A summary of this post was featured in Scope’s blog for Anti-Bullying Week.
Today I wanted to look back at how my confidence has developed over the years, after a difficult start. At home it’s never been a problem – my parents are both visually impaired, so they and my relatives have always been understanding and supportive from the outset. But away from the family, it hasn’t always been as easy. I’ve also made a video about my school days which relates closely to this post.
The very first school I went to in the early 1980s was a regular, mainstream school. And that didn’t go well. The teachers didn’t know how to help me and didn’t encourage me, so I really struggled in class. Plus I was bullied by other kids, which made matters much worse. There are a couple of incidents I still have very vague recollections of. I’ve no idea why there was a shed at the bottom of the playground, but a couple of kids sent me in there to pick up a coin they said was on the floor, and promptly locked me in as I was trying to see it. A stupid trick to fall for, but when you’re 5 or 6 years old, you don’t think like that. The bullies also made me put my hands on stinging nettles on one or two occasions. I had a couple of friends at the school I think, but generally speaking it was horrible.
Suffice to say, I was removed from that school pretty swiftly, but it shattered my confidence, as you can imagine. I seem to remember hearing that they got a bad report from the OFSTED inspectors later a couple of years after I left, which didn’t surprise me or my parents.
I was transferred to a school dedicated to educating the visually impaired, and remained there for the rest of my school and college life, as they were able to provide support right up until the point I left for university. The time I spent there made a huge difference. Without having been there, I don’t know if I would be as confident or positive about things as I am today.
The changes in my confidence were, inevitably, a gradual process over the years. Indeed, to begin with, I was still picked on by a couple of children there, because I was so shy when I arrived. Once they had realised they could wind me up quite easily, they did so. Having a disability doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be a nice person. Children will still be children. The staff there were much more helpful though, and it was much easier for me to make friends, as we were all in the same boat. So I had a great support network around me. If I became upset on any occasion, things were soon put right again.
And as the years went on, I actually became good friends with the kids who had teased me to begin with at my new school. In part it’s because I was being more successful, by doing better than them in classes and earning a lot more respect and one or two privileges from the teachers. I wanted to do well and took advantage of all the assistance I was given, without wanting to show off to look hard or tough. I also came to understand why they behaved differently, as I learned more about them and was able to put things into context. One boy in particular had a very unstable, difficult upbringing, and he never fully got over it, eventually taking his own life, sadly. Myself and a couple of other friends went to his funeral to represent the school, and I still miss him. He had a good future ahead of him.
Apart from that, a particularly big problem I had was being extremely shy in class for quite a while. I was afraid to put my hand up or answer questions in case I said something that was wrong or silly. Looking back it now, it seems wrong and silly in itself, but it was natural then. I just wasn’t confident in my own abilities or ideas to speak up. Presumably that’s because I was made to feel so inferior in my first school that I had it drummed into my head that I wasn’t that good at anything.
I got a lot better about that as the years went on, though trying to do anything particularly creative has still always been a bit of a struggle. For example, I did Music as one of my optional GCSE subjects (it was either that or Art, and I never liked Art lessons at school). And yet, as much as I’ve always loved listening to music, having to compose an original piece of my own as one of the assignments was a complete nightmare. I hated doing that part. The two small compositions I did end up with weren’t anything special, and I have no recollection of them. It was only by doing well on the written stuff like essays that I came out with a C at the end of it I expect.
I still don’t think I could do anything like that now – being a professional musician or story writer or anything like that doesn’t feel like me. But I have been able to feel better about my general creativity over the years. Doing little assignments in university and projects at work have helped, for instance. And doing a Best Man speech was a particularly proud moment last year. It wasn’t something I could really have refused anyway, even if I’d wanted to, but the fact that I did it and got such a good response has stayed with me ever since. Posting a couple of vlogs on Youtube last year was partly a step in that direction, to test my confidence in advance of the big day, but Scope’s campaign was worth discussion regardless. I also recorded quite a bit of footage on the wedding day using my iPhone, so putting that together as an amateur wedding video for my friend was an enjoyable experiment as well.
So I know I can create things other people enjoy, and feel proud of them. I don’t have an issue there. Once I’ve got a good idea that interests and engages me, I can run with it pretty well. It’s just getting started and having a decent idea in the first place that I sometimes really struggle with. Even if I get one, I sometimes won’t feel fully comfortable with what I’m doing until I see it coming together and the pieces falling into place. My Best Man speech was a bit like that, I wasn’t sure how that would turn out to start with. But, as that proved, when I do get to a comfortable point, I do feel more relaxed, and all the more keen to finish it and do it well.
In general, whether we’re talking about confidence relating to social situations, my own ideas and creativity, or things that my visual impairment makes difficult, I’m happy with how things have gone on the whole. I’ve learned not to shy away from opportunities I’m presented with, and have tried to give them a good go where I can. Some opportunities have of course passed me by, in moments where my confidence hasn’t been what it should be. Happens to all of us. But they’ve been outweighed by the things I have done, all of which have been a boost to me and I’ve been very pleased about them. It could be taking part in Christmas school plays, or standing for mock elections in school, or going to college and university, or getting a job, or being Best Man, and so on. The bottom line is – every action or event where I’ve had to do something a bit out of my comfort zone has had a beneficial impact on me.
It doesn’t matter if the things I’ve done were big or small, or complete successes or not, and the benefits may not have been immediately felt if I was nervous at the time. The fact that I did them is what counts and what matters to me. The more that I’ve been able to do, the less excuse I’ve had not to do other things, so it’s all helped to push me forward over the years, bit by bit. There’s still more I can do, but I feel I’m in a good place already.
It’s the sort of advice I’d give to others who struggle with their confidence. It’s not something you can shake off overnight by any means, but you can take surprisingly big steps forward by pushing yourself a little bit every now and again, doing things that you’re not fully comfortable with. It could be going to an unfamiliar location you’ve been a bit scared about visiting, or saying hello to someone new, or posting your first ever photos, blog posts, videos or audio recordings online, or trying a new food you’ve been curious about, or picking up a spider you find in the house to let it free outside, or whatever. It’s about doing something new and different that you’ve been consciously avoiding, despite deep down wanting to do it and knowing that you shouldn’t really need to worry about it.
Different people struggle with confidence about different things. It’s very individual, and what may seem small or silly to others may be a massive step for you. So don’t worry about what others may think. Set your own goals and targets that matter to you personally, regardless of whether they’re big or small. And don’t push yourself too hard too quickly. Just getting over one of your own personal hurdles can be more of a boost than you expect.
I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do, I know it can be a real struggle for many. But it is worth doing, just pushing yourself that little bit further. And getting the support of others if it’s available will make it much easier still, naturally. From there, you can work towards another goal, and another, and another. Lots of little steps soon add up to big strides, taking you on a journey that you may not have expected. It’s surprising where it can take you and how quickly. All it takes is one big push to make that one little step to begin with…