It’s been a while since I put pen to paper (99% of my blogs start with paper drafts, or at least rough handwritten notes) and, much like every other time I’ve left a hiatus of note between posts, a lot has changed. Usually, my idea of change is ‘just’ the internal sort, and I’m used to that by now, the slow chipping away of old anxieties (save for the odd relapse, usually in the darkest depths of winter – what can I say? I might be part sunflower.)
But the changes I’m experiencing now date all the way back to March 2021, if I’m going to timeline it correctly. A friend I had made through edutwitter, blogging and my podcast appearance, got in touch to say there was a vacancy for September at her school, maybe I’d like to apply? This came off the back of countless applications that winter: so few of them even merited a Sorry, you’ve not been selected for interview that I felt as though I was rather shouting into the void with each new letter. Someone, please, give me a chance! It had all reinforced what I’d heard at the end of my NQT year, that had made me feel strongly that I wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t cut out for this profession.
Lo and behold, this time was different. Like always, I ploughed everything into my letter and application, but this time I was invited to interview. I prepared so much for that Zoom call – it felt something like preparing for my A-level. I was surrounded by reams of notes, rewritten and redrafted and had zillions of tabs open on my internet browser: the school itself, the school’s policies, Ofsted, typical interview questions, interview technique, lo-fi playlists to try and soothe my stress.
I was very much prepared – but you know how it is. The moment I clicked into the call, I felt as though none of my prep had ever happened.
Somehow, I swallowed my nerves (well, most of them, I was still the same old Caitlin!) and after a gruelling hour I logged out and closed my laptop feeling that I could be happy I had done my best, over-preparation, GAD, fidgeting and all!
And then… a phone call.
“The job is yours, if you want it.”
My whole world changed from that point onwards, and you’ll read shortly how that isn’t much of an exaggeration!
Did I forget to mention, the job I accepted is at a school nearly two hundred miles away from “home”? (In inverted commas because of course my family home will always be “home” to me, but from day to day now, “home” means somewhere different!)
Yes, quiet little Caitlin, who at 14 tried desperately to find any way to become a teacher without leaving home to go to university, who at 17 basically stopped talking, who at 21 moved out but still came home twice a week, who at 22 moved into my parents’ loft, accepted a job that put a very finite time limit on living in the aforementioned (very cosy!) loft.
I grew up in a town almost universally described by its inhabitants to outsiders as “that town between Liverpool and Manchester.” It’s also known for being the location of the UK’s first IKEA, and for having Adam Hills on its Physical Disability Rugby League Team. It has an area of 180.5 square kilometres and a population of roughly 200,000. [It should be noted that while I do have a reasonable stock of QI-worthy facts, I do not just know these facts off the top of my head… well, I had to research the statistics at least!]
By contrast, I’ve moved to a much smaller but vastly more densely populated town, twenty miles west of London. The difference is enormous – I’m used to the capital being a five-hour drive and then a couple of train rides away, but I now live within walking distance of the Tube network, so can be in the heart of the city within an hour.
Geographically I’ve made a a huge change, and professionally too (a permanent contract! You should have seen me, the day I signed it and posted it off!) But what I didn’t expect what to feel so massively different in myself. You’ve probably gathered if you’ve been reading my blogs for a while that as well as being highly introverted and usually anxious, I’m also highly conscious of these two, which makes/made them feed into each other significantly. They can darkly complement each other at times, going hand in hand to create new problems all of their own.
But since moving out, having to do everything for myself and for the most part, by myself, has forced a lot of the anxiety away without my even noticing. It was a shock, when I traveled into London last week on my first solo adventure, to realise I’d made it onto a train and a Tube onto one of the busiest streets in the country, without so much of a whisper of wrung hands, hyperventilation or accidentally cracked knuckles. (I would have added my signature, disfigured cardigan sleeves, to the list, but even I as a clueless alien to the city knew that I wouldn’t need a cardigan on the Central Line in July!)
I traveled in by myself. I had lunch on Tottenham Court Road alone. I practically had a geeky little heart attack of joy on walking into Foyles bookshop for the first time, unescorted. I went to the theatre and saw an incredible show, on my own. I walked down the South Bank… yeah, I guess you’ve got the picture by now, and I’m running out of ways to say “I did it all by myself!”
Somehow, in amongst the noise of Central London (and good grief, is it noisy!) I subconsciously accepted that I am but a drop in the ocean.
I’m not trying to be pretentious, I’m trying to make a point about the shocking healing power I stumbled upon by diving head first into London’s approximate daytime population of over ten million people. If you’d asked me this time last year if I could imagine doing anything that I’ve done in the last week without anyone accompanying me, I would have quite comfortably said that wasn’t the life for me, thank you. The crowds, the noise, the rush, the sights, the lights, the very idea that I’d be alone and no-one would know me? I’d have told you it was all a panic attack waiting to happen.
To my great surprise, disappearing into the anonymity of the ten million is one of the best experiences I’ve had since moving down here. The rush that I was so afraid of, only means that everyone is too focused on getting where they need to be, to notice I’ve checked my paper Tube map, TfL app and the map on the ceiling of the car just to make sure I’m changing lines in the right place. (Side note: apparently they’re not called ‘carriages’ on the Tube, they’re ‘cars’? Thanks, Sherlock s03e01.) The busy people know exactly where to be and they aren’t looking at me as I step onto the platform and take a second to reacquaint myself with solid ground and locate the ‘Way Out’ arrow as the reassuring disembodied voice reminds us to mind the gap. And perhaps most importantly, literally nobody cares if I’m sitting under Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain with my book for forty minutes, waiting for my socially-distanced time slot to enter the theatre.
I realise that people have been telling me for years to worry less about what other people are thinking. But in this respect I’m no different to my Year Ones – I learned it better by doing it for myself rather than by being told. I didn’t know that I needed to learn it for myself, and certainly had no idea that I’d do so quite by accident! But somehow, by some miracle, it’s happened, it’s happening and the world is not so scary anymore.