When I was sixteen I had had enough. I felt like I was trapped inside of my personality – and I was sick of being quiet.
For as long as I could remember, I had struggled to fit in.
Everywhere I went, I longed to be able to say more, to stand out more, to make more of an impact … but I was terrified of the new expectations people would have of me if I became that person. I felt trapped by the expectations of the people who surrounded me, and for years I had suffered a huge amount of anxiety as I struggled to come to terms with the fact that I was too scared to be the person I wanted to be.
At sixteen years old I was making the decision of what to do after my GCSEs. Options one and two were being taken by the majority of the kids I knew: The two closest sixth form colleges to our school. I considered these, and they felt like the most comfortable options. A part of me wanted to go there, to take the easy route …
… But a larger, more intense part of me had had enough.
For years, I had wrestled between a huge desire to ‘just be myself’ and the crippling anxiety that prevented it.
I longed to be able to speak up, but I was terrified of the reactions of other people if I did. Sometimes it felt like I literally couldn’t talk, and other times I was too scared to try. I had no idea that I’d suffered from selective mutism since childhood, and that it was still playing its part in my life. All I knew was that I felt different, I didn’t like it, and as long as I kept on doing the same things I had always done, it would be nearly impossible to change things.
At sixteen years old, I made a life-changing decision.
Instead of following the pack and going to a college close to my school, I decided that I would go to a different college, in a different town, where nobody knew me.
I was terrified on that first day, as I jumped on the first of three buses that would take me to my new college. I also felt hugely empowered, as I took my first step forward in my new life. I was excited about who I might be able to be, given new surroundings and different people.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite that easy. Sure – things were a little improved, but I was far from the strong, confident young woman I dreamed of being. People still talked about me being ‘quiet’ and I still felt scared to speak.
I took the long route to learning that no matter how we try to change the scenery of our lives, it makes absolutely no difference if we can’t accept the character we are playing.
After my experience at sixth form college, I wondered if another change might help things. I went to art college in another different town. After that, I moved to the other side of the country to start university. Following university I moved to the other side of the World.
Six months after moving to New Zealand, I was a bit of a train-wreck. I had started again many times by now, attempting to re-invent myself with every new move, but nothing seemed to change the way I felt about myself. It didn’t matter where I went or who I surrounded myself with, the fact was that I didn’t know how to be me.
I took my cues from the people around me, and acted the way I believed I might find acceptance. I had learnt early on in life that there seemed to be something wrong with being quiet, so I was doing all I could to try to be something else. Unfortunately, at the same time I was denying a huge part of myself.
I realise now that I wasn’t really taking the opportunities I was giving myself to change. I was prepared to change my surroundings, but I wasn’t prepared to change the way I felt about myself.
Since being in New Zealand, I have done the opposite. Instead of carrying on the way I had been – moving from place to place, wondering why my problems followed me around – I looked at myself. Piece by piece, I have been learning to love and accept myself as I am. I am also choosing who I want to be as I continue to grow, and I surprise myself often with how far I have come.
Whether or not I am considered ‘quiet’ today, I have no idea. I now realise that there is much more to me than can be encompassed in one word – and through living my life I aim to embrace it all.