I had a blonde crop of hair, chubby cheeks that made me look like my granddad, and a rosy complexion. I would sit at our kitchen breakfast bar in our first family home for hours, drawing and colouring in pictures of people I knew, characters I made up. I went through a phase of making pretend school books with pretend tasks inside them, just so that I could flip through them and mark them with a red pen. I wanted to be a teacher then.
My mum kept my hair short until I was practically begging to grow it out when I was around ten. Popstar was my new ambition, my friends became my new obsession. We were a clique in primary school – the popular girls that swapped boyfriends, par me. I stayed with that boy for far too long, but that’s a whole other story in itself.
That clique was a sneak peak of what life would be like in secondary school. Barely in our pre-teen years, we were already body-shaming, bullying, and bitching. Maybe that’s what we thought it meant to be a teenage girl. Maybe that’s just who we were at the time.
Things started to fall apart. The group had fall outs all the time. I did whatever I thought I had to so that I could impress whoever was at the top of this food chain. I bullied. I even sent a threatening email to another girl in our class. I’ll always be ashamed of that.
I was clueless about being a teenager. The only activities I really enjoyed were riding our bikes around the neighbourhood and making up dance routines to our favourite pop songs. At home I would write terrible songs of my own, thinking that I already understood love and relationships.
Reading one of those girly magazines, I believed their mini-article about writing down something you want to wish for and tucking it under your pillow for it to come true. I wrote down that I wished to be pretty. I wanted boys to fancy me and girls to like me.
Secondary school came and I became even more clueless. Groups formed quickly. I lost my primary school friends to other friends. I started to doodle pictures of my gravestone on pieces of lined A4. I imagined my funeral being empty apart from my family, but even then, they would only attend out of obligation.
I started to hurt myself for attention from my classmates, showing them a couple of cuts on my calves. At one point, a group of them surrounded me in the hall, all looking at my red and white leg, asking me questions. It felt good to have so many people want to talk to me. Loneliness is more powerful than you may think.
I joined the wrong groups of girls and got rejected, even shamed. Everyone around me seemed to know exactly how to be a teenager, how to fake their confidence, how to hide their insecurities. I just wanted to blend in.
I could never see past myself. When I made a true friend, a friend who was hurting in ways I couldn’t quite understand, I still saw only my problems. I felt sympathy for her but not empathy. When she was away from school for a while, I almost forgot all about her. She had tried to kill herself. She’d been writing me poems beforehand – a few years ago I stumbled across them again. They made my heart heavy with guilt.
I didn’t belong in a group like the majority of the other girls did. I had a few friends and was included in some groups, but I always felt lonely. Maybe that’s why I sought out the attention of men so much. The attention I got however was never enough, was never the right kind of attention that I needed. It only gave me a temporary high, and when I got back home, I would feel just as worthless and alone as before.
Is this the origin story of my mental illnesses? Maybe. Is it important to try and understand these origin stories? Maybe.
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
– Søren Kierkegaard
There has been some recent discussion in the news that those with depression tend to look back at their past and see only the bad. I think that is true with me sometimes, but I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way too. Everybody has skeletons in their closet, things they regret, difficult periods of their lives that they realise they’ve learnt from.
We all have stories of survival. You could say that we are all living through our stories of survival right now, as we all try to move on from the past and move ahead into the future.
We’re all just trying our best.
Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.