“It was that time when “Grange Hill” and the pupils’ antics were strewn across living rooms’ TVs. A program our mum forbade us to watch. “A bad influence!” she was quoted as saying in passing. Who knows if the serialisation depicted reality or not? One thing it reinforced was I would never be ready for secondary school.
I had good reason: no older siblings, who had tried and tested the school route and a fairly strict upbringing, which resulted in a lack of confidence for a while. Worst of all, a bit of a scuffle with some brothers in the local woods that alerted my younger brother and I that we were not held in the highest of regard by some of the kids.
Justifiably then, I had the fear of God of setting foot in the secondary school I was forced “to tick” to say I would be attending that September. Then someone and something stepped in unexpectedly at the last hour, as is the tradition in my family. My dearest grandmother suggested I took an entrance exam to a girls’ independent school. I got in.
This was to be a life-changing decision and experience for me and my family. I was not the conventional pupil. I am proud to say now that my father was a professional, university-educated man and my mother a talented, hardworking woman with wonderful skills from a working-class background. Initially, my teachers could not make me out. Moving me from the 1st division in Maths to the 2nd division and then debating whether to put me back after a high score in my examinations. Not trusting my phonetic skills and making me stand up in class and recite words until they were correctly pronounced – much to the amusement of my fellow classmates. After succeeding in my “public phonetics training” the teachers gave me a lead acting role and other speech recital opportunities.
And then the news hit, my father had secured a job in a London borough and we were relocating. One year on from when the intake had taken the step “en masse” to join a new school, here was I, at 12 years old, expected to settle and make friends.
I remember being shown around my London private school by two girls, who were pleasant enough. It was not long though that the catty taunting would begin. My own fault, as I sought to belong to the group of most popular girls in the school.
Apparently, my family name was prime material for easy ridicule. My young relatives have also mentioned they have experienced this. However, I was able to provide them with the ammunition I so lacked when I was being bullied. That the name is synonymous with businesses, a model, a racing car driver and a pretty nifty plant that can adsorb pollution. I remember a swathe of girls following me around the portakabins “A rolling stone gathers ….” Mocking laughter, crescendo of taunting voices, until I found somewhere to escape from this pain.
To gain popularity, I had twisted my parents’ arms to allow me to have “a party” for my 14th birthday. This was a pretty big thing and I was only able to hold the party with my parents being in situ. It was after this event and probably because I had shown bizarre behaviour at a party a year earlier that the very girl who had shown me around my school, turned on me, and uttered her own hateful diagnosis of me. I have since mentioned this to my father a couple of years ago and he was absolutely furious.
I remained relatively happy, excelling in my schoolwork, loved by my new steadfast teachers and family, until I was 15 years old. At this age, I lost my beloved paternal grandmother and my quality world was not the same for some time. Struggling with this loss and entering the sixth form of this school, brought out my mental health condition, which had been brutally and coldly delivered by that contemporary when I was 14 years old.
Talking to a friend I have known from that same school since I was 17 years old, I admitted I made the wrong choice with my friendship group. She nodded with understanding. I no longer have anything to do with those contemporaries. I do not need to see them parading their “best lives’” I now know my people and they are a great bunch: former work colleagues, a smattering of loyal school friends, older and younger women, people from different backgrounds and countries and contemporaries that inspire.
Growing up is painful, there is no doubt of that in my mind. We are all different and each of us has something to bring to the table. The unkind, loud-mouthed individual who had delighted in announcing my mental health condition to me is nothing because I have the power to choose who is in my life. I never expect an apology from her either. My cure is emotional distance.
Everyone’s journeys are peppered with challenges. You are not the weakest link if you are different. Ableism is real and I am only now being allowed to have influence and make an impact with my lived experiences.
My story is one of formative privileges, crushing struggles and betrayal. If I could manufacture more kindness in the world, I would. It is still the butt of many jokes to be called “crazy” but mental health is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act of 2010. It is the last taboo. But passionate people, who have been silenced for too long, are rising up and making their voices heard.
Luckily, my young relative, who is starting secondary school this September has no fear and a pocketful of confidence! Our family genes are evolving and it is about time.”
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