How a skirt ruined my day

Today, I really considered wearing a snuggie to school.
Mostly because I was cold and cranky but also because I forgot to do my washing and all I had left in my school wardrobe was what I call my mermaid skirt. My mermaid skirt is a knee length black skirt that is verrrry tight around my legs. When I walk whilst wearing it, I shuffle like a self conscious mermaid, hence the name “mermaid skirt”.

Given the fact the wearing a snuggie would prompt my students to assume I’ve had a nervous breakdown (which I’m sure won’t happen for at least five years), I had to go with my mermaid skirt.

BIG MISTAKE.

Firstly, I have to climb a flight of stairs to reach my staff room. Now, I once descended a mountain with a broken ankle, but this was a challenge.

Little did I know that the stairs would be the least of my problems.

At break, a football came towards me as I was doing yard duty. The students called towards me to kick it back.

“Go on miss!” the boys called in unison, as I realised that I could not actually extend my leg enough to kick the ball. Nor could I bend down to pick it up and throw it.

“Er, get it yourself lads,” I mumbled as I shimmied away.

Later in class, I had a similar conundrum. I dropped my whiteboard marker as I was explaining poetic devices. I do this often, and usually I bend down, pick it up and move on. Today, I just stared at it. When telekinesis didn’t work, I mumbled to a student up at the top of my class to pick it up for me. It was literally a foot away from where I stood.

After that class, I noticed a student skipping class in the hall. I was about twenty metres away from him.

“Hey! What are you doing?” The student froze on the spot. I took tiny, tiny steps towards him for what seemed like an eternity, all the time trying to maintain my I’m really mad at you, fear my wrath face. When I finally reached him about five minutes later, I forgot what I was going to say so I just sent him to class.

My skirt woes did not end there. I had a lot of copy books to bring to my car and one of the other teachers offered to carry them for me. As he helpfully loaded them into my car, we chit chatted about the day. As I opened the front door of my car, I realised that I could not get it without actually flopping in (like how I imagine a penguin jumps into water). So I just hung there, waiting for him to stop talking. And I waited. And waited. And then finally, he left.

As I launched my ass (literally) into my car and tried not to break my own ribs, I vowed to never, ever wear this skirt again. EVER. If I was Taylor Swift, I would be penning angry skirt breakup songs. Tomorrow, I’m going with the snuggie.

20140403-212612.jpg>

How to become instantly happier

I realised some time ago that to instantly feel more content and at ease with myself, I needed to stop comparing myself to other people.

Of course, this seems simple in theory. The truth is, it took a very long time for me to put this into practice. We are surrounded by other people all the time: friends, family, co-workers, schoolmates, roommates, even strangers. These are people whom we often deem more successful, better looking, more intelligent, funnier, more popular, basically just better.

But who says that they really are better? Who actually measures these things? And what is better anyway? I mean, Usain Bolt is a better sprinter than me (allegedly), but I’m not going to cry about it.

The truth is, these insecurities lie within ourselves. We make the comparisons. In some ways, it is perfectly normal. Competition is what drives us to succeed. But what about when we become consumed by feelings of inadequacy? Sometimes these comparisons with other people do more to hinder us than to help us.

20140324-210236.jpg
Source

When I was in school, I constantly compared myself to my classmates. When a test was returned to me, I was more concerned with what grade the people around me received than my own. My friend Laura was brilliant at science. It just seemed effortless to her. I, on the other hand, struggled with it. Whenever Laura got an A, all I could do was question my own ability, or perceived lack thereof. I would plague myself with questions: why can’t I get an A? What’s she doing that I’m not doing?

It took me some time to realise that science just wasn’t my strong suit. I loved it, but I had to work very hard to even maintain a C grade. My strengths in school were English and history. I received a pretty constant stream of A grades in both (self-five), but of course I didn’t focus on that. I focused on how poorly I was performing in science.
In short, I was focusing on what I couldn’t do, rather than what I could. I was also focusing on what Laura’s strengths were, which was just counter-productive. I should have been solely focusing on me.

