The boarding school ‘hangover’.
The long lasting effects of growing up at school.
I was sent to boarding school at age twelve. This is actually fairly late as often children are sent as young as seven years old…so I was lucky! My parents, well my mother, had promised never to send my sister and I to boarding school, but to her credit that’s the only promise she hasn’t kept (I suspect my father was the driving force behind the change anyway!) I remember the Sunday afternoon that my parents dropped me off before the first day of term. I was in floods of tears as they drove away. As far as I was concerned they had subjected me to my worst nightmare.
In fairness to them, I think they did the right thing in sending both my sister and I away to school. We were always moving around a lot, changing schools every couple of years and my parents wanted some stability for us as we went into secondary school and started to take important exams. I know they just wanted the best for us and in that sense I respect their decision.
Nevertheless it has always been an experience that I’ve struggled with. It was, emotionally, a miserable time for me but I also recognise that it gave me a ‘leg up’ in terms of life; a private education, discipline and work ethic, learning how to look after myself, being independent, dealing with my own problems, etc. The trouble is I just can’t seem to reconcile my feelings about it. I don’t understand how something can simultaneously be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me and yet the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
I think the root of the problem is that I feel guilty complaining about something that I really ought to grateful for. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I also don’t want to deny my feelings. I was privileged to attend a private school and to be the recipient of all the perks that came with it, but the truth is I hated it. I am conflicted. I am thankful that my parents wanted to me to have a stable environment and the best education, but I often find myself feeling somewhat angry with them for putting me through it.
I was so clearly upset with the whole thing, but there was never any question of me being able to leave. I must have cried down the phone to my mother every day for at least the first year (I kind of gave up after that and pretended everything was fine). I had to stay there, 24/7 with those girls I disliked…well not all of them, I had a lovely little group of friends, but there were some real bitches in the dormitory.
In those first few years I shared a dormitory with between ten and fifteen girls. Admittedly it got easier when I got into the sixth form and I went from a dormitory or a shared room to a room of my own. As an introvert and someone who needs to be alone quite a bit to recharge, it was tough because you never got any time to yourself. Every minute of my day was scheduled from the wake up call to lights out.
In the first few years we had about one or two hours’ worth of so-called free time each day, but it’s not like you could really relax. Thirty plus girls and one TV, so you had to watch what everyone else wanted to watch (this was in the days before everyone had mobiles and laptops and there was no such thing as Netflix!). But the worst of all was when I was ill. That was when I craved home comforts the most, but there was no suggestion of going home. I had to stay in the dormitory, or even worse, report to the medical centre.
I think I learnt that however unhappy I was no one was coming to help. I felt like I was forced to face the homesickness, the bullies, exam pressures and, well, puberty on my own. This might seem silly but I genuinely believe that this is the source of why I don’t tend to ask for help. I think this is why I don’t really lean on anyone, despite having amazing friends and family who I know are there to support me. It is a sad thing to say, but I guess it created a feeling that I am fundamentally alone, that I am on my own and that I can’t really rely on anyone but myself. (Incidentally it’s also why I would rather fork out to rent an entire flat just for myself than live in a shared house or have a flatmate/roommate!)
I cried on the day I left the school. This time I was sad to say goodbye to my friends. I sometimes think that it’s a sign that perhaps I did like it after all, but then I think that being ‘bookended’ with crying is probably not a positive thing! To be honest it just adds to the confusion. I suppose I just can’t really deal with it sitting in this ‘grey area’. I desperately want to ‘pigeon hole’ experiences into good or bad, happy or sad, painful or joyful…but it doesn’t work like that, does it? Life is much more complex and nuanced. Maybe I’ll just have to accept that the boarding school experience taught me some important lessons, both inside and outside of the classroom, and move on.