Memoir: Chapter 15 – Placing Health at the Altar of Success

Sometimes we can become so focused on achieving our goals that we lose our main focus, our perspective, on life. That’s what happened to me. Following the failure of a German language exam and not being able to get enrolled in a university in Berlin for that reason, I started working extremely hard.


I enrolled in two intensive German language classes all at once, each around 3 hours per day. So I had German classes for 6 hours every day plus homework. I would get up at 6am in the morning to go to the early class, then I would quickly eat lunch in the break and spend the rest of my lunch break doing homework, and then I would have another class in the afternoon, putting me home at 7 pm in the evening. I would then eat dinner, talk with my parents over Skype, and go to sleep around 10 pm.


Physically, I was fine. I got my 8 hours of sleep, and I would relax a little bit every evening. The classes were not stressful either, and I actually enjoyed them for the most part. But as time started to get closer and closer to the final German language exam, I started to get worried.


After my big failure I was unsure of myself. I did a lot of past papers and would actually do really well on them, but I still kept thinking that I wasn’t good enough. My teachers would praise me for doing well to which I would reply: “I was just lucky.” I kept repeating to myself that I needed to study more in order to pass the exam. I did all the past papers I could find and even enrolled in a course specifically meant to prepare me for the TestDaF exam.


My worry started getting so bad, that I started having digestive issues. My intestines were so stressed and tight that my body could not digest food properly anymore. I had to stop eating most of the carbs, such as bread and pastries, since I would get a stomach ache if I ate them. The closer the exam got, the more foods I had to cut out of my diet.


Finally, the exam day came. I remember how up tight I was on my way to the examination center. I frantically made sure I had everything I needed for the exam. I had multiple pens in case of one not working, I had brought water, food, and everything else I might have needed on that day.


The exam was composed of 4 parts: reading, listening, writing, and speaking. When I was asked after the exam by a fellow student about a specific question in the reading part, I couldn’t give him an answer. I was so stressed during the exam I could not even recall what answers I had given or even what the questions were. I had no idea whether I did well or not.


So for the next few weeks of waiting for the exam results, I kept worrying. This meant I had to cut out even more foods out of my diet due to digestive issues. It got so bad that my body could not digest any food properly anymore.


I felt like I had no energy. Even walking became a hard physical activity for me and I found it really hard to even get out of bed. I knew I needed help. But I didn’t know how the healthcare system in Germany worked, and the couple with whom I lived told me that the doctor nearby is already booked for the next two months or so.


My parents and I decided that it would be best I fly to Ukraine and go to a doctor there. This way I could be also with my family and they could provide emotional support for me. So I flew to Ukraine.


I went to a doctor in Kyiv, and she ran a lot of tests ranging from blood tests, to an ultrasound, to just simply talking to me and seeing what the underlining issue behind my digestive problems was. She found that my intestine was really tense and that stress was the main contributor to it. She said that if I could just relax myself enough and stop worrying, my digestion would improve. She also prescribed me with some medications to help relax my intestine and my mind.


Within a few weeks of taking the medication and not worrying, my digestion returned back to normal. I could eat everything again and I felt full of energy!


At that point in my life I realized that in pursuing the goal of passing the exam, I neglected my health that was actually way more important than passing that exam in the first place. Then I made a promise to myself that I would never neglect my own health for the sake of pursuing some educational or career goal. It just isn’t worth it! Health is way more important. If I don’t have health, I won’t be able to enjoy or sustain the success in my studies or career anyway!


Around that time I also got my exam grades back. I passed! And not only that, I actually got the highest grades possible for reading, listening, and speaking parts, with writing being just a little lower. I had to get at least a 4 for each section to be able to attend a university in Germany, and I got the highest grade 5 for most of the sections and a 4 for writing!


This further made me realize that I was more worried about the exam than I should have been. Sure, it’s great to get nice grades, but health is still more important. I would still be able to attend a university in Germany even if I only got 4s and no 5s for my exam.


Sure, it’s still good to aim for excellence in your studies or your career, but it doesn’t have to come at the cost of health. That lesson taught me to stop worrying about exams so much and also start prioritizing health and emotional well-being. Because only then could I sustainably have success in my life.


Read next chapter here.

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