myself things to keep myself from falling into a cesspool of pessimism. Things like, it’s not a race; stop comparing yourself to others. Also, even if you do fail, it’s not the end of the world. And, come on, you want to be a fiction writer, not a scholar. Calm the fuck down.

But the perfectionism persists even in that area. My ideas for stories all seem completely vapid and contrived. I’m not even confident in my technical abilities as a writer anymore, as is evident from the editorial errors and endless babbling in my blog posts.

What was even the point of this article? Probably just another way to procrastinate on starting my 3,000-word essay. But it’s more writing than I’ve done in a long while.

On a lighter note, I’ve been winding down lately by watching some classic movies and been reading/watching film articles/reviews. A more productive way to waste time. I feel like I’m expanding my film education and teaching myself to look beyond the dimension of purely story and look at things like cinematography, music composition, framing, and so on. Though the story will always be the most important aspect, of course. I’m going to nip to the library then possibly watch A Clockwork Orange before bed. Not the lightest movie, but I need some more Kubrick in my portfolio.

I’m always changing my mind about the future, but another thought for after graduation was work for a year and save up money, maybe as an ALT in Japan, before doing another exchange and studying film for a year, possibly in Colorado. A bit ambitious, and just a thought, but that would be insanely fun.

I shall end this post by imitating Obama at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, though of course with far less charisma and far more cringey awkwardness. 

Bethan out.

*drops the mic*



(Told you.)