Tag Archives: diaries

House of Pain

I’m a bit conflicted as I write this post. I’m torn, as I so often am, between warm nostalgia and remembered sadness. It’s late here, and I’m just about to pitch into bed, but I couldn’t go to sleep without writing some thoughts on a TV programme I’ve just watched. It’s called ‘My Mad Fat Diary’, and watching it felt like being given a return ticket to my own adolescence.

All right, so the main character in the show has just spent four months in a psychiatric hospital, and that never happened to me. She also attends a pool party (in 1996, in the UK? I’d say it’s unlikely, but perhaps I just wasn’t in a group cool – or rich – enough to have a pool party in 1996, in Ireland); that, obviously, never happened to me either. But in every other respect, I felt like the show could have been written about my life. I was that girl who didn’t fit in (in every respect); I was that girl who knew her music, and used that knowledge as a means to talk to boys and other alien species; I was that girl who hated being the ugly duckling among the flock of swans. I was the girl who felt so agonisingly self-conscious that she found it hard to look in mirrors, and who was always wondering, at the back of her mind, if people were laughing at her. I thought the show was brilliant, but it was almost impossible to watch, on some levels.

At the end of the show, the character asks her psychiatrist what his first impressions of her were. He says something like: ‘I felt you thought you were a fragile thing… but I think you’re a tough cookie.’ I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything so true, in a programme of its type, before – it really struck a chord with me. At that age, I felt fragile, despite seeming like a large and capable girl on the outside. I used to feel invisible, despite being anything but. I felt like if you looked like an oversized, cumbersome girl physically, you didn’t have the right to feel delicate or vulnerable. It seemed as though such ladylike feelings were kept for girls whose bodies kept themselves within ladylike bounds. It’s tough to keep your head straight when it seems like the world you live in doesn’t allow you to feel what you need to feel. Thankfully, as the years of my life have ticked on, I’ve learned to accommodate all my emotions – if I feel fragile, I go with it until my strength comes back. It always does.

The most memorable scene in the show, for me, was one in which Rae (the lead character) is contemplating wearing a swimming costume for the first time in years. She remembers how, as a small child, she used to wear nothing but a swimming costume, and how she didn’t care at all about how she looked, or what people thought of her. The teenage Rae has a touching conversation with her memory of herself as a little girl, during which she tells the child that if she gets fat, people won’t like her any more. The little girl says ‘Of course they will! I’m brilliant!’ I loved that bit, probably more than was seemly for a woman of my age and station. I think I may have clapped at the TV. (There may also have been some cheering, but I’m not willing to confirm or deny anything.)

I had friends as a large, out of place teenager. I still have most of those friends now, and there are deep, unbreakable bonds between us. I’ve always had friends, and I’ve always loved people, and I’m very grateful for that. But watching this programme really brought me back to the difficulties I encountered growing up. Sometimes, despite the love of friends and family, adolescence can be the loneliest place in the universe, especially when you’re struggling with yourself and the only ‘person’ you feel you can be honest with is the person in the pages of your diary. I think the show seems true to life because it is, actually, based on a true-life story – the ‘diary’ of the title is a real diary, kept by a real girl (now, of course, a successful grown-up). I kept a diary very much like the one the girl in the show keeps, and I’m pretty sure the contents of my diaries were much like the contents of hers. Often, writing in it was the only thing that kept me going.

One thing I’ve learned, as I’ve grown, is that everyone feels pressures growing up, and nobody has a perfect adolescence. Of course, this is of little comfort when you’re going through it. But I’m not special or unique, and my long-ago torments are the same as everyone else’s. But I’ve loved growing older, and growing up. With every year I’ve clocked up, I’ve felt happier in myself and in my life, and I wish that more kids would give themselves that chance – the chance to grow up, and realise it won’t always be that bad. You won’t always be the fat girl stuck on the waterslide. You won’t always be the teenage boy with acne on his back. You won’t always be the kid with braces, or whatever it is.

‘My Mad Fat Diary’ was a welcome trip into my past, complete with the music, ‘technology’, posters and bands I would have been so familiar with back then. It made me realise how far I’ve come, and made me see that, despite what I thought of myself at the time, I was a good kid. I didn’t give myself enough credit for facing my struggles head on and coming through them.

