An Open Letter to my Friends, Housemates, and Acquaintances

Dear friend/acquaintance/housemate,
Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, you were my fresh start. I arrived in Glasgow on the 9th of September, and never looked back. For the first time in my life, I had everything I’d ever wanted. With almost zero exceptions, everyone seemed to like me, and for the first few weeks I was surrounded by friends. Some of my fondest memories of fresher’s week were sitting in a kitchen two floors up from mine, playing Cards Against Humanity at 4 o’clock in the morning, or talking only in innuendos and being the life of the party. I was happy and jolly and life was a breeze, and somewhere along the way it all went wrong.

You see, I have social anxiety.

Last Tuesday, my best friend came over, and he and I and another friend watched a film, and afterwards we sat on the sofas by the TV, chatting with this other friend’s flatmates. The conversation turned to films I hadn’t seen and pop culture references I didn’t recognise. I became clingier and clingier with my best friend, burying my face in his leg and wrapping my arms tightly around his arm, like a child, to the point where I could tell I was annoying him. I’ve never quite learnt how to respect his personal space.

When he got up to leave, I walked him to the door to say goodbye, and had planned to go to my room and recharge my introvert batteries. And then he said something which surprised me. He asked if I was going to go back and say goodbye to the others. I was shocked. It somehow hadn’t occurred to me. As far as I was concerned, I just wouldn’t be missed. My logic was that I was tolerated, and that was it. Or that my best friend and I were a package deal, and people put up with me because they liked hanging out with him.

So I went to my room, stubborn as ever. But I couldn’t shake the thought from my head. Something about it had gotten to me. So I returned to the common room – except by this point the others had gone. I went to my kitchen, made soup, and pushed the incident from my mind.

A couple of days later, I was messaging a friend of mine who lives just up the hall from me, and she mentioned something about how a couple of her flatmates had said they wondered why I didn’t talk to them/why I didn’t like them. My reaction was somewhere between “Noooooo” and “Ooooooooooh”. Firstly, I was absolutely horrified that they thought I didn’t like them. Of course I like them! I like almost everyone here. And secondly, it made me see myself, and those around me, in a completely different light.

You see, I am scared of you: almost every one of you. Things which are normal and easy for everyone else are terrifying for me. I’m scared of initiating conversations. I’m scared of small talk, and I’m scared I’ll say the wrong thing, or that you won’t like my opinions. I’m scared I take up too much space in the room and in the world. I’m scared that the rules which apply to everyone else don’t apply to me. I’m scared that there’s something wrong with me and that everyone hates me.

And it seems that I’ve spent so much time worrying about people hating me, and assuming they would, just by (lack of) virtue of my personality, that I forgot to think about how I act, about the impressions I create.

I honestly thought I was friendly. I smile at everyone, don’t I? But I also avoid eye contact when I pass people in the hall, and I don’t always attempt small talk with my flatmates when we’re in the kitchen together.

The more I thought about this, the more it worried me. And then a memory resurfaced. It was back in October, and I was in a club with some of my housemates, and one of my flatmates turned up. It was the first time I’d been to a club since fresher’s week, so I was the last person she would have expected to see. And she was extremely drunk and excited, and she started telling me how she could never tell if I liked her (I reassured her that I do).

I realised that issue was not merely one isolated event. It was at least two, which suggests to me that there are more cases. It even made me wonder if that was the reason that the one person I know dislikes me here hates me. Though I quickly discounted that notion, because I’m pretty sure I made an effort with that person at first. But didn’t I think I made an effort with everyone? I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.

And so I began to re-evaluate what I know about the relationships in my life. Who am I to people? Am I who I think I am?

I figure that to my flatmates, I’m the girl who’s always cooking, dancing around the kitchen to rather random playlists, singing Lana Del Rey songs in the shower, and occasionally leaving dishes at the side of the sink for five days in a row. (Oops. I promise I’ll clean them soon!)

And to my housemates, it’s perhaps more varied. Some might know me only from the group chat, where my nickname is “Eliza the All-knowing Sex Guru”, thanks to my prolificacy with innuendos.

