Today, my social media accounts are filled with memories.
Collages, text posts, pictures; all full of bittersweet tokens from former classmates as we said our final goodbyes to our school years. There were tears, embraces, and an emotional serenade from our Head Teacher. I never thought I would be swaying with my phone torch flying in the air to a balding man’s rendition of Oasis’ ‘Don’t look back in anger’.
But for me, it was one of the most challenging days of my life.
The year group had turned out in full, clad in spandex and red capes to tie in with the superhero theme of the day. A super send-off, if you will.
I saw this as an opportunity to execute a pun that I had waited six years to make. For the entirety of my school life, I had been hit with an onslaught of nicknames: Smelly Ellie, Elfnr, Smeleanor, Duffenshmirtz (that was a particularly odd one, I have to admit). But the name I loved most, or rather the one that I could tolerate more than being compared to pungent stenches or evil cartoon masterminds, was Duffman.
And so that is exactly who I portrayed as my superhero alter-ego. A beer-drinking, hip-thrusting, muscley cartoon character with a proclivity for shades and the colour blue – in all honesty, it sounds a lot like regular ol’ me.
Thinking back to that day, I was in a strange place. I was wearing shiny Doc Martens – a gift from my then-boyfriend who was never too far away from my side the entire day. I was surrounded by a group of friends who I had known for around three years, and surrounded by a year group that I had gone through almost all my life with.
But underneath the laughter, high-pitched signing and really awful dancing, I was sad.
I had firmed my choice for university but was suddenly in mid-crisis about my excitement to go. I was feeling a nervousness about the future that I had never felt before – I had always been completely sure about what I wanted to do with my life, but now my ambition was faltering, and I had no idea why.
So when we raced down the corridors to reach the crowds gathered in anticipation of the final countdown, I didn’t mind that I almost missed it. I didn’t mind that I was too out of breath to shout the final numbers along with the rest of the school. But I did mind the crippling sensation that gripped my stomach when I exited the revolving doors for the final time, and the watery smile when I said goodbye to the friends I would more than likely see in days to come.
Although it was our final day, we still had exams to sit in the coming month. But they were over just as quickly as they began, and I found myself drifting from people I once called my best friends. I was falling out of love in the most horrible way, and distancing myself from a boy I had spent three years with.
Graduation came, and amongst the shakiness I felt walking up on stage to shake hands with the Head Teacher and accept the shield for leadership, it was a weirdly triumphant day.
Prom was next, and with it came some sloppy steak pie and blistered feet. It was the last full day I spent in a proper relationship.
School was officially over after that, and I had hardly even recovered from my teeny hangover before I was plunged head first into the adult world.
So I did what any normal person would do – I packed my bags and ditched Scotland for a month of travelling in Australia. It was terrific; I met up with my brother who I hadn’t seen in around a year and we spent a month laying on beaches, touring the Gold Coast and passing out after nights spent giggling at bars and trying (and failing) to talk about the meaning of life.
Although I returned without a tan, I came back to Scotland as an entirely new person. I had finally felt what it was like to be independent – with nothing to tie me down to any specific place, I came out of my shell in Australia, spontaneously planning day trips and not caring what time I would come home. And so I knew what I had to do the minute my plane touched down.
It was the next day, and I had tears streaming down my face when I closed his front door behind me. After three years, it was time to call my relationship quits. My time spent abroad had taught me not to let anything – or anyone – hold me back. I wanted to completely reinvent myself – I had an entirely clear slate, and I wanted to begin writing my story alone.
I decided it was best to distance myself from my friends, who I was now sharing with the guy I had just left. It seemed to be the best move – I had friends in other circles, but it seemed as though his options were limited to our immediate friend group.
Conflict arose between myself and former friends, and although some made me feel welcome, it was time to move on. Bitchiness began on both sides, with Twitter being used as a catalyst to express feelings rather than confrontation and talking in person. But soon the time for reconciliation had passed – we had reached the point of next to no return, and I found myself well and truly alone.