This sense of inadequacy was evident in other aspects of my life too. I had serious insecurities about how I looked. My hair has always been curly, but that wasn’t fashionable throughout my teenager years. My two best friends had sleek and frizz-free hair and it bothered me that no matter how much I straightened my hair, it was never as smooth as theirs. I know that sounds so shallow, but during that delicate time of my life, it really seemed important.

I constantly compared myself to my female friends. I didn’t feel tall enough, thin enough, blond enough, my eyelashes weren’t curly enough, my collarbone wasn’t as pronounced, my nails weren’t as long, my eyebrows weren’t as arched, my fingers weren’t as lithe…I literally experienced all of these inadequacies and they tortured me. I scoured beauty magazines for tips, which definitely didn’t help the situation. As the lyric in Everyone’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) goes

Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.

Looking back, it seems ridiculous that I let these thoughts consume me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much more comfortable in my skin. I have my mother’s eyes, my father’s nose (not literally, I should point out), and my grandmother’s curls. I have decided that it is a beautiful thing that a part of them will be with me (and a part of me) always. Why would I want to look like someone else?

I could also talk about how we often have these feelings in the workplace. We all have that workmate that seems more diligent, more efficient, more conscientious. I’ve come to realise that yes, these people are often great workers, but they harbour the same insecurities as everyone else. They have the same capacity for failure (and fear of it) as the rest of us.

20140324-211143.jpg
Source
I’m sure this doesn’t apply to you…

So my lovely readers, my point is that happiness often alludes us throughout our lifetimes and this is often the result of our own feelings of inadequacies. These feelings come from within. Once we stop comparing ourselves to everyone else, we can focus on being the best version of ourselves, not someone else.

Man, I feel like this right now:

20140324-211507.jpg
Source
But really, this is more apt:

20140324-211804.jpg
Source
>

What I did instead of writing this blog post

Today at work I was all like “I’m gonna go home and write the BEST blog post ever. I’m gonna write the crap out of it!” I had copious amounts of coffee, a motivational chest bump with one of my colleagues (bad idea, ouch) and I came home. I sat down to write.

And then I procrastinated, which is never a good thing. Just ask Hamlet.

20140320-194820.jpg
Source

Here are the things I did instead of writing a blog post:

1. I plaited all my hair.

2. I unplaited all my hair and then gazed in awe at all the wavy goodness.

3. I took a no makeup selfie, because they are all the rage right now.

4. I played flappy bird and then shouted obscenities at my phone. Flappy motherf***er.

5. I juggled with cucumbers.

6. I had an imaginary argument with my annoying neighbour where my best comeback was “so does your mom”.

7. I waltzed with my cat.

8. I spit popcorn into my belly button like the classy b**ch I am.

9. I picked up my guitar and remembered that I can’t play.

10. I shouted “there’s no Santa Claus” at the kids who kicked a ball against my car.

And then I did this.

Did you have a productive day?

Being a Teacher

20140308-000644.jpg

Source
Teachers in Ireland (and indeed in many countries) get a really hard time. In terms of public perception, we rank somewhere between politicians and circus clowns. Many people assume we are greedy, lazy and that the interests of the students are the furthest things from our self centred minds.

I’m not writing this piece to defend the teaching profession, per se. I’m writing this to frankly and honestly discuss my personal experience with teaching and what being a teacher means to me. It is an incredibly difficult and challenging job in itself, and the constant public derision certainly does nothing to help. I would love to say that it doesn’t bother me; that the most important thing is my own dedication to the profession and that baseless criticisms from people ignorant of the career shouldn’t matter but…well, after a while, you start to have doubts. When people say teachers are lazy, you start to question your own work ethic. When people say teachers are only interested in their pay packet, you start to wonder if maybe there is some truth in that.

