Early teenage years
I was excited about starting secondary school. In July there was an induction day, which provided a chance to look round the new school and meet the other kids. On this day I got chatting to a girl the exact same age as me (even sharing the same month of birth), and she said we could be friends. I was so happy!. I felt that I was starting a new chapter in my life, leaving behind my friendship difficulties, and everything would turn out just fine. The summer holidays brimmed with optimism, and on our holiday in Exmoor, I talked and thought about my new friend and what happy days might lie ahead.
On starting school in September, I was pleased to find that the girl was still my friend. She locked her arm in mine, and clearly we were ”best” buddies. We went shopping together, and then she invited me to her house in the countryside, near a farm. Her dad made us cheese and tomato toasted sandwiches, on white bread, while we watched television. Later she got us some chocolate lollies from the large freezer, and we ate them while chatting in her summer house. At this age I did not mask at all, so I did not feel at all socially nervous or stilted, I was just being myself.
Unfortunately being myself was not good enough, as I was to discover. I was very possessive of my new friend and I had no intention of sharing her with the other girls. One day, shortly after starting at the new school, we were in the IT room, and another girl got chatting to my friend. I felt really left out and uncomfortable. Later my friend again tried to introduce me to the other girl, making me feel even more excluded.
In October year 7 went on a trip to the Isle of Wight. I wanted to share rooms with my friend, but for some reason this was not possible. I had to share with two other girls, and my friend shared with another girl, making me feel insecure. On the boat trip my friend chatted mainly with the other girl, and I began to feel increasingly alone. Then, one day, I noticed my friend walking arm and arm with this girl across the park that surrounded the hostel where we were staying. I watched them through the hostel windows, and burst into tears. A teacher asked me what was wrong, but I could not explain, perhaps because I was aware how silly it might sound.
Shortly after this trip, my friend casually walked up to me in the school corridor and told me we were no longer friends as I was too clingy and followed her around everywhere.
Meanwhile, one of the girls who shared a room with me on our trip became increasingly friendly towards me. She invited me to her house (I remember we ate pizza while watching TV), and she came to mine, and played a game of tag in the park. This girl mothered me. She treated me as though I needed protecting. In Science class, she noticed that I was scared of the bunsen burners, and kept on asking me if if I was alright, if I was well, or if I needed help, and she said to the other kids, ”leave Anna alone”. I quite liked being looked after like this, but it also felt vaguely oppressive. The girl invited me to join her and her group of friends at break, but they were chatting while I was on my own, not being able to enter the group as I did not know what to say. Eventually I gave up and lost contact with this girl.
My next experience of friendship was even briefer in duration. I was standing all alone at lunch by the vending machines. A girl approached me and said she wanted to be my friend, and we could even be best friends. She invited me to her house, and she came over to mine for tea soon after. I then got invited to her house again. I of course remember the food: chicken and chips the first time, quiche with her whole family the second time. The time was spent painting each other’s nails in her parent’s bedroom, playing a board game with her mum and sister, and lounging around in her hidey hole. This girl gave me a folder with homemade cards inside, all about being my best friend. However, after my second visit to her house, her mum phoned my mum to say that, while I was a nice girl, her daughter felt that I did not speak enough. My mum told me that I must try and speak more, and keep conversations going. But how do you know what to talk about, I asked. ”You just do”, my mum replied. Not long afterwards, the girl invited me to sit with her in the year 8 picnic area one break time and said that she was very sorry but that we could no longer be friends as she preferred girls who were more chatty.
At home, meanwhile, I only talked about Kate Winslet, Titanic, and babies (connected to Kate Winslet). I suppressed talking about this at school, but I still thought about Winslet 24/7. At home I quizzed my mum about Winslet and babies.
Middle teenage years
So three failed friendship attempts in just under two years!. I now increasingly isolated myself. In lessons I often sat alone, but sometimes I sat next to a nice well behaved girl, who I could chat with during lessons. Sometimes nice girls let me join their group, but they were not friends in the true sense as I never saw them after school, and they were more like acquaintances who tolerated my company. I think I began to mask slightly, because I tried to fit in by talking in a considered way, trying to blend in and pass as a quiet, well behaved girl.
However, sometimes I gave up trying not to look strange, and there were occasions of inappropriate behaviour, although less so than at primary school. My inappropriate behaviour was an attempt to get a reaction, to be noticed, to bring some excitement to my life, or to make me laugh.
I was mainly inappropriate in front of the kids, and only occasionally in front of a few teachers. In the latter case I got sent out of French class a few times, to stand in the corridor, for talking while I was supposed to be working, and the teacher told me off for writing obscene words about sex on a bit of paper. I also joked that hair on a brush was pubic hair to some girls, who laughed, making me laugh, as though I’d created my own comedy sketch. It was so immature it’s cringe worthy looking back on my 14 year old self, and it certainly did not help me make friends, although I’d given up on this by now, and was reconciled to being a loner.On another occasion I pulled my knickers down in front of two girls in my class to get a reaction, and during lunch time I gave a mock ”sex education class” to a group of boys. I thought, let’s talk about the most taboo subject ever, sex, and that will get me noticed and get kid’s talking about me. I did not care that they were ”laughing at you, not with you”, as two girls explained (I did not grasp the distinction until later), only that I was getting a response. The worst thing I did though was to tell kids that I had had sex with my dog (you can’t get more taboo than that). This story went round the school, and my dad even received a phone call at work to ask if I was under protection from social services. I thought it was only a joke (my sense of humour), and so I was not expecting there would be any consequences or that I would get really told off about this at home, as what are you supposed to do when you have no friends – just being quiet all the time was boring and unstimulating. It was almost like I had two personalities, and different teachers saw different versions of me depending on whether or not I liked the lesson or the extent to which I feared their authority.
I sometimes visited the lunchtime club, which was in the learning support base. Most of the kids who went here were unconventional, and more willing to accept my quirks. I befriended a girl in the year below me, and went to her house a few times, but the friendship did not continue, probably because we were not in the same peer group.
My mum sometimes told me I would soon become very unhappy if I did not make friends, but I shrugged this off as I had my Kate Winslet obsession and all my attempts had been in vain. At school I mainly spent break times alone, locked away in a toilet, or in an empty classroom cabin.
Late teenage years
When I started 6th form, after doing a lot better in my GCSE’s than I anticipated (largely thanks to my parent’s help), I became more socially aware. I began to mask more consistently, and did not misbehave in any of my lessons. I had no real friends, although one girl was very friendly towards me in the common room at break times, and after I left school we stayed in contact for a while. I masked with her in the sense that I consciously tried to sound like a nice, well behaved, mature girl, by copying the way I saw other ”nice” girls behave. But I felt inauthentic when around her because I was aware I was acting a part and felt that I was hiding a bad secret from her, because my other side was weird and strange, immature and not at all like the other girls she liked. Unfortunately we are no longer in contact because I lost interest and motivation in masking when around her, and I felt our lives were too dissimilar to have much in common. My OCD also got a lot worse during this age, which obviously meant I was even less motivated to be around people than I was previously.
When I started my local university (I stayed living at home with my parents), I befriended a girl in my class. However, although we sometimes met up out side of uni for tea, and we sat in class together, the friendship did not develop beyond these parameters. Again, I was masking more earnestly now, and so the interactions felt more awkward and hard work. In the past, I was less socially aware but because of that interactions were less tiring. My OCD also meant I could not go out with her as often as I might otherwise have done, and I regret this because I feel I could have made more of an effort to stay friends with her.
In part 3, I will bring the timeline up to the present.