It’s never too late to start.

Sleeping Dogs

After the Great Book Cull yesterday, I decided to tackle another storage ‘issue’ that we’ve been having at home for the last few *mumble* months. I finally faced the two boxes full of random stuff from my parents’ house which have been sitting in a corner of my kitchen, taunting me and getting in the way, for far too long now. I think I was avoiding dealing with them not only because I’ve been very busy these past few months, but also because those boxes contained a lot of deeply personal stuff from my adolescence. They included a lot of documentation from my college application, notes from my first year at university, letters from old friends whom I haven’t seen in years, old art supplies (including dried-up paint, of which I have a Kristeva-esque phobia), and – inevitably – diaries.

 

Pen writing words 'Dear Diary' in notebook

If only my handwriting was this neat!

 

I had entirely forgotten I’d kept diaries from around the time of leaving school/entering college – it’s a time in my life I’ve largely blanked out of my mind, some of it deliberately, for a variety of reasons. It was a hard time for me, as I’m sure it was for most people. However, as soon as my hands fell on these diaries I began to wonder if, at some level, I’d known they were there, waiting for me in the boxes I’d put off dealing with for months and months. Certainly, as soon as my eye fell on them, I remembered exactly what they were, and I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. They’re here, beneath my desk as I write, and I’m torn between reading them in full or just wrapping them back up and putting them away somewhere else, for a few more years.

I did have a look through some of the diary entries yesterday. I must have been a pretty picture, sitting on my kitchen floor surrounded by mess, fingers blackened with dust, reading about a life I lived and which I had barely any remembrance of. As I read, it was like forcing the hinge on an old, swollen door, and throwing it open; memories started to pour in, just like sunshine into a long-locked room. Letting the light in wasn’t so bad, but looking around this room of my memory was hard. The new sunlight highlighted the dust and mess in my inner room, making it very clear that I hadn’t been here in years, and that these memories had lain undisturbed, encrusted, for far too long. Perhaps it wasn’t a bad thing that I was finally taking some steps around these memories again. Certainly, the place could use a clean-up, and I really had to do something with those grimy windows…

I read about old mates, some of whom I still treasure, and I read about a fight I’d been having at the time with a person who, thankfully, is now one of my closest friends again. I read about my first, tentative steps into life in Dublin, and remembered exactly how terrified I’d been at the time; I read about long-forgotten feelings I’d had for boys, and I read about pain I’d been going through at the time which I’d also, thankfully, forgotten about years ago. Some of these pages were easier to read than others, and not all the memories were bad, but I did have to put the diaries away after a little while, promising myself I’d come back to them again at some stage.

What struck me more than anything else, though, was the shocking quality of my writing – I obviously figured myself as some sort of tortured artistic genius, and I peppered my entries with long words and flowery phrases, probably imagining that, one day, they’d be donated to a library or something. Such notions! I was quite embarrassed, actually, at the turns of phrase I’d used and the purpleness of my prose. It was nice, though, to read about my youthful dreams (which are, largely, the same as my current, more aged dreams); at least I’m still on the right track, even if I’d better get a move on in the ‘achieving my goals’ stakes. One of the sentences I did read lamented the idea that I could be ‘twenty-five and still in college’ if I wanted to achieve a particular life goal, which made me laugh. At the time I wrote the words, twenty-five seemed Methuselah-ish; now, it’s a dim and distant memory. It’s amazing the difference a few years makes on your perspective!

Reading the diary extracts put me in a strange mood for the rest of the day. I was reflective, and perhaps even a little angry (though I wasn’t sure at what, or whom). Perhaps I was just annoyed that all those years have had to pass, and I’ll never again have the wide-eyed experience of my first solo trip on a bus, or my first glimpse of the sunlight glinting off the river Liffey. I guess memories are precious, even if some of them hurt to recall, and I’m sure in a few days, once the dust has settled (so to speak!) over these newly rediscovered diaries, I’ll be very glad of some of the experiences they’ll bring back to me.

But I’m not doing any more tidying around the house for a while. It’s just too risky!