I have been guilty of previously making these assumptions myself. When I was in the early years of secondary school, I had little respect for the profession. Like many students, I had good teachers and bad teachers. Unfortunately, it is the “bad” teachers that stand out. When I say bad teacher, I’m referring to those who act unprofessionally and who have little or no passion left for their job. I’ve heard of teachers who didn’t know their students names after two years, who smelled of alcohol in class, who had little knowledge of their respective subjects or who flew into unprovoked and scathing attacks on particular students in my class. I’ve spoken to many people who were only too happy to regale me with tales of incompetent teachers. I’m sure you too, dear reader, have experienced teachers whose methods left a lot to be desired. But we can also agree that we have all had motivational, inspiring and capable teachers who have invested their best efforts and time into helping us to realise our full potential. I also think it’s fair to say that every school I have been in, either as a student or as a teacher, has had a large majority of brilliant and dynamic teachers. There is a rising standard of professionalism that ensures the very best teachers are emerging from training courses. The problem is, we tend to focus on the minority that bring the profession into disrepute.

It wasn’t until I was nearing the end of my time at school that I began to really appreciate my teachers. My worst subject, without a doubt, was maths. I lacked motivation and I didn’t really care if I did poorly in my final maths exam, as the outcome of that particular exam wouldn’t have affected my chances of getting into university. My teacher had other ideas. She didn’t care that I wasn’t aiming high. She refused to let me fall behind or slink to the back of the class and secretly read Jane Eyre. She was on my case day in, day out. If I didn’t understand something, I couldn’t pretend that I did. She knew I was lying. She would keep repeating the methodology of a sum until it clicked with us. She would give up her breaks and her free time to offer us free tuition. And in the final exam, I got an A. An A in a subject I had previously despised and feared. That grade made me realise that hard work and effort does pay off and it gave me a confidence in my own abilities that I have never forgotten. I also haven’t forgotten that teacher; a woman so dedicated to her profession I’m sure she must suffer from a permanent exhaustion that is only challenged by her unwearied assiduity to her students.

There were other good teachers too. There were those who made me laugh and who sparked interests in me that I don’t think any book or film could have. I started to realise that my teachers were having a massive (and very positive) impact on my life and were helping to shape my future in a way that I could never have imagined. That’s when I decided that if I could have such a positive impact on someone’s life, I would have found my dream career. I knew teaching would be a challenging career, but I also knew that it would make me happy, and that I could help students to learn new things every day, not only about the world around them, but also about themselves. This may sound cheesy, disingenuous even, but it’s the truth.

I studied hard to become a teacher. I did a three year degree course in my subjects. I then studied for a Master’s Degree. After that, I studied for my teaching diploma. During this time, I was supervised in my teaching by a former school principal who critiqued my methods with honesty. It was a very intense year, and I can safely say that it was the most challenging experience of my life (I also had to contend with a lot of personal and medical issues).

At the moment, I have been qualified for three years. I’m working in a sometimes difficult environment, where many of the students are unmotivated and ill-disciplined. I like the school I am in (the management and staff are superb) but I have shed tears, I have been ill from stress and I have had many sleepless nights. I have mounds of paper work to contend with, difficult classes and demanding parents. I’m not just speaking for myself here, I’m speaking for all teachers. Yes, classroom engagement time (contracted hours) might be minimal when compared to other jobs, but there is more to teaching than that.

The preparation that goes into a week of classes is immense. There’s also the assessment of our students’ work which takes up much of our evenings and weekends. All of this I can handle, as it’s part of the job and we must accept that. In Ireland, we are also expected to do unpaid overtime, thirty three hours a year to be exact (depending on your timetable), which had led to feelings of resentment surfacing in many teachers. We are also routinely inspected, which is fair and of course standard practice in many jobs, but it just adds to the pressure that is already placed on teachers by society at large.

This week alone, I’ve had a student run out of my class sobbing (a close friend of hers died and she’s finding it difficult to cope), a student get injured in the hallway, given detention three times, met a concerned parent, have a difference of opinion with a colleague about a particular student, refer another student for counselling…I could go on. What am I saying all this for? What am I hoping to achieve? I understand that there are many jobs where employees experience far more stress than I do. There are amazing doctors, policemen and women, firemen and women and nurses that provide such important and potentially life-saving services everyday. The thing is, I would never think of denigrating any of these careers. I know that teachers don’t save lives (usually), but I would like to think that we influence the outcome of some lives in a positive manner.

