I cannot and won’t deny that OCD has affected my behaviour and social interactions for some time. In fact, my instincts and reactions to people and situations stem from my experiences at secondary school. I was a pupil at an Independent Day school for girls in Colchester, Essex for 8 years during the 1980s. I did adequately academically, however I was subjected to years of bullying. The bullying and daily racial abuse I faced from other pupils became worse once I was in senior school. As I progressed through my senior years at this school I found each year harder than the year before in terms of my social interaction as the abuse worsened. I felt like a freak and an outsider. I wasn’t the same colour or religion as the other girls, even though this didn’t stop me from singing hymns in assembly, saying the Lord’s Prayer and praying with the other girls every morning. I wore the same uniform but I felt and was seen to be different and never found the acceptance I needed to feel safe in the school environment.
Being the progeny of first generation immigrant parents I was socially limited. My parents didn’t allow us extracurricular activities and staying over someone else’s house or going to parties was difficult. We lived further away from the school than a lot of the other pupils and my father was a single-handed General Practitioner. Time was limited and my mother only passed her driving test in 1983 (she was a terrible driver), which meant we only had my father for transportation prior to that time. The school run was a traumatic experience for me, but that’s fodder for a different blog post. The attitude staff and pupils had towards me personally could be summed up by what my 3rd year form teacher told me in 1987: I was black (I’m actually of Indian origin) and I was to face prejudice for the rest of my life and I better get used to it. There were no prominent anti-bullying campaigns at the time and I am told by psychologist that I was damaged by my experiences at that time.
I remember going home upset from school on one occasion after I had been bullied for being ugly and on this rare occasion I told my mum what happened, her response was that she didn’t send me to that school to be a model I was there to study. If and when I didn’t do well at school I was verbally abused by my mother, who knew I faced racial abuse, but still was insensitive enough to call me a ‘brown cow” whilst she shouted at me. Life was pretty miserable and I was isolated in my teenage years, but my mother promised if I got the grades I could have the life I wanted, but life isn’t so black and white and so simple. You can’t have the life you want with so many unresolved issues and other hurdles crop up which are hard to jump with baggage.
I went to sixth form at a Grammar School in Colchester. Those were probably the best 2 years of all my schooling. I couldn’t believe how nice the other girls were as I was so used to being put down. The attitudes of teachers at the Grammar school contrasted sharply to what I had encountered before. I felt accepted, I had a number of friends and I belonged, I thought. I began to believe in myself and see myself as part of the school community and not just some foreign, alien, outsider freak that I was made to feel for 5 years of senior school. I grew in those 2 years but my OCD grew too. Like a little black box at the back of a cupboard it was always there and once I left sixth form just like when I left my secondary school my ties with the first good friends I thought I had severed.
I know they all kept in touch with each other but I didn’t fit enough to do this and once it started medical school I let those wonderful friends go. Why? Because I lacked the confidence to travel and see them. I was afraid of using public transport by myself after being sheltered for so long. Had I ever managed to travel to see them, being out of my environment led to immense anxiety so I could not enjoy myself at all. I reverted back to the self doubt that had festered in secondary school and spent the majority of my medical school days full of self doubt and lonely.
My experiences and reactions to my experiences are specific to me. Everyone is different, some people may have thrived in this environment others may have handled it even worse than I did, but I did my best and I never intended to hurt or offend anyone at the time. If I was self-absorbed as a teenager or naive I don’t think I was anymore so than a lot of other girls my age. However, I concede I lacked social experience and I believe that is what led to me not keeping up my friends. As Mr Darcy says in Jane Austin’s Pride a And Prejudice: “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends—whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain.” I believe this continues to apply to me.