WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND 2005
In 2005 I was 16 and doing my GCSEs. I had learnt how to straighten my hair without burning my ear and I was going out with my first boyfriend. Things were going great.
I have struggled with depression, anxiety and mental health I would say since I was 10 (when I was 10 I lost a friend to cancer so I hope you can appreciate it was real mental health difficulties and not a trivial school playground type anxiety). I suffered pretty badly when I was 15 where I carved swear words into the wood of my bedroom desk, and when I was 16 it was horrendous.
If you are prone to anxiety you tend to blow everything out of proportion and fear the worst, whether the situation is actually that serious or not. You have no sense of scale so the most insignificant of times can seem like the end of the world.
In 2004 I fancied a friend of mine, to my great surprise he liked me back and in terms of how I felt at the time I can say that when he whispered in my ear at my summer BBQ ‘will you go out with me?’ I couldn’t have been happier.
By January 2005 I had realised that I wanted out of the relationship. Problem was my boyfriend was also prone to mental health difficulties and I had got it into my head that he would ‘do something’ to himself if I dumped him. Also due to his popularity we had become sort of an ‘it’ couple in High School and as a result we were nominated for best couple at the prom. I felt I would break his heart if I dumped him. I thought that everyone would hate me. All my friends thought we were the perfect couple, and I felt like I had to live up to that.
I loved him, I still do love him and consider him one of my best friends, but here’s the crucial fact-I wasn’t in love with him. I didn’t realised that it was normal to not be in love with your boyfriend when you were 16, most people go out with people when they are 16 just to appear normal (I’ll admit I did like that it chased away the ‘Flo is a lesbian’ rumours).
But because I am me, and value authenticity and honesty and loyalty above all else, I couldn’t handle being in a relationship with someone I wasn’t in love with. I didn’t know how to break up with him and spare his feelings. I didn’t know what he would do if I broke up with him.
Also to go along with the whole ‘It’s the end of the world as I know it (and I don’t feel fine)’ feeling I spent most of the 2004-2005 academic year experiencing, I was doing my GCSE exams, the ones which determine what subjects you can study at college, the ones that determine if you can go to college in the first place, and despite being a smart student I was convinced I was going to fail them all.
It also didn’t help that my family wanted me to do better than my perfect cousin who got 7 A*’s and 3 A’s at GCSE level. I was smart, but I wasn’t that smart. I couldn’t tell the whether my family were joking about me doing better than the cousin, or whether they were actually demanding it. Needless to say I was putting a lot of pressure on myself.
So we get to Prom Night. I was initially having a great time. I had had my hair and make up done at a beauty school, I was wearing a funky nautical pink and black 50’s style prom dress which I loved, I had arrived with my friends in a Pink Limousine, it was going great.
I was even thankful that my boyfriend and I didn’t win best couple at the prom, so at least that wasn’t weighing on my mind.
Somewhere towards the end of the night a though crept into my head and I couldn’t make it go away. It became all consuming.
The thought was this. ‘This is it, this is the most beautiful you will ever look, you will never look this pretty again, you will never have this level of freedom and happiness again, you are about to grow up and everything will be so much worse’.
I realised I was at a point in my life where soon there would be no return. There was the past-my childhood-behind me, and in front of me was a terrifying future where I would fail my exams, break my boyfriend’s heart or stay in a relationship with him out of pressure (none of which he put on me, he was an absolute saint) and I would just get fatter and uglier (this last part has elements of truth in it).
I’m not saying I was suicidal or that I was going to do anything, but the thought did occur to me that it would have been a good point for my life to end.
Prom night ended, and we went to a house party at my friend’s house. Even then I was scared of large social gatherings so I was not having a good time, I was trying to avoid everyone and look like I was having the time of my life sitting on the sofa not talking to anyone. I could barely speak to the people that did want to talk to me as too many thoughts were racing through my head. I was having an information overload.
I called my dad and got him to pick me up, saying I was ill. I don’t know whether he thought I was drunk or had taken something but he did it without much complaint even though it was very late at night. I felt utterly ashamed and embarrassed that I had f***** up what is supposed to be the crowning event of your high school career, that I was too mentally incapable of even enjoying Prom.
You won’t be surprised to hear I didn’t fail my GCSEs (in fact I was one of the top 20 students, even though I only got 4 A’s), that I did go to College and pass all my exams and go on to University.
You won’t be surprised to hear my boyfriend broke up with me, did not ‘do anything’ to himself and we remain friends.
You won’t be surprised to hear this was not my only moment of anxiety at what was supposed to be a very happy occasion.
Next week you can hear about how I f***** up my University Graduation.