I find as I am getting older that I have become less sensitive (for those among you that have known me for less than ten years, yes, this is me less sensitive – let that sink in…) and a bit braver when it comes to speaking up for myself or disagreeing, something I would NEVER have done in my younger years. But, while I allowed myself to be a doormat to pretty much anyone who needed to wipe their feet on the way to something better, it was always a choice I made and was never ignorance. I could see a situation for what it was and always chose submission and silence over confrontation and solitude – the perceived outcome for any act of honest and up-front opinion. I kept a diary every night as a teen and this is where the emotional confliction was addressed, as I would discover (through the private process of writing, ranting and bitching), how I was actually feeling and go to sleep happy that I had ‘straightened things out’ in my head, the course of action for the following day established.
I have my old diaries and, on reading them now, realise what an important part they played in the process of discovery and growth. They map the journey though the ‘New Kids on the Block’ years and puberty – something that was ONLY to be discussed with the diary (or maybe the female Cocker Spaniel) NEVER with another living person (or the male Cocker Spaniel, who always looked longingly to my dad for support in time of feminine crisis in a house of 4 females); the crossroads of friendships – something that seemed to be forever problematic and that I could never get just quite right; could never just quite fit in with any longevity (despite my desperation for acceptance and lack of confrontation or opinion – something that I would learn in later life was often the problem as I fabricated and fumbled my way through, rather than sharing truths which may cause conflict. I had a lot to learn); And the first love. Possibly one of the most significant things that can happen to you at 16 (15?). You meet the person you know you will spend the rest of your life with and who fills your life with everything that you didn’t even know you needed – butterflies, nose-eyes, Haagen Dazs and an awakening of your soul; And then, the long-term friendships. The soul mates; the discovery of life after school, of holidays to Ibiza and lost weekends. And my diaries map them all. The story of my life.
What they also map, however, is the darkness. Something that is so glaringly obvious to me now reading them as an adult but, ironically, I would not have understood as I wrote them. The inability to cope with the intensity of such a deep and real (because it absolutely was, and is for every teenager experiencing ‘it’ for the first time) love and relationship at such a young age; the demands of school; of living up to expectations; of competing with the impossibly out of reach, high achieving sister (who, in reality, I didn’t want to reach anyway as I had no interest whatsoever in being a lawyer. And who, I failed to see, had her own insecurities. I just craved recognition and respect f0r my efforts and not persistent piteous and open comparison to my older sister by the school community). My diaries evidence the feeling of absolute failure with every stroke of the pen.
I can see, reading now, almost the exact moment, aged 16, where my young life appears to implode: My boyfriend (and future husband -we had already agreed in secret that we were engaged. Naturally. As you do) had his head turned one night by someone who was the polar opposite of me: Confident, hot (his words), leather trouser clad and sexually desirable. He had been unable to resist temptation (and was full of regret), but I could not, as hard as I tried over the coming months, get over it and our relationship was irreparably broken after it being my everything for over a year (If you have read any YA fiction, it was truly life replicating art); A photograph of me as a chubby, frizzy-haired and entirely unattractive 10 year old was doing the rounds at school and all the old taunts came flooding back (‘Ten Tonne Tessie’ was always hilarious.) So. Yes. The hot temptress, the chubby photos (despite having turned into a 5’8″ curl-embracing brunette aged 14), the (perceived) under-achieving, fellow angst-ridden teens and, of course, family life and all the misunderstandings that brings. I made a decision. It wasn’t an intentional decision, but the thought process is there for all to see in my writing (Just me. Always for just me to see.)
I made the decision that if I couldn’t be successful, desirable, good enough, then I would be thin. I’d be good at that. And lord, was I good at that. And that is where my diaries change. Where I am lost entirely to the full-time job of anorexia. The entries about my day – all the funny things that happened at lunch, the moans about teachers, the fall-outs with my mum about forgetting my key and (ingeniously) climbing through the bathroom hopper window (for the tenth time in a month), the embarrassment of my dad wearing Kickers – they all stopped. My daily existence is documented only through the finer points of food avoidance, vomiting and weigh-ins. But what is really significant about reading this now is how this, through their lack of discussion and limited appearances, offers glimpses into the relationships I had with those around me at this time, and how damaged these relationships too became because of this. But mostly how frustrated I was that, despite being an absolute guru at weight loss, I STILL didn’t get the recognition for success! My diary at that point cold have been written by a completely different person to the author the previous year: Insular, determined, selfish, cruel. I was losing more than weight; I was lost and alone, misunderstood by and misunderstanding of others, destination unclear and unlikely.
