Monday, 12 August 2019

How to see "not fitting in" as a blessing

I don't fit in - I never have. Not with my family, friendship groups, jobs, circles, society. Not belonging, not fitting in used to bother me but at nearly thirty I'm past seeing not being "in with the in crowd" as a curse and quite frankly enjoying no longer giving a fuck. Read on for how I'm finally seeing "not fitting in" as being a blessing. 

Not fitting in at primary school 
I found primary school a struggle - I guess that's where I first felt a strong sense of isolation and loneliness. I had friends who I enjoyed seeing but would crave space; a bubble at home where I'd create my own magazines and spend hours writing stories or features for the made up people I'd drawn. I remember turning down a friend once as I was having so much fun making a new issue for the "magazine". I was intimidated by the cooler girls and always overlooked by boys. My friendship group was definitely considered geeky and we'd be dismissed and disregarded by most.

A chance accident aged 11 on my bike saw me knock out most of my two front teeth, which set me back even further confidence wise. The discovery of some grey hairs when I was in my last year at primary school horrified me, I felt like a total freak - I'm guessing it was due to my anxiety which had started at around 7 years old - and an additional white patch of hair on the side of my head made me feel mortified. Despite only being such a small thing, it took me on a whole new wave of insecurity, and I dreaded anyone discovering it. I look back and recall so much trepidation, from my constant phobia about being sick to the assembly hall spinning. I can still remember the heartbreak I felt when I overheard two girls bitching about me in assembly. Not realising I was behind them, they started laughing at my new glasses which I'd been so self-conscious of wearing for the first time since finding out I was short-sighted. My time at primary school was punctuated with panic attacks, I'll never forget shaking so hard after doing some rock climbing that one girl pointed it out. There were some great moments of course, like scaring ourselves silly with Goosebumps books at sleepovers, roller-disco on Saturday nights and helter-skelter-ing down flume rides at the local swimming pool, but mostly I was starting to feel like a total outcast. 

School rumours, bitchiness & friendship trouble 
Moving up to secondary school was particularly difficult. There was always a total love/hate border I had with that school that mostly veered towards the latter. Year 10 was by far my worst year. Everything suddenly changed for the worst. I started to feel like an outsider as my friend formed a new alliance, I suddenly felt on the sidelines. Left out and often the target of jokes and humiliation, however childish. My world fell apart when a rumour was started about me by the new girl in my group, who hadn't taken to me at all and did her best to make me know it. The rumour was ridiculous high school gossip and unfortunately for me something I'd held to my heart for years and hadn't wanted anyone finding out about. But soon enough our whole school year knew, thanks to this new "friend" dispatching the information merrily to everyone she could find. I was always shy and this just made things worse. People would come up to me in class and ask me about it and I'd flame up, wanting to hide. I called in sick sometimes, because I couldn't face going in. Year 11 turned out to be a major improvement on Year 10 - finally I felt more settled and at home at the school. I'd found my place, at long last. 

Sixth form struggles & bullying 
Staying on at school to experience Sixth Form felt like it would be an okay manoeuvre, seeing as everything seemed to be ticking along nicely within my friendship group and by pot luck we were all on the same Business Studies course. At first things were going smoothly, until a new girl joined our group and all the same problems of Year 10 reared their ugly head. My friends wanted to impress New Girl, and if Year 10 was bad then Sixth Form became a recurring nightmare. They started doing immature things like running away from me at lunchtimes laughing, bitching about me within earshot and once arranged to meet me at McDonalds and as I sat there on my own, called to say one of them was "sick", laughing down the line as their voicemail ended. They often bunked school and once a teacher kept on and on at me (albeit in good humour) to reveal exactly where they'd gone. When I finally broke and told him "McDonalds", cue high fives from all the boisterous yet harmless boys in our class who were thrilled I'd "dobbed them in", I was in the doghouse with my "friends" and now practically on my own in terms of having mates. Sixth Form became more bearable towards the end, things levelled onto better terms and I finally left the school that held such a conflicting kaleidoscope of emotions under more sun than cloud.

