Walking into the exam foyer, I clutched my pens and water bottle in my sweaty hands. With every step closer to the exam hall, my heart thudded. I tried to take a few deep breaths to calm myself down, but they were more like gasps for air. Suddenly, I froze.
I’m going to be sick, I thought.
WATCH: Mia Freedman discusses her final year of high school and explains how there is life after Year 12 exams. Post continues below.
I ran to the nearest bathroom, where my legs fell out from underneath me. As the room spun around me, I heaved into the toilet, but nothing came out.
How the hell was I going to get through this?
Somehow I managed to pull myself together, just enough to sit through the three-hour exam. But every time I glanced up and saw my peers frantically scribbling down their answers, I struggled to remember simple maths equations. At the end of the exam, I didn’t stop to chat with my friends about how we all went, because I knew I had most likely failed.
Preparing myself for a panic attack had become almost routine during my HSC exams. I’d been diagnosed with a panic disorder at 14, after a gradual onset of severe depression and panic attacks.
Only a few of my close friends and family knew, and I began seeing professionals on a regular basis to learn to manage my triggers and overall mental health. But the importance of the HSC determining my immediate future would completely unravel me.
From the outside, I was studious and hardworking. I got great results in all my assignments, however, I failed most of my exams because I would get so stressed. I felt so pressured to choose a career and get into a good university, so I picked a bunch of subjects that were ‘high ranking’ in the hopes they’d help me get good marks.