Picture a girl with half her long blond hair shaved, a nose piercing and ‘hard rock’ clothing on, trying her best to look ‘edgy’, ‘cool’ and ‘mysterious’. Picture a girl who worships those adjectives like they are her keys to a new world, a world where she doesn’t need to change her introversion because she is admired and envied even without opening her mouth. But, this girl’s legs are wobbling making her stumble occasionally over her own clumsy feet, her face is red and shining due to a combination of acne, embarrassment and nervous sweating and she has tears in her eyes coupled with a lump in her throat as she recognises the familiar sense of panic and foreboding she always gets when she knows she will have to meet new people. This girl was me two years ago on my first day at college.
The people at my college intimidated me. They were vastly more experienced, they were headstrong and confident and they looked years older than me (despite my best efforts to look like a punk I still had the face and stature of a little girl way out of her depth). When asked why I had changed schools I could hardly say that I had become so deeply depressed and overwhelmed with anxiety that a changed had seemed as good as any other option. People bonded over common interests while I curled further in on myself in the hopes that this would protect me from the cruel words which I assumed would inevitably come; they always did.
I sat at the front of classes, knowing that this was the place where people would be least likely to want to sit themselves beside me. Everyday, I brought my marmite sandwich into college in a pristine plastic tupperware as I knew that I would not be comfortable enough to walk into any of the shops or restaurants around my college. At lunch, I would pretend that there was something extremely important or interesting that I had to do on my phone so that I wouldn’t look so lost and lonely. Once I could not feasibly pretend to do this anymore I left the common room after feeling increasingly tense that someone would soon identify me as an easy target; alone, shy and cowering behind too-large glasses and they would start picking on me; they always did.
So I would hide in the safest place I could think of…the toilets. Locked safely inside a claustrophobic cubicle I would berate myself for being such a failure and weirdo before the intrusion of a giggling group of girls into the room would once again prick my anxiety. I would have to flee the toilets as their abrasively enthusiastic laughing and chatting would chip away at my already extremely low self-esteem (it was like their happiness re-emphasised my unhappiness).
In class, I would do my best to disappear, hiding my face behind obscenely large textbooks and resolutely avoiding eye contact with teachers as they posed questions to the class. I always handed my work in on time, not simply to abide by the rules but largely to avoid any conflict with teachers which would bring about communication which, in turn, could only lead to embarrassment and panic on my side. As soon as the teacher ended the class I would rush to be the first person out of the door, pretending that I had somewhere pressingly urgent to go (as if anyone in my class actually cared where the mute girl went after lessons).
I organised my entire daily activity around the other people at my college. I obsessively thought over where was best to go in my free periods to avoid the burning glare of other people’s curious stares as I spent my entire free looking down hopelessly at the same page in my book, never really intending to read anything. I planned my outfits conscious of what would be least likely to attract their intimidating attention. I even planned to the exact minute what the best time to excuse myself during a lesson would be according to when I thought the teacher would finally try to ask me a question after I hadn’t met their eye the whole lesson.
The most ridiculous thing is; I bet those other students didn’t waste more than a minute of their time thinking about me especially after class-time. Whereas, I agonised endlessly about their opinions and judgements night and day.
I had always been from the beginning what I had worked so hard to achieve that whole course; invisible.