Growing up we were encouraged to be outgoing, sharing, active and out spoken. School reports were glowing if we held those traits and so I blindly tried to copy what the expected norm was. I realise now why I felt school was so difficult with the social side. I was trying to be anything but me. On personality tests , aptitude tests or even job suggestion guidelines I would answer not how I felt but how I thought I should answer to be part of the norm. I was so good at disguising myself I couldn’t see myself anywhere. No wonder it was difficult to fit in, I was too busy trying to be someone else. Who that person was I have no idea. She didn’t know either.
Primary school(5 years) was paradise. No one thought about who played with who or who spoke to who. We spoke to everyone. It was full of swimming, learning, projects, running and singing. But I did have one teacher who told me I was “a little worrier.” That comment has always floated around in my head. Maybe it was the way he said it. I didn’t like it. Yes he was spot on with his assessment. I do worry about the stupidest things even now but an eight year old doesn’t need to be told that. At eight years old we shouldn’t know about worry. I fixated on the word, worry. He probably never thought much about what he said but I have never forgotten. Words spoken have a power.
At intermediate school(2 years) I had the most wonderful teacher and he just encouraged imagination, thought and knowledge seeking. He was my favourite teacher. Learning was exciting. However on the social front I didn’t fit in with the other students but I did my best. I began to see the social cliques being formed and rules being played. It wasn’t something I wanted to follow. I would rather not play at all. Honesty I learnt wasn’t something to be shared with others. I failed one of my first tests in social behaviour. I learnt to keep my mouth shut and say nothing.
I never really enjoyed high school (5 years) unless I was playing sport. This is the time when social skills are learnt and groups are formed. My so called best friend was not really what I would call a friend. I tagged along where ever I could. I was a tag along. I copied her and was there but I didn’t really understand friendship. I don’t think I shared my thoughts. I listened to her ideas. I preferred this to being alone. This worked out fine until she found a real friend for her. I was then discarded. We only happened to be on the same bicycle route to school. That was really all we had in common. She had a boyfriend. I didn’t. She had braces. I didn’t. She had confidence. I didn’t. I joined another group for lunch. I didn’t want to eat alone. I craved friendship but never knew what to say.
It wasn’t until university that I found people I could relate to and that brought relief of a kind. But again I was following a suggestion of others on what to study. I looked at study as a means to get a job rather than choosing something that would be fun. I chose useful over interest. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy what I studied but if I went back today I probably would have taken a different path. I took practical science and mathematics classes because that came easily to me and there were no essays to write. I kid you not. I didn’t enjoy writing and found it difficult to give an opinion on anything. I suppose part of the reason was that I didn’t know much then. I didn’t read much outside of required reading and I wasn’t interested in the news or anything outside of what I was doing. I lived in a bubble. I didn’t have an opinion then. Oh so much has changed on that front.
All through my schooling I played sport. Without that I would be climbing the walls. I had so much energy. I ran or skipped. I never walked. I think this is perhaps why I couldn’t read. I couldn’t sit still. Not sure about that even today. I am thankful to the endless walking, running and cycling that I did in my early years. Without that I wouldn’t feel quite so complacent about the lack of exercise that I do now. I believe that I have stored my reserves and that I can have a bit of a rest. Sorting out the mind first. But in order to do that I need to keep the body working so I am doing a little bit of exercise. In fact I’m doing both.
Reading for me is a lifeline to sanity. To feed the mind with knowledge is like eating. Something I need to do or I would die. I cannot do without reading. I cannot believe that I had gap years from reading but finding my way back to books has made me stronger and more able to cope in this world. My desire to learn is stronger now than when I was at university. I have a passion for reading. Our library makes me feel like I am in a house full of authors, characters, mentors and friends. It is a comforting feeling. I make use of the city library too. At the click of a key I can request books online from home and collect them when they arrive at the local branch. I select my books differently from when I was a child. I don’t mind the change. Occasionally I will pick a random book off the shelf and check it out. It is always nice to be pleasantly surprised by a new author or a new opinion.
I am only now beginning to understand who I am and where I am comfortable after all these years. I have withdrawn from family and friends by choice. I am physically far from the people I know but that gives me my space. And I realise that I need a lot. My closest friend is an eleven hour flight away. I wish we were closer. The rest of my few friends I neglect. I find it difficult to hold onto friends. I don’t have any friends from childhood left. I moved away, my interests were different, we had nothing to talk about. Some friendships naturally die and that is a part of life, other relationships die because of laziness or neglect or a fear of sharing too much. One friend said that when we first met she thought I was standoffish. But she confused that with my shyness or reservedness. It was nice that she felt comfortable telling me later.
I am never clear of the boundaries of friendship because I want to treat a new friend like a new toy and want to play with them all day. But that is not appropriate. I don’t know why not. But I do know it’s not the right way but I just want to share my enthusiasm. I haven’t had a new friend in a while. I need to go back and rekindle the chosen friendships that I want to pursue and make more of an effort. I think I may give off the impression that I’m not interested but in fact I really am. It might be just the way I act. Nothing is further from the truth. Perhaps I try to hide the enthusiasm and end up hiding it completely. I don’t want to scare people away. It feels like yesterday even though it has been a year since last seeing a good friend. For something to last you need to take care of it and cherish it and it will grow into something lasting. I wonder if someone will like me if they get to know the real me. I always keep back a part of me so I don’t get hurt. Relationships take time and living with my husband who is also my best friend, even now after twenty years there is always something new to learn from each other. For that I am thankful everyday.
I feel like I am rebuilding myself and through understanding myself truly for the first time walking in my shoes and I like the fit. I just have to get used to my style, my gait. In my own time I will show friends the new me.
Annah Mac- Girl in Stilettos