Ten years ago this summer …
I had low self-esteem, was very self-conscious, had fuzzy eyebrows and carried extra baggage all over my body.
While I’d had plenty of wonderful friends – people who I laughed with, shared some amazingly fun times with, and experienced a lot of incredible moments with – I didn’t leave school with a best friend.
I was kind of shy and had spent the better part of a year wishing I was someone else, longing to be the girl who asked questions, spoke her mind and gave opinions – whether they were wanted or not. I was very quiet amongst my peers, barely responding to questions teachers asked me. I’d either mumble a response or give a deer-in-headlights stare if I didn’t know the answer. And while I was confident and chatty when in my circle of friends, I was definitely a people pleaser, always staying away from arguments, never getting into too many conflicts, shying away from having any original thought or opinion.
I was very over-sensitive. It’s not fair to say I was bullied at school; The truth is, I was ignored. ‘Easily forgettable.’ Because I didn’t say much and walked around with hunched shoulders, trying to fade into the background, it was easy not to notice me. But when the occasional one or two did spot me, the remarks weren’t the nicest. I know I’ve been on the end of the word ‘freak’ a few times. And I don’t blame them. I barely said anything but when I did, I always tried way too hard for it to sound clever … and, of course, it came out just sounding weird and unrelated to anything that was being said.
I’d stopped listening to modern music. Only a year or two previously, I could have named every song in the top 30 singles chart, given you a detailed description of the music video, and rifled off lists of useless facts about the artist. But now my favourite bands (like a1 and 5ive) were broken up, I was devastated, and I gave up.
I’d only been kissed once. It had happened a year previously at my friend’s 15th birthday party. A boy asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend. I said yes. He gave me my first kiss, and then the next morning, he emailed me to say he’d made a mistake and didn’t want to be my boyfriend anymore.
I still didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But my GCSE results meant that I could go on to college and think about new things.
I was preparing myself for a big change. All of the people I knew in school – all my friends and peers – were attending Afan College, the one conveniently located next to the secondary school we’d just left.
But I’d opted to take courses that Afan College weren’t running. (English Literature/Language; Drama & Theatre Studies; Film Studies)
So I had to attend Neath College, in the next town over. This would mean taking the train every day. This would mean going to a brand new place where I didn’t know a single person.
I didn’t know that I would end up sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car for 20 minutes, trying to find the strength to get out and go in for my induction. And that when I did, my mother burst into tears over how proud she was of the fact that I’d overcome my nerves and just gone for it. I didn’t know that on that first day, I’d end up meeting someone who, ten years later, would still be one of my best friends in the world.
All I knew is that I wanted to change. I was determined that college would help me become the person I wanted to be. No-one knew me so this was my opportunity to speak out, express myself, do whatever the hell I wanted to, and start meeting and speaking to new and interesting people.
I’m so proud of 16-year-old me. I wouldn’t give her any advice for the future because this was the first time in my life that I had decided to do something and followed through with it.
Five years ago this summer …
I was freshly graduated from university and madly in love.
I was unemployed but had moved to Cardiff to live with my boyfriend anyway. We had separate bedrooms but shared everything else. He encouraged me and supported me through any decision I wanted to make. I never felt good enough for him.
I celebrated my graduation by going out for a meal with my family, drinking pink champagne, and then heading back to my new Cardiff house to await my man’s return.
I had dreams of travelling. I had dreams of writing.
But the reality was that I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I forced fiction from my fingertips whenever I opened a word document and hadn’t yet realised that personal essays and autobiographical pieces were my niche.
I was still taking anti-depressants and was often struck down by the big black mass over my head that clouded my judgement, sucked away my enthusiasm for life and my drive to even leave the house. I’d survived one suicidal period and was about to enter my second.
I thought I was proper grown up … all graduated and ready to take on anything. The man I loved opened my eyes to so many things about the world: To new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things, new beliefs. Every day with him expanded my mind more and more. I didn’t know that this continuous intellectual stimulation, this broadening of my mind, would combine with the realities of my experiences in the next two years and turn me into a different person – A person who fell out of love because she’d started to grow up.
For now, he was the only thing that made me happy; The only one who understood how to handle my depression.
I wasn’t going to find a job for another two months but I got by. I loved my little house in Cardiff, even if I did live on the floor without any furniture for the whole year I was there. It wasn’t that important. In the end, I really did enjoy having so many friends close by.
Even though 21-year-old me suffered so much personal turmoil, I still wouldn’t give her any advice if I could. What she went through and how she lived gave her so much new perspective on life, love and the realities of the world. She struggled but those experiences were incredibly important. I’m proud of her for eventually finding her strength.
This summer …
I’m missing those I left in Mexico and in the U.S.
I’m working in travel while preparing to fly off to a new place to live in the new year.
I feel amazing; I’m happy, calm and self-assured.
I know what I’m passionate about and am comfortable in who I am.
I laugh every single day.
I love the little pudge I’ve gained since returning to the UK (and gorging on treats I’ve gone without). I love the shape of my body – My long legs, my small waist, my saggy boobs, my very wide hips with too much meat on them, my droopy right eyelid, my ridiculously pale skin , my asymmetrical pupils, my paper lungs, my flat feet – and know that it’ll be the only one I’ll ever have so my job is to embrace it, worship it, and treat it well.
I love that the power of music and lyrics has pulled me through difficult times, inspired me to do everything I ever wanted to do, and become a permanent part of everyday life. I love the power of language and the way I use it to teach, to learn, to express myself, or to create art. I love that I still have passion that I now know how to channel.
I know who my friends are - I love them so much - and have no time for people who still play games.
I don’t worry as much about small things anymore.
I love every single moment of my life and wouldn’t change a thing about it.
I work hard to reach my dreams but always try to remember not to take life too seriously. It’s only short, and, every day, I’m incredibly grateful for how lucky I am and have been.
I do wonder how the ‘me’ five years and ten years from now will see this period of my life. She’ll probably sneer at my naivety and youthful positivity, looking back with an inevitable cynicism. But I do hope she remembers that I was happy, that I was confident, and that I gave into my inner hippie and always tried to do everything with a good and warm heart.