There are no photographs of me in existence of this period of my life. It was too painful to document. It wasn’t really me, so nobody could bear to be faced with solid evidence of the reality of the destruction and devastation my 6-stone frame caused. But I have it all written in words, more powerful in themselves than photographic evidence. And then, the gradual return of ‘normality’, mapped again by the introduction of real people in my diary; Stories of snort-laughing and socialising replacing the daily tales of lettuce and laxatives. On the journey once again and flash photography returned.
So, what is my point? (I’m pretty sure when I started writing this, I had one)
Keeping a diary always helped me organise my thoughts, and I still write things down today to establish how I feel. Sometimes, as an adult, I honestly don’t know how I truly feel about something until I write it down and I have that enlightening pause when I’m finished: “Huh” *while doing my best Robert De Niro impression with my mouth* It is so important, I think, to address your own thoughts. To talk to yourself. And keeping those diaries not only helped me when I was a ‘troubled teen’, they help me now as I look back and realise the journey doesn’t stop as a person grows, and neither it should. The anxieties you have as a young person might not be as pronounced as you get older, but we all still have (I think anyway) the same teenager inside of us in some respect, whether it be rebellious, confident, shy or frustrated . We just either embrace, address or conceal these aspects, depending on our experiences as youngsters).
My experiences as a teenage girl are not uncommon at all. In fact, the journey through self-harm and self-hatred are possibly more common than reaching your destination of adulthood unscathed (but didn’t we hate those people too – how dare they cope, they must be awful, shallow people…regardless of what their own diaries revealed). But how many people nowadays keep diaries? The minority I’d guess. Because people don’t explore their thoughts in private any more (the irony of me sharing this very publicly is not lost on me here) . They share every insecurity, fall-out, sexual experience, puberty (yes, even that) via social media, either ambiguously or blatantly. We (the ‘society we’) have come to rely on the voices of other people rather than listening to our own, inner voice. And that is a real tragedy. Because how do you ever get to know your own mind, go on your own journey, reach your very own destination if you rely on the opinions of other people to tell you whether or not you are going in the right direction?
And it’s not just diaries. Where are the photographs – the real and sticky glossy memories, blue-tacked to a bedroom wall alongside gig tickets, train tickets and rave fliers? Where is all the evidence of a life lived, of memory boxes, of scrap books, of flowery-photo albums? On a tiny hand-held device. My favourite photographs in the whole world are 2 packets with big black writing on the front saying ‘Ibiza 1995’. I remember having £32.86 in my bank and still paying £25.00 to have them developed in the 1 hour service so that I could sit with my friends and relive it as soon as possible. But there was something so wonderful about RE-LIVING it after the event, not re-living it as it happened. And with 36 photos on a spool, we were so selective about the photographs we took, getting copies of each others photographs, paying £2.50 for 5 captured moments that your camera had missed . We enjoyed our raves, our holidays, our times together. We didn’t spend the time taking photographs of every single moment. They lived on through the 36 photos and the blue-tack. And they were just for us, not for the whole world.
Where will all our solid evidence of life be in the future? Will everyone be sitting in the nursing home, Time-Hopping and swiping through 25,864,125 photographs (14,256,365 of which are selfies) trying to find that day when they became a wife, a mother, a sky-diver…?
I am, as I have said, a blatant over-sharer. But not with the ‘real’ stuff. That stuff is just for me and my blank page; for me and my four walls. But then, perhaps that is the insecure teenage girl in me, who is too scared too give to much of herself away and risk the third-degree burns. But it is important to keep a wee bit of yourself just for you. And that is what my old diaries, my old photographs will always give me – a connection with my younger self and evidence of my journey. And there is no greater feeling that sitting with a box of old photographs, of memories, and sifting through them physically, letting them fall on the floor around you as you remember the perms, the lip-liner, the life you lead. With diaries and photographs there is no delete button – there would be no evidence of bad perms and brown lip-liner if this was the case – and this is what makes them so glorious. They evidence the good and the bad, and that is what the journey is. That is what makes it so wonderful.