Being fifteen – it gets better

A few things this week have reminded me of my teenage years. First, the delightful Stephanie Ellen turned fifteen. If you don’t follow her on twitter or read her blog, you should.

Secondly, the It Gets Better campaign hit the web. It’s a lovely positive campaign aimed at LGBT teens who are having a rough time. Although I wasn’t affected directly by that problem, I witnessed several people, including some of my best friends, go through those hard, painful, unforgiving and cruel years and come out the other side. It wasn’t easy. I hope that in some small way I helped, but in the end, if they turned out to be such awesome grown-ups, the credit lies with them. Love you, people. You know who you are.

Thirdly, at O2 Ireland, we launched a project with our Charity of choice, Headstrong. Think Big is an awesome project to help promote and support mental health for young people. It’s a tough transition for anyone, for some more than others, and mental health issues can make it so much worse. Think Big is about supporting projects, run by young people for young people. O2 will support them with a range of resources, from money to mentors. And I have the pleasure of being one of those mentors. It’s exciting, I’m looking forward to hearing about the projects and getting involved. So if you’re in Ireland and you’re a young person, have a look at the site and send in your project!

So. Being fifteen. Wow. That’s a long time ago.

1993. The internet didn’t really exist yet, imagine that. My birthday is in April, so probably the first event of note was having to sit my Brevet des collèges, the French GCSE. Oh, yes, I was living in France at the time, did I forget that detail? I had been there for 3 years by that time. I had to sit French, Maths and History-Geography (for some reason the 2 subjects are always combined in France). So I did. And by some miracle, I passed.

By another miracle, I had somehow been given a place in a design course at Lycée (kind of high school, from 15 to 18 years old). I didn’t even know it then, but it was a very hard course to get into. My art teacher sent in my application for me, I was barely even aware of the process. Anyhoo, it was in Toulouse, about an hour from my parents’ house, so off to (state-run) boarding school it was.

Oh, except that half way through the summer holidays, I broke my leg. It was a tiny hair-thick fracture. It should have been healed and the cast removed by the time we were due to go on our one and only family holiday elsewhere than France. It wasn’t. I spent a week in Majorca unable to do anything but sit nearf the hotel pool and sulk. It still wasn’t fixed by the time I started my new school. In fact it took a massive 5 and a half months to heal completely.

Boarding school at 15 is a tough enough thing to face at the best of times. When you’re fat, foreign, have a broken leg and haven’t been able to shower properly for a month because of your plaster cast, it’s not good. Lugging a couple of bags, an A1 carrier and a large tool box around is not an easy thing on crutches either. Although I had made a couple of friends, for the first 6 months of that school year, the rest of the class picked on me mercilessly.

That’s when I first met an unwanted companion who still visits occasionally. Depression is such a dramatic word, I have been lucky enough to only ever suffer from mild depression, rarely and never for very long. Yes, I do mean lucky.

At some point – I can actually remember when – my self-pitying, cowardly, shy, pathetic me snapped. I was sitting at the canteen table for the evening meal. A rare occurrence as I usually avoided meals just to avoid the people and often only ate a mars bar or two per day. They were taking the piss as usual. I was sick of them, but I had reached the point where I was sick of me too. So I joined in. There was silence at the table. The conversation moved to something else.

And so it went on. Over the following week, whenever they found something to pick at, I upped the stakes, and made it a joke. After all, I knew myself better than they did. I’ve got a fat arse? Yeah, that’s why I have to wear granny pants. I smell bad? Geez, is that me? I thought something had died… No-one could put me down as well as I could.

It worked. After ten days of this treatment, I remember my main tormentor, after one particularly singeing auto-insult, looked at me and said “Stop it, it’s not fun any more.” And that was that. They stopped, I stopped. By the end of the year, we were all geting on fine. Which was good because it was to be the same class for all three years.

Being fifteen was both awesome and shit. It was scary, and sad, but in the end, it taught me a lot and made me stronger.

In the words of the ever-awesome Jonathan Coulton, “If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger, but if it kills you you’ll be dead”. Dear teeangers, please don’t be dead. It’s a pretty pointless thing to be. Think of your rough times as a tattoo. It hurts when you’re going through it, but if you grit your teeth, it could well end up being something awesome that will last for the rest of your life. And if it hurts too bad, tell someone.

Good luck.


2 thoughts on “Being fifteen – it gets better

  1. *sigh* if we had only known, at that time, how our lives would turn out to be 15 years later and what decent adults we’d become, it would have been much easier heh 🙂 “only fifteen years to go”. I sometimes wish I could travel back in time to reassure my young self (and tell him that I would have an iPhone, which would just make it worth the

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