Challenge: Reading Old Diaries

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Words || Harry Fraser

Greetings readers, this is Harry Fraser, the Regulars Editor for Grapeshot. Welcome to the challenge, the part where I do something that challenges me for your edification. This issue, I delve into the diaries that record my wonderous if not slightly traumatic adolescence. Coming off the back of the last challenge to become a TikTok dance sensation, this took a dark turn.

As a caveat, I did journal frequently (more sporadically) over the course of my teenage years, although there were swathes of time that went unrecorded. Saying that, I reckon there was enough for me to travel back into the headspace of my younger self. 

The earliest ones I could find were from early 2013, the year my parents got divorced. Please don’t let that scare you off, this isn’t going to be a misguided attempt at therapeutic confession, I promise. It was also the year I started high school, so not all bad. 

What struck me at first was the level of emotion I felt when I read my own words back. I had forgotten how I felt all those years ago and it was confronting to be thrown back into my portrayal of my own existence, even if in hindsight it was a tad dramatic.

When I say emotional, it wasn’t crying and sadness, but more anger and frustration, the same emotions I was writing about at the time. I was suddenly reintroduced to the memories that made me feel that way. I had not so much forgotten, but perhaps glossed over the more intense parts of those years.

I suppose it’s a coping mechanism, to normalise and minimise what you were feeling and anything you went through. But as a result, I also relegated the extent and nature of my emotions and recollection of that time to a distant sector of my mind. 

So, as I was exposed once again to a first-hand account of these emotions and events, I was amazed by the way in which all the anger, disappointment and apprehension returned to me so rapidly. 

More recently, a sense of nostalgia has tainted my perception of my childhood and my teenage years in particular. I suppose this issue of Grapeshot reinforces how we adults do this, we forget what things were like and in its place we render the past in a soft and seductive reminiscent glow. 

In reality, for me at least, I wanted my teenage years to be over and for high school to end as soon as possible. In fact, I needed it to be over. I wrote incessantly about getting out of suburban Sydney, going to university and never looking back. Classic teenage stuff. 

2013 and 2014 were lonely years. Like I said before, my parents split up in early 2013, I lived in three different homes and I started high school. I had mainly male friends carried over from primary school, but the slowly manifesting reality of my sexuality made me feel isolated from them.

Up until this time, although I had always been a tad eccentric, my journey with other boys my age had felt similar and as a result, I felt I belonged. During 2013/14, my personal development set me unmistakably apart. 

I know what you’re thinking. I said this wouldn’t be a confessional, and I have slipped somewhat, but we are getting into some boots the house down Anne Frank realness here. You’re reading about me writing about my childhood diaries, it’s gonna get a tad introspective. 

At the time I was going through it all, I wasn’t able to comprehend or truly articulate how I was feeling and really, what I was feeling. Reading my own words back in my 20s and the memories they trigger, I am able to make connections I never previously saw. 

Despite growing up in an accepting family within an accepting community, I was still so alone. I was never bullied at high school, but I isolated myself from other people. I thought myself a pillar of self-love because I never doubted my existence and the validity of my identity. 

What I now see is that I did. On a subconscious level. Naively, I thought myself exempt from this internalised homophobia everyone talks about and I believed it up until now, when I read my diaries. The turmoil was there but I didn’t see it. 

Anywho, we move now to 2016, where I spent my entire year wishing it was over. For some context, I had never been overseas at this point. My aunt, who lived in Paris, devised a plan that instead of getting me and my brothers Christmas and birthday presents from the time we were born, she would fly us over to Paris for our 16th birthdays. 

I was the only one of my brothers to take her up on the offer (lucky for her lol I wouldn’t fly three teenage boys over to Paris). My trip was in December 2016 and from February 2016 to the day before I left, all I wrote about was getting the fuck out of Australia. 

Every entry in 2016 started with a countdown of months and days until I left. You can tell from reading it and the feverish script that I was desperate to go. My family situation was okay, not ideal, and I wanted terribly to get away from it all. I even thought it would make me more adult to travel. 

In 2020, I grapple with mindfulness and being present, but if you talk to 16-year-old Harry, you can fuck the present unless that present is a flight to Paris. I have since been to Paris 3 times and I would say it’s one of my favourite places in the world. 

We then turn to 2017-2018, my final years at school. I won’t lie, I fully neglected my social life during this time for my HSC and my journal backs that up. Of my concerns from this period, getting a stellar ATAR was number one. Although this wasn’t that long ago, I really forgot how seriously I took the whole thing.

You can legit read me going through what the lowest ATAR I would be happy with would be, negotiating with myself the lowest we could go to mitigate the decision to become a hermit and still retain a sense of self-worth. 

For almost two years, everything on my mind consisted of HSC, ATAR and university. I had no social life to speak of, other than occasionally studying with people, no dating to be found and underneath it all, a desire to be seen.

Let’s get Freudian for a second. Reading my diaries from my teenage years as an adult, I recognised a few things. You see memes these days about gays being crazy in their twenties because we were denied self-expression and genuine romance in our adolescence. I usually shrug it off, but when confronted with the content of my own diaries, and my own teenage experience, it’s hard to deny. 

There is nothing about crushes to be seen across the pages. No romance, period. It was clearly on my mind because I wrote about wanting to know what it was like, to like someone and know that there was a chance they might like you back. 

I know for a fact that there were crushes, but I wrote nothing of them. And now I understand why. Shame. The shame of being unlovable. The shame of unrequited desire. The shame of being ashamed. At the root of most of the experiences I wrote about was shame. On some level I knew this, but reading my own words back, I see it was far more pervasive than I realised. 

Contrary to what you, the reader, might be thinking right now, this heuristic experience of delving into my teenage mind has been liberating. It feels like a full circle moment, giving credence to the overused, but nonetheless true, maxim ‘it gets better.’ 

My advice to anyone thinking of looking at their old diaries, be kind to yourself, treat your younger self as you would a friend. They most likely needed one like you.