And to my friends? Who knows.

And then there’s my best friend… I once asked him what his first impression of me was, from the film & TV studies group chat before we met, and he said it was “kinda kooky but cool”, which I think is code for fucking weird. Now, though, I’m the girl who is always hugging him to death. As to what he is to me, I could write an entire novel on it. He is the light of my life, and he keeps me sane even more than he drives me nuts.

But what if these assumptions aren’t the case?

What if my flatmates think I’m unfriendly, or that I don’t like them, because I don’t always talk to them? I make an effort to say hi, and then I tend to awkwardly stare into whatever I’m cooking, hastily turning my music down, because I don’t want to be annoying.

And perhaps most of my housemates don’t even know me. I haven’t written on the group chat in months, because I’m scared I don’t belong.

And my friends… It hurts my heart to think of what they must think of me. I worry that I’ve been rather hot and cold with them. These people are my world, and they make me so nervous. I’m scared they don’t like me, even when I know they do. I’m scared they have time for everyone but me. I feel like they don’t love me because they never ask me to hang out (but when do I ever ask them?). There are times when I just want to hide in my room and avoid you all, because it’s far more comfortable to be uncomfortable than to go out on a limb. And I love you and need you and I wish you would reach out to me, because I’m too terrified to reach out to you. And I know how selfish that sounds. But that’s the thing; I can be selfish at times. Because I live my whole life in fight-or-flight mode. I’m in a constant state of self preservation.

And my sweet, sweet best friend… How do you see me? You have put up with more crap from me than all my other friends combined. I vent to you about everything, I spend more time hugging you than not hugging you (no wonder all our friends wrongly think we’re together!) You are my safety blanket. I cling to you when the world is too much. And lately that’s too often, and it’s not fair of me. In many ways we’re as bad as each other, in that there have been so many times when I’ve accused you of taking me for granted, yet I do the exact same to you. Perhaps I tell you how grateful I am for you on a daily basis, or how much I love and value you… But I don’t always treat you that way. I’m cruel at times, and spiteful and passive aggressive, and I’m pretty sure that I have been the one who started every fight we’ve ever had, because I’m petty AF and can never let anything go. And whilst I completely respect you in theory, I evidently don’t respect your physical personal space, because if I did I would not rest my head on your shoulder in lectures when I know it annoys the hell out of you. Yet you are perhaps the only friend I have who I do not feel nervous around at all. And that’s why I can be mean to you, because, even though I’m terrified of losing you, I know that I would never actually lose you. I’m like this growth which has embedded itself in you, and we’ll stay stuck together unless you decide to have me amputated. Please don’t amputate me – after all, who else would follow you around DVD stores giving you caffeine-fuelled motivation speeches?

Obviously my skewed perspective on how people view me, and the anxiety that causes me to react the way I do, did not randomly spring into existence. They had a root cause. It never occurred to me that most of you guys probably don’t know it. And I figured that writing a blog about this is my best way to reach as many people as possible with this vital information about how I don’t hate them. So here is my reason, here is my why; here is how I ended up where I am now. Here is my story.

I tried really hard to think of something comical to say, but my mind’s coming up blank, so I’m afraid you’re just going to get the boring version. Hell, I don’t even know where the story starts. My issues with people go waaaaaaay back, but they’re not necessarily the ones which matter here.

My first memory of being called ugly comes from when I was about seven or eight. It was from another kid in my village, though I can’t remember which one. I was standing near the bus shelter, by the village green where there was a bench which had my/the queen’s initials on it. I think I was wearing a dress, but I can’t be sure. I just remember that there were a few other kids around, and me and my sister, and that one of these kids called me fat and ugly. This probably wasn’t the first time someone insulted me, but it was clearly the first one that stuck. The kids in my village didn’t like me. Perhaps because my family was a little ~different~ or because I was homeschooled. I don’t know. I know that they hated me a whole lot more when I was eight, and my family were in a documentary that everyone deemed completely weird.

