Up until I got my A level results I was all the things that made my parents proud of me. I was slim, pretty, intelligent, hard working and dedicated, athletic and high achieving in all aspects of my life.
At 16 I had straight As at GCSE, I was the third fastest female cross-country in my age group in the county and I’d begun the selection process required to join the army as a doctor. My teachers and coaches and even the officer in charge of the local army recruitment office were falling over each other to tell my parents that I was going to go far.
I had my whole life planned out ahead of me and my parents couldn’t have been prouder of me; their daughter who was going to university to be a doctor.
Then I got my A level results and everything changed.
The first time I went to university (after having taken up my second choice degree) I came home after six weeks because I couldn’t cope anymore. I hated the course, my flat mates bullied me and I was desperate to go home to the people who loved me. I was still very slim (due to not eating) but I was miserable and withdrawn and my parents, not knowing what how to help me reacted with anger and disappointment.
I spent a year at home applying for (and being rejected by) various jobs while I waited for the new academic year to start so I could take up my place as a nursing student and sinking further and further into depression.
My parents spent most of that year ignoring my mental health issues; desperately trying to stuff me back into the mold into which I’d previously fitted and becoming increasingly angry and frustrated when they couldn’t make me fit.
They insisted that I reapplied to join the army as a nurse even though I’d decided that this wasn’t the direction I wanted my life to take anymore. Yet a few weeks later I found myself sat in a conference room at Sandhurst even though I’d decided that I wanted to concentrate on my relationship with the Northern One instead of joining the army and being abroad for months at a time.
When I expressed an interest in starting ballroom dancing lessons as something that would get me out of the house and that I could fund with my savings I was told in no uncertain terms that if I wanted a hobby I could go back to my running club. I tried to tell them that I didn’t want to spend training sessions constantly deflecting questions about why I wasn’t at university and what I was going to do next but I was informed that it was running or nothing.
But instead of turning back into the bright, sparky girl that I had been I became increasingly withdrawn and unhappy. I spent as much time as I could away from home visiting the Northern One at university where, even though I was quiet and shy, everyone accepted me for who I was and not who they thought I should be.
When I went to university the second time I manged to finish my degree and had been offered a competitive job at an intensive neonatal unit in London. The Northern One and I were engaged and I had also just finished losing a significant amount of weight after having spent the previous three years getting bigger and bigger due to using comfort eating as a crutch.
My Mum in particular has always been picky about my weight due to her mother being hugely overweight, to the extent that it caused significant complications to the cancer that eventually killed her. When I told my parents that I had started weight watchers they were both thrilled and told me that it was about time I got my weight under control.
They may have only had my best interests at heart and my weight was, indeed making me miserable. But I still distinctly remember having a day where I felt fat and ugly and going to my Dad in tears. I had hoped for a little love and reassurance but instead I was told that ‘I knew what I needed to do.’
I had tried my hardest academically at university but in the end I only managed to come out with a third class degree. As far as my nursing qualification was concerned it didn’t matter what degree classification I got so long as I passed the course but at the time I was so ashamed.
This was only compounded by the fact that, when I phoned my parents to let them know my Mum burst into tears and and told me that she wished that she and I could trade degrees. She may well have only had the best intentions when she said this but I took it to mean that my parents still weren’t proud of me.
The first time I went home after finishing my degree I ended up in tears and asked my parents if they would ever be proud of me again. They were adamant that they still were and always had been proud of me but their words left me wondering if I actually believed them.
I was so unhappy about my degree classification that I didn’t actually want to attend my graduation ceremony. I had enjoyed very little about university and had been quite happy to leave the city behind but in the end I went to the ceremony because I knew it was what my parents wanted.
In all my graduation photographs I’m smiling but when the university Dean handed me my degree I had to resist the urge to drop it on the floor and step on it.
I was still battling with depression and other mental health issues but, my requiring long term antidepressants my parents preferred to pretend that my mental health was fine. I made the mistake of trying to discuss things with my Dad, only to be shouted at that I ‘Did not have mental health issues.’
As a result I hid my difficulties from my parents, choosing instead to confide in the Northern One and understanding friends. I was still trying to hide things from them right up until I was a couple of months pregnant and things had become so bad that I couldn’t pretend anymore.
I was truly staggered at the difference in them and how accepting they were of the fact that I was struggling with my mental health. Then Squidge arrived and yet again they expected me to ‘snap out of it’ and put the pregnancy behind me as though it had never even happened.
But I couldn’t do it, so damaged and traumatised I was (and still am) and so now I’m back to trying to pretend that everything is fine when actually everything is far from fine.
A few weeks ago I considered joining the local running club before deciding that I just didn’t feel able to try and socialise with people I didn’t know. I didn’t tell my parents about my intentions because I knew that they would cling to the idea as a indicator that I was ‘finally getting better.’
I have plenty of other things to be proud of, this blog for example and I have plenty of wonderful friends and readers who tell me that I should be proud of my achievements as a blogger and who nominate me for awards. Yet my parents aren’t really interested in my writing; it doesn’t fit in with the image they had of the person I was ten years ago.
I haven’t been that person for a long time and it’s just not possible for me to be that person again because so much has changed between then and now but still they’re just not prepared to let go.
They still think that I can be the golden child that I was sixteen.
The daughter they were proud of.