Despite all the disparaging comments that I hear (by the media, but also by people I know quite well), I wouldn’t change anything about my career. The other day, a student I have was struggling to understand what the different poetic terms were (alliteration, onomatopoeia, simile, etc). I spent two classes explaining until finally he excitedly exclaimed “I get them, I get them ALL!” Seeing that “eureka” moment in a student is truly rewarding and it makes everything worthwhile. It makes me realise that the profession is bigger than my insecurities. It’s about the students. It’s about their potential. It’s about guiding and helping and being a positive influence. I’m learning to deflect the negativity and to remember why I decided to peruse this career: I wanted to make a difference to someone’s life. Even if it’s just a handful of people over my entire careers, I’ll still be proud.

Teenagers say the darndest things part II

Student 1: So prehistory means the time before written records? Like when dinosaurs roamed the Earth?

Me: Exactly.

Student 2: And dragons. I wish dragons hadn’t gone extinct.

Me: Erm, dragons are mythological creatures. They never existed.

Student 2: (Clearly crushed) This is literally the most disappointing thing I have ever heard.

So my epilepsy is back…

Warning: this is going to be a long and personal post. If you don’t want to continue reading, well…don’t. Here’s a cat meme:

20140215-234315.jpg
Source

When I was about nineteen, I started having these intense bouts of déjà vu. We all experience it in some form every now and again, but this was different. Something would trigger the déjà vu, like a song or a conversation, and I would temporarily just get lost in the feeling; I would literally just zone out. This would last for about thirty seconds. Afterwards, I would feel an overwhelming terror. I also became emotional, as well as feeling physically ill.

These episodes happened at least once a month. I have to be honest, I was terrified. I had no idea what was happening to me.

I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. After months of worsening episodes of déjà vu, I began to draw my own conclusions. I decided that it must be psychiatric. I had my reasons for believing this. Since the beginning of my time at university, I became gradually more depressed. Instead of attending lectures, I spent hours of the day in bed. I felt perpetually exhausted. I didn’t want to go outside. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I constantly felt down, as if nothing could cheer me up. I was ridiculously temperamental. When I was angry, I would fly into rages. When I was upset, I sobbed uncontrollably. Jack and I both knew something was wrong, but neither of us wanted to admit it.

That first year of college was torture. I struggled with even simple day to day tasks. I rarely ventured out of my house and I was an emotional wreck. The déjà vu episodes had begun that year so it didn’t take me long to connect the two.

The trouble is, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, even my mother, who was a psychiatric nurse. I just couldn’t bring myself to admit that I was struggling. So I just kept quiet and hoped that it would all go away.

In my second year of college, I started to feel better. I made friends and had a thriving social life. Jack and I were still going strong. I felt happier. I will admit that I drank far too much alcohol so most of the next two years in college were a blur. Part of my regrets my wild college antics, but another part of me knows that it was kind of a rite of passage and I’m glad I got it all out of my system.

Despite my improved self esteem, I was still experiencing the intense déjà vu. Of course, alcohol made it worse. I then realised that it might be some sort of neurological disorder. The less sleep I had and the more I drank, the worse the déjà vu was. I also starting getting headaches. They were incredibly intense and painful and they had a massive impact on my concentration. This may sound silly, but I chose (again) to ignore it all. I was frightened and it was easier to just take pain relief and try to forget about it.

For the next few years, I noticed some other symptoms creeping into my day to day life. The most worrying of them was memory loss. Out of all of my symptoms, I’ve found this the hardest one to deal with. Important moments in my life have just completely disappeared. I went on a holiday when I was nineteen and I can’t remember any of it (and that’s not just the cocktails talking). I can’t remember many details of my graduation day or the day my niece was born. It’s an awful feeling but Jack has been so great to fill me in on all the details of the things I don’t remember.

My concentration also became very poor. I found it so laborious to listen to long stories or to focus on important news stories. The worse and worse I became, the more I ignored it. That’s when the myoclonic jerks started. For anyone who doesn’t know, these are the jerks or tremors you experience when get that “falling” feeling right before you go to sleep. These are perfectly normal in moderation; but I was getting them constantly and that’s when I finally realised that I might have epilepsy.

Something just clicked. All the symptoms pointed towards a neurological disorder. My aunt also had epilepsy, so I knew that it was in the family. The thing is, I had always feared epilepsy. My friend reminded my recently of a conversation we had had in our youth where I had said that out of all of the disorders to have, I would dread epilepsy the most. It scared the life out of me; losing control of your body.