I did a brief stint in school during my ninth year on this earthly plane, and explored the basics of Being Hated 101. I think I had three friends by the end of my time there. And these friendships didn’t last too long after I left.

Skip six years into the future. I was fifteen, and I was depressed. I was lonely; I’d never had a close, lasting friendship. Sure, I’d written seven novels, but, as much as they tried, my characters couldn’t be there for me in the way I presumed actual flesh-and-blood humans could. And so when my sister decided she needed A Levels to get into university… I decided there was no way in hell I would go to school just because she was. Why would I put myself through that?

My resolve didn’t even last a week!

I started at Ullswater Community College on the 17th of September 2013. It was the second week of the school term. Trust me to make an entrance!
Now due to being homeschooled, and having parents who leant more towards the arts than the sciences, I hadn’t really done maths or science since the last time I’d been in school. When I was nine. So I was put in the science class for those who had failed their year ten exam and had to resit it in year eleven. I’m not saying people who are bad at science are unintelligent (like, I was bad at science, and I personally think I’m very intelligent). What I’m saying is I was put in a class with people who did not take their education seriously, and didn’t seem particularly motivated to pass their GCSEs. I did not belong there. My first lesson in school was Physics, on a Tuesday morning. Everyone just found me so…entertaining. Especially when I told them I wrote novels (they were not bookish people).

I spent the first week of school thinking I was popular and had made lots of friends, just because everyone wanted to talk to me. It took me a little while to realise most of them were taking the piss, and that they were all laughing at me behind my back and were doing everything in their power to make me look stupid. In addition to being bullied for everything under the sun by people in my year group, people in the years below me were bullying me for that documentary. They would have been approximately four years old when it came out. Life advice: never move to Cumbria, nothing ever happens there so something from ten years ago will still be deemed worthy news.

As I started to twig that everyone wanted to watch me fail and fall, the bullying got worse. Because I wasn’t taking their shit. I was learning who I couldn’t trust (basically everyone). And people don’t like it when their personal drama tap suddenly refuses to quench their thirst. To this day, I am astounded by the number of things people managed to bully me for. Being vegetarian, writing novels, WRITING BLOGS, being previously homeschooled, being in that documentary, reading books, getting good grades, caring about my education. I had some sort-of friends, but I don’t recall them ever standing up for me. By about November, I was determined to drop out. I hated school, and I hated the people there, and worst of all, I hated myself. They had crushed my spirit. But I ain’t no quitter. So I stuck it out. I told myself I would finish year 11, but I wouldn’t go to sixth form.

Of course, I went to sixth form. Whilst a good chunk of the nasty people from my year left before sixth form, the ones who stayed seemed to become nastier. And what was worse, I’d alienated my sort-of friends. If I recall correctly, it was because I’d pointed out something to do with the Ice Bucket Challenge funding a company that tested on animals, and that somehow offended them (I never could keep my mouth shut!) So I started sixth form effectively friendless. I didn’t have high hopes. Most of the boys from my GCSE English class absolutely despised me, because I had basically been Hermione, and so they made my life hell throughout year 12. On the plus side, I had some damn amazing teachers. The one that will always stand out for me was my Media teacher, Mr Nulty, who I would still place right at the top of the list of people who have influenced my life. Because he is the reason I ended up at Glasgow University (and he was just an all-round superstar, and I completely worshipped him. Note the past tense. I saw him in Sainsbury’s when I was home at Christmas. And he was a stranger to me. A stranger with a familiar face, a stranger whose voice was once the soundtrack to my self-improvement. I don’t worship him anymore, because I know he never asked to be on that pedestal. But he made me who I am today, and he will always have a special place in my heart).

