We've recently binge-watched the Netflix show Stranger Things, a supernatural/science fiction series set in the 80s. I really admired the production team’s commitment to authenticity as it felt resolutely 1980 something down to the font used for the titles. Every scene was an homage to those 80s films and brought back memories of watching them - often with Mark Creeger although our context was a little different…
The 80s was an odd time for me. I started secondary school with a big group of my peers but was horribly bullied by some older girls and ended up leaving that school. I moved to a totally different educational establishment quite far from home, where I only knew a couple of people.
Changing schools halfway through the second year had strange consequences that left me feeling as if I didn't belong throughout my time there. I came from a very different background and I found it hard to fit in. Nowadays there would be strategies in place, a transition period perhaps. Over time, my behaviour deteriorated, and I started truanting on a fairly regular basis. In hindsight this was partly a reaction to what happened in my first school.
In practical terms, I was punished for being bullied, as I was separated from my friends and familiar surroundings when I was removed from that school. I never heard whether my tormentors were punished, or if they were, how? I suspect one reason for my behaviour was to “test out” the school and see how they might respond to poor behaviour, asking “would I be safe?“
In the late 80s I mainly lived with my grandmother, this was an excellent family compromise as her flat was much nearer to my school and I behaved far better for her than I did for my parents. I remember once shouting and complaining about my mum and her terrible lack of understanding. It was only when I became a parent myself that I realised how hard it must have been for her to hear me say those (quite unfair) things about her daughter. I believe that she understood how difficult I was finding life and how loose my grip was, and she somehow knew that I just needed to be listened to. She saw through the attitude and bluster and jokes and realised that I was vulnerable.
These and other experiences played a huge role in my desire to work with young people. In 1988 I had worked out that my dream career was to be the person who noticed young people who needed someone to step in. To spot that kid like me and just ask if there was something that I could do. This role didn't really exist in education at the time. I was lucky enough to work in this field for about 20 years, even having opportunities after I had moved into a full time theatre career.
There are successes and failures in this line of work, as you're dealing with clients at their most heightened emotionally charged age. Due to their personal circumstances you can be fighting against other huge influences - a challenging family, involvement in drugs or crime, totally lacking in self-esteem.
Today I learned that an ex-student recently lost her battle against her own demons. Even in the time I knew her she wasn't in a place where she could take on board the positive messages offered up by colleagues. She was a bright, talented and warm young woman with so much potential that she couldn't accept. It was the kind of news that made me shocked and yet not surprised. She didn't love herself or believe she was truly loveable.
It's a shame that so many of us struggle through our teens and early twenties unhappy with the very essence of who we are. When we're little, people often tell us that were beautiful and talented, but we stop believing them and believing in ourselves.
Today I have been reflecting on how lucky I am.