I read a blog post this morning on one of my favourite blogs, about living in your 20's. The post talks about how she lived "the sh*t out of my 20's". And it got me thinking: I haven't. I've ambled through them. Its been a slow process of learning, and not an awful lot of excitement. Beyond getting bit on the backside by a tiger cub. Which was awesome. I'm weird like that.
The previous decade, however, was exhausting. I came into it, a 10 year old who's entire life had been turned around. Who didn't know what the hell was happening to her, who was confused, lonely, and very hurt and didn't know who to turn to. Who tried to go through it pretending she was neither of these things. I remember the first day I went to school in this country. My mother walked me there and asked me at the entrance if I wanted her to walk me to the classroom. Inside I was screaming YES! Inside I was in tears, wanting my mother to be there, to sit next to me the whole day, to never leave my side. I told her no, realizing I had to do this on my own, I had to be in control. I stood there, watching her walk away, never feeling more lonely in my entire life, fighting the urge to run to her and beg her to never leave me. That first day at school was an indicator for what school was going to feel like for the next 6 years. I had my hair pulled in the dinner line, as I tried to ignore the stares. I was the girl with the funny accent, who didn't write the same way, said things wrong and didn't know what every day things were. My tutor group accepted me. The year above did not, and the bullying started. By a girl who pretended to be my friend at first. I was told if I informed my parents, I would be beaten up. I told my parents. They came into the school, spoke to the headteacher and it stopped. Then we had to move. And at the next school, again, my "friends" were the ones who started the name calling. Again, I told my parents, but I told them there's no point doing anything about it. I'd seen this group of children bullying others, in front of the teachers, who turned a blind eye. One girl was completely shut out by our year group. I ached for her, but in my 10 year old social inadequacy, I didn't know how to help her. Once I stood up for myself, I got scratched in the face by one of my bullies and she then proceeded to take a swing at me. I pushed her away. I can't explain the satisfaction of watching her fly across the classroom, shock across her face (she didn't get hurt, she didn't expect me to stand up for myself and so lost her balance easily). We were sent to the deputy heads office, who gave her a long lecture about not hitting people etc etc. She then looked at me, after the girl had left, with such understanding in her eyes and told me to come to a teacher next time.
If anyone reading this is being bullied, no matter how old you are, tell someone. If you're at school, tell a teacher, your parents. If you're at work, tell your supervisor, human resources. Tell someone! Bullies are bullies because they think you are weak and won't do anything. I always told, even when threatened with physical violence. Because, no matter what emotional damage they inflicted on me, I was never actually scared of them.
Secondary school began. By this time I was convinced that there was something wrong with me. My parents had been fighting a lot, and it always seemed to be my fault. I had been bullied. Maybe that was my fault too? So I decided to pretend to be something I was not. I became closed off, emotionally isolated from my peers. I believed that by not letting anyone get close to me, I could never be hurt. All it lead to was me feeling even more lonely and hurt. With my self esteem dropping even further than it had been. I was a little girl who believed the world was mine for the taking. I became a teenager who thought she was ugly, that all she had going for her was her intelligence, that thought she had no personality, no reason at all to be liked. Luckily, near the end of school, I met two girls who didn't think I was worthless. Who were actual friends, who didn't call me names, or laugh at the way I talked. They liked me for who I really was. And so the healing process began.
Sixth form was wonderful. It wasn't attached to my school, it was separate. And only people who did well at their GCSE's could get in. Therefore, only people who wanted to do their A levels were there. No one cared about the clothes you wore, or that you lived in an ex-council house, or that you didn't go to the rights schools. No, we were all there to study and go to university. We were all different, we were all allowed to be different. But the healing hadn't fully happened. I still believed, some days, that I was worthless. That all these people talking to me were just being nice, pretending to like me. I would slip away from the group when these feelings became too intense, testing to see how long before they realized I was gone. It never took very long, and I would have to come up with some excuse for why I was on the opposite side of the building. I craved recognition, more than attention. I needed to know that I was noticed, sometimes. And then I discovered that my academic brilliance, too, was not infallible. After A levels I was meant to go straight into uni. I couldn't afford a gap year, traveling around the world, even though that was my dream. I applied to universities that were in the top 20 in the country. And then I got my results. They weren't good enough, and I failed to get into university. I chose to take a gap year, but I had to work through it, stacking shelves in Tesco's while retaking in order to get into one of the universities I originally chose. This hit me incredibly hard. I could barely look my father in the eye for fear of seeing his disappointment at me. I felt like a complete failure of a human being, and much of the healing that had happened in the past was reversed. But then I got into university, second time round.
University was wonderful, it continued the job that sixth form did in enabling me to heal. It was difficult enough, previously, to let people get close enough for friendship. Having a boyfriend was completely out of the question. I had so many failed friendships that I don't know what damage failed relationships would have done. But, somehow, university life broke down that last barrier. I finally had the confidence to let someone get that emotionally close to me.
I suppose the title is a misnomer, as this wasn't so much about my 20's. But I'll keep it that way. I'll write on my actual 20's some time later.