Guest Post: What I wish I could tell my 15 year old self
Fiona writes one of the most honest bogs you will ever read.
At www.sunnyspellsandscatteredshowers.org she describes her ongoing struggle with borderline personality disorder and depression. Sometimes she will rip your heart out with her words, and others she will make you marvel at her resilience and her unbelievable ability to get back up, and start again. We asked her what she might say to her 15 year old self, given an opportunity. Funnily enough, the compassion and tenderness she shows to her younger self is one we should all have for ourselves. All. The. Time.
Thanks Fiona for this, we are big fans, and we all learn from you, one blog post at a time
When I first came across shona.ie several months ago, it really got me thinking. There’s so much I would have loved 15 year old me to know, so much I wish I could go back and say.
I went to a big school; there were seven classes in my year alone. For anyone who was quiet, afraid to speak up or lacking in confidence, it was pretty much a nightmare scenario. Exactly the same applied once I moved on to college. I went to UCD, one of the biggest universities in the country. Both school and college chewed me up and spat me out with reasonably good academic results, but virtually no sense of self-worth.
Throughout those years, phrases like mental health, mental well-being, self-compassion, self-care – I’m not sure they were part of our vocabulary at all. They were certainly phrases I had never heard. Maybe it’s how I remember it, but either you were popular and fitted it, or you weren’t and didn’t. Perhaps not surprisingly, I wasn’t. I hid. I was terrified of being labelled a loner, so I went to great lengths to avoid being seen alone. I had a small number of close friends, but when I found myself in classes without them I was lost. This became even more of an issue in college.
If I could go back and talk to that shy, anxious secondary school student, or even later, my college-aged self, what would I say? What would I like to have known? I can’t go back and talk to her, I can’t change what has happened. But I can take the knowledge I’ve gained over the years to put those memories in perspective, and maybe even come to view them differently.
There was nothing wrong with me. Nothing. I was quiet, shy, introverted, anxious – but these aren’t faults or character flaws. They are simply part of who I was, but unfortunately they were also qualities that didn’t really fit, and that’s what made things so complicated. All around me in school and in college, results aside, the emphasis was on fitting in – being sporty, being creative, being out-going – I was none of these things. I was also incredibly conscious that I was none of these, which made me withdraw even more, and ultimately fed into all the difficulties that have been challenging me most of my adult life.
I’d love to be able to give 15-year-old me a huge hug and tell her that it will be OK, that’s she not doing anything wrong. I’d love her to know that being quiet and introspective isn’t a failing, that being shy and anxious are things she can get help with. I’d encourage her to talk, to tell me what she was afraid of. I’d ask her what she wanted for her future, not what she believed was expected of her. I’d tell her that it’s OK to make mistakes, that’s how we learn. I’d tell her that having a boyfriend wasn’t the be all and end all, that she didn’t have to agree with everyone all of the time, because her opinion was valid too. I’d tell her that it was OK to cry, to feel, to ask for help. I’d tell her that it was OK to spend time in her own company, and to be seen doing it. How much easier and more enjoyable would school and college have been if I hadn’t been so preoccupied with what other people thought? Imagine I had been comfortable sitting on my own. Imagine I had felt like I had as much right to be there as anyone else, that my opinions, thoughts and feelings were just as important. Imagine I had believed that I actually mattered…
I can’t go back and hug her. But I can look after the adult she has become.