A little while ago I wrote about how ‘stuff’ and decluttering made me feel. Since then I have been travelling a little way down the road of becoming unburdened. I aim to write in depth about whether I manage all that I want in that respect another time.
But this week I found something in my possessions which hit some nerves. In a box, was my school reports from junior school through to A-levels, and a year book from sixth form. As with anything that I have stored I found it impossible not to look at everything and read it all.
And actually they surprised me. Firstly they showed how my character has been quite constant, albeit on a superficial level and secondly they showed that I was not well recognised for who I am. I felt that the image of me was at odds with my own memories of myself and my school experiences.
During my school years I recall existing on the periphery, both in terms of my teachers’ attention and how I fitted into the social groups among my peers. I found it hard to connect with people. I was essentially an introvert and I still am today. But the message that our society and culture gives out is that this is not desirable. I grew up feeling that I was not good enough.
The reports contain notes about my worries and anxiety, that I was quiet, that I could be timid and nervous. There are many comments about how I grew in confidence over the school year (although if that were true and not just the result of familiarity, I would have an ego the size of a house by now!).
It was quite common for me to perform poorer than expected in exams, in fact the only time that I really did well was during my A-levels when I essentially withdrew into my own world, and was very close to breakdown at several points, work became an escape route.
It was clearly well recognised for me from an early age that I had all the hall-marks of an introvert, yet in my mind I had not really thought that this was acknowledged by my teachers, parents and certainly not myself. And perhaps not, because in fact there was more about me overcoming those things than accepting them.
It is interesting to me that these things were even brought up, but only one case of a teacher making a comment that she would discuss my ‘problems’ with me, especially as many of them identified that this was something that held me back.
And perhaps it is beyond the role of the teacher. However, what I do feel is that none of them really found out who I was, and certainly the older I got the more I was hiding from them, although not intentionally, just because it wasn’t on the agenda to share. There is no place in the school curriculum for children to truly come to understand themselves.
My yearbook again has interesting comments and as they are from my peers rather than teachers it is fascinating to see what people thought of me without the constraints that teachers have, of largely painting a positive picture.
Apparently I was the reliable, dependable one, the one with all the answers (in sixth form at least), that I was a friend and a good ear to listen to them, that I was always smiling, that I was the voice of reason. And I’m going to sound crazy here but that makes me want to cry with tears of both sadness and happiness.
It feels nice that people wrote all those lovely things about me but I am also sad that there was no level of intimacy that you would expect from girls of that age. It was superficial, they just didn’t know the real me, that I was hiding a world of pain, deeply unhappy and disconnected from my peers. Most of all it hurts that I was said to be a good listener, yet at the time I had no one to talk to myself and that my peers didn’t know how much of a tough time I was having.
And so I ask, was I always destined to end up feeling a failure, not fitting in and not fulfilling my potential in this unhappy way? Was it a foregone conclusion? I can honestly say that I don’t believe so, that that is a very deterministic response and I don’t wish to be determined by all that has gone before.
It frustrates me that there is little in the way of parenting guidelines to encourage confident children whatever their innate tendencies, untroubled by worries and anxieties and that there is little focus within education on the emotional and psychological wellbeing of pupils. And I think that is largely because it is an unknown, an area of study still to be clarified.
So where does this all leave me? In a difficult place. I need to better recognise my introvert tendencies and also I have a feeling that probably two of my daughters share these with me. School is not an environment particularly designed for introverts, but I want to explore how I can support my girls in their education and through their upbringing so that this does not have to translate into depression and feelings of failure.
And I think these reports and this yearbook need to go in the bin, they only serve as a painful reminder of what was a difficult time for me in the past. They do not define me now, although I hope they can spark greater self-awareness and growth for all of our futures.