I began working behind the counter in the nearby McDonald’s, where I met some pretty great people. There was the guy who always asked why I read on my breaks and the girl who said my butt didn’t look as big in my trousers as hers did. I still don’t know whether that was a compliment or not. I worked there for two months, earning a semi-decent wage and using it to fund my obsession with food and books.
I gained a whole load of weight in those two months, what with the free meals on my McDonald’s shifts and the murderous hours spent sitting in my bedroom doing absolutely nothing. I felt myself slowly slipping into a depressive state, with a sense of sadness I hadn’t felt since my earlier years at school. But the worst of it was I couldn’t open up to anybody about it.
I was hung-over as hell when I applied for a job at a Scottish television firm. It was a spontaneous decision – a decision that took around six hours to complete.
I’m not ashamed to say that I completely forgot about my application after it was sent. I had only found out about my dream job on its deadline, and I had accepted the fact that I was probably already at the bottom of the pile, ready to be chucked into the bin when another applicant was chosen in my stead.
I focused all my energy onto university; I was starting in less than two weeks time and had only bought half of the syllabus and didn’t nearly have enough books or sticky notes. I was browsing for the third text on my list when I got the call inviting me for an interview at the job I had almost forgotten about.
It was as if I was woken up from a month-long sleep. My stomach was filled with an excitement and anticipation that I hadn’t felt since my godson was born. Nothing had gone right in my life for several months and yet there I was, sitting on my blue spinny chair with the biggest grin on my face.
The interview came and went three days after the phone call. I had spent three hours deciding on an outfit from a choice of a few black tees and black skinny jeans before I realised I needed more clothes. My depressive state had affected the way I dressed, acted, felt – I hadn’t taken more than five minutes of my time to work on my hair in months.
After the interview, there was another waiting spell. There were other applicants to be interviewed, they had said. My lack of confidence came back in full force, and my elation was soon replaced with resignation at not being good enough to act on my dreams.
But this was not to last. The day my phone broke was the day that HR was trying to call me to confirm my acceptance of the position. When they eventually got hold of me, I cried. I cried for a solid day, and it was as though each tear that fell was taking with it every depressing thought, every ounce of anxiety and every bit of self-hatred I had for myself.
So here I am now.
I’m sitting on my lunch break at the end of April, at a new desk in a new position within STV. I now write scripts and am the Ayr Cityfax reporter (fancy, eh?).
Since September, I’ve worked in my dream place, getting the opportunity to bounce around every aspect of the newsroom. I’ve made friends with people I had only ever seen on television or who I only knew from the tiny Twitter icons on my computer screen. I am eating healthier, and have managed to lose a drastic amount of weight from constantly walking and doing the occasional gym session. My skin has cleared, and I cut my hair in a way that everybody always said would never suit me, but I’ve never been more in love.
I’m more expressive, and I’ve taken to initiating conversation instead of shying away from even the slightest hint of social interaction. I laugh louder and no longer cover my mouth to hide my wonky teeth and tiny lips.
I got into one of Scotland’s most competitive university courses – Multimedia Journalism at GCU – and I’m so excited to start in September.
I reconciled with my best friend, who I hadn’t spoken to for around half a year after a particularly nasty falling out the year before.
I paid for my entire family to go to Disneyland and I didn’t have one ounce of buyer’s regret. We spent a fantastic week there, even though I forgot to bring a pair of shoes.
I was there for my family when we found out my brother has cancer, and I managed to put a family feud behind me to help support them.
I haven’t been in a relationship for almost a year now, and I’ve never felt more committed in my life. I’ve thrown myself into work, photography and writing, and I can’t help but feel completely and utterly proud of myself.
Ever since I left school, it’s been quite a journey. But after the heartache, loneliness and depression, I came out in a new form; a form I had only ever dreamed of achieving. And I can’t wait to look back like this again next year, and see where on Earth I’ve ended up.
Have you left school? How have you changed since then? Let me know!