I will start by admitting two things. First, that there might be some exaggeration in that title. Second, I still do not know if I was damaged, and if that damage happened while I was at the university.
It does not really matter the specific university I went to, what matters is that it was a Federal Nigerian university. I believe that they are all more or less the same. Before I got into university, I thought I was intelligent. I knew I was not a genius (partly because my impression of the concept was informed exclusively by Hollywood movies), but I was certain that if I was given a syllabus and enough time to study, I would pass any exam. Then university happened, and things suddenly became a lot more complicated. I studied a course in the Biological Sciences. For context, I have a parent who was, and still is a lecturer in the field, so I was familiar with a bunch of the things I would learn in university since as early as primary school. I used to read the textbooks because they always had interesting pictures. These pictures always had captions, so I ended up picking up a lot of knowledge this way. In secondary school, I even wrote 100 Level and 200 Level exams, and passed them. Not the entire exams of course, just the objective sections. In addition to this, I had gone through one year of a rushed A-Level program. On paper, this put me a number of steps ahead of my peers, as many did not go through any A-Level program, and would be coming across most of what we would be learning for the very first time.
Because of my background, I found classes to be very easy. The lecturers would ask questions I knew the answers to, but I wouldn't answer because I was shy, and really did not want to draw any attention to myself. Although, there were times when I would mutter the answer loud enough for someone around me to hear, using a tone that suggested it was something everyone should know. But then exams would come around, and I would struggle. Not while I wrote the exams, but when I saw my results. The exams were almost never bad when I wrote them. I would leave the hall with a feeling ranging from fairly confident to fairly concerned. There were exceptions, of course. There was one particular exam in my first year that I was almost sure I would fail. I passed it, but it was close a call as close calls get. But then I would see my results, and my scores would be painfully average.
My first year was not spectacular in any way. I did not apply myself to anything, not even playing. So I was not surprised when my results reflected this. What surprised me was when in my second year, I put in a lot of effort, and my results got significantly worse. My third and final years too brought their surprises, but none hit me as hard as that one. Not even the time when a professor who taught only one topic the entire semester ended up setting 4 of 6 questions, most of which were compulsory. In my four years in that school (leaving out the periods where there was one strike or another), I ended up re-taking three courses. Something I did not think was ever going to do before I got in, I did three times. The first, because I failed the exam properly, and I suspected I would. It was Mathematics, and I did not understand one thing the lecturer taught all through that semester. The second, because I missed an exam. I copied the wrong course code, and therefore the wrong course, when I was taking down my time table. So I went for the wrong exam, which was about week after the one I should have written. No one in my class noticed I was missing, because I was not close or familiar with anyone. And even if they noticed, none of them had my phone number and would not have been able to reach me even if they wanted to. The third was an exam I did not even know could be failed. In Nigerian universities, there are always a few courses no one takes seriously. Either because they have very low units or literally no one ever fails them. This was both. I took the course in my second year, and did not realize I had failed it till I was in my final year. There were complications that led to not knowing I had failed early enough, but if I did not spot it when I did, I would have had an extra year. Because of a course no one ever failed. When I was writing the exam in my final year, for some reason, the invigilator not only made everyone know that I was a final year student writing an exam for second year students, they made me sit in front of the hall apart from everyone else. Normally, I would have been embarrassed, but at that point, I was too tired to really feel anything.
When I was in my first year, I was under the impression that things would progressively get easier, because the course work would keep getting more tailored to my strengths. Of course, the opposite happened. By the time I was in my final year, I was having multiple panic attacks every day. At the time, I did not know what they were, and to be sure that I am not mislabeling them now, I’ll describe how they happened. First, I would catch my breath out of nowhere, and then my heart would skip on beat. In that space of a missing beat, I remember I would feel very cold, but only in my chest. Then this would be followed by about 10–20 seconds of hyperventilating and my heart beating fast as it could. This used to happen any and everywhere. And it happened so often, that I would predict what would happen next, but had no power to stop it. In my final year, all my defenses had slowly been eroded so much, that I believed absolutely anything could happen to me. I had no faith in my ability to understand anything, or to pass any exams and tests. And when I did pass, I would still be nervous that a mistake was made with my score, and I actually failed. It felt like I was living in a simulation with no rules, and I was the one unlucky player. I am still not entirely sure how the overconfident person I was in my first year became who I was then, and to be honest, even now. I went from thinking that I was intelligent and competent to knowing I am neither of those things. And it is almost impossible to shake, because the proof is in my time in the university.
I know the year I graduated, but I am still not sure about what year it really was. Because acknowledging it to myself would be admitting that it has been many years since university happened. That many years since I have been unable to get over just how much that place changed me. And that is not information I am willing to have set in stone.
P.S. This could have gone on for a lot longer, but I was afraid that I would not be able to stop if I let myself just keep writing. Things like this only work if they are kept short, right?