So I have less than one term (9 weeks) left of Year 12 to go. That's forty-five days of school left. Ever.
Thinking back on my time at high school, I cringe sometimes, I really do. Even from actions earlier this year. There's a lot to write really, and I only just had the urge to write this after commenting on a DeviantART Secret who was bemoaning the woes of being a larger-than-average girl and no guys liking her back.
Well geez it was like a slap in the face from the not-so-distant past.
I realised that I let a lot of my high school life be defined by who I was crushing on at the time and what they thought of me. I felt pretty shit some of the time cause I thought no-one would ever like me because this small handful of boys didn't, not at all helped by the media's portrayal of what a girl should look like and what she should be doing at my age (ie. getting a boyfriend, falling crazy in love, losing virginity in a beautiful night of passion without a hint of awkwardness yadda yadda). Hollywood, I am convinced, is the biggest deceiver of the modern age- it's got most of the western world thinking there is 'right' and 'wrong' with the way people act and and look in relationships (both romantic and otherwise), and it does not represent the broad range of human experiences and personalities.
Looking back now with the end so very near in sight, it's amazing to see how much I've grown as a person. There were times in year 10, year 11 and heck, even earlier this year when I thought: yeah, this is me, I don't think I can get more grown up form this point, hello adult Ursula. And every time I was wrong. Even now, I think that sometimes but I have to catch myself and say: you have so much life ahead of you, do you really think you're done changing? The answer, of course, is no. And I am so very glad I am not the girl who needed a crush to feel normal anymore.
Having said that, I think every crush teaches you something. I won't name any names for fear of embarrassing the boys involved (a previous draft of this monologue did, so count yourselves lucky- you know who you are
), but I'm happy to say that I have remained friends with almost every single one of them. From the naive year seven/eight crush who I was convinced I was being subtle around, to the first boy I dated in yr 10 who clearly isn't interested in girls anymore (
), to the best friend who meant and still means the world to me and whose friendship I was sure I'd lost due to my stupid stupid feelings in yr 11 and yes, I'll admit, early yr 12. These three remain some of my closest friends, and have taught me so much about myself and just people in general. There were others: the boy who I blamed for a long time for leading me on and breaking my heart who now is making my (other) best friend the happiest girl in the world, the boy who I lead on a broke his heart who helped me understand that it's ok to not want something even when you think it's your only chance. I misjudged both of them, because they had feelings too and I wasn;t willing to look past my own hurt to empathise with them.
I feel sorry for the young teens out there who feel the need to be in relationships, because I wish I could have had the strength to realise I didn't need to either. My first kiss was at 15 with a boy who was not my boyfriend, and who had a girlfriend himself. Firstly I want to say all parties were aware and fine with the situation and secondly this boy had issues which he needed to deal with himself, not by seeking another girl - especially one younger and much less experienced than him (read: inexperienced). I got caught up in a situation i didn't fully understand. I wish I could go back and tell 15 year old me that she did not deserve to be second-best and not to ignore the warning bells in her head, because when whatever we had inevitably ended, she was devastated. That was the first time she got that pain in her chest which convinced her that her heart was breaking. I think she was right. But that person wasn't ready for a relationship, even a functional one, and I don't think many kids are at that age. I'm not saying all, but the vast majority (and certainly 15yo me) do not have the emotional maturity to really
be with another person.
A good example is my best female friend, Izzie, who I met on the first day of high school and befriended the second, was an object of jealousy for a long time. Not that this affected our friendship in any way, she was, and still is, one of the most positive people in my life. It wasn't her, it was what she had. Izzie is gorgeous, inside and out, and so naturally the boys flocked to her. I was envious, and blamed myself for not being as flirty, as pretty as confident blah blah blah. Until I realised after her breakup with her third boyfriend, hey she's not happy either - she's just a s self-conscious and clueless as I am and dating isn't always this wonderful solution to all your problems the way the movies want you to believe. If you're reading this Izzie (which you probably will
), I'm sorry, because it was my problem, not yours. And cause I know you, don't you dare apologise either!!! (I mean it). Now that we're in yr 12 she is with a boy who really makes her happy compared to most of the ones of previous years. Coincidence? I think not.
Izzie and me are one of the only (if not THE only) 'best-friend pairs' in our year group which has lasted throughout all six years of high school, despite our greatly varied experiences with boys and in life in general. I credit this to our ability to be honest and accepting of each other and the other friends we make. Both of us have another best friend, and instead of getting jealous or defensive, we celebrated the diversity and difference of our friends while maintaining our very close bond. I'm so lucky to have had her in my life.