All in all, year 12 was incredibly stressful, and my anxiety worsened. I relied heavily on my teachers for emotional support, which is probably why I have such a co-dependent relationship with my best friend (who funnily enough reminds me a lot of my old Media teacher), because I’m recreating my old patterns to trigger my old coping mechanisms. Towards the end of that school year, my world was somewhat shaken up. I found out that one of my English teachers (an absolute saint of a woman, Mrs Highet, who loved me and saw my potential, and who I completely worshipped and still really miss sometimes) was retiring. And a couple of weeks later, I found out that my dear Media teacher had gotten a job at another school. To top it all off, I lost approximately 1/3 of the novel I was writing at the time, due to a faulty USB stick. I was devastated. Almost everything I relied on was gone.

I don’t know if the bullying actually got worse in year 12, or whether it just seemed to, because I was no longer deluding myself about it. But it also took on a new dimension: cyber bullying. I was used to regular bullying – name calling, occasionally having doors slammed into me, that one time someone elbowed me in the chest for taking “their” seat on the bus – but cyber bullying was a whole new playing field. Because it was anonymous.

It started with obnoxious comments on my blog. My personal favourite was “I want to buy 40,000 copies of your novels so I can burn them”. How thick can a person be? If they bought 40,000 copies of my novel, they would make me so rich that I almost wouldn’t care if they burnt them. The comments got nastier, and so I decided to tell my head of sixth form. However, I couldn’t find him on that particular day. So I told this woman – I’m not sure what her actual job title was, but she was basically in charge of supporting sixth formers with wellbeing/study/any other issues. So I, through my extreme sobbing and panic attacks, told her what had happened. I remember exactly what she said to me, because I am still so bitter about it. “Just delete your blog,” she said, “that’s all you can do. Delete your blog and eat some chocolate.”

Naturally, I was furious. Not only did it completely trivialise my feelings (did I mention I was having panic attacks?), but it also trivialised the time, and bravery, and work, that goes into writing blogs and putting oneself out there online. Yes, it is second nature to me, but that does not mean that it’s easy. And it is certainly not something I can quit, let alone delete. It would be like deleting a part of my soul. It was possibly the worst advice anyone has ever given me. Obviously I ignored it. I told my old form tutor, from year 11, about it, and he showed me how to edit the settings on my blog (note: this was my old blog, not this current website) so that comments had to be moderated before being uploaded. And that was supposedly that.

Until the next instance of cyber bullying… This one was grander in scale, in that it was not directed at just me, but seemingly the entire year group. There was some website where people can write “information” about towns/cities, etc. And on the one for Penrith, people had written vile things about almost everyone in my school year. They wrote graphic and gross things about me (mostly to do with that documentary), and so I went and told the head of sixth form. He already knew. Everyone knew. Now I was still bitter from my last encounter with cyber bullying, and I was not prepared to let this one slide. So I asked my head of sixth form if I could do something about it. I asked him if I could do an assembly, to all of the sixth form (200+ people) about cyber bullying.
And I did. It, like my blogs and my poetry, was intensely personal. And lots of people were moved by it. It was one of the scariest things I’d ever done, and I still think of it as an act of complete badassery. Naturally, people used it as an excuse to tease me. But for a little while I was walking on air. Because if you can do public speaking, you can do anything. In spite of it all (or because of it all), year 12 was when I finally grew a backbone.

In year 13, my final year of school, I was just numb. I was there because I had to be. My A Levels were my ticket out of there, and so I lived life as a zombie, going through the motions to get where I wanted to go, without actually feeling alive. I missed my old Media teacher terribly. Though I got on very well with my new Media teachers, and they were very supportive of me. I had new English teachers too, and that was somewhat of a challenge for me. Because I was used to being adored by my old English teachers. I was the golden child of their department. And suddenly I had one teacher who I clashed with on everything (tbf I think I was still his favourite, because I was smart and motivated), and one who I don’t think really got to know me or how I learn. My only constant throughout sixth form were my philosophy and ethics teachers. I loved them dearly, and they are perhaps the only thing that kept me sane during my final year. And I do still miss the way they taught me. Especially as I’m studying Philosophy at university, and this semester we’ve started on ethics. It makes me miss my sixth form ethics teacher so much. Of all my teachers, I think he was the one who most looked at me as an equal. And he didn’t just see Eliza The Zombie, he saw me as who I wanted to be, and he saw me as intelligent and vibrant. I can’t believe I haven’t seen him since June!

