03 May 2020

Why Normal People got me in the feels

Me aged 18

In isolation there's very little to do other than cook, do home work outs and binge on the latest TV series. Last week I binged on Normal People - the TV series that has everyone talking. Based on the Sally Rooney book, the series takes a very real and raw look into teenage and uni love. The guts of the story are rooted in the socio-econmic status of the two characters who come from very different worlds but find solace in each other for being outsiders in different ways. 

The series got me thinking about my own school and early uni days. I fell down a rabbit hole of going through my old pictures and ultimately, feeling the emotions I felt when I was 18. I even made a playlist of the music I listed to back in 2008 - 2011 - it's funny how music can really take you back. It's a decade since I left school and I haven't really spent much time reflecting on that period. Life has moved so quickly but I've found myself really exploring that period in my life since watching the show. In fact, I had to stop the TV show multiple times for a cry as I truly knew the things they were feeling throughout. 

In many ways, I am a hybrid of the two characters from Normal People. I am the working class girl from a single parent home who was the first in her family to go to university. At school, I was the smart, probably slightly out-spoken clever girl. I think if you were to ask anyone to catergorise my time at school they would say that I was clever or musical. I always did well at school as I cared about my education. I was never in trouble and never had a detention. My mother emphasised to me early on that school wasn't to make friends, it was to get an education. I struggled in my early school days to make friends and didn't really know where I fitted in. I wasn't a sporty girl - despite going to a very sport heavy grammar school. I prefered music and drama so I was always singing at the school concerts & going to choir practice. In many ways, I was very confident and assured in my abilities like Marianne in Normal People. It was my go to- I knew I wasn't the girl the rugby boys fancied, but I was the girl who got good grades. It's a thread of my late teen life - a confidence in ability rather than what I looked like. I never felt attractive. I felt awkward and fat. I look back at pictures and I was neither. I was a size 12 and tall. I didn't think any of the boys would fancy me so I didn't really spend much time worrying about romance. I had a few people I had crushes on but they never worked out. My night outs in 6th form for 18th birthdays where always about having fun with my friends. 

University was where I started to think more about how I looked. It also was when I put myself on the internet, aged 19 with my original first blog called Champagne Lifestyle, Student Budget.  For someone who felt awkward in her skin, it was an odd thing to do. When I started blogging it was less about me & what I looked like but about the products I was reviewing. I didn't put a picture on my blog for a long time. Blogging has changed so much since the early days. It was never my intention for my blog to be about me but rather about experiences, products and things our city. It's strange how much that has changed!  

Like the Marianne character who says 'I went to uni and got pretty' - that's how I felt. I started wearing lashes and more makeup. I started to care more about how I looked and invested more time into beauty treatments. I remember being in Stiff Kitten (RIP, the good days) for drinks with my friends and a guy sending me a drink over. I'd never had someone really pay attention to me so I remember feeling excited that someone liked me just based on what I looked like. My uni days are such a mad mix of up and downs - given that I was at university for five years I think that's probably natural. My undergrad was marred by illness and ultimately recovery. I started to have more fun by the time I went to do my post graduate degree but part of me nearly felt it was too late. Most my friends were in relationships but I was finally ready to party and have fun. It wasn't until my mid 20s that I felt confident enough to date so a lot of emotions people felt in their late teens, I was feeling a little bit further down the line. 

The thing about Normal People that got me most was the communication between the two characters. It really perfectly shows what growth as a person is. As you grow, you can convey to someone else how they make you feel rather than being confused or controlled by their behaviour. The constant push/pull of their relationship throughout the series is one I know resonates with so many people. 

I was a quick learner when it came to school books but I've been slower when it came to romance or having confidence in who I am and what I look like. At 28, I think it's only kicking in with me now. The insecurity of youth is a thing but also is misguided confidence. My value was always in the right place but because I didn't value anything other than being smart, I put myself at the back of queue for anything else. The emotions I felt during watching Normal People were intense - it was like every single growing pain I've had in the ten last years. Self discovery, first love, navigating life decisions - it was all there. I highly recommend watching it - especially if you are around the same age as me but be warned, get the tissues out. 

Normal People is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.