I hated secondary school.
Everything about it. I hated the rules, because I thought that they were futile; how does wearing nail varnish or blue eye shadow affect my ability to learn? I hated the ‘pasta king’ that they served in the canteen, which consisted of mushy pieces of penne floating in a weepy tomato sauce. I hated the hierarchy. I hated maths. I hated how quickly what was considered ‘cool’ changed. I hated askfm, bebo and msn. I hated being shouted at for being too loud or for interupting in class. I hated walking through coridors filled with teenage boys, lurking like a pack of hyenas armed with lame yet hurtful insults. I hated the pressure.
I woke up on so many occasions with a feeling that I have not felt since. Almost a homesickness whilst lying in my bed. A desperation to find any excuse that might allow me to miss school.
I know now, however, that there is an extremely thin line between love and hate. That all of the experiences I had, the friendships I made, the emotions that I felt, have helped to shape who I am today. The progression from then to now is beyond recognition.
When I was younger, I was a bit of an arsehole. I made jokes at other people’s expense because I wanted to be funny. I was loud, not because I wanted to be heard, but because I thought that my voice was more important than others. I threw money away on the latest trends and had minimal sense of individuality. I let boys treat me like a common cold; something that they didn’t want and was quite frankly a bit of a nuisance. I prided myself on being a girl’s girl, yet I did silly things like shagging my best friend’s brother (sorry Hun). I tried desperately not to be the person in the firing line of schoolgirl bitchy-ness by pushing someone else under the bus. I swore at my parents and I stole from the money pot that my Dad kept on his bedside table (sorry Hun.) I ate cereal straight from the packet. I did well in school without doing much work or giving it much thought: I once turned up to a debate on Euthanasia with notes prepared on the ‘Youth in Asia.’ I stitched every school skirt I ever had so that it would be shorter and tighter. I dyed my hair different colours weekly. I drank like a 6ft5 trucker and I smoked like a chimney. I felt deeply. I loved vigorously. I was the definition of a drama queen and a teenager.
It wasn’t often that I took time to reflect on the type of person I was, and when I did, it was often on my physical appearance. Equating my rating out of 10 to how I looked in a pair of denim hot pants. Fat, was often the remark that I would bark at the mirror. Yet despite all of this, I don’t believe that at the core I was, or am, a bad person. I was just a teenager enduring my environment and figuring out where I fit into it all.
My Secondary School experience was as much an education in Maths and Physics, as it was in survival. I see now the benefits of this, my resilience, my desire to put my friends first, my refusal to conform solely to standardised beauty, my dislike of watery tomato based pasta sauces. School taught me more about the person that I wanted to be than any yoga class or meditation practise I have experienced since.
I didn’t realise until recently, but it is the core to my understanding of what it is to be a fundamentally good person. I was not during this time, and it felt like an internal, antagonising conflict which saw me oppressing my true self. The love. The honesty. The female. It all had to fall by the waste side so that I could endure the bitching, the slapping, the drinking, the slut shaming, the name calling: the food chain. Knowing what I know now, I would do it all so differently. I would not adhere to the slogan ‘Bully, or get bullied’. I would stand my ground and know that anyone who called me ‘a whale’ or ‘a slut’ or even ‘a bitch’ was not someone that I needed to worry about. Not someone who needed to impact my life in any kind of way. They have of course, the potency fades but the words remain and the feelings resurface when new experiences pull me back to the memories of feeling unwanted, inadequate and at a loss.
I think about going back to school now, with the threat of Instagram and Snapchat, and it makes me feel horrible. The worst thing we had was ask.fm on which I was once asked: ‘Why are your thighs so big?’ A pressing question, one which required much deliberation and careful consideration: ‘Because GO FUCK YOURSELF LOUISE, I KNOW THAT’S YOU.’
It’s such a difficult time, without the pressure of everyone else around you. Figuring out what you like, what you’re interested in, where you belong and who your tribe are. Understanding how your body works and making mistakes hourly. I spent most of the time pleasing others and doing things for the sake of their amusement or for a badge of honour that I didn’t even care for. Inevitably, I did not find myself whilst still at school, but, I did learn some valuable lessons that exceeded how to find the length of one side of a triangle.
I tried every trick in the book to get out cross country. I fucking hated it, it was cold and stupid and every friend that said ‘don’t worry. I’ll stick with you’ was lying. But, I have realised that not being good at P.E does not mean there is no enjoyment to be found in exercising, it just takes time to find how you like to move your body.
Friendships that I made at school, based on a pack mentality and the ability to appease, were not friendships at all. I made two whole friends. I was in a year group with 260 people, invited 80 to house parties where we danced and laughed, yet I made two real friends that I will hold close to me throughout my life. We stuck like glue because we understood what comradery was. In amongst the silent hushes and the feeling that you were being spoken about every time you left a room, the support of Holly and Margaux was an armour which I wore proudly, every day.
My sex life at school was far busier than it is now. Honestly, it makes my present sexual diary look like one of a sacred nun. But quantity, my friends, does not always mean quality. This has never been more true than in relation to my pubescent lust life. If I think too deeply about the decisions I made, largely due to a lack of understanding of female pleasure and active consent, I feel deflated. Yet, none of us knew what was going on, we were all just experimenting, fumbling in the dark. All of us from small villages with nothing better to do than smoke a fag, drink some white lightening and practice oral sex. What I have learnt is how to respect my own body and how to say no, or ‘actually babe, that doesn’t feel very nice, it feels more like you’ve got a vendetta against my vagina and you finally have the opportunity to inflict pain on it’. Imagine the generation of lovers we’d have now if we all took that open ‘sex education’ style approach to sex. WOW.
Although I hated the authority of teachers, it taught me respect. Not the kind of respect which is expected of you because they are teachers and you’re a pupil. But the respect for someone that knows more than you, that is intelligent, that has experienced things you are yet to. How respect can be reciprocated if you don’t deny it’s importance.
Complacency, will bite you in the arse when you get to university.
‘She’s just jealous’ is not an excuse for someone’s dislike toward you.
Being uncool at school is the coolest thing that you can be.
I did not hate every moment and aspect of my life at school. There were parts that I loved. I loved rebelling against the rules, smoking under coats on the school field and snogging in an unused classroom. I loved going to a party in a field on a Friday, knowing that quite literally anything could happen, consequence free. I loved going to rehearsals for the school play at lunch. I loved sitting next to Holly in maths and copying the entirety of her work book. I loved feeling grown up when my hypothetical little sister, Phoebe, started in year 7 and needed someone to look out for her. I loved doing GCSE dance with my friend Alice, who I’ve known since I was two, just because we liked wearing leotards. I loved bunking off when it was snowing, going sledging instead of sitting my mock exams. I loved the smell of the mud on the school field and watching the boys play rugby.
I love all of the lessons that I learnt whilst fumbling through my teenage years. No, I did not find myself, I think I lost that at the bottom of a blue WKD bottle. But, amongst the hatred and the often self-inflicted hardship, I found some vital lessons for what it is to be a better person.
Being a teenager is fucking hard. It’s a minefield and if I could go back to that G, the insecure, desperate to please and impress G, I would say:
‘It’s all going to be ok, listen to your gut and you’ll come out the other side stronger, better, faster, wiser. There’s a light at the end of this seemingly never ending tunnel. Oh, and stop getting fingered on park benches – it’s not classy and you’re not enjoying it.’