The bullying actually died down in year 13. Not because people stopped hating me, but because they grew bored of me, became indifferent, perhaps forgot I existed. Which, in a way, was even worse. Little attention seeker that I am… I cruised through the year in my zombielike state of misery/numbness. I worked several days a week as well as school, to save up for my trip to Estonia, and I was too busy to feel anything. I almost got through the year without major drama. Almost. It was the most ridiculous thing. We had to put our names down on a list for the tables at prom, and I (anxious person that I am) thought I should ask my sort-of friends before putting my name next to theirs. But way back before the year 11 prom, they’d said of course I didn’t have to ask. Clearly a lot changes in two years. Someone who I thought was my friend (tbf I didn’t know what real friendship was when I was in school) asked me if she could remove my name from their table. What was I supposed to say? I asked her if they all felt the same way. She told me yes. I agreed. I got the hell out of the room before I started crying. Not over a stupid table, but because all my so-called sort-of friends had unanimously decided they didn’t want me.

I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. I left the school premises (#sixthformerperk) and ended up having a panic attack in the leisure centre car park next door. Someone from school must have seen me, because when I got back everyone knew, and it was drama drama drama. Literally the only drama at school that I one hundred percent did not cause, and everyone presumed I had, and blamed me for it. And the plot had thickened, and everyone claimed it was a misunderstanding. And I still don’t know what went down. I know I ended up sitting at their table, and I know I’ve only had contact with one of them since, and I know that I was never going to find my tribe amongst immature schoolgirls. And I know that I, for all intents and purposes, do not give a single fuck, because they simply are not in my life anymore. I am so over school. The problem is, you can take Eliza out of school, but you can’t take the school out of Eliza. You see, what was a stupid fight about who sat where at a stupid prom, was representative of so much more. It was just another example of people choosing everyone else over me. It was me coming in last, yet again. And whilst the specifics of it mean literally nothing to me, the actual message of it deepened the wound in my self-esteem. School fucked me up, basically. I have a deep-rooted belief that I am not worthy, that I am not wanted, that everyone either resents me, hates me, or is indifferent to me. That was my reality every day for three years.

Parallel to these events, I had found a new lease on life. Whilst the internet had shown me my enemies so many months previously, it had now shown me my friends. I joined a Facebook group for future Glasgow university freshers. And through that I met a lovely Italian girl who was on the same course as me. We started talking in May, and we seemed to have so much in common. And in my dear, dear Elena, I found the first real friend I ever had. And that was the beginning of a new life. Because before her, I couldn’t even imagine that friendship could exist for me.

I finished my final exam on the twenty-first of June. Prom was on the twenty-fifth. And on the twenty-sixth, I began a journey which changed my life. I travelled alone to Estonia, on a pilgrimage to the setting of my novels. It was the bravest and most radical thing I have ever done, and I am so proud of myself. It was yet another example of my badass streak. I learnt to be the best version of myself. (I blogged the entire thing, so there’s no point me going into detail here). During my time in Estonia, I managed to shake myself free of the damage caused to me by school.

Or so I thought…

As I said, school fucked me up, big time. And it turns out that even spending two weeks finding yourself, half way across the continent, cannot undo that damage easily. In Estonia I learnt how to laugh again, and how to be free, and even how to love myself. But I could not unlearn the negative messages I had been bombarded with for years of my life. I know what I’m worth, I just don’t believe it.

Because somewhere deep inside of me, I have come to believe that I’m ugly, that nobody likes me, that I have no friends (even though I have so many!!!), that everybody hates me, that I take up too much space, that I don’t belong , that I don’t fit in, that I’m weird in a bad way, that I’m a freak.

