Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about Millennium New Year’s Eve. It felt like a pivotal moment in my life. It’s been on my mind partly because it was New Year’s Eve the other week, and partly because things with Andrew have brought up similar feelings.
I’ll do a Retro Dater Analysis post with my diary entry from that night, but the gist was that I was 15, and early in the evening, my group of girl friends changed their plans and I wasn’t invited, and didn’t have anyone to spend Millennium New Years’ Eve with.
I ended up going home in tears and playing Scrabble with my parents. My family rang the church bells and on New Years’ Eve, we would always go up the bell tower and ‘ring the new year in’, and then have sherry and mince pies and sing Auld Lang Syne with the other bell ringers. As a teenager, I thought this was desperately uncool, but when I look back, I think it was a really unique way to spend New Year.
I did that with my parents and brother that night.
It felt like a pivotal moment in my life, because things really changed after that night.
All through school, I was often told that I was weird. However, I had my best friends, who liked me anyway, so it mattered less.
Towards the end of Secondary School, approaching Millennium NYE, I started drifting apart from my friends. I had always been a lot more alternative than them, and for some reason it started to matter a bit more as we approached adulthood. Friendships with other people in our year, outside of our circle, were ebbing and flowing.
Some of it was no one’s fault, and just part of us naturally growing and changing into the adults we would become. However, some of it was shit behaviour. I think that what happened on NYE was a bitchy power move from one girl, and just piss-poor and disloyal from the others.
That night, I thought the way they treated me had crossed a line, and I didn’t want to be friends with them anymore.
I made new friends quite quickly, and by the end of January, I had a new circle of friends. One of them was Faith, who is still one of my best friends now.
However, there’s something about being rejected by your peers that cuts really deeply. It’s probably because we’ve evolved from animals that live in packs. If you’re a pack animal, and you get cut off from the rest, you’re less likely to survive. You can’t share food or shelter, and if you’re the gazelle on your own, you’re more likely to eaten by a predator. The evolutionary theory is that we have evolved social emotions like loneliness and embarrassment because how painful they are motivates us to put things right with our peers, so we can re-join the pack, making us more likely to survive and pass on our genes.
2000 was the year I had first had mental health problems, and I think it was absolutely triggered by Millennium NYE.
I recently explained to Andrew that L-word-gate somehow tapped into those feelings I had in 2000, when I felt like I didn’t deserve to be loved.
Thinking about this has reminded me of a type of therapy I’ve learnt about, called Narrative Therapy.
(I don’t do Narrative Therapy myself, so I can’t write about this as knowledgeably as I write about CBT or EMDR.)
According to Narrative therapy, the stories we’ve told ourselves, and been told by other people, play a huge role in our sense of who are, and how we view our problems. Narrative Therapy helps people to identify their strengths and values, and to construct an alternative or wider story about themselves.
This video explains it nicely, in less than 90 seconds.
For example, I read some notes from a patient’s file who had Narrative Therapy as a child. They had behavioural problems and were considered to be ‘the naughty one’ in their family, and in school. The child’s behaviour then was as naughty as everyone had grown to expect.
Then, in a therapy session, they did an exercise in which the child was a given a tin of baked beans. When they opened it, they were delighted to see it was full of marshmallows instead of baked beans. They talked about how sometimes the labels we have on the outside don’t match what’s on the inside.
Then they talked about what the child’s life might be like if they carry on being naughty, and what the child wanted their life to be like. They talked about their values, and things the child had done recently, which did match their values. Over the next week, the child and their family were supposed to write down examples of when the child did things that matched their values, and put them in the baked bean tin.
When I talk about my school years, I often say, “I didn’t have many friends at school.”
However, one of my ex-boyfriends pointed out that, while I say I didn’t have many or any friends, all my anecdotes about school involve me doing things with loads of friends.
I’ve told myself the narrative that I was unpopular at school. There definitely are memories from my childhood that fit that narrative. Society and our culture also contribute to our narratives, and I think maybe lots of High School films and TV programmes, in which kids were either popular or outcasts, have contributed to my view.
Memories that do fit with my unpopular narrative, are
- all my friends having ‘boyfriends’ throughout Secondary School, but the only time a boy wanted to go out with me, it turned out to be for a joke. Sometimes I would hang out with my friends and their boyfriends at lunch time, and the boyfriends said things to me, like “why are you so ugly?” or “you’re such a weirdo.”
- playing spin-the-bottle with a group of friends on the school playing field, and when it landed on me, the boys decided they could just spin it again, as it ‘didn’t count.’ Towards the end of the game, I got fed up with this and lifted up my top to show my breasts to the boys, to try to get them to like me.
