Today was the day. I’ve been studying for months for the big National Counselors Exam, a $320 test on all aspects of counseling. I set everything out I needed to bring the night before. Set my alarm. Got up. Showered. Got to my car before realizing I forgot the map to the building (thank you Lord) and went back and got it. My online map instructions said it would take 1/2 an hour to get there, but I knew better. It had been 15 years but I had made that drive many times. I allowed myself an hour and 1/2, planning to use the extra time after I got there to get a little more studying in. But….
There’s always a but, isn’t there? The first snag in my plan was that the road my directions told me to exit the freeway from was closed. I had never come this way before. I had only a general idea what direction I needed to go, so I exited one street early and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the street I exited on only allowed me to turn left (the opposite of what I needed) or get back on the freeway. I turned left figuring I would simply go back to the next through street and take that across to where I needed to go. Nope. The street dead ended. Well, hopefully I could take this street through to… nope. Street closed due to the Pat Tillman race. I watched hundreds if not thousands of people run/walking down that street and coming across the bridge that had been closed just for them. Ok, detour continuing. Eventually I found a familiar street and managed to get back to where I was supposed to go where I found the next snag. Parking. The buildings indicated for us to park in on our map said “Permit Parking Only except Sundays”; this was Saturday. I drove around for 20 minutes trying to find something and ended up back at the “Permit Only” parking garage 1/2 a mile from the building. I wondered if God would honor a prayer to protect me from getting a ticket given I knew I was breaking the posted rules. I walked to the building, which I thankfully found with ease, and looked for the room number which our entrance letter told us would be posted on the door. Nothing on the door. I checked EVERY door. Finally a sweet older gentleman asked if he could help me. I explained the situation and he looked at my entrance letter to make sure I had the right building and date and then told me to wait a minute as he shuffled back to ask someone for me. I waited outside a door and heard him say, “I have a young lady outside looking for…” I smiled. It’s been awhile since I’ve been called a young lady. He came out and ushered me inside where two befuddled but kind ladies had me sit and told me I was early. “It said to be here at 8:30am,” I said. “It’s only 8,” they said. Apparently I’m the only one who thought the sign should have been up already.
So I sat and cooled off and chatted with the ladies about this and that. Eventually people started coming in. We started the test. It took me until question 18 before I answered one with 100% certainty that I was correct. I was discouraged. I chose to ignore it and keep going. I was the first to finish the test, at around the 2 hour mark.
You see, I am a miserable test taker. Despite the fact I was a good student in high school, I had actually failed one test back then. I froze. I couldn’t remember anything but my name. I didn’t answer one question despite how hard I studied for it. I never understood why until recently. I was talking with a colleague and she smiled and explained it to me. “You’ve heard of fight or flight mode?” I nodded. “Well, it’s actually fight, flight, or freeze mode. When you start to panic, you get a surge of adrenaline that leads you to one of those modes. If you freeze, your brain locks up and you aren’t capable of rational thought. You can’t access that information.” That made me feel a little better. It made sense. She helped me with a few techniques over the past few months to deal with my test anxiety; and this was the first time in my life I walked into a test feeling calm and peaceful. I finished the test, walked back to my car, and started crying.
I didn’t feel like I did well. There were maybe a dozen questions, if that, that I felt I absolutely knew the answer to. About 5 that I completely guessed on. The rest I was able to rule out a couple choices but was left making an educated guess (emphasis on the guess) on the rest. I have absolutely no idea how well I did. So I sat in my car and told myself to knock it off. I did my best.
As I drove off I played “Counselor, heal thyself” and started asking myself what I would do with a client who was focusing on all the negatives of a situation. “Can you think of anything that went right?”
Sure. I didn’t forget the map. My car with the squeaky something in the engine didn’t break down. I found the building. A sweet man helped me. I didn’t get a parking ticket. I made it through the test without a panic attack, or even anything close to one. I finished the test in half the allotted time.
A lot went right. It was my emotions that went wrong. No, I don’t know how well I did. But I do know I did my best. Sometimes that isn’t good enough, sometimes it is.
From there I focused on making good decisions until my emotions calmed down. I realized I hadn’t eaten breakfast and now it was lunch time. I drove to get something to eat. I got mad at the sign for a local pizza place that said “Gluten for Punishment”, knowing fully how punishing gluten would be for me as someone with Celiac’s and how the maker of the sign clearly didn’t get that. After I ate and felt myself calming down a bit I knew that if I went straight home I would either wallow the rest of the day in my fear of failure, or make a nuisance of myself by calling people to tell them I was afraid I failed; so I went shopping. I bought myself some much needed shoes (although I failed to find the actually needed sandals). I went to the grocery store and thought about buying stuff for an ice cream sundae, but made the better choice of a big wedge of watermelon. I was encouraged by a sweet cashier on the way out. I finally felt better enough to go home and knew I would not be wallowing in self-pity and doubt the rest of the day.
So here I sit. Typing it out. Looking back at the day with some level of emotional exhaustion, but satisfied that it was not as bad as it could have been. It may not even end up being bad at all.
So I’ll end this saga with my favorite verse from high school:
Ecclesiastes 12:12b, “much study wearies the body”. And boy, am I weary. And sticky. But that watermelon was good.