I remember a couple of months ago, my mum found a newspaper clipping she had from an article in the local paper when my first novel was published, and she took a photo of it and tagged me in it on Facebook. And suddenly I started to panic, because whoops, I kind of hadn’t really told anybody about the whole writing/publishing novels thing. My novels are the thing I am most passionate about in the entire universe, and I didn’t tell most of my friends about them. Because, after my experiences at school, I believed that people were either completely indifferent to the fact I wrote novels, or that they would passionately hate me for it. So I kept it to myself, until (thanks mum) I suddenly had all these people commenting on this picture asking me why I hadn’t told them about my novels. And their comments were positive!

School hugely damaged my self-worth, and it impacts the relationships I have with people now. I know my friends love me; I know they must find me interesting on some level. But deep in my heart I believe that nobody wants me, and I can’t just magic that belief away. It’s something I have to work through, and heal over time. But in the meantime, all I can do is my best.

So if I avoid eye contact when we pass in the hall, or don’t always make small talk in the kitchen, or don’t ask you to hang out even though you’re my friend and I miss you, you are not the problem. I do not hate you. I probably think that you hate me. And I will try my hardest to change. But be patient with me, and be gentle. I’m a lot more fragile than I seem.

Yours sincerely,

Eliza

Final Blog of 2016 (uploaded 20 minutes into 2017 because I’m a rebel like that)

By fate, or lack of forethought, I find myself spending New Year’s Eve alone for the first time in my life. And, in a way, it seems a fitting way to end the year, because 2016 was the year when I learnt the difference between being alone, and being lonely.

As I write, I sit in my kitchen in my university halls of residence, listening to an Edith Piaf song (Non, Je ne regrette rien) that my best friend sent me the link to, and drinking peppermint tea that another friend gave me, in a mug that was a Christmas present from my sister (with the words “Well behaved women rarely make history” on it). Noodles and pak choy boil on the stove, and breaded aubergine bakes in the oven. Cookies sit cooling on the countertop. I don’t know precisely when, but at some point this year, I started living a life that I am proud of, and a life that I am fiercely protective of.

Yet even a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t find it within myself to be completely grateful for the life I lead. I was frustrated for seemingly no reason, jealous of people I had no need or right to be jealous of, and I had convinced myself that most of my friends couldn’t really be bothered with me. All in all, Eliza Brain had gone into self-destruct mode, and no matter how much my rational side tried to stop me, I convinced myself that I was dissatisfied with pretty much everything in my life. And even the few things I couldn’t bring myself to resent were not safe from this. If you reject the majority of things you hold dear, you will find yourself clinging even harder to the few things you have left. And so I found myself relying more and more on my best friend, and getting frustrated when they were unable to visit me, or getting jealous of literally everyone they spent time with. And naturally all of this happened during the height of exam stress, so I pretty much thought I would explode.

And then I had this moment. I was in the library, late at night, working on an essay that was due in the day after next. (I accidently live by the motto “if tomorrow isn’t the due date, today isn’t the do date”). And I was in the mood to procrastinate, as always, so I was messaging my best friend. Until it got to the point where he told me to get off Facebook and actually work on my essay. Of course, I was not in the mood to work on said essay. So I got off Facebook, as instructed, and started searching for other means of procrastination. And I started googling random things that came into my head, until somehow I was looking at holiday accommodation in Estonia.

For the first time in what felt like months, I found myself actually excited about something. Like proper excitement, where my heart was racing and my eyes were probably glowing, and I was filled with a joie de vivre that had been absent for absolutely ages. Cliché as it is, I “found myself” when I went travelling in Estonia last summer, and I’d vaguely thought about returning next summer, but I hadn’t dwelled on the idea much because it was so far away. So I let the idea simmer as I left the library (it was perhaps 10 p.m. – not the best time to write an essay). I went to Tesco and bought vegan gluten-free toffee ice cream cones (yes, such a thing exists), and began the 20-minute walk home. As I walked through the dark streets – lit only by a distant streetlamp – eating an ice cream and contemplating future travel plans, it began to rain. You know that type of light rain, which comes down like a mist, and is refreshing rather than unpleasant? The rain pattered down against the faded purple bob of my hair, and I found myself smiling.

