I guess deep down I’ve always known that I’m a little bit different, but as a child of the 80’s who grew up surrounded by diversity, I never really considered this to be a negative thing. I was just me, being me, trying to find my way in the world like everyone else.
The only labels I had during my childhood were the ones my Mum sewed into my uniform. Cue traumatic flashback of the dodgy navy blue callots and bottle green PE knickers I was forced to wear in my teens (btw mother, if you’re reading this, I’m pretty convinced that this would now constitute child abuse!!). Come to think of it, I don’t remember many children with labels at school in the 90’s (although admittedly my memory has never been my most reliable attribute), I do however remember the ‘naughty’ ones and my brother and I just naturally fell into this category.
My earliest, most significant memory relating to my behaviour was in Primary school when I faced the devastating consequence of losing my role as chief coconut player in Little Donkey for drawing on another girl’s identical jumper (on non school uniform day) in red ink. I cried for days over the sanction and never really could explain why I reacted in the way I did (other that the fact that it was my favourite jumper and I didn’t want her to have it). Admittedly this became a bit of a theme throughout my educational life. If I wasn’t doing things without thinking I was saying things without thinking and this saw me spending most of my time in the head’s office, in detention, sat outside classrooms or stood outside offices.
It was actually my forgetfulness that inadvertently lead to my first (but by no means last) exclusion (by this time my brother was long gone through the route of expulsion). It was a Maths lesson with Mr D (who rumour had it enjoyed a little Whiskey on his corn flakes and for some bizarre reason I can only now recollect him as an image of Ras B Nesbitt in my head) and there he stood in front of the entire class asking me for my homework. A set of homework that for once I had understood and had proudly spent hours completing. As I rooted in my bag the entire class watched as I slowly came to the horrifying realisation that I must have left it at home. Flushed with embarrassment I explained my predicament, however this time he didn’t believe me and happily vocalised this in front of the entire class. Experiencing a very sudden intense feeling of humiliation I picked up my bag and without hesitation threw it in his direction. As a shocked class looked on in disbelief it soared through the air and landed at his feet (I wasn’t aiming to hit him) I yelled ‘check it if you don’t believe me’. Just to reassure you he wasn’t too distressed by my actions as my mate reliably informed me later that he got his metre stick out and went on to deliver one of his best lessons on guesstimating (the distance I had lobbed my bag) after I was of course promptly hauled out of the class.
Needless to say school became a difficult place which saw me caught in a vicious cycle of impulsive actions or emotional outbursts towards teachers and fellow students, followed by feelings of shame and guilt, followed by negative thoughts towards myself. Sometimes I would try to suppress it but then it just came out in other ways. My form tutor told me I’d make a great second hand car dealer as I had an answer for everything and due to my rollercoaster of emotions everyone questioned my hormones (which have never helped but I’m not sure they were the root cause). A lot of the time I didn’t understand myself or my actions and as a result I felt so misunderstood by others. I did however have resilience in abundance and after every occasion I’d pick myself up, dust myself off and kept going until the next time – and let me just tell you there would always be a next time.
On numerous occasions, I got myself into trouble for my thoughtless speech and reckless actions – like the time my Mum thought I had Alopecia when in reality I’d had my hair ripped out by another girl in a pub car park (now I really hope my Mum isn’t reading this) and then there was the time she lovingly applied a pack of peas to my nose which was broken at the school gates as a result of something I said. I can only thank the Lord that when I had the bright spark idea of letting my bestie push me down a vertical hill in a shopping trolley (which went on to flip several times with me inside it) that I didn’t kill myself – it’s alright bestie I won’t tell everyone you manically laughed so hard you wet yourself through amusement and fear…..whoops sorry….not sorry 😬
Miraculously against all odds I made it to sixth form in one piece however at this time things in my home life began to spiral so badly out of control that I started to experience those instinctive feelings to run – cue last vivid memory of dumping a rubbish bin on a girl’s head (who said the wrong thing to me – to be fair she was really irritating!) before quitting school and running like a Forrest Gump into the world of work.
There’s not enough blog roll in the world to take you through my early career history and the numerous jobs I bounced from, however I guess you wouldn’t be surprised to to learn that my poor impulse control didn’t just stop at the school gates.
Over time I learnt ways to cope, some of which were positive and some of which weren’t. If I was bored, stressed or just didn’t understand what was going on I’d shut down or retreat into my own thoughts which often seemed more appealing. I’ve always been a daydreamer and even now I get texts from people saying they have waved manically in my direction and I’ve not responded. I also recognise that there are times when the daydreaming gets too much and that’s when I know I have to do something (generally creative) to make sense of what is going on around me – I now just refer to this as my bloggers brain! Although, I’ve also turned my hand to a little vlogging as of late too.