I decided, finally, to visit a GP. My mother was now very concerned with all the symptoms I was presenting with and we knew that I had to seek help. The doctor was not convinced, however. She told me that the myoclonus I was experiencing was benign, and that the headaches were due to stress. I left her office that day feeling deflated and embarrassed; was I perhaps imagining the symptoms? Was I just being a hypochondriac?

Six months later, I collapsed. I came to, in my kitchen, surrounded by my family with no recollection of what had happened. I was badly concussed and had to be hospitalised. I had scan after scan and nothing conclusive was shown. I was referred to the hospital cardiologist (because there was no neurologist) and he tried to convince me that it was just a fainting spell. I had also fainted several times as a child.

This time, however, I wasn’t to be silenced. I knew what was wrong with me. My GP referred me to a consultant neurologist. I sat in his office in late 2009 and I told him every symptom I had experienced over the previous three years. He was particularly interested in the déjà vu.

He referred me for more tests but he told me, in very simple terms, that all the signs pointed towards temporal lobe epilepsy. The déjà vu episodes were actually simple partial seizures (I didn’t lose consciousness, but they were technically seizures). He said that the déjà vu is one of the most common auras (or warnings) that a seizure is about to occur.
The collapse was a full blown seizure. He believed that my symptoms were getting worse and that I would need medication. He had seen hundreds of cases exactly like mine and weirdly, that gave me comfort. He also said something strange to me that day, as if he could see inside my head. “The medication I’m going to put you on is also an anti-depressant. Around a third of people with epilepsy also experience depressive episodes, although I believe the figure is probably higher.” He looked at me directly in the eyes as he said it, as if he understood what I had gone through.

Walking out of his office that day, I felt strange. On the one hand, I was afraid. I had temporal lobe epilepsy and would have to go on medication. There were several side effects associated with the medication and it wasn’t going to be a pleasant few months adjusting to it. But I also felt a strange sense of acceptance; I had known this in my heart for a long time. I could now deal with it.

I was put on a tablet in early 2010 that I had to take twice a day. I took it for three years, and never had a seizure. I was very lucky. Of course, I had to make adjustments to my lifestyle. I virtually gave up drinking (except for a few nights out now and again). I got my sleeping patterns in order. I exercised more. Even though it was the most challenging six months of my life after that diagnosis (my parents had a nasty split, a family member was diagnosed with cancer, my dog of fourteen years died, I had been in hospital so missed out on a year in South Korea and other job opportunities and several other unpleasant experiences that I won’t bore you with), I came through it much stronger than I had ever thought I could. My friends would say that I try to handle everything with a sense of humour, and this was no different. I made fun of myself and you know what? It helped. I had some great support too.

So three years passed, and there were no seizures. I was sometimes a little cavalier about taking my medication but at my checkups my consultant told me that I was making good progress. He also said that within five years, he would reduce my medication with a view to taking me off it completely if I didn’t have any more seizures.

I decided after the three years that I would like to come off the meds. I felt better and hadn’t experienced any symptoms in a long time. I also felt that when I was diagnosed, I had been leading quite an unhealthy lifestyle and since that had now changed, I could control my seizures by watching my stress levels, not taking any alcohol and sleeping right. My consultant was reluctant, but he agreed. So in early 2013, I officially came off my epilepsy medication.

To say I was delighted would be an understatement. It was a chapter of my life that I was happy to close. And for the last year, I didn’t experience any symptoms.

Until recently. In the last few months, I have moved away from home. I have begun a new job at a school that is challenging, to say the least. I have found the whole experience very stressful and I know that this has contributed to a return of my symptoms.

The symptoms began again around Christmas. I was standing in the school hall, listening to the students sing carols when I suddenly felt dizzy. I had to search for a seat, as I knew that I was about to faint. In isolation, I just thought that the room had been too stuffy. Days later, I started getting headaches again. They are profoundly painful and debilitating. I also keep experiencing dizzy spells.

