You've probably been there -- stressed and tired, feeling the weight of every year you've lived, when you see a group of teenagers and feel that familiar pang of nostalgia. What wouldn't you give to go back?
It's easy to look at the teenage years with rose-coloured glasses, to form a montage of those blissful times of freedom from responsibility, first kisses, loud music, fashion faux pas and parties that, in your imagination, never disappointed.
Neuroscientists have discovered adults are better able to recall memories from their teenage years than from any other time in their lives. This, they say, is because the teenage brain is more sensitive than the adult one and better at absorbing new memories.
I had often imagined what I would say to these people if I were to see them again. You know those eloquent well thought out speeches you construct when you are trying to fall asleep at night? But when faced with the barrage of messages, I froze.
Not only do we remember those times best but we also remember them most fondly, and this is due to the effect of rose-coloured glasses. (It should be noted I did not go to a scientist for that piece of evidence.)
As my child goes through his high school years I have been grabbing frantically for my own pair of glasses, but it seems that the coloured lenses have been scribbled on with a thick black marker. It's not just that I can't see back on my years at high school with a rose-coloured hue, it's more like I can't see them at all.
Scientists suggest that overlooking certain events, or in my case years, may be a protective mechanism. Forgetting about traumatic events can be an adaptive response important for survival. In addition to this, stress levels and distorted attention during actual lived experience can prevent proper encoding from taking place, making it harder to reach a memory that really hasn't been properly formed.
If our memories are especially emotional we tend to retrieve the emotion surrounding the incident rather than the specific instance itself.
I was quite content with my memories of high school being an empty spot in my cerebral cortex, I remember not being very happy during those years. In fact all too often I can recall the emotion of some really bad times. In fact the damage done during that period has caused more than black blotches on my lenses, it's created huge emotional scars (and a lot of business for psychotherapists).
I have the luxury of living in a different country from the one in which I grew up, therefore I am not confronted with the people who could poke those memories on a daily basis. So it was like a poisoned arrow being thrown right at my heart when someone I went to school with messaged me on Facebook.
Her message wasn't just to me -- it was to a cohort of my year group. 32 years later and these people, some of whom had a huge and negative impact on my life, were right here with me. In my house. In my safe space. I was scared to look at my computer.
I had often imagined what I would say to these people if I were to see them again. You know those eloquent well-thought-out speeches you construct when you are trying to fall asleep at night? I practised mine all the time and knew it would be stellar. But when faced with the barrage of messages, I froze.
Carefully I checked that the names I feared most weren't there. They weren't. Relief flooded over me. Still scared, but safer now.
But the people that were there -- I hardly recognised them at all.
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I looked at their profiles and saw in their photos that they hadn't stopped ageing, growing and developing at the end of school just because I had stopped thinking about them. They were adults now, mums, dads, even a grandmother!
Their 48-year-old selves were such a different incarnation of the people they were when they were 17, it probably made sense I didn't recognise them. And when I realised how far away from the 17-year-old I was back in 1985, I realised my stellar night-time speech no longer made sense. I could join the conversation as an adult rather than a frightened teen.
My memories of school are still shrouded in mystery, and the thousands of Facebook messages received since that first ping haven't evoked any actual memories, but, as the science suggests, they've certainly petitioned some emotions.
And all I can say is I'm glad I'm no longer a teenager.
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