- Twice, during primary school, I had a best friend who moved away, and then I didn’t have anyone to play with at break times
- I always used to fancy Sixth-formers in my school and be quite unsubtle about it, and I would be told in no uncertain terms that they and their friends hated me.
Then, Millennium NYE – not having anyone to go out with, on the biggest night of our lives, felt like the greatest event in the story of me being unpopular.
Now, I’m still hyper-alert to signs of being unpopular. If I feel like going out but none of my friends are free, it takes me straight back to those years. Whenever I don’t have plans for NYE, I can’t bear it.
But then, taking a Narrative Therapy approach, there are lots of events from my life that don’t fit with this story. As my ex-boyfriend said, almost all my stories from school involve me doing things with several close friends.
Once, in around Year 8, I was fiddling with a safety pin that I had. I didn’t want to lose it but wasn’t sure what to do with it. I forget where it came from – maybe I had a bandage on my hand and then didn’t need it anymore, but wanted to keep the safety pin.
Without giving it much thought, I put it on my school jumper for safe keeping.
Throughout the day, people kept asking why I had a safety pin in my jumper.
I thought for a moment, and then said, “because it’s cool. Pin Power.”
The next day, all the girls in my group of friends had safety pins in their school jumpers.
I hardly remembered this for years, but when I was in my first year at Secondary School, they decided to have a thing called the Student Council. There would be one girl and one boy elected from each class, to be on the Student Council. They would then attend meetings and bring up issues raised by the rest of the students in the year.
When they were voting in my class for who should be on the council, everyone voted for me pretty unanimously.
It was true that my friends had boyfriends throughout school, and I didn’t, but it’s not actually true to say that no one wanted to go out with me. If I think about it properly, I did actually have two boyfriends.
The night I got together with one boy, and had my first ever kiss with him, at the school disco, a big circle of our friends stood around us offering encouragement and kissing advice, and no one saw that as a joke (apart from the fact he was at least a foot shorter than me and I had to take my shoes off to kiss him).
Then, I had the ultimate popularity triumph of having a 20-year-old boyfriend at the age of 13.
The boy who was the main ring-leader, in the game of Spin the Bottle, who decided it ‘didn’t count’ when it landed on me, lived on my road.
We had known each other for years. When we were little, we used to ride up and down the street on our bikes, for something to do. One time he was keen for us to meet up the following day and play together on our bikes.
At Secondary School, we often walked to school together. I would be part of the way to school, and he would catch me up and walk with me.
One night there was a school disco, and for a long time after that, every so often, he would bring up that he thought I looked pretty at the disco.
My take-home message from the Spin the Bottle game was that I ‘didn’t count’ – I was ugly and no one wanted to be around me. Even if I lifted up my top.
However, throughout most of school, the main boy who said I ‘didn’t count’, did want to spend time with me and even thought was I was pretty at one point.
There was another boy playing Spin The Bottle, that day, who was much more of a bully (and, according to Facebook, appears to have grown into a full thug). I wonder if me ‘not counting’ was partly about those boys jostling to look cool, rather than a full, objective analysis of my worth as a potential kissing partner.
One year, my friends gave me a massive birthday card that had been signed by hundreds of people from school, including some of the Sixth-formers I fancied. It must be taken them ages to get that organised, and people had written nice things.
One boy I had a crush on was in the year above me, and we used to eat lunch in the same room every day. He knew I fancied him, and would often say things like, “piss off, weirdo.”
I knew he played the guitar and that was probably one of the reasons I fancied him.
Then, when I was in year 11, and he had left school, I sang a song in a school play, and he came to see it because his younger sister was in it. A few days later, his sister gave me a note he had written me, asking if I wanted to be in his band.
Another of the 6th Formers I fancied once gave me a kiss on the cheek and a Valentine’s Card, one time, and told my brother that he found it an ego boost that me and my friends fancied him.
My girl friends weren’t happy when I moved on and made new friends. Although they didn’t really apologise, they did tell our mutual friends they were upset, and the main ring-leader made attempts, over the years, to re-connect. Another one invited me to her wedding, years later.
I think that I was quirky and weird at school, and I was probably an ugly duckling, that turned into a swan. I’m still weird and quirky, but I know that’s what my friends like about me now.
These stories have been long forgotten, because they didn’t fit with the narrative I’d told myself. However, when I think about them, I realise that I was miles from being the unpopular outcast that I thought I was.
I’m insecure sometimes, as an adult, even though I know I have lots of friends and family who love me, because of being disliked so much as a child.
But actually, was I ever really disliked that much?
What stories have you told yourselves about yourselves? What other events do not fit with the narrative?