I have historically written an end of year review or roundup of some description, but this year for various complicated reasons, I didn’t feel up to writing one. For as long as I can handle, I’ve decided to have a break from social media, something that all of us should do for our mental health from time to time. Friends can still contact me by text – and I welcome this – I don’t think I could completely detach myself from conversation, but having some distance from “the best version of ourselves” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
When I was growing up I made plans, and then when things didn’t go as I’d hoped, I would often negatively blame myself. Or more often in later years, was negatively blamed by other people because of how they see me. Most vivid example is a former manager questioning my abilities because I didn’t appear how he expected youth workers to be. I was quiet/thoughtful/reflective – he wanted a “loud, bubbly Butlins style rep” which I am not or will never be. At the time I ruminated for days about how I could be this better person, that everyone seemed to want. I was convinced that it was up to me to change. After a while this becomes a vicious cycle. We are intrinsically programmed to compare ourselves to others, where we go on holiday, the cars we drive, our education, what people eat and even our accents. If someone sounds a bit “southern” we immediately decide that they must be “posh” and if they have an accent, they’re definitely “common”. To fit in, one of the first things we do is try to alter the way we speak. If someone appears more quiet at school than others – they’re probably struggling or are not as capable as other people. Judging our capabilities on who we appear to be can lead to some pretty awkward and difficult situations. I was bullied for being the “posh girl” at school. My vegetarianism and dyspraxia probably didn’t help matters either.
Ten years ago I wondered where I’d be in a decade, I was 18, had just started university and “had my life ahead of me” or so everyone kept saying. We map out our future, moving away, relationships, driving, children, careers. We assume that all of these things will happen. An eleven year old in a youth club recently told me how old she wants to be when she has kids, it was younger than I am now – planning starts from such a young age – and working with young people, I see the comparisons they make and know all too well the damage it can do.
Now I am that decade on from when I first started university, I’m still living at home, yet to learn to drive, marriage and children are miles off and I haven’t found a full time job. I have often thought that all of these things, the plans we make as children, the “hopes and achievements” books we fill in during PSHE and the picture we paint of our future, are milestones that happen to other people, and not me. That my plans will never happen. That I have essentially failed at everything I set out to do. Anxiety you see is a bitch, and is probably the worst bully I have ever known. I wanted to write down how I am feeling, or have felt, not for pity or to moan, but to challenge the “perfect picture” we paint on social media and in person. And sometimes, the best thing we can do is step away from everything and really make plans that matter. My plan for today was to have a shower, and it felt brilliant to achieve that. It’s the small goals we need to instil in our young people, that will eventually, in time, feed into those big goals.
I regularly wonder what could have been but wasn’t. You know, “Well I could have lived there but didn’t” “That person might have been good for me if I’d given them the chance” “What would have happened if I’d got that job?” You know, we all do it. Now I’m in the last year of my 20’s and wondering if my 30’s will be “like” or very different to the last ten years. My dyspraxia means that naturally some things are going to be more difficult than others, so finding a job to “get by” until something else comes along isn’t an option. Although this knowledge didn’t stop me trawling through the internet recently thinking “well if there are no jobs in youth work, and I haven’t got the necessary experience required in most journalism job ads, what’s the worst that could happen if I apply for a job in retail, or a bar or a call centre? I mean, everyone else does it.” I’m beyond complaining or even attempting to explain this type of “barrier” or even these thoughts, that often come and go. We all want to change for other people, to fit the “essential and desireable” in a job spec or to simply impress our friends or colleagues. But sometimes, we just can’t. We can evolve but who we are is always going to stay the same. This is one of the most important things I’ve learned this year. Telling yourself that “you’re fine” is probably one of the hardest things to do.
A friend recently told me; “we are all on our own unique timeline”, and after a while I’ve began to see how this is more true and relevant to society today than ever. We will all get there, but some of us might choose the train, and others will prefer the bus.