I just finished reading a book by Jill Stark called Happy Never After. It was about her struggles with anxiety and depression. Some of this book was difficult for me to read. Her experience of anxiety was a lot like mine. Even more her experience with bullies and feeling friendless in high school resonated.
When I was in high school I had very few friends. I don’t know why, you’d need to ask those girls who said they didn’t want to be my friend. I cannot to this day explain to you why no one wanted to hang out with me.
Social media is on these occasions a blessing and a curse. I’m friends with a few people I went to high school with but I’m picky. I didn’t have a lot in common with those people then and perhaps less so now. Some of those who weren’t kind to me have messaged me to say they wonder what happened to me. I haven’t responded.
What happened to me is that I grew up. I went to uni and found people who had broader minds than them with their middle class snobbery. I found my people amongst book nerds and librarians. I found people who have accepted me with all my weirdness, just as I am.
But it hurt. Like only rejection can. It felt fundamental that somehow I’d been made wrong. And it made me scared too. Scared that what I was into was weird and stupid. That I was weird and stupid.
At 15 I wanted to kill myself because it got too much. No one liked me, I was a terrible person. These days that would trigger alarms and get you some help. This was the 90s and no one believed me. When I tried to talk about it, I just felt like I was disappointing people. so I pushed it aside and got on with things.
I went back to my high school for the first time a few weeks ago. Some friends and I snuck in. It looked exactly the same, with its white tower and 19th century English stately home vibe.
For a girl with a romantic heart such a school was the perfect place – it had a croquet lawn and history. Mostly, I just remember it being cold not just in the winter but cold and unkind. Ironic for a Christian School, where one should have expected generosity and acceptance.
The school format didn’t help with its English grammar school pretensions, ranked classes and prefects. Nothing is more irritating than being told what to do by a 17 year old with a little bit of power and a superior attitude.
Of course it wasn’t all bad. In the last two years things were mostly better or at least bearable. I made friends through the school play, a shared love of literature and there were some people who were genuinely kind.
But there was a cost – being scared of my own shadow, feeling like I didn’t deserve to occupy a place in the world and the need to be validated. When the opportunity arose, I had a completely inappropriate relationship with a man 15 years older than me. I was an adult but he was not kind and I was too naive to see he wasn’t perfect. It ended as one would expect.
About five years ago I got an invite to my 20 year high school reunion. You won’t be surprised to find out I didn’t go. I told the person who asked me, that I’d rather stick needles in my eye. Given the generally awful experience sitting around reminiscing about “the good times”, and feeling like I had to justify my life didn’t seem like a healthy choice.
I’ve now reached the end of this post, and I wonder why I’ve written this. It’s water under a very distant bridge. I’m not that person anymore, as I’m sure the people I went to high school have changed too. But experiences shape you for good and bad.
The hole they created – still hurts sometimes. It’s a faint feeling that I’m still not in on the joke that everyone else gets. I sometimes feel physically awkward – like my body is weird and wrong. I have tried to be invisible and take up as small a space in the world as possible.
While this is a painful story to write, it’s also been joyous. I’m not unhappy. Your life is your life; you do the best you can, play the hand you have been given. I’ve been privileged and blessed. And I hope that this experience has made me more compassionate, with a heart for outsiders.
I’m still working on the forgiveness thing. I know Jesus was rejected and still loved but I’m not at that level of grace. Perhaps it’s also forgiveness for myself for not being whatever it is they needed. I was quiet, and did the right thing, to afraid of upsetting people. Rightly or wrongly, I was heavily influenced by my family. I was in no ways cool, I liked whimsy and romance and by their reckoning had poor taste in clothing or music. I was not brave enough to own that. I am now.
Jesus shines a light in dark places, he gathers up those who have been hurt. So perhaps in telling this story, in reckoning with the sadness and sharing it, it stops being painful and the healing starts.
Post script… If you are experiencing difficulties or this post has triggered things for you please consider talking to your doctor or call these numbers
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636