I was smiling because I had unlocked the key to my own happiness, found the magic ingredient to becoming the healthiest version of myself once more. You see, I have somewhat of an obsessive personality. When I’m healthy, it makes me driven, but it’s not something I will ever get rid of. And hence, I must find a way to work with this part of myself, without letting it consume me. And that’s what clicked for me: there are two things in my life – going to Estonia, and writing my novels – which are the “perfect” obsessions for me. Because these are things where 1) I am reliant on my own hard work and discipline, and 2) other people cannot let me down/I can not blame other people or rely on them too much, because they are simply not part of the equation.

Whilst this was the first major shift in my outlook, I believe the pivotal point occurred a day or so later. I was sitting in the bedroom of a friend who lives in my building – we’d been studying together for our English Lit exam, which was two days away, and had ended up chatting into the early hours of the morning. This friend was someone who had unfortunately been on the receiving end of my jealousy because I found it hard to accept that she was also best friends with my best friend (sometimes I’m not as mature as I wish to be). And we ended up talking about this, and I apologised for being so territorial over this other friend of ours. And I also admitted to her that I’d spent the best part of three months thinking that she didn’t like me. She then told me that I reminded her a lot of herself at 16, and perhaps parts of herself that she wanted to forget. And then she said something that really struck me: she told me that she didn’t think I was who I wanted to be, and that she believed it was possible for me to become that person. I started talking, babbling on about how I could see who I was meant to be, and how there were times when I’d been able to grasp that elusive part of myself. And she laughed, because she recognised it. And I realised that in that moment, she saw me a whole lot clearer than I saw myself.

She gave me the wakeup call I needed. It hit me that sometime during the past three months, I had stopped striving for the “something” that had always driven me. I’d stopped trying to be my best self, because I’d found a life where I could be content, and get by on minimal effort. I am a naturally smart person, with a special talent for bullshitting my way through life and essays. And I thought that when I got to university I would have to get my shit together and actually learn to work hard. And then I got a B grade on an essay I’d started three hours before it was due in, and I realised that my bullshitting game was still strong as ever, and I didn’t have to go *too* far out of my comfort zone. So the comfort zone became even comfier, until it became like a comfortable pillow that was smothering me.

I went through life like a comfortable zombie. I spent my mornings in lectures, my afternoons with my friends, and two evenings a week at improv society. I’d start essays a day or so before they were due in. And everything was fine. If I ever began to worry that my grades might slip (which they thankfully haven’t yet) I’d tell myself “Ds get degrees”. Now that I’ve been woken to the reality of my position, I can see why I fell into such patterns. University – or certainly my university – is a hands-off learning environment. Throughout school I was used to being spoon-fed everything I needed to do well. And along with this was the pressure, or at least expectations, of striving to get the best grades possible. Whereas in university, no one cares what grades I get, except me. Even my seminar tutors tell me not to stress because all I have to do is pass. And somewhere in the back of my mind is the girl who spent the majority of her time in Sixth Form getting As in every subject. I’ve gone from overachiever to underachiever, and it doesn’t suit me at all. It’s not just my grades; it seems, but every area of my life.

Before I came to university, I didn’t really have friends. And suddenly I was thrown into this world full of shiny new people, and I had everything I’d ever wanted. I was naïve enough to think that my friends could be my whole world, and that’s just not how it’s meant to work. Friends should be the pillars which support us, but they should not be the foundations, and they should certainly not be the whole building. We’re not meant to live solely for our friends, or our family, or any of kind of relationships. Even if they are the most important things in our lives, they shouldn’t be our WHOLE lives. We have to have something within ourselves that gets us through, some kind of passion or spark that makes us want to wake up each day and live our best lives.

I don’t think I lost this spark, I think I just forget to look for it, so it got buried somewhere deep in my heart. And now I’m mining for it, digging deeper and deeper into the foundations of my self, to find out who the hell I actually am.