Another especially influential erm... factor... in the last three years has been my mental well-being. Part of being a teenager is experiencing angst and unhappiness due to raging hormones and it isn't at all uncommon for depression (lower-case d) to manifest itself in the teen years. As opposed to Depression (capital D - the clinical kind), which by no means cannot manifest itself in the teen years, I feel depression is largely influenced by the school factor and the inability to escape it if it is an unhappy place.
I was prescribed low-strength antidepressants halfway through year 10 which I think were anxiety-focused. I was taking an accelerated HSC course and stressed myself into sickness each time we had a big assessment- quite severely the first time, the doctors thought I had glandular - the second I was put on antidepressants. Both times I took about two weeks off school. I've always been comfortable being very open about my problems (well all save one, but more on that later), and so my friends knew and were supportive. At that time thought I was very self-centered I guess when it came to other people's issues and didn't really give credit to anyone else's emotions when they were having a problem. Year 10 is a hard year because we still do subjects that we don't give a crap about anymore and so have no motivation to do them, we're itching to start yr 11 with the subjects we want to do and we think will actually take us somewhere in life so I certainly wasn't alone, I just didn't deal with it as well as some of the others due to my higher levels of anxiety.
I came off the drugs last year in yr 11, just under a year since I went on them. This wasn't the end of my troubles, but I wanted to rely on myself to manage my own emotions. I was feeling better about school since I was taking subjects I actually enjoyed, including a TVET TAFE course on animals, one of my great interests, which shifted my general perspective on everything. There were other options and paths out there! A few months before I weened off them, I began liking the idea of being looked after (around the time I fell for my best male friend), which is kinda ironic since my motivation to quit was self-reliance. Then the family bombshell happened and I REALLY got into the idea of being looked after, since I guess I didn't feel that sability at home. NOT that by any means my parents weren't treating me with love, the complete opposite. It's just they weren't treating each other with love, and that was scary.
I'm going to put in here that there have always been bumpy patches with my family, nuclear and extended, like any family. It's not my business to talk about but it did make me feel unsure about my situation for a long time. When this latest bombshell hit at the end of yr 11 I was a wreck, for the first time I didn't go straight to my friends for advice. For the second time, my heart broke, and even thought I'd always known, I was struck again by the importance of other relationships in our lives and how they can affectedly you just as deeply as romantic ones.
School had also gotten pretty tough, everyone was starting to bend under the stress of the impending HSC. Things were finally getting serious- yr 11, the trial of the HSC year was over, now everything counted. I attended an academically selective school which means that we have extra pressure to get the top marks and bands for everything. Not gonna lie, under the strain of these two enormous weights I seriously considered dropping out. Instead, I did what my parents have always taught me to do- I talked to them because I had a problem. I wish all parents taught their kids this, its the reason I've gotten help when I've needed it, and subsequently gotten better. Mum booked me in with a counseling psychologist just before the end of the school year.
Between yrs 11 and 12 I spent a month in France, my second trip after an extremely rewarding and fun trip in yr 10 during which I really cemented my friendship with Izzie. This trip was different- I applied against my brain screaming WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?! against the anxiety and the apprehension because deep down I needed to get out and do something different or I think I really would have dropped out. I cried relentlessly before I left because I had just spent one of the best Christmases with just my family after a very uncertain unstable period which had initially influenced my decision to leave.
I could write a whole other journal about France but this isn't the time. I will say that I wish I had more time and I'm so grateful that my family in in the financial situation to allow me to have that experience. I came back more independant and more appreciative of my family, and with a base on the other side of the world. The family I stayed with were truly a joy to stay with and really the break I needed. Currently, we're hosting their son, my host brother, which I hope means they liked me as much as I liked them
Returning was a bit surreal, and quite exhausting as we hit the ground running in the final stretch to the end. Stress was up, family situation deteriorated a bit a again. Then I went with my best friend to see our favourite band for the second time and something totally unexpected happened. After six weeks of intense pressure from my school, more family shit, and a very exciting seven hour wait in line, I fainted in the front row, totally freaking my friend out (sorry btw
). It was so much bigger than the previous venue and as people packed in behind us and the people behind us schemed loudly about how they'd push us out of the way to get to the front, I realised I kinda needed to pee. I started worrying. Can you hold on for four more hours? You have to, its your favourite band, you're not giving up your spot, you'll never get back in! As the people came flooding in, my anxiety grew. My hearing went a little funny, the voices of hundreds of people dampened, and then my vision started pinging with stars. I put my head between my hands for just a second and closed my eyes to calm myself down. I started feeling really tired- I kinda vaguely remember my head sinking lower. Next thing my friend and the guy on the other side of me were hauling me up. I felt way better than before (and kinda worryingly didn't need to pee anymore) but had clearly freaked my friend the hell out. He told me later I had fallen right to the floor but I don't remember. I do remember assuring him I was fine
and no way in hell was I missing this concert. I argued with the security guard who settled on bringing me a bottle of water- luckily he didn't actually see me fall. The previous schemers behind us helped jostle me in front of the air conditioning vent.
