As a child I moved a lot. Sometimes once a year, sometimes within 6 months of settling we were moving again. We didn’t stay in the same area either. We lived all over the south half of the country. When it came to going to high school my parents decided it was time to try to stay in one place. For the duration of those eight years I didn’t live in the same house the whole time: that would be a ridiculous expectation to have from my parents. I did however stay in the same town at least. I also managed to stay at the same high school from year 7 to 13. Unfortunately it turned out that the only school I stayed at happened to be the one I hated the most. It was perhaps the most damaging school I’ve ever been to in terms of self belief, self-esteem and building yourself during your teenage years. I don’t think the role of high school is to destroy you from the inwards out, but it seems to have that impact on many teenagers.
I remember walking up the hill from the bus park and one of my friends stated, ‘these are supposed to be the best years of our lives’ as if some wisdom of hindsight and insight had been bestowed upon her from the future. I hoped she was wrong when she said it. I know she was wrong 10 years later. School was not any of the best years of my life. Not at all. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Never.
When I was in high school I started to develop my first signs and symptoms of mental illness. This quickly turned into a long battle with bulimia, and consequently eating disorders and all the shenanigans that erupted at 21. I didn’t feel supported at school. I wasn’t supported at home, although my parents did somehow get me referred to CAMHs via my GP and this is where the one constant figure of hope and support came into my life. I would see her at the outpatients department of the hospital, which I would walk to most weeks. I was very much left on my own in this journey with CAMHs but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
During those years, mainly 2005-2009 I would haunt around the city streets and parks on my own. I spent a lot of time on my own, struggling to maintain friends and my illness in any form of harmony, such as mental illness goes. I would eat in strange places and vomit in even stranger places. The country lanes where I lived for the most part of time in my home town were haunted with my running and cycling endeavours in a constant bid to lose weight, disappear, punish myself and repeat after me, ‘nothing is more important than losing weight. Nothing is more important than losing weight’.
If I cast my mind back to this period of time it is shrouded in a mass of thick black smog. I couldn’t see my way clearly at all back then. I struggle to see through it without the inner of my emotive self construing into tangles of excruciating pain. Yes, this place is technically my home town because I spent the most time growing up here but it was never home. Where we lived was never home. I felt outcasted, strange and extremely alone in my own dark world of writing in coffee shops, puking in public toilets, hedges and woodland, and trying to muddle through school at the same time.
I did have some good times, mainly whilst drunk. Often these weren’t even good times though because drinking on an empty stomach is a bad idea any time, but drinking on a stomach that hasn’t seen any form of solid food for 3 or 5 days is just a recipe for an involuntary puking disaster. Surprisingly I remember many of these moments well, puking in the gutter outside my friend’s house, collapsing in a field as the vodka spins took over and I could move, curling up in a hay bail in a barn completely disconnected from the music or people around me. Even my year 13 prom ended with me being traipsed home from throwing up in the hotels toilets for an amount of time that no one has any idea of. No one knows how long I had been in there puking and passed out.
Making connections with people was very difficult for me. It always has been. I put this down to moving house a lot and my impending shyness that creeps into each corner of my life. There was nothing healthy about these years. There was nothing positive to come from my life other than it could only get better once I moved away. It did for a while and even during my times of being very unwell in London I wouldn’t say they were as dark as my time growing up. I lived 4 of my 8 years waiting to leave. This hope is the only thing that kept me going and things did get better in my final year. I went to art school and had one of the best years of my life. Finally there was a crowd that accepted my quirkiness and invited me out anyway. Finally I had friends who I could actually relate to and I was old enough to drink my way through all of my problems without needing to sneak around, climb over fences into clubs and get creative in my ways of obtaining alcohol. Looking back, it really is remarkable that I survived those years as in tact as I did. To this day, I don’t know how I did it.
When I left home to move to London for university it very much felt like a second chance at life. It felt like a clean slate to move away from my demons, move away from the turmoil of my home life as a teenager and make my own way. It didn’t go quite to plan but here I found a home. Since I moved to London 8 years ago I have lived here for as long as I’ve lived anywhere and I’ve been to my home town 3 times. The last time was this year. Before that I went home for one christmas in which I was reminded very much how much it didn’t feel like home to be home, and how much it never really had felt like home. I went back a few years later, then left it a few more years before going back again.
The town felt haunted to me. Seeing my old school as I went by on the train sent a great discomfort through my body. Seeing the old hospital I used to walk to each week, sometimes multiple times a week, swamped me with all the emotion tied up in that experience at once. Seeing the old streets upon which I would wonder alone and drunk in a bid to escape my reality filled me with sadness at how alone I really felt at home. The first time I went home I realised how much I actually hated it. I cried and although I didn’t plan to not return for so long it felt necessary.
The next time I went home it was slightly lesser of a haunting experience but still it felt strange. It was odd and nostalgic in the most unpleasant way in which nostalgia can stir up old feelings and experiences to churn them over into a curdled mass of sour substance within your stomach. This time I went home, it was a last-minute decision. I was hypomanic and struggling with it. It had become uncomfortable for me and I spoke to my Dad. He said he’d pick me up that night and drive me down.
He has moved house a few times since I left home. He has finally settled in one home which oddly feels more like a home than any of the buildings he has occupied previously. With is having been so long since I left and started to build my own life in London, London is my home. London is the place I’ve been more able to be myself, received more intense help for my mental health problems and met people who are ‘my people’. Sometimes they come and they go but being able to come clean about my mental health illness and still be accepted as a friend to people is something I never experienced growing up. My illnesses being met with compassion and support in my education settings since I’ve started studying up here is something else that has been new. Finally, an education institution with support services and compassion and the belief that you can succeed rather than being surprised when you don’t fail is a place I can learn the thrive.
My experience of life in London has been very different to the one I knew before. It hasn’t always been easy or good by any stretch of well wishing, it has however taught me a lot and encouraged me to grow. I haven’t been suppressed, I haven’t been dismissed in the way I was at school or home growing up, I have been encouraged out of my dark cavern of self-hatred that I had grown to call my comfort zone. I left home more comfortable hating myself and actively acting on it. I am now in a place where that cavern is becoming a place of the past – and because I’ve managed to move forwards in my life, because i’ve made and had so many new experiences that i chose, because i made a home for myself with what I had even when that meant a back shed with slugs, mice and leaky rooftops it was home. It was the first home i had really experienced. All of this nurturing i have experienced from myself, my partner and friends through these years has shuffled me along to a place where I can go back to my home town when I’m unwell and find it a helpful respite from the chaotic surroundings I create for myself when I am unwell.
Life in London hasn’t been perfect but it has eventually gotten better than where I came from. This allows me to go home and appreciate the nature and beauty of the countryside with fresh untainted eyes. It allows for me to go home and sit in a pub with an old school friend and enjoy their company, fully present rather than drinking until I can barely stand any more.
I have grown since then. I continue to grow and within that growth there is a strength to face those past memories in a less tangled, less curdling to sourness light. I can be. I can enjoy the place for what it is, a nice seaside town, then I can come home refreshed rather than stressed about my history with the place, and finally, my home town doesn’t haunt me, taunt me or internally destroy me ever so slightly more with each day that I spend there. I am also able to remember the good times from that period of my life.