The job from hell
I hoped starting my first job at a garden centre aged 17 would be a relatively happy experience but what was supposed to be a new chapter and the chance to earn some extra cash quickly morphed into absolute hell. Most weekend staff were all into clubbing, drinking, shagging and drugs and it felt like a case of "them and me". The boss was very much "one of the team" but because I wasn't in on their social scene she'd make life difficult for me, snapping whenever I asked for the till code only she could give whilst I had a stream of stressed out customers, and ignoring me when I'd say hello. Instantly isolated, I found life there absolutely miserable.

That shitty little garden centre in the back-end of nowhere became a constant source of dread, made even worse when two of the girls from "that friendship group" joined. Alongside them there was no escape from Sixth Form (which was still going on when I started), or college, which I joined whilst still working there at 18. At lunch breaks I locked myself in the toilets as I didn't know where else to go, and if ever in the canteen I tried to block out where I was and started reading Tupac's The Rose That Grew from Concrete book of poetry which my oldest and dearest best friend Rae had kindly bought me as a birthday present. In hindsight I can't believe it took me so long to work up the courage to quit, but at that point in my life self-worth and self-respect were something I never had. I can still recall counting down the days until I left that place with shaky hands on my iPod calendar. Walking out of that place felt like a dream come true, even if I suffered the humiliation of being ignored on my last day as the rest of my colleagues gathered round in a circle pointedly ignoring me, and one handed me a farewell card limply with a sarcastic smile. I ripped up that card and stashed it straight in the rubbish bin as soon as I got home. 

Throughout my 20s I've suffered from loneliness and isolation in various jobs. I'm more comfortable in a counsellor's chair than in any bar or club. I'm a jagged jigsaw piece, not fitting into my family or in any particular friendship group. I felt closer to the fireworks swirling in the sky than I did to being in an office team that published my favourite magazine. My favourite part of the day after work was to watch the glittering planes from the garden that descended down towards Heathrow, skylit and promising. I used to love sitting peacefully in the park alone escaping a stuffy office. I'll never "fit in" but that's okay. I'm embracing that. Accepting it 100%. Who wants to fit in to a world that traps you like a rat race? That wants you to mould into their model student? Nah. Not me, thanks. 

Not "fitting in" with family 
I don't feel like I fit in or belong when it comes to family, but I'm finally I'm realising that's okay. Last Christmas my auntie welcomed me to one of her get-togethers and I went, even though I hadn't been to one for a good few years. None of my dad's side of the family really had to be so welcoming, or so happy to see me - yet they were, and it really meant the world. I'm not very good with family gatherings, never have been. Pure spite from my mum's side of the family had made me wary of family in general and now I realise how unfair that was, especially seeing as Graham and I are always agreeing that dad's side of the family don't judge and are cool about these kind of things, which was proven when I didn't attend my Grandad's funeral as I couldn't cope with going. Sometimes it's acceptance like this which can mean everything. Earlier this year at a family barbecue I told my auntie how much I loved them all and how much I appreciated them being so understanding, and I meant it. I feel so misunderstood sometimes, and when people "get" me, it means a lot more to me than most. 

Leaving the hometown that haunted me 
When I moved out, a lot of things changed for the better. I was never happy in my hometown, it holds too many overpowering memories that I could never forget - the hospital next door, the school across the road, the college and work places I couldn't stand dotted around like digging reminders. I'll never forget the plane that crashed years back, smashing through two houses a few streets away from mine, tragically killing all the passengers. Night terrors started soon after and would come and go until I left home last November. It's a grey, lacklustre place filled with zombies and shattered ghosts but also residence to some of the best people in the whole wide world - people I can call friends forever and my parents. Whenever I come back to my hometown it's for good reasons, no longer bad. 

Not fitting in is actually a blessing.... 
Now at nearly thirty I'm relived and happy not to fit into a mould, a clique, an expectation. I can live a life without snakes and fakes, focus on my dreams and goals, enjoy life with my partner and the few precious friends that I cherish with all my heart. I'm happy in my own skin and the older I get the more I realise I'm happy not to fit in. So if you're reading this and unhappy in your job, miserable in your friendship group or feeling like the odd one out in your family, then you're not alone. Let's embrace standing out from the crowds, refusing to follow the paths paved out for us and going against the grain. Not fitting in is actually a blessing, who wants to be in with the "in crowd" anyway?