And then, the other night, as Jack and I sat in bed watching some crap horror film, my old nemesis made a return: The déjà vu. It wasn’t as intense as it had been, but the feeling of dread returned with it. Tears pricked my eyes as I finally confessed to Jack that my symptoms were back. I had to concede to the fact that there was no getting away from it. My consultant’s words rang in my ear: “I will let you come off the medication, but if you ever experience another seizure, you’ll be back on it more than likely for life.” Life. Life with epilepsy. Where I can never have a normal pregnancy and where there are several risks to any children I may have. Where I will have to take medication for the rest of my life. And where I can’t ever ride Space Mountain again. Curse you, epilepsy.

The thing is, I’m okay with it. I have come to terms with this as an inevitable part of my life. It could be worse; I see people on a daily basis who struggle with far worse than this. I also have an amazing family and group of friends who will be there for me if and when I need them. And I have this ridiculously childish and immature blog that I can come and be silly on when I need to. So now you see why I do blog: it helps me. I don’t have to be serious and grown-up and I’m not some woman struggling with epileptic seizures here, I’m just a random eccentric who posts cat memes. And it feels great.

If you read this far, I just want to say: thank you. Really. I didn’t even read this far, so there are probably numerous typos but I have an excuse. My brain doesn’t work properly. So there.

Hugs and kisses x

What are you doing today?

20140201-123016.jpg

Source
In the words of a wise old sage otherwise known as ‘R. Kelly’ it’s “the freakin’ weekend”. Usually, I’m working my way through a mound of paper work and student essays, but today, I’m relaxing. Mostly because if I read another short story where one of my teenage students happens across a member of One Direction and somehow ends up simultaneously marrying them all, I will go (more) insane.

As I write this, my West Highland Terrier is curled up beside me in bed, (he’s not usually allowed, but it’s stormy) and my cat is staring enviously at him, possibly plotting his death or something equally insidious.

Today marks the first day of the Six Nations rugby tournament, which is basically a competition between Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy. As some of you may know, rugby is another one of my passions (along with history, literature, animals and general weirdness). Today, there are two matches to keep me busy shouting obscenities at the television.

I plan on vegging out on the couch (there will be no actual vegetables involved, wait…is wine a vegetable?) and just taking it easy. My cat may or may not attempt to cause me grievous bodily harm, Jack will more than likely be working on his thesis and I will probably end up making another shepherd’s pie (we are addicted). All in all, a pretty mundane day lies ahead of me but the rest of my life is so incredibly exciting that I need a day off every now and again.*

What are your plans for today?

*Definitely not a lie

An open letter to the girl who bullied me in school

An open letter to the girl who bullied me in school

Dear Kate*,

You will probably never read this. And even in the unlikely event that you do, you more than likely won’t know I’m writing this to you. You probably don’t even remember me. I’m just an inconsequential part of your past; a face with no name.

I wanted to write this because I wanted to finally admit to myself that I was indeed bullied. For a long time, I told myself that your constant harassment and name-calling was no worse than what every teenager faces when they go to secondary school. I convinced myself that referring to my situation as ‘bullying’ was melodramatic and unnecessary. Then I asked myself: why has it stayed with me all these years? Why did I continue to shake nervously whenever I saw you years after I had left school? I realised that I was afraid to admit I had been bullied. It made me feel weak, victimised and pathetic. But as the years passed I realised that this was just not true. I suppose I had a moment of catharsis when I came face to face with you last year, ten years after you had first tripped me up in the school corridor.

I had just gotten a teaching position in a local school so I decided to celebrate in a typically nerdy fashion by stocking up on teaching supplies. Drained from my methodical stationary shopping, I decided to go for lunch. When I went to order a sandwich, you were behind the counter. You looked similar to how you always did, but older. You looked tired. Your facial expression was the same as always: a mixture of cold indifference and contempt. The feeling that came over me surprised me. I didn’t fear you. I felt sorry for you. You stood in front of me, looking exhausted. Exhausted perhaps from years of failing to relinquish all that anger and hatred. Your boss came out and barked at you to fix your hair net. This might have made me smile, but it didn’t. You didn’t remember me, the person whose life you had such an impact on. The person who cried themselves to sleep at night wondering what they had done to draw your ire. I was polite to you that day. You took my order silently and went about making my sandwich. I wondered how many you’d made. I wondered if you were married or had children. Imaginging you heavily pregnant with six kids swinging off your arms and legs while your third husband watched Robo Wars didn’t make me happy. You handed me my plate without even looking at me. As I moved down the queue to pay, I watched you. You stretched and put a hand to your back. You grimaced. You watched the clock. Your boss whispered something to you and when he turned his back, you made a face.