The concert was great, as per usual for fun. cause they're freaking amazing
But I was just totally exhausted and slept like a baby. It hurt our school week that's for sure, I got behind and stayed behind for the rest of the term. When I talked to my counselor she said what I'd had was most likely a panic attack, and perhaps I was claustrophobic or slightly socialphobic, ie. social anxiety. I wasn't surprised to be honest. I got all caught up on social anxiety, think oh, maybe this explains my shyness etc etc I wonder if she'll diagnose it. I realise now that while I show most signs of social anxiety they aren't prnounced enough to interfer with my everyday life. I don't need a diagnosis, cause it's just me. And probably influenced by the other stresses and pressures of my circumstances.
Which brings me to today. Yr 12 has been a challenge, I can see the cracks staring to form in everyone's resolve, even breaking in some. A friend of mine recently posted the following:
"Year 12 is often the year when kids:
- lose interest in school
- have no plans for after the HSC
- develop an intense relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend
- get their driver's licence
- experiment with legal or illegal drugs
- have a part-time job
- are a member of a sporting team
- develop an eating disorder
- suffer from depression.
-Richard Cracknell, counsellor and district guidance officer"
I've seen every single one of these happen in my circle of friends, with the exception of the eating disorder (thank god). It's tough it's really tough. And the atmosphere among my peers is palpable, it's screaming LET ME OUT OF HERE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Whether they know where they're going or not, we all want out. And we want out now. We're on the home stretch but it can't come fast enough.
In nine weeks I will have graduated from high school. Of course the HSC will still be ahead of me but I'll be out of school for good. That's scary. But it's also exhilarating.
The final thing I want to share with you is simple. The message of acceptance. I said before I was open to talk about everything with my friends save one thing. That one thing is my body. I am, *gulp* overweight. There I said it. I didn't skirt around it - not 'big' or 'larger-than-average' or 'not exactly skinny.' Although I still can't bring myself to say the F word, there's just too much negativity surrounding it to apply it to myself out loud or in writing- I think it plenty enough anyway. I used to blame lack of interest from boys on my weight, I thought I had to change before I would ever have a boyfriend who really loved me. I would look at Izzie and the other girls in my year with boyfriends and think, yeah I have to look like them before any boy will ever like me. I couldn't understand why I had been born the way I had been and not like them. Growing up the big kid isn't easy- you get messages from the media and pretty much everywhere actually that it's your fault for being overweight, you undisciplined slob. How do you deal with that when you've never known any different? I used to dread PE: in the changerooms I would take a cubicle, always have an undershirt on. I would be the one at the end of the warm up jog, trying to hide her coughing and hacking. I would make excuses for my inability to do what others seemed to do so easily- I had a cold, an ingrown toenail, only four hours sleep the night before. I'd immediately go on the defensive as soon as anyone even hinted that my performance was different, let alone below par.
How are you meant to get fit when exercising literally makes you want to throw up, not because of exertion but because of what other people say about you? Oh hey, let's tease the big kid for doing something healthy!
The last year I ever had to do the beep test I worked myself up about it so much I almost did throw up. I couldn't stand the humiliation of dropping out at 3.1 while the next person dropped out at 5.2 and others went on to 15.9. I couldn't do it. I literally cried about it and eventually mum wrote me a note excusing me. The day I didn't have to do PE anymore was the happiest day of my life.
Acceptance has come slowly and taken several years. Stopping PE did absolute wonders because it meant that I stopped having a scheduled compare-myself-to-others time in my week. Gradually slipping one sentence or admission into a conversation with a friend, comparing experiences with a friend whose lost weight, telling my friends they shouldn't worry because compared to me they looked great. Ok so the last one not so much but at least I could actually verbalise it.
