Chapter 2 of my personal journey: Being a Teenager.
I can now say, at the age of 34, that my teenage years were the most uncomfortable of stages in my life so far!
I can only describe these years as ‘awkward’ I didn’t understand who I was, as I was desperately trying to find my identity, fit in and feel like I belonged. I think the reason why I can remember parts of my teenage years vividly is because things happened that made me feel uncomfortable, hopeless and lost and I can still remember 20 years on. I got lost on my first day of high school, I’d previously been at a small village school and I was overwhelmed by the size of the buildings, where I needed to be at the right time, I found it loud and claustrophobic when other pupils would walk towards me down the corridors. I clung onto the friends that I’d made in Primary school and would feel completely lost if I failed to find them at lunchtime, I felt like everyone was looking at me, I spent most of the hours I attended school wishing that a hole would open up in the ground and swallow me up.
I found a safe haven in the school Choir and Orchestra, this would fill my lunchtimes and I didn’t feel judged in these activities. For some reason it became ‘uncool’ to be in the school choir or play an instrument in the orchestra, I had enjoyed learning the flute but once I’d made new friends I didn’t feel supported in doing activities like this anymore. I have always been a target for bullies – taller than all the other girls, with my lop-sided mouth and large nose. This started almost from day 1 of high school, “What’s wrong with your mouth.” “Crow nose,” were some comments that resonated in my head from that time, so I stuck by the friends that protected me from the bullies. I changed my whole image to ‘fit in with the crowd,’ I dyed my hair black, purple, cherry red – a different colour every month. I wore a thick layer of make up to act as a mask to hide behind, and pierced my ears 7 times in each ear. I had always stuck to the rules, I had always been on time and always done my homework, my new set of friends were the opposite, when they snuck out of the school grounds at lunch time, I’d cringe at the thought of breaking the rules in case I’d ever get into trouble, I hated getting told off and if I ever was, I’d immediately burst out crying. I would pretend that I was going along with the going out at lunch time and would then turn back and head myself straight to the library where I felt safe.
In my teens the fact that I loathed being physically touched was even more highlighted, these girls I’d made friends with liked to link arms together at lunch time and I didn’t feel comfortable with this touch, I’d copy their activities such as smoking behind the sports hall and drinking cider at the park on the weekends. I hated keeping secrets like this from my family and I lost touch with the friends that I’d made at middle school, who in hindsight, are the kind of friends that I ‘should’ have kept company with. As my ‘friends’ started to partner off with boys, I couldn’t think of anything worse that actually touching a male of the population! Once I reached 14, my friends would have house parties and alcohol was introduced, I didn’t take to drinking very well but I felt freer and that I wasn’t being judged, I can still remember my first kiss to this day and I still get butterflies, it was only a kiss and nothing came of it in terms of a relationship, as I was far too shy to even talk about it again. Fast forward to 14 years after this and via the power of social media, I reconnected with my ‘first kiss,’ and we realised how much we actually had in common, but were both too shy to approach the other, back in the day! It’s ironic that we started a friendship when I was in such a dark place after my marriage had failed, but no matter how much we looked back, time had moved on and he completely disappeared from my life, the words he said to me will always resonate and I will never forget, “I loved your freckles and your cute smile,” even at the age of 27 this melted my heart, as thinking this about me, who had a facial palsy, meant the world to me, maybe we connected for a short time for a reason, it helped to give me the boost that I needed, but sadly the ship had sailed and times had moved on.
I spent hours at home doing my homework, recording myself singing the latest Madonna song on tape recorder and had an unhealthy obsession with my nose, visualising what it would look like if I were to have plastic surgery to make it smaller and generally hated myself! I remember once being bullied that much, to the point that the perpetrator would search me out at school and call me the delightful “crow nose,” nickname every day, that I faked a sore throat that lasted 2 weeks so that I could avoid school, this insensitive person actually made me feel like I wasn’t worthy to be a part of this earth. I’d hold in my anger for this person every day at school, even though I wanted to punch him very hard in the face! Once I got home I’d take all this pent up anger out on my mum and sister, I’d have, what I can only describe as a ‘teenage tantrum,’ which was a lot like a panic attack where I couldn’t breathe. It must have been very difficult for both my mum and sister to witness, and no one outside the family knew that I could get this bad, I couldn’t talk to any of my friends at the time as I would be showing my weakness with the ‘hard girls’ as I named them. I stopped eating properly, I hardly ate anything and would feel guilty if I ate a full meal as I saw myself as overweight. I would gag on meals that my mum had made for me, in particular Stew made me gag and I still can’t deal with the texture of it to this day! But this worried my parents and it led to a visit to the doctors. This was the start of my first Counselling sessions, which I talked about how I felt like an outsider and didn’t really fit in with my friendship group.
When I hit 16 I threw myself into studies, something suddenly clicked in my learning and I found that was finally getting something right, especially in my childcare lessons, via work experience I found that I could talk to children with ease and they didn’t judge the way I looked, I was accepted by them as someone who could teach them and interact, especially via role-play activities, where I wouldn’t have had the confidence in situations with other adults. I found that via work experience I found a love of ‘messy play’ as I disliked getting messy myself but I didn’t seem to care when in the company of children and I quite enjoyed getting covered in paint! I was becoming more distant from my friendship group as they didn’t share the same passion for studying as I did, I revised to the point where I completely shut myself away, in fear of failure as I’d never really failed at anything before. I was once taken out of my bedroom (study area) by my Godfather and taken over to the local pub to give myself a break. I’d never felt nerves like studying and actually taking my GCSE exams before, this is when I can first remember that I started ‘Stimming’ I was that nervous for taking my exams that I could only find comfort from this information ‘overload’ and extreme collection of anxiety via rubbing my palms together. By the time of my final exam, my palms were red and the skin almost broken. From this day onwards, if I have ever felt nervous or excited I have rubbed my hands together, even to this very day, I can control this in public but at home it tends to flare up at the most stressful of times, such as money worries, worrying about my daughter’s behaviours, etc.
By the time of my Prom, my exam worries were almost over, I attended alone and from looking back at the photographs, was extremely thin. But I had Sixth form to look forward to, and was then happy to re-connect with some of the friends that I’d not really spoken to since the start of high school. Eye contact was still difficult for me but once the bullying experiences were well out of the way, I could concentrate on enjoying the subjects I thrived on and I was in the company of people who seemed to respect me for me. I was able to join in with events, such as going to bars and night clubs and I did have a couple of boyfriends, but I found that I would become quite possessive and a bit too ‘full-on’ I really had no idea what I was doing! I was encouraged by my sixth form tutor to apply for a degree in Primary Teaching, I’d never thought of setting the bar so high but I was delighted once I was accepted to University.