It became clear to me that you were unhappy. I realised that perhaps you were someone who was born without any capacity for happiness. As I sat down with my sandwich, I realised that I hadn’t been the problem. There was nothing wrong with me. I had never deserved your contempt but you had tormented me. In case you don’t remember, you followed me around making constant comments about my breasts. You pushed and tripped me up. You giggled and laughed whenever I walked past. You stole items of clothing belonging to me. You spread rumours about me.

I never rose to any of it and that drove you crazy, didn’t it? I never retaliated or even made eye contact with you. Trust me, I had practiced some pretty great come backs. I had always wanted to ask you what your obsession with my breasts was? Did you not think it slightly odd that as an apparently heterosexual female you were singularly preoccupied with my chest? Developing early was not something I had particularly welcomed. It drew awkward attention from boys and negative attention from girls. I never said anything to you about how I wished I could have just faded into the background. Maybe I should have explained that the guy you liked who asked me out wasn’t my type and that I had politely turned him down. Isn’t it funny that I met him recently and he barely remembered me and hasn’t spoken to you in nine years? At the time though, it obviously hurt you. And because of that, you made my life hell.

I know now that you were obviously incredibly insecure. You were awkwardly tall with a boyish frame. You could have been quite pretty, were it not for the contemptuous and sullen expression you constantly sported. But that’s not important. What’s important is the the lesson you inadvertently taught me. I learned that there will be people that we will come across in life; people who don’t like us for seemingly trivial things. When you’re the recipient of this contempt however, it feels far from trivial. You start to question what you’re doing wrong and why this person has an issue with you. The thing is, like a terrible breakup cliché, it’s not you, it’s them. If you are a kind and thoughtful person who treats others with respect, then nobody has the right or should have the inclination to be nasty to you. If you can stand back, reflect on your own actions and see no reason for negative behaviour aimed at you, then it’s best to just chalk it down to that person being resentful and insecure.

It took me a very long time to realise that none of it had been my fault. I was a quiet, unassuming and studious teenager. I didn’t date boys until I was sixteen, and I’m still with that same guy. Even if I had been some wild and promiscuous teen, I wouldn’t have deserved the treatment I received from you. I want you to know, however, that I’m not angry with you. After that day in the cafe, I realised that you were not the monster I had remembered you as. You were an insecure, tired and socially inept woman trying to make a living. You had gained nothing from your treatment of me, but I have gained plenty. I know now that I am a stronger person because of those two years of harassment.

I hope that you can overcome the anger that you evidently possess. I hope that life will be kinder to you so that you can be kinder to others. I hope that you will learn that giving and receiving a smile can be the best thing that can happen to you during a tedious day. I will never expect an apology from you, because I don’t want it. I already forgive you. I’m strong, I’m successful and I now help teenagers to overcome the same problems I faced. I’m better for having had you in my life. If I could go back in time, I would let myself know that life is so much bigger than secondary school. There’s a whole world out there beyond insignificant teenage problems. I would also let you know, Kate, that it would be a lot more fun to stick chewing gum under the science lab desks, like a normal teenager, than pick on me. I would tell you that you’d be beautiful, if only you’d smile. I wouldn’t try to give you the hug you so obviously craved cause your hands were the size of shovels and frankly, you scared me. Actually, if I could go back in time, I’d steal the idea for Jurassic Park and make millions, but that’s probably not going to happen. Sigh.

So, Kate, I’ll leave you with a piece of advice my mother taught me. Stop making that face or the wind will change it to be like that forever. And also, it’s not so great having large breasts. Jogging is a nightmare.

Cheerio.

*Name changed. I want to protect her anonymity. Her real name rhymes with Mennifer. Try crack that code.