As the report of a 12-year-old committing suicide emerges, suddenly student suicides in Hong Kong seems much more serious than before. At such a young age, when suicides should be something that you would not have even comprehended, to think that they are even considering the possibility seems like there’s little hope left. In such an environment where expectations are like knives coming from all directions. The more knives are being thrown at you, the more you cannot ignore them, and the less likely you will be able to avoid them any longer.
Waiting at the school entrance where everyone waits for their parents to come and pick them up, I was dreading the sight of my mum’s car. What if she says my exam results were not enough? Actually, rephrase, she definitely will not think they are enough. I have not done enough; I was only 5th in my English class. In what order should I relate my results back to her? Maths first, because I was 1st in class? Or Maths last so it could make up for my bad ones?
This was my situation that occurred twice a year every year for 9 years of my childhood. Since school exams started in Year 3, every exam period was filled with dread. However, it wasn’t the revision period that filled me with dread, it wasn’t even the exams themselves, it was the results… And the journey back home.
First question would always be, “今日有冇派成績呀？” as if she wasn’t expecting anything. Towards the end of secondary school I didn’t even wait for this. Usually, I would have chosen to say the good ones first, which would always be Maths and other options such as Chemistry, Latin, Textiles, Music etc. But then, somehow, I would stop and wait for her to ask about the rest. She would listen to my good ones, and then without acknowledging them, she would go “唔，咁第二啲呢？” To which I would reply “Biology 85%.” “唔，唔錯，第幾呀？” Oh dear, the dreaded question. Then I tell her I’m 8th in the class. From then on, the whole journey would be about how I could have done better and what was the problem and who were the ones who got higher than me. This would usually make my start tearing up and feel as if it’s unfair, starting to hate those who got a higher mark than me, and that all my efforts were not important. Then, that night, when my dad came home, he would ask to see my list of results. In Year 7, when they were filled with 1sts he would ask for it everyday so he could stare at it in joy when he was having dinner. However, when they weren’t as good-looking, he would nod and tell me it was okay, but then he would moan about it to my mum in private.
Now at this point, you might feel as if my mum is the devil from hell whom I was scared of throughout my childhood. If only that was the case, then I would not have to care about what she thought, and just be pleased that I got an A* in Biology. However, it was the fact that she was not only like my sister whom I was close to, but she had given her all into my education. Having worked night and day just so she could send me to a better school, having been the one receiving complaints by my dad that we have no money because it was all being used up on my education, having high expectations because I seemed clever than them, naturally, pressure was on me in fulfilling the dreams that they had; because they had dedicated most of their life to my future. I started learning the piano and violin at the age of 4 and 6 respectively because those were the instruments my mum had always wanted to learn herself. I was asked to pick from either becoming a doctor (which apparently was the top profession) or a lawyer (which was the 2nd top profession) from the age of 4, just because my parents think I could do it. Every time we saw any other families with children of a similar age, maybe an uncle or auntie, or a friend, the topic of whether we would choose Oxford or Cambridge would always come up. It came to the point that, when I did apply to Oxford and was invited for an interview, I was so sick of these two places that I hated the place with all my might and therefore did not do any preparation whatsoever, hoping that I had done my work in applying but not ever have to hear this name again. When I was rejected, I deliberated on how to break the news to them. Deep inside, I knew I was happy, but I wasn’t even allowed to be happy. This was all overpowered by the feeling of having let my parents down, that maybe I had wasted all my mum’s efforts and hopes, and my Dad would not be able to show me off to his friends anymore. After I broke the news to my mum who in turn called out to my dad. I can’t tell you what his facial expression was when he found out because I had retreated back to my room as soon as I heard him coming up the stairs. All I can say is that he didn’t talk to me for at least 2 weeks after that.
High expectations are flattering, and it only shows that they care, well my mum did anyway. She only wants me to be able to live a comfortable live, one that she did not have the opportunity to live herself. I know that if I had turned out much less competent than I am, she would not have had such high expectations, and in turn would not have piled so much pressure on me. She only cared about me. But this makes it all worse.
They tell me that in order to be able to live in Hong Kong, I must have a good profession, one that can earn quite a lot. They tell me that that can only involve becoming a doctor or a lawyer. And so, from the start of my life, not only have this basket of rocks been given to me to carry, but the path in which I carry this load is decided for me. I couldn’t go down a path where I can admire the scenery. I couldn’t go down a path which was easier to walk on. I couldn’t go down a path where I felt like I would be able to grow more as a person. However, whenever I thought about how I am being forced down this path I did not choose, I would feel selfish, as if I was being ungrateful for what they are giving me and how so many people would do anything to have the education I’m having.
I’m saying all this, not so I can use this opportunity to rant about my life or to seek attention in these dark times. I am saying this because I saw an article encouraging parents to communicate more with their children. When your parents are the ones providing the pressure, the last people you want to know that you are struggling, or that you are unhappy with the situation, are them. You don’t want to tell them that you find it hard meeting their expectations, no matter how hard you try. You don’t want them to tell you it’s okay, because that would mean they had to lower their expectations and hopes just because you weren’t competent enough. But then, at the same time, not only do you feel like you are struggling, but you are also unhappy that your life is being decided by others. The more you feel this, the more you feel guilty that you have these thoughts after all the efforts of those who care about you. The more they care, the more you need to rise up to those expectations, the more you feel like it’s an impossible task, the more you want to give up, but the more you know you can’t.
At this point, you might feel as if I am suicidal. I cannot say that I am proud that I am strong enough not to have even thought about suicide, because that would mean that those who committed suicide are weak beings, and that is exactly what we shouldn’t be saying. I will only say that I am not suicidal because these thoughts are not what shape my life. The purpose of sharing these experiences, thoughts and views is because this community is full of students who most probably have gone through similar pressure in their lives before. And what I feel is the solution of all this is for students to open up to each other. In a world where it seems as if adults don’t understand your situation and your feelings, the only people who would understand are those in a similar situation. This, however, is where the problem lies. Sometimes, our scores and our grades aren’t the main focus at all. As demonstrated above, it is the rankings of where we are in our class, in our school, and in society. When the people who understand your situation are also your enemies, it’s hard to find anyone who you feel can fight your battle with you.
And sometimes, in a world where it’s hardly possible to not have to fight at all, the only thing that can pull you back from that borderline is a companion who can fight your battles with you, and whose battles you can help fight as well.
If you are affected by any issues in this article, don't hesitate to message us. And if you are experiencing negative feelings, please call the Samaritans, a 24-hour multilingual suicide prevention hotline, on +852 2896 0000.