I didn’t realise I still carried so much pain with me around my experience of adolescence until a boy I used to see spoke about his. We were in his car, driving somewhere on a Sunday, I think, and a song came on his playlist that reminded him of being a teenager (see below). “I totally forgot this song existed!” I exclaimed, remembering seeing the music video on NME as a teenager. He told me it reminded him of going to his first house parties and talking to girls for the first time and how positive those memories were for him.
I felt a dark cloud descend over my head and a pang in my heart. Not just from the primal jealousy at the thought of him speaking to girls that weren’t me (how dare he have had a life before me?!) but at the thought of this carefree exploring of sexuality and the opposite sex in general. At the idea of being popular enough to have such parties to go to – at the idea of being welcome or wanted somewhere. Of course I went to the odd party when I was a teenager but I could probably count on 2 hands the amount that I went to all throughout high school. I responded to him that thinking about my own adolescence makes me feel sad because I was so anxious and low a lot of the time.
In terms of speaking to guys…I feel misery at the thought of how difficult/unnatural/anxiety-inducing this was for me. It’s almost strange to think about because it is something that is very easy for me now. I barely have to think twice about it, it comes naturally. But when I was a teenager, I was so insecure and had such low self-esteem that being around boys made me feel 100% conspicuous and self-conscious. In primary school, a lot of the time I was made to feel pathetic, disgusting and unworthy, so transitioning into high school wasn’t exactly easy. Any games of truth or dare left me frozen with fear and outcast from the group as a loser.
I remember in 1st Year (Year 7 in England and 7th Grade in the US), two boys were joking with each other about the idea of asking me out and when one of them asked if I’d go out with his friend, I retorted “no!”, assuming that of course they would have to have been joking. It wasn’t until I saw his friend’s face fall slightly that I realised he was being serious and I felt so guilty and ashamed. It didn’t occur to me for a split second that anyone would be serious about wanting to go out with me. I felt so unattractive and unwanted.
A sexually-charged friendship I had with a girl when I was 7 or 8 had left me questioning my sexuality and frozen in shame for many years and I suppose this coloured my first interactions with boys, too. You can read more about my confusion around sexual development here if this is something that interests/resonates with you.
Aside from the sexual aspect of adolescence, my issues with mental health and difficult home life also made it far from perfect. By the way, I’m not trying to put across the idea that I’m the only person in the world for whom adolescence wasn’t something out of an American movie; it’s just that I hear so many people romanticising their school days and talking about high school being “the best years of your life” and that truly doesn’t represent me. I think it’s important that we hear stories about all different kinds of experiences, not just the one rigid stereotype.
I battled with anxiety and depression, suicidal thoughts and disordered eating, self-induced but nonetheless painful friendlessness and a difficult home life sometimes permeated by addiction and emotional abuse. But, you know what? What hurts the most, even now, is the lack of parties. The lack of socialising. Fun! Of having somewhere to go, something to do – some fun way to spend my youth. A lack of laughter, serenity, togetherness, recklessness, rebelliousness.
My foster carer said to me when I was 17: “You should be out doing things! You’re only young once!” To have been one of those people – someone with somewhere to go, people to be with never felt like a choice to me. It never felt like it was something within my control. I feel like I was destined to have an adolescence wherein loneliness, nights-in and melancholy prevailed. Nirvana and KoRn were my favourite bands. It felt comforting to hear people singing about things I related to.
It’s important to add to this account of my adolescence that I wasn’t completely friendless. I did have some friends, some great ones – some of whom remain my best friends today. I have great memories with these friends but I think in some ways they also reflected my issues and poor mental health back to me. There were periods when they had boyfriends and I saw my inadequacies and insecurities come to the fore of my consciousness. And when I was going into foster care in 6th Year, I was quite difficult to be around. There was young love around me and it tortured me to see this when I felt so alone and bitter. Naturally, some of my friends retreated. Loneliness and isolation were like self-fulfilling prophecies for me.
I made up for the lack of partying somewhat at my brief stint at university. I was still not as “part of everything” as everyone else, though. Here, the extremes between the party-goers and those that stayed in was a bit more pronounced. It was either binge-drink 10 days a row in fresher’s week and be a “good sport” or not be part of the group. So when the guy I was most recently with also told me that he used to go to this prestigious nightclub in Edinburgh every single week over the course of a year or two, I again felt not “part of everything”. It made me think of the kind of heavily made-up girls that go to clubs like that – the kind that do lines in the bathroom and wear skimpy dresses and have nights that end in euphoria or distress. And how I am not one of those girls. Never was. And never will be.
Thanks for reading.
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx