Today is GCSE results day in the UK. It's the day when sixteen-year-olds across the country find out if all their hard work has paid off. If they're going to get the grades they've hoped for, or if like me, they're going to be horribly, crushingly disappointed.
I've had ME/CFS since I was ten but it got drastically worse during my GCSE years. I managed to sit part of one of my mock exams, went home feeling really ill, had to go straight to be and then never went back to school again. At fifteen I was house bound.
I was too ill to keep up with all the work, so I had to drop four of my subjects. I kept studying despite crippling fatigue and terrible pain. I studied with tutors for an hour a week and took my exams at home.
Although I worked as hard as I possibly could, I feared it wasn't enough, but still hoped and prayed I would get the grades I was predicted.
I believed my whole future depended on those results.
Day of Devastation
Results day came and I was a wreck. I had been anxious for weeks, worrying about them. I didn't get the grades I'd hoped for.
There had been a mess up with the exam boards and although my school were sorting it out, I was distraught.
I thought my future was over, that I was a failure.
Then Things Got Worse
I thought things were as bad as they could possibly get. I felt horrible and I was getting sicker. By the time my grades had been sorted out, my health had crashed completely.
I was too ill to get out of bed, so using my newly acquired GCSEs wasn't even on my horizon.
My health kept getting worse, until I ended up in hospital for six weeks and reached 0% on the ME ability scale - I could barely speak, I couldn't feed or bathe myself, I certainly couldn't do any of the things I loved, like read or listen to music.
I was trapped in a body that wouldn't do what I wanted and it didn't matter a jot that I had my shiny A* GCSE grades.
Hope in Unexpected Places
To escape how awful I was feeling, I started to imagine stories inside my head. Just for a couple of minutes a day, because it was all my brain and concentration could cope with.
It was a tiny thing, but it gave me so much joy and the better I got, the longer I could imagine for, until I was writing whole books inside my head. Writing, revising, re-revising. I was still too weak to write them down but they were there, in my imagination whenever I wanted to enjoy them.
I went on exciting adventures, saved the world, fell in love, all through the characters I created. I realised that I loved this more than anything in the world.
I also realised that my deepest desire was to write a novel.
The Start of a Dream
I never knew what I wanted to do when I was at school. There wasn't a career I wanted to do. No course at university. Nothing. I was going with the crowd, doing the exams, planning my future but I had no spark, no passion. I just assumed I would do a science degree at university and figure out a job after that.
Getting sick stopped me from doing that.
Getting sick saved me from that.
From Dream to Reality
All these years later and I can finally look back and see that things worked out okay. I will never be pleased I got ill, that I missed out on so much, but I can say that I got an opportunity to discover the thing I truly wanted to do.
I wanted to be an author.
And now I am.
My book The Choice is coming out on 26th December 2019 and it's a dream come true.
Choose an Education over Exams
I needed to learn how to read and write at school. I learnt about spelling and grammar, I was encouraged to read different types of books and I gained the skills to be a writer.
Learning is important.
They haven't made one bit of difference to my career.
I have found e-courses I could do to improve my writing skills, none of which needed GCSEs. I've read books from the library, lots and lots of books, fiction, non-fiction, some on creative writing. There are ways to educate yourself that don't require exams, qualifications and degrees; I don't believe you need them if you want to be a writer.
To be a writer you need imagination, passion, creativity and determination.
If I could tell sixteen-year-old me something, it would be that things get better, that your life is only just beginning and that something truly wonderful is waiting for you, you just have to get through the hard stuff.
Keep going, it's worth it.
You can pre-order your copy of The Choice as a paperback or ebook from all good booksellers. Amazon UK, Waterstones and Book Depository
The Choice - imagine a world where sugar is illegal, baking is a crime and the government use diet, exercise and shame to keep people in line. Winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition, Good Housekeeping Book of the Month and The Times Audiobook of the Week. The Choice is available now as a paperback, ebook and audiobook.