A friend whose heart I broke called me sexy. I freaked out. He has continued to tell me I look great throughout our rather complicated friendship. He's helped and I talked about my feelings with him just to have him tell me I looked pretty. Not proud of that. I let my low-self esteem hurt him when it was my problem to deal with.
But the thing that finally changed my mind was finding my formal dress. City Chic is a plus size shop in Australia and the $400 I (my mum) spend there was worth so much more than that to me. Luckily I've never really been picky or demanding with clothes before so mum indulged me
I'm a small at City Chic. A small. They say don't pay attention to sizes but you can;t really help it when you pull them on every day. When I pulled the dress on in the changing room I flushed. My glasses fogged from the heat coming off my face. Unshaven winter legs and armpits aside, I looked..... well I looked great. Sexy even. I have never thought this about myself before. After I'd twirled for my admiring mother and sister and returned to the dressing room to take it off i heard the shop keeper say to my mum: "I love the smiles." Really I was grinning like a lunatic.
I don't look any different than I did before, my self-esteem has only risen a notch. But it feels like everything has changed.
My counselor told me that acceptance is the key to happiness, in reference to my family situation. At the time I thought, how can I just accept this?! Now I understand. Acceptance doesn't mean you have to like it, it just means you have to accept it. I may not like the way I look, but that doesn't mean I should hate the way I look either.
My counselor also told me that I am a deep thinker and that that was a good and admirable quality to have in life. I really do like this about myself. I have been able to take her comment in relation to my family and apply it to all aspects of my life. My family situation has since improved, but seemed like it did before it actually did since I decided to accept it despite my fears. I accepted the impending doom of the HSC and even thought there are mountains of work coming my way, and fast, I'm not scared anymore. And learning to accept myself has made me realise, the only person i need to change for is me. I deserve someone who will love me exactly the way I am now, as does every other person on this planet.
I have accepted my actions in the past- a lot of my depression period involved trying to get attention through my sadness, especially from the boys I liked (ick). A lot of my preaching about acceptance and equality actually discriminated against those who simply had a different view than I did who still fully supported equality. I had trouble moving on from the past. Now I am able to say, yes I did that, but that doesn't mean that's who I am now.
So here I am, pages away from the next chapter in my life, and I have never been so comfortable with myself. I'm still me, I still have my insecurities and my flaws, but I have realised that the people in my life right now do, and the people in my life in the future will, love me exactly as I am, with all my flaws, as I love them. Right now all I can say really is that I am striving to be the best person I can be, to live a life that others will remember with a smile and to treat everyone as I would want to be treated, equally and with respect.
I'm going to leave you with two quotes I feel sum up what I'm trying to say, but better written
There is so much more to say and to do.... career paths, world peace... existential crises. But they involve a lot of negative thoughts and this is meant to be a reflection of problems solved. If you're still with me after that novella, thank you, it means a lot to me that you would read it, especially if you don't know me.
My final message is that I wouldn't be without I am without the support and deep, unconditional love of my family and friends. Especially my mother who taught me it is never, ever cowardly to seek help.
So this is Ursula, signing off.
Peace and Love
"She had thought she'd already reached her capacity for pain and had no room inside her for more. But she remembered having told Archer once that you could not measure love on a scale of degrees, and now she understood that it was the same with pain. Pain might escalate upward and, just when you thought you'd reached your limit, begin to spread sideways, and spill out, and touch other people, and mix with their pain. And grow larger, but somehow less oppressive. She had thought herself trapped in a place outside the ordinary lives of people; she had not noticed how many other people were trapped in that place with her."
- Fire, Kristin Cashore
"I think if I ever have kids, and they're upset, I won't tell them that people are starving on China or anything like that because it wouldn't change the fact that they were upset. And even if someone else has it much worse, that doesn't really change the fact that you have what you have. Good and bad. Just like what my sister said when I was in hospital for a while. She said that she was really worried about going to college, and considering what I was going through, she felt really dumb about it. But I don't know why she would feel dumb. I'd be worried, too. And really, I don't think I have it any better or worse than she does. I don't know. It's just different. Maybe it's good to put things in perspective, but sometimes, I think that the only perspective is to really be there. Like Sam said. Because it's okay to feel things. And be who you are about them."
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky