Random Thoughts: Dear 15-Year-Old Me …

Family, Growing Pains, Janine Norris

By Janine Norris

“This will be a difficult time, but stay strong and you will begin to thrive within yourself more than you have ever done before.”

black and silver fountain pen

Dear 15-year-old me,

It will be around now that you start to really feel different. You’re not one of the ‘cool kids’ and you won’t be for a long time yet (if ever).

You are very laid back and take most things in your stride. At high school you have a really good bunch of friends that you hang out with, but you are already in a different category to them. This is for many reasons. One of the reasons is your musicianship. You attend church every week to sing with the choir and you attend a choir practice each week on a Wednesday too. You really enjoy your church social life; you have friends here that are totally different to your school friends. This experience is already broadening your views on life.

Whilst your school friends are keeping up with all the latest soap operas, you are learning new social skills and expanding your mind. Thankfully, you enjoy this aspect of your life, you are successful and people like you and admire your talent for music. You are humble and modest – keep it this way. Some people tease you about your church attendance, but they are never mean and it doesn’t actually bother you.

You are also starting to have feelings that are impossible to understand. You have had ‘boyfriends’ at primary school and at high school, but they are not happening so much now. Things within you have changed. You try to ‘fancy’ boys, but you actually find yourself paying more attention to anything apart from boys. You don’t understand this yet but you will, eventually.


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You know that when you watch TV you enjoy programmes with strong female characters. Juliet Bravo is one of your first ‘crushes’. Again, you don’t know that yet, but when you’re 51 years old and someone posts something on Twitter about ‘first TV crush’, you will immediately respond with Juliet Bravo – not the original, Stephanie Turner; the second, Anna Carteret.

You are in the middle of creating a rock band with 4 of your friends at the moment. You are the singer but you are extremely shy to sing in front of these friends. You all do lots of miming – you base yourselves on your favourite band, Duran Duran. As your band all begin to learn to play instruments and you start playing live, you are dreaming of this as your future. You want to be famous. You want to ‘own’ the huge stage that Duran Duran own when you see them perform on TV. Don’t be disappointed that this doesn’t happen – you and your friends all go your own separate ways in search of new lives. However, enjoy the fun while it lasts.

You will carry on as you are for the next few years. You won’t be as successful as some of your friends when it comes to O Levels but you will get what you need. When it comes to your A Levels everyone will be in for a shock. At this stage you will be less successful in your clarinet playing and you won’t pass your music A Level on your first attempt. Don’t worry about it, you’ll still do well.

“You will also begin to live your life more selfishly. You will have spent far too long putting family before anything.”

You will eventually go off to college. This is where I want you to really chase your desires and your dreams. You will attend a teacher training college, where you will be hoping to get a degree in primary school teaching. You will find the academic side really difficult. The essays, the lesson planning, the lesson evaluations, the teaching practices – they will all be difficult. At one point you will want to give up because you’re struggling so much. You stick with it for your parents’ sake. I want you to change that and stick with it because you will find a particular niche in teaching that you are not taught at university. This will be something you are a natural at; you will have a career teaching pupils with social, emotional, mental health issues.

This will be a challenge. You will step up to each challenge when it arises. You will be kicked, punched, spat at, sworn at, threatened with sharp objects, called names – however, you will react in your calm, relaxed manner and will be extremely successful at what you do. You will not strive to become part of the senior leadership team, because that will take you away from the students and create lots of paperwork – something you will still be struggling with.

It is during the time of COVID 19 (a huge pandemic, which will kill hundreds of thousands of people) that you begin to make your biggest changes. You don’t get involved in the politics of the way the country is being handled, you still only care about your students who, being totally ‘locked down’, initially with no digital access to the outside world due to their social-economic status, have no immediate access to you and your colleagues for support.

red and white mail box

Because of this, you will begin to re-evaluate what you want out of life. You know that you and your girlfriend (times will have changed by 2020) are together forever, and you are making plans to buy your first house together after 10 years of renting. You will appreciate ‘lockdown’ rules because it means you can live in joggers, pyjamas and jodhpurs (oh yes, you will have your own pony too).

You will also begin to live your life more selfishly. You will have spent far too long putting family before anything. You will have avoided upsetting your mum to your own detriment, because that’s how you were brought up. However, what you will begin to realise is, you can still have a relationship with members of your family, including your mum, but it will be on your terms.

You will stop contact following an argument about you and your girlfriend. This will have happened before because ultimately your mum wants you to move back home to Leeds (Oh yes, you will move to Suffolk) and be a part of the family properly.

Your mum will never fully accept your relationship with any girlfriend. She will always hope and pray that you eventually realise ‘it was just a phase’ and you will move back to Leeds and get married. In fact, she might not even want you to get married; she might just want you to live back with her. Things will get worse before they get better. Your sister will verbally abuse you, your brother will try to understand but he won’t ever fully understand. Your siblings will both be required to ‘step up’ and look after your mum for a change because you will be starting to sort your own life out.

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You will begin to read again – something you won’t have done for approximately 20 years. These books will be psychology books, which will help you understand why it is that you’ve put yourself last in every decision you’ve made throughout your life. You will be inspired to change for the better. Your relationship with your girlfriend will improve drastically, and you will begin to live a more fulfilled life. You will have a handful of close friends who will be the ‘family’ you want in your life.

You will eventually build relationships with your mum again (I can’t tell you when exactly), but, as I already said, they will be on your terms. You will require acceptance for who you are and who you are with. You will expect your siblings to allow you to move on without them talking about how selfish you’ve been. You will make them aware that, throughout all the years so far, they have been the selfish ones and you have carried them.

This will be a difficult time, but stay strong and you will begin to thrive within yourself more than you have ever done before.

Love from Janine (aged 51) xx

Ps, when you go to college, make the most of the fact that it is a primary teacher training college and there are only 30% male students. There won’t be enough boys to go round the girls, so help them out here, will you?

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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Random Thoughts: The Mother Explosion

Coming Out, Family, Growing Pains, Janine Norris, Lesbian, Mental Health

By Janine Norris

Like for many, 2020 has been a year like no other. For me, it has been a revelation.

Coming up to 51 years old, an experience in the summer opened my eyes to a world of oppression and toxicity, surrounding my mother. Without realising quite how much power she still has over me and my life decisions, an argument exploded between us and I have subsequently taken a ‘non-contact’ approach until I feel ready to explore what I need to do.

two deer fighting at middle of forest

I have felt guilty about this decision, I mean, family is family – you’re supposed to stick by them no matter what, aren’t you? I had a therapy session with a guy who works with the teachers in our school to help them offload and ‘park’ traumatic events which may have occurred with some of the young people on a day-to-day basis. He assured me that feeling guilty was not going to help, and neither was long-term non-contact. However, he did say that it didn’t matter how long it took, I had to do what was right for me.

This was my first obstacle! I’m a people pleaser, I seek approval, I see the best in everyone and I’ve kept things to myself for years and years in order to ‘not upset the family’. A friend of mine sent me a link to a Blogger, Bethany Webster, who researched and wrote about ‘The Mother Wound.’ I read it and my eyes were opened.

Wow! Everything Bethany Webster talks about, I have felt over the years: shame, not feeling good enough, guilt for wanting more, mental health issues and more; so much more. So now I feel ready to address it (I’m not sure my family are ready for me to address it though, but hey-ho).


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When I was a toddler, I was seriously ill and spent a lot of time in hospital. I, therefore, wasn’t perfect. I didn’t realise this at the time, but my ‘imperfections’ began here. At 15, I knew I was gay. This was in 1985. For ten years I did nothing about it. I went through sixth form, university and two years into my first teaching job before I had the courage to admit feelings for someone of the same sex. It was another two years before I told the family.

So, for twelve years, I hid the real me. I did it because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. I did it because I didn’t know what my friends, my brother and sister would say. So, my emotional ‘bucket’ should have been full to overflowing way back then. However, I made sure there was a hole near the top of this bucket so it never got full; it never overflowed, emotions dribbled out slowly and I dealt with that.

“He said, ‘Thinking about you and her having sex (here we go again) makes me feel sick!’ I know I replied with, ‘Thinking about you and your wife having sex would make me feel sick, that’s why I don’t!’ He put the phone down.”

Again, I didn’t realise this was happening, it was a natural thing for me to do. Just as it was natural for me to come home from school and peel the potatoes ready for tea so that my dad didn’t have to do it all when he got in from work. My brother and sister, blissfully unaware of the feelings of anybody but themselves, were firmly placed in front of the TV watching crap programmes. I would then crack on with my clarinet and piano practice. (To be fair, I did the bare minimum here because I found it dull, hard work. This showed the further up the grades I got).

When I finally ‘came out’ to my mum, it was at Christmas – Boxing Day to be exact. It was our first Christmas without my dad, I think. He had died in the summer at the age of fifty-three. Mum had an inclination that I was about to tell her. On the Christmas Eve that year, I had accompanied mum to the local Working Men’s Club in Morley, just outside Leeds. My sister-in-law’s parents were there. It was the time when, in Emmerdale (Farm), Zoe, the vet, was about to ‘marry’ her lesbian lover. My sister-in-law’s mother (whom I’m sure knew about my sexuality) spouted off about how ‘disgusting’ it was that this was on the television. So, now I was ‘disgusting.’ Wow!

So, when I told mum on the Boxing Day of this year that I was in a relationship with A (obvious as we had bought a house together, had dogs together, went on holiday together, spent every waking moment together), her first question was, ‘Who’s the man?’

“From then on, I wasn’t allowed to see my nieces. There was no reason, but I imagine it’s the same old thing that all gay people cannot be trusted with children of the same sex!”

Honestly, what is it about heterosexual people that focus totally on the sex in a gay relationship? I mean, I never ask my heterosexual friends (and I have lots) what their favourite position is! I sighed and responded with, ‘It doesn’t really work like that.’

Eventually, Mum told my brother. He was, after all, the man of the house now that we didn’t have our dad. It is a shame that my brother couldn’t be the man of the house when it came to organising Dad’s funeral – that was left to me as everyone else fell apart. Here is probably where my mental health issues began – I wasn’t allowed to grieve, I had to ‘look after’ the family. I had to explain to my niece, who was a toddler, that ‘Grandad would always be there – in the stars. If you can’t see the stars, it’s because it’s cold so Grandad has to cover himself up with the clouds to keep warm’.

So, when my brother found out, all was as expected. He phoned me up – I was at a quiz with my work colleagues at the time – and demanded I return to Leeds where he would find me a nice bloke to be with! I think I laughed. I think I also told him that if I returned to Leeds, I would still be gay and he would have to meet all the women I picked up after nights out in the city. He didn’t find this funny. I was being flippant. He said, ‘Thinking about you and her having sex (here we go again) makes me feel sick!’ I know I replied with, ‘Thinking about you and your wife having sex would make me feel sick, that’s why I don’t!’ He put the phone down.

macro photograph of water splash

From then on, I wasn’t allowed to see my nieces. There was no reason, but I imagine it’s the same old thing that all gay people cannot be trusted with children of the same sex!

So, let’s go back to my emotional ‘bucket’. It should have been full a long time ago but because I’d allowed it never to fill, I’ve coped as best I can.

Lockdown made me realise that I have everything I want, everything I need. I have an amazing girlfriend and a tiny community of friends who accept us together, for us, including the people at the church. Mel and I didn’t argue during the first lockdown at all. We enjoyed each other’s company and our relationship blossomed.

Our big argument happened in the summer when my mum and her partner visited. It was difficult for Mel and I as we had spent so long by ourselves, knowing what each other was thinking, understanding our roles within the relationship, that when we had to cater for two other people we had to vocalise what needed to be done. We wanted everything to be perfect for my mum and Frank because they’d been locked away for so long. However, Mum couldn’t resist pointing out how ‘bossy’ Mel was, how she ‘ruled me’, how I’d lost my ‘confidence’ and wasn’t the same person anymore.

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There was a moment where I went blank. My anxiety disorder took over and I was ‘absent’. I think it was at this point that I repaired my ‘bucket’. I filled the hole in so now, the bucket would overflow; and it did. Everything I had held in, the suppressed feelings of love for my first girlfriend, the hidden scars and bruises from the domestic abuse I suffered at the hands of my second girlfriend, the traumatic stories I hear every day at work and the depth of love I have for Mel, who, at her own admission, isn’t perfect (who is?) but adores me for me. She is my protector, my soul mate, my best friend. How many people can say they’ve got all that in their lives?

I consider myself very lucky and I love now, more than I’ve ever been able to love before because I am being me. In the words of Bethany Webster, I am ‘taking responsibility for my own path by becoming conscious or previously unconscious patterns and making new choices that reflect my true desires.’

It’s not going to make everyone happy, but it’s going to make me happy and that’s all that matters.

Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. janinenorris70@wordpress.com

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