Finding my place.
I never really slotted in, truly. I wasn’t a cool kid. I wasn’t overly popular, I wasn’t stand-out good at anything. I had lovely friends but always felt a little outside. On the inside.
I never really had anything to define me, save the odd obligatory teenage boyband obsession and my crazy ginger hair. I never knew what I wanted to be, or what direction I was heading. I went with what people told me to do, and lost interest along the way. A-levels, scraping into uni, scraping through uni. I didn’t care. I didn’t know where I was going. Teens turned into twenties and still, I just floated along.
When I was told I wasn’t clever enough to do maths A-level, I accepted it. After walking out of 6 physics re-sits after just writing my name on the paper and going shopping instead, I opened that U grade with a feeling that this was where I belonged in life. I was average. Middle of the road. And I just wanted to fit in.
I always loved nature, but couldn’t describe the way it made me feel. I loved to write and draw, but drawing wasn’t a ‘proper job’. Neither was music. I felt I was good, but I was never ‘good enough’, and I lacked the discipline to make myself work at something hard enough to become ‘good enough’.
I tried to turn myself into whatever I thought I should be at the time. I fell into management and cultivated the image that went with it – pencil dresses, bleaching and straightening my hair into ‘that’ haircut, and battling through a work/work balance that had no time for life. I won awards for my job, but this success didn’t give me meaning.
I tried to be a trainer, with protein shakes, HIIT classes, and boundless energy. But I didn’t know myself. I was starting to lose a grip on all these people that I thought I ‘should’ be. Why couldn’t I figure out what I wanted to do? Why didn’t I know yet? And as twenties turned to thirties, I crashed and burned.
I’m 37 now and am only just beginning to know myself. At the time, the whole crashing and burning thing was really not much fun. But at rock bottom, it gave me a space to start building a foundation that I never really had before. Of confidence in my abilities. Of small things that brought me joy. Of a constant, throughout it all, of writing out my thoughts, losing myself in music, walking paths in wilderness. There began that spark of looking back, and growing into that person I’d been all along.
What I realised was that every person is different. Different talents, different skills. The things that make your heart sing will not be the same as the things that make mine. We cannot fit into those little boxes others create for us. We have to grow into ourselves, and find that belief. It came quite late for me. It’s still arriving, to be honest.
I struggle with that ‘good enough’ feeling still. But one day I pushed myself and applied for a MSc back at university. Through a rocky time, fighting depression and chronic fatigue and leaving my job through ill health, I still managed to graduate. One of my best marks was statistics – yep, maths. Who would have thought.
Now I’m a PhD researcher. That girl who gave up on anything remotely academic all those years ago is shocked, and defiant, and proud, and can’t quite believe it still. I’m still extra sleepy, but feel a lot happier, although some grey days still creep up on me and surprise me. Most importantly though, I feel like I have an identity – but this time it’s one I’ve chosen for myself.
Over the last few years I’ve grown out my crazy hair again and stopped straightening it. It feels symbolic, somehow, like a coming home to myself. I am beginning to get an idea of who this woman is, although I sometimes still feel like that terrified teenager inside. I love nature, and I always have. I love music. I love to paint and draw and write and no, I’m not great at it, but it’s who I am. I’m learning to own my decisions and am starting to find the confidence to stand strong for my choices.
Finally, I feel that I’m beginning to fit into my self.