I hate practical exams. I did not always, I used to prefer them to written tests. In fact, when I was sixteen I did my home-economics o’ level which required 2 hours of cooking under scrutiny. I totally took it in my stride, I was super confident- after all, cooking was one of the activities I performed best at. There was no doubt in my mind, I can cook, so do it. And I did. And I aced it. And I had no doubt that I would because failure was not an option. Failing was something I did not do. And I was fine during my biology a level practical, as well as my chemistry a level practical.

When I hit university and started my BSc in nursing, this confidence was completely knocked out of me. I failed the first practical I ever did- it was my first year final practical and I forgot to shake down the mercury of the thermometer before putting it under the patient’s arm. It was new out of the box, and did not require shaking, but I did not check it and therefore I failed. I was crushed. All of a sudden, failing was something I did. I had failed. I had an small identity crisis because Marie does not fail.

Well, apparently she does and she did. The possibility of failing always lingered at the back of my mind from that moment on. I consistently did badly in practical exams except twice. I would often panic and burst out crying in the middle of them, a mess of hives, sweat and asthma. Once in a blue moon, an examiner would be able to see through the breakdown that was myself and realise that I actually did know a thing or two about nursing and would allow me to pass. I even failed my final year practical, which is 5 hours long, mostly due to panic and other factors. That had very severe repercussions, apart from the fact that I suffered a mildly depressive episode, it also meant I could not start my career right away and I began in December, meaning I did not get paid for Christmas that year. I received some graduation money as a present and I was able to buy my family a few meagre gifts with that. Due to the stress I gained a significant amount of weight and I did not have a winter coat that fit me. My then boyfriend and now husband bought me the most beautiful pale blue duffle coat which I will cherish until the day I die. When I wear that coat I feel like I’m wrapped up in love. I hope global warming will not make me have to leave that coat in the wardrobe forever.

After two years, I decided to read for my Masters and I thought all of this was behind me. Until I did my viva. Again, out came the hives, the putrid sweat, the lump in my throat trying to hold back tears. Through the panic I thought  ‘Jesus. Not this again. For God’s sake, I’m almost 30, I thought this was over.’

Thank God, I had my thesis as back-up this time to show that I was not a total incompetent. I did really well and got a merit over all.

However, I have come to a point in my life where I do not want a merit. I want a distinction. And I can get that. I have what it takes and the only person stopping me is….well…me. I was the person who got the distinction. I let it slip away and I lost focus. I let circumstances control my destiny rather than me controlling the circumstances that in turn lead to my destiny.

One of the biggest set-backs in my life was my inability to drive. I am very independent, I hate needing to rely on somebody and my lack of driving was a real thorn in my side. The fact that getting one’s licence involves a practical exam, I thought forget it, this is never going to happen for me.

But today I did it. I went into that practical test, I made a few minor errors, but I was reasonably calm and I passed. I got that licence. That much coveted licence. And not a hive in site, my skin is as clear as Snow White’s bottom (provided she doesn’t have cellulite from all that apple-eating and inactivity). And I used deodorant for ‘Stressful Situations’ so I was fresh as a daisy.

After practically kissing the examiner and hugging my instructor and doing my happy dance in front of the licences’ office, the realisation washed over me:

I am thirty.

I am in control of my life.

I can seriously do absolutely anything I want to do.

Nobody is going to convince me otherwise.

And when winter comes around, I will wear my pale blue coat, because I feel loved. Not only by those around me, but also myself. I have finally learned to love me. 

And with good reason, even if I do say so myself.