Amber McNaught -

Things I Learned from Reading My Childhood Diaries

A couple of weeks ago, I reached the end of the first of the childhood diaries I’ve been transcribing here, so I decided to take a quick look through what I thought was the second diary in the series, but which actually turned out to be the third – because yay, secret second diary I didn’t even know I had!

Well, I read a few posts, then I read a few more… and then I literally laughed until I cried. LITERALLY. And I only ever use the word “literally” when I literally mean it, so look, here I am literally crying with laughter:

crying with laughterAnd, er, here I also am literally Snapchatting myself crying with laughter.

(Oh yeah, that mascara I reviewed this month? Totally not waterproof, just FYI…)

This wasn’t just “crying with laughter”, people: I was absolutely HOWLING with laughter – like, rolling around on the floor, clutching my stomach and SOBBING. At one point Terry actually got quite alarmed, but he was watching Formula One at the time, so he got over it, and left me to my hysterical laughter, which was the kind that starts off with something vaguely funny, but then escalates to the point where someone could say “hello” to you, and you’d just DIE, because FUNNIEST THING EVER.

The thing is – just to lower your expectations here – the diary itself wasn’t actually that funny. Well, I mean, it WAS, but not in a “HAHA, Amber’s such a comedian!” way. More like a “Wow, Amber was the most pretentious teenager who ever lived,” kinda way. What an absolute asshole I was, seriously. To the point where, the more I read, the more I thought, “Yeah, no way is this going on the blog: I mean, I know I was 13 at the time, but really – why did no one slap me?”

Guys, I really don’t think I can publish it – or not here, anyway, and definitely not in its entirety. When I started my ‘Secret Diary’ project, I thought it would be really cool to turn the blog into a complete record of my life, starting from age 11, and continuing on to wherever this blog ends up. While I still like the idea of that, though, I’m starting to realise there are probably some pretty big disadvantages to having that kind of stuff on the internet. Like, the kind of disadvantages whereby a brand new reader, or potential client, say, stumbles across one of those early diary posts, out of context, and then judges me entirely on the fact that I once made a small booklet, in which I listed every single thing I hated about myself, and what I planned to do about it. Because, yes, I did that: and bitter experience tells me that, no matter how many disclaimers I slap on that post, saying, “I WAS 13 WHEN I WROTE THIS! AND I WAS STUPID!” people are STILL going to miss them all, and then totally judge me on the idiocy of my 13-year-old-self.

No one wants that, do they?

My current thinking is to publish SOME of the diary posts in the Secret Diary section, as planned, and then to maybe release the rest as an ebook or something. That way the people who are interested can still read it, but it won’t have to be on the internet, where EVERYONE can read it. Until then, though, and because I don’t feel like I’ve rambled on for quite long enough yet, here are some of the things I learned from the surprisingly emotional process of re-reading my childhood diaries…

Amber McNaught -

I’ve always struggled to make friends

As you can probably tell if you’ve been reading the first diary I published, I was never the popular kid in school – in fact, I was always, always the outcast, and no matter how hard I tried, I’ve always found it hard to form really close friendships. Rather than being part of a group, I always had one BEST friend, and then a handful of other people I was fairly close to, but I’ve never had a large social group, and to this day, no matter how nice people are to me, I always feel like they don’t really like me, and are just, I dunno, pretending for some reason.

What really jumped out at me from that very first diary, though, was that the reason I wasn’t popular as a child was because I always seemed to be perceived as “stuck up” or a “snob”. I wasn’t AT ALL “stuck up”, though: the fact is, I was just shy, and socially awkward, and sometimes that can translate as stand-offishness. I didn’t really learn that until I was in my first job, and I went to my very first office party: I’d had a couple of drinks, which had helped me loosen up a bit, and was having myself a fine old time, when suddenly one of my colleagues, who’d also had a bit too much to drink, came over and put her arm around me.

“Amber,” she said, “You’re SO FUNNY! I can’t believe how funny you are! And NICE! You are really, really NICE!” She looked around the table for confirmation of this. “Isn’t Amber really funny and nice?” she demanded, and everyone