And that’s where Estonia comes in again. When I look within, and try to find who I am, my heart takes me back to the 11 days I spent in Estonia, when I was the most Elizaest I have ever been. I learnt to be alone without being lonely. Certainly, there was plenty of loneliness – I cried myself to sleep for the first five nights – but I also learnt to be incredibly comfortable with being alone. I was in a country where I could speak approximately three words of the language, and so my self was all I had. I learnt to be my own best friend, my own travel companion, my own caretaker. And there were so many significant life lessons I learnt from my travels. Perhaps the most important for me to remember right now, was I learnt my own power, and my own ability to achieve my goals. International travel is not the cheapest thing in the world. Especially when you work part time for the minimum wage… The were times when I worked up to four days a week, as well as being at school every day, in the weeks preceding what were supposedly the most important exams of my life. I worked hard, and I achieved my goal.

Of course, once I was IN Estonia, I was surrounded by examples of another kind of hard work. Everywhere I looked, I saw settings from my novels. I was in a world that had existed in my imagination for so long, a world in which three novels were set. I was surrounded by visual reminders of my own commitment, my own dedication, my own creativity. Whilst I was in a country where I couldn’t speak the language, surrounded by strangers, I was also surrounded by familiarity, with manifestations of my characters running through the streets, invisible to all but me. Whilst I felt powerless every time I had to conduct an exchange in this unfamiliar language, I felt damn powerful the rest of the time.

I should feel powerful now, should I not? I worked hard to get here (okay, I procrastinated my way through the weeks leading up to exams, and did near to no revision. But let’s not go into that!). I survived three years in the hellscape of school. I have earned my place here more than I’ve earned anything else in my life. So why doesn’t that drive me? Why doesn’t it motivate me to work hard for the next thing?
Because this is it. This is what it’s all been for. And I don’t know what comes next. There’s just this vague concept of the “real adult world”, and “employment” and “graduate jobs” and all those words which evoke fear in my heart. And I don’t know what they mean, for me. I don’t know where I’m going to be in four years from now, and I don’t know how I’m meant to work towards it. Do you know what the scariest part of my Estonia trip was? Standing on the platform at Penrith train station, waiting for the train to take me to London, and to the airport. The journey is most scary before it begins. And that’s how life feels. I’m scared of what I do when university finishes. Hell, I’m scared of not finding anyone to live with in 2nd year. I spend so much time thinking about this ~future~, without realising that the future is now. I create the life I lead. My future will one day be my present, and then my past. Instead of worrying about how to reach the top of the mountain, I should start building the staircase that leads me there.

Earlier today I sat in Starbucks (Google lied to me about Pret’s opening hours #thisiswhyIhavetrustissues), writing my resolutions/goals for 2017. I ended up with 24, because I’ve never been one to travel light, not even into a new year. And the majority of these goals were to do with self-improvement, in almost every area of my life. Not just the improvement of me, but the improvement of my relationships with others. For example, I want to invest more time and energy in my female friendships, and find myself a sisterhood of supportive women. Self-improvement doesn’t exist in a vacuum. No one lives in this world alone; we all have people we interact with every day, or every week. And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about other people, it’s that we learn by imitation, and we grow by watching others grow. We should strive our hardest to lead by example, and to spread the love. Another resolution of mine is to both find a mentor and be a mentor. You see, another thing I realised after that conversation with my friend, is that everyone’s at different stages in their self-evolution. Rather than being jealous of those who are ahead of us, we should allow ourselves to learn from them, just as we should impart our knowledge to those who can learn from us.

There’s this quote that I remember my mum saying once, and I can’t remember who it’s by, but it goes like this: “We’re all just walking each other home”. And I don’t know what it’s meant to mean, but I interpret it as this: we’re all going in the same direction; we’re all on this journey. And the best we can do, the most we can do, is help each other and support each other in this life. And that is the kindest thing we can do for ourselves and each other.

I hope you all take 2017 as an opportunity to live lives that you’re proud of, and to grow, and learn, and find beauty in the small things – and in all things.

Love and light and blessings for the year ahead.