My life changed significantly when I met my very own Mr Darcey who in true Bridget Jone’s style ‘loves me just the way I am’. Finally I found someone who truly understood me and accepted me for who I was. Although admittedly thinking back to that punch up I nearly caused in the nightclub when we first met, I recognise it took a little while for him to tame me!! His left brained logic was exactly what I needed to balance my right brained chaos and I learnt different ways to channel my impulsivity which were creative and fun for everyone who surrounded me. I can hear the words of one of my besties resonating in my head now when she says ‘there is never a dull moment when Jo Jo’s around’ cue image of me walking through the villages with a traffic cone on my head after a few wines, giving my mate a bunk up on to a dancing podium in a night club because it was absolutely the right thing to do at the time and not to mention the numerous bat shit crazy ideas that I’ve roped them all into over the years.
Over the last year due to the strange times we are living through I’ve come to realise that I have been locked in a battle with the Jo Jo from my past and the Jo Jo from my present. Working at a Secondary school where complex SEMH (social emotional and mental health) needs are at an all time high I have been spending time with multiple misunderstood younger versions of myself. I cannot tell you how hard it is has been to hear the words ‘Miss I’m not normal’ or ‘Miss I need fixing’ on a day to day basis.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been ‘normal’, I mean what’s normal supposed to look like? Answers on a post card please. My brain works overtime, it always has and it always will (I don’t feel like I need to medicate myself for this). It generally has a song going around on a loop all day long – at the moment it flits between Black eyed peas ‘where is the love’, ‘This is me’ from the Greatest show man and ‘This is my Fight song’ – I’m not sure you need to be a therapist to figure that shit out given the words. They go round in my head only I can’t remember all the lyrics so it’s generally the same bits on repeat. I’m a rapid thinker – let me just tell you an example of how this played out in the school recently. Exhausted from a day of no breaks and back to back therapeutic work I walked past my mate’s office stuck my head in the door and what I planned to say was ‘stick a fork in me, I’m done’ however just as soon as this saying came into my head I quickly questioned its origin, was it because you stick a fork in sausages to see if they are done? What came out of my mouth as a result was ‘stick a sausage in me’ – I’m not kidding you either. Thankfully this was a woman for starters and she knows me very well, however even to her I guess your mate busting into your office shouting ‘stick a sausage in me’ and then stopping mid flow when she knew she’d said something wrong must be a bit weird!
I think in pictures, movies and songs, this is because I spend wayyyyyy too much time in my creative brain and I have a repetitive movement which I’m not sure I’ve told anyone about (but I’m guessing some people have noticed it) this is something that started in my previous job and has travelled to my new one. When things get really tough for me I zone out and engage with some weird clicking shit with my mouse – sometimes I’m aware of it and sometimes I’m not so much – I guess I’m just trying to look busy in my trance like state!! On top of all this, I spend a lot of time fighting the urge to laugh at inappropriate times – the less said about this the better!
Back to the beautiful chaotic, impulsive girls I work with who believe they are not normal and need fixing. I guess things have moved on since I was young as some of them have labels and others are desperately searching for them as they believe this is the only way that society will ever understand and accept them. However just because they have a label it doesn’t mean they understand themselves. Whilst I recognise I hurt myself in more subtle ways when I was younger through self sabotaging behaviour, these girls are hurting themselves in ways that rips my heart into tiny little pieces and for months I have held their pain as well as my own.
I learned about secondary trauma during my adoption process and therapeutic training – it’s not something I’ve experienced before with my own children as their stories are very different to my own, however the narratives I’m hearing every day in some respects are so similar to my own it’s hardly surprising that old Jo Jo has come out to play as of late. No differently to the girls I work with I need routine, structure, learning breaks and appropriate support which due to the extra demands placed on schools as a result of the Pandemic is currently lacking for all. I also feel a level of anger that I’ve never felt before on behalf of all of these children (mainly against children’s mental health professionals) but I have nowhere to direct it so it just sits and festers inside me.
Feelings of low self worth have crept up on me and my canoe which had been swerving down the river of wellbeing for some time (Daniel Siegel) has smashed into the bank of chaos and I’ve been left like my lost girls searching for a label that I’ve never needed before.
And so I guess you won’t be surprised after all that to hear that I’m running again, but before I do, I’m going to stop and educate you. If you take some time to understand me then perhaps you’ll understand how to support some of your lost girls and help them to become the very best version of themselves.
This is my fight song, take back my life song…..that’s really all I know after listening to it hundreds of times!!
ADHD – it did exist back in our day we just labelled it differently!