I was always a withdrawn and reticent child, at least in situations in which I was uncomfortable. For a shy and self doubting girl, these situations were many. It always held me back and, in many ways, still does.
My earliest memory of the feelings that shut me off from the rest of the world and render me functionless, is my first day at nursery school. I would have been four years old, not exactly shy, more uncertain, perhaps. In familiar company, my mother tells me, I was not shy at all, quite a handful in fact!
I knew I was going to nursery, I knew mum would be leaving me and I was nothing but excited about this thrilling advancement in my life. All my friends would be there. I’d been in the nursery building before and it was a fun place. I even knew the teacher well as she was a family friend. Yet as soon as my mother left me at the door, I was filled with fear and dread.
I was in a dim, windowless cloakroom, surrounded by colourful paintings, numbers, letters and excited children.
But, I couldn’t find my peg.
The coat hooks were mounted on bright, colourful bugs: ladybirds, caterpillars, butterflies, snails. The boys on one side of the room, the girls on the other. Everyone was bustling around me, giggling, hanging their coats then running through into the nursery to play.
I just stood there in the middle of the room, struck mute and motionless by my irrational fear which had sprung from nowhere following my earlier happy, excited demeanour. I stared at the coat hooks. The bugs no longer looked like friendly, cheery, childish art. They had become terrifying monsters and the hooks mounted on them appeared to claw towards me, menacingly.
Breathless. The sounds of play next door muted by the deafening roar of my heart pounding in my head. Dark. Dingy. The smell of the bathrooms…..
I suddenly realised I was completely alone. My friends had all skipped away to enjoy themselves. Why didn’t any one help me? Louise, Jackie, Steven, Jane? They were gone. Moved on, leaving me alone. Frozen. Terrified. Grey duffel coat trailing from my hand.
“Sara, haven’t you hung your coat up yet, love?” Mrs Mellor came out to check the cloakroom, waking me from my nightmare. The room became brighter, less oppressive and I could breath again. She whisked me gently over to my peg and jabbed my coat onto it. “There we go, my dear. Come on in and play!”
I realised, as Mrs Mellor took my hand and led me into my academic future, that ladybird by my peg with my name on it? Really was quite special.
Hmmm shrink, anyone? 😉