Imagine an excited, little 11 year old armed with a huge backpack and her two best friends on her first day of secondary school. We’re lucky enough that one of my friend’s older sister is already at the school, and she shows us to our tutor room. Naturally, I’m nervous, but I think everyone is nervous to some degree. The idea of a school with four times more students than our small, safe little primary schools is extremely daunting. The change from being the oldest in primary school to the youngest in secondary school makes the older students seem even bigger and scarier.
Despite the nerves, our first day is a success. We walk home sharing stories of our new teachers and people we’d met in our classes. A few more days pass and we start to feel settled. We get used to where our classes are and what they’re like. Most lessons in the first week are introductory classes to the teachers, the subjects, and the students. That means it’s mainly ice breakers, and it’s fun becoming familiarised with all the aspects of this new school experience.
Then I get sick. Catching a virus that has been going around, I ended up missing a week or so of school. When I’m eventually better and it’s time to go back to school, I don’t feel like I can. Everyone’s telling me that the time off has knocked my self esteem and confidence, and that’s why I’m so anxious about going back. I guess subconsciously I feel like I missed the key time of settling in. I’m imagining that I won’t be able to properly fit in with everyone since I haven’t experienced the ‘making friends and finding your place’ part.
Going back isn’t easy. I can’t understand why I feel so terrified about it, and to begin with I don’t really think other people understood either. Luckily, my school has a student centre, and they are such a huge help in growing back some of my confidence and self esteem when returning to school. I start off by going in for half days, as they felt it would slowly ease me into classes with people who had already made friends. This helps massively, and after a few half days I go in for my first full day since I had walked in with my friends at the start. Despite my worries, and inability to eat any breakfast due to fear, the day goes okay. ‘Okay’ may sound like a less than enthusiastic word, but it means that despite my constant worries and fears, nothing bad happens. My friends from primary school are endlessly supportive, and I’m incredibly lucky to have them at my side, egging me on from the sidelines.
I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t hard, because it was hard. I was terrified of going to the yard to try and find my friends at break, as the worry of ‘what if I can’t find them and I end up just wandering around on my own’ ricocheted around inside my head, spiralling into the worst possible outcome over such a small and seemingly insignificant thing. I was scared of walking into the assembly hall and getting split up from my friends and having to sit amongst a crowd of people I didn’t know. I was petrified of walking to a class on my own and having to walk down a corridor of year 11 boys, incase they all started laughing at me.
Overcoming these fears was a slow process. It certainly wasn’t like a montage in a movie, but over time I managed to work through the things that had me feeling so anxious at the beginning. I spent a lot of time in the student centre, and with their help my confidence started to grow again, and I found that, especially with my friends’ help, I was able to settle in and start making friends and coming out of my shell slightly more. It took a while before I felt completely settled in, and even after that it wasn’t as straightforward as simply ‘getting over it’. For that first year, after every break- be it Christmas, Easter, half term- I still felt the feeling of pure anxiousness at returning to school, something that didn’t disappear until the very end of year 7. It wasn’t a case of overcoming the worries and feelings of anxiety and never feeling them again, however it was a case of those particular anxious feelings and experiences ending.
While I have continued to experience anxiety and worrying, I think of my experiences at the start of secondary school as proof that I am able to overcome things, and even if my confidence is slightly low, I know I am capable of growing it and doing the things that I want to do.
Despite my rocky start to year 7, I did so many things later on that year that amaze me to look back on. I entered the talent competition with my friends, I went back to my primary school to talk about the move up to secondary school, and I helped show year 6’s around the school and looked out for them on taster days. These things probably don’t seem overly remarkable, however I will be forever proud of my 11 year old self for being able to go from someone who couldn’t face going to the yard by herself, to someone who voluntarily put myself out there like that. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t even think of singing on a stage now (although that’s definitely also due to the lack of singing skills!), but I know that I’m working on growing my comfort zone and confidence now in the same way that I did back then.