Should I be angry at how school failed me?

Should I be angry at how school failed me?

I was interviewed this week for an article on swimming and anxiety. If and when the piece comes out, I’ll talk more about it here. For now, an interesting question stuck with me. “Do you see your growth as a massive screw you to those who picked you last for sports at school?” Fascinating. I had never considered it.

Last week, someone I went to school with requested to add me as a “friend” on Facebook. Someone who wasn’t as big a bully as others, in that they never physically harmed me, but they certainly didn’t get bored with making comments every other day. They probably see things differently after 25 years, and it’s entirely possible my memory isn’t 100% clear either. Happy to let Cylons be Cylons.

I didn’t add them. I never add people from school. It was 25 years ago. There’s already too much noise in my social media feeds without adding all that back into my life. Should I have? Should I have let them into my Facebook world, so they can see my life? Despite the failings of the education system and spending my 20s as a carer for my parents instead of on my career, I managed to make a life for myself leading to;

  • write multiple books
  • win photo awards
  • marry the woman of my dreams who constantly inspires me and helps to me be me
  • overcome allergies to have spectacular cats
  • run a marathon
  • climb a mountain at fricking night
  • understand myself enough to get an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis
  • self diagnosed with ADHD
  • be OK with myself enough to realise I’m non-binary
  • wear a skirt in public to feel empowered not shamed for 18 months so far
  • simply be my damn self and cool with that
  • be told by lifeguards that I could be a triathlete (I was the kid at school who always had a sick note for P.E.)
  • Saw Eurovision in person twice and photographed Liverpool’s life-affirming response to it

Should I have let them in to see all that? That overweight kid who continuously failed at school did something with their life. They’re now remarkable! Look at them! Raaaaaa! Super-success T. rex… or something… I’m proud of who I am now. Shouldn’t I be lording it over those who failed me at school?

No. I can’t. Maybe 30-year-old me would have with my HDR book, magazine articles and 3 million hits a month website. That dick would happily have taken the ego train to egoville for an ego massage. Today’s me see’s things differently. I understand that kids picked on me for being weird because I had an undiagnosed disability that made me stand out. Obviously, they shouldn’t have picked on me anyway, but I appreciate that back then difference wasn’t celebrated, only sports. Today’s schools are much more open to diversity and inclusion. Whenever I’ve been commissioned to work with a school, I’ve seen them take pride in neurodiversity and LGBTQ+ people. One school had a neurodiversity wall to remind students that everyone is different. I loved seeing that.

Back in my day, we didn’t have your fancy neurodiversity boards or acceptance. We had sports where the “best” of the school got to pick their friends for their team and fight over who got me. On the pitch, I was put in goal and the team’s job was to keep the ball away from me. I was made to feel unwanted, useless and abandoned. It was awful, but looking back, I see that the whole system failed me. If the school had a healthier understanding of autistic people, maybe they could have offered me something else. I loved to run. That could have been encouraged at school, but it was never offered. I could out pace numerous people on a bike, but cycling was never offered. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be taught how to swim because I was apparently unteachable. Except I wasn’t. The school simply didn’t have the resources.

That kid who was made to feel unwanted and useless went on to run a marathon. I taught myself how to swim to the point where people suggested I do triathlons. Given the right teacher, I could have been doing these things at school. I was once given the rugby ball and told to run. I out ran everyone on the team and scored. Yet, no-one thought, “Oh, that they can do. Let’s get them doing that.”

It is a shame, but I can’t hold it against them. None of us knew. Plus, everything bad in my life at least led me to where I am today, and it’s a good place. 2023 has genuinely been fantastic. Possibly, the best year I’ve had since I got my autism diagnosis in 2018. Life is, well it’s complex, but I’m doing OK at it. Do not ask me tomorrow how I’m doing, as I’m sure I’ll have a different opinion, but right now, life is OK. So, no, I don’t see where I’m at today as a massive f-you to those who failed me at school. What I see is that people like me can do good work and live their best lives if they are given the confidence, space, support, and time to do so.

Protect trans kids. Be patient with autistic kids. If your ADHD kid has a messy room, trust that they know where everything is and it’s all good. Lean into being different. Live. Laugh. Fuck the tories.

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