***Minor details have been changed for anonymity purposes***
From mid November to early December – nearly a month – I didn’t go to school. I wasn’t at home either, barely did any schoolwork, yet in doing so I created memories that will stay with me forever. I came to some difficult realisations about the future, namely that I had pushed myself to be what everyone else expected me to be. Now that I can’t be that any more, I’m almost in freefall but I wouldn’t change that for the world.
Where was I? I can’t tell you much, apart from that I was filming a small thing for something that might appear late next year. Instead of focusing too much on those details, I want to talk about how it changed my life in the best way possible. Not just temporarily but how it forced me to realise that I’ve shoved myself into a little box because of the expectations of myself and others for far too long. Those expectations have now changed and I think I may finally know what I feel.
I stayed in a city far away from the one I live in, with a train journey lasting just over 2 and a half hours. For the longest time, I’d fought with family over going by myself and finally, I was allowed to take that journey, the longest I had ever done. In total, I did it four times, sitting with my thoughts for company, reading, heart beating hard with a mix of anticipation and fear at what I knew would be an unforgettable journey. I was right.
Collectively for around a fortnight and a half, I stayed in a hotel that was 15 minutes’ drive from the place we were filming, with a chaperone because I was below the age of 18 at the time. I had my own room, could lay my stuff out how I wanted; it was exhilarating to come back to the hotel after having had dinner and to feel utterly in control of that space. The chaperone I had was amazing: she helped me to see life differently, to understand that there are far more options than the one you thought you’d do a year ago. Over dinner – where we went out pretty much every night when my schedule allowed – and breakfast in the mornings, we talked about life and anything we could think of. Walking through shops and streets, I laughed so hard that I nearly fell over at one point. The experience wouldn’t have been the same without her because I felt secure when returning back from set, knowing I had someone who I could count on to help if I got confused and just a friend who I could chat to.
Each morning of a day I filmed, I got up, had breakfast and – depending on my call time – relaxed or got ready straight away. My sleeping patterns got messed up. Often, I had 12-hour days at odd times and so I was exhausted but it was a rewarding kind of exhausting. Receiving a Callsheet was always interesting because you were never quite sure what you were doing each day, if something overran from the day before. So many times, I asked stupid questions about abbreviations but it just meant I learned, all the time.
Now, onto the filming itself. I can’t describe anything in detail really but it was exhilarating. Between takes, I howled with laughter with the other actors. The first time I properly met one of them, an hour later we were joking around like we’d known each other for months. I wasn’t afraid of truly expressing myself, breaking free of the ‘vulnerable’ stereotype, my insecurities being natural and able to be talked about. Waiting between sections of filming wasn’t difficult either: I had too many cups of tea for it to be healthy and one of the Runners – people who do jobs around set and help the actors if they need something – spoke to me constantly. I can safely say that the people made it worthwhile.
I wish I could tell you specific memories I have but I’m not allowed to reveal anything about the filming. However, highlights include shivering so hard in the cold, talking to an actor about mental health and our lives for almost an hour, learning about so many new things, chatting to the costume and makeup people and starting to use terminology that you wouldn’t understand if you weren’t in that industry. Coming back into the warmth when you were freezing felt as if your fingers were about to fall off and I took to mumbling lines under my breath and whenever I was running lines with the other actors, we’d sometimes just say the first line and run from then. I felt so comfortable around them; it didn’t matter that I looked young, that I had a disability, that I hadn’t done this much before. I felt utterly at home, able to absolutely sob with laughter and I didn’t care how I looked. It brought back my humanity and each time I came back to the hotel, I’d talk to my chaperone about how the day went and her enthusiasm for it all made me so happy.
I went for drinks after one of the days filming with some of the cast and crew. There, one of the main producers talked to me and told me I was wonderful, that I shouldn’t give up, that I should continue doing this. I beamed, heart soaring as I realised – maybe, just maybe he was right. After speaking to the director, one of the loveliest people, I started feeling a fire light deep within me. It was glorious and I got confidence I’ve never felt before or since, bolstering me like I was worth something more than I ever thought. I went back to the hotel – something I jokingly referred to as ‘home’ with my chaperone – and cried out of shock. They were happy tears, tears of gratitude and an overload of emotion.
The day I left the set for the last time, I cried so hard for hours. It felt as if I was leaving something behind and I felt horribly empty when I remembered that there would be no more Callsheets for this time, no more accidentally walking into walls and having to re-take whilst laughing, no more chatting to the director and the rest of the cast about my disability and them not caring that I was blind, just caring that I was myself. The train journey back was one of the most difficult I’ve had as it felt as if my heart was breaking: I missed it and still miss it, the simple companionship and jokes I had with people, the waiting that never seemed to be boring because I knew I was being useful. I was needed, part of it, like I’ve not really felt before.
Going to school made me feel small, powerless and so, so wrong. I’d thought, over the Christmas holidays, and realised that I really don’t know what to do about my future. It threw me: my lack of work done was piling up; I felt panicked all the time at the thought of this continuing, on and on. That snapped me back to a sort of reality. Before filming, it felt normal to feel this awful all the time and to have no respite. Now I compare myself to when I was happy to now, when I’ve reverted to feeling worried constantly. I shouldn’t have to feel like this all the time. I shouldn’t have to do a degree that will just exacerbate this.
What do I do, then? Do I still do my degree in English Lit and Creative Writing, regardless of how unhappy it makes me? Or do I look at drama schools in the year I’m taking out next year? It shocks me to note that this uncertainty, instead of making me feel terror, makes me feel less trapped. I’m less limited now. In a way, I can be more in control.
This will come as a shock to, well, everyone. It already has. Throughout my secondary education, I never went into drama; I never expressed an interest because I never thought I was good enough. This will be a surprise; I’ll have teachers and parents telling me I’m being hasty, that I should be sensible. However, in this, I’m doing the sensible thing for me.
I want to do what makes me happy, to do what feels right. I don’t want to feel as wrong as I have; feeling so terrified and unhappy about the future and believing that to be healthy is harmful. I’m having a huge re-think but maybe that was necessary to make me remember that my views for the future are not the only path I could take.
There are always options. It’s far better to be happy and to feel confident in yourself than to go along with what people tell you you should do.
I don’t want this to be the end. I don’t want to go, “That’s it,” and force myself to be content with a future that has never felt wholly “me”. I don’t want to be told I’m being a child about this, that I should just do the degree because it’ll give me a good future.
I want to make a future for myself, not anyone else’s version of my future. I will create amazing memories and the ones I made last month and the month before, though fading a little, have made a lasting impression on me. They’ve shown me that I won’t just fit into a little box.
A lot of changes are happening in my head. I’m behind in my schoolwork, desperately stressed, losing control of some of the things in my life and breaking away from the things teachers want me to be and from the studious person I once was. However, I was only that because I needed to be. It was the only thing I thought I had. I’ve been proven wrong. I’m still insecure, worried I’m running too far and too fast but for once, thinking about this doesn’t make me feel like I’m climbing a mountain that never ends. Maybe, I can be happy.
Not maybe. Definitely.
Have you ever had a complete turnaround about what you want to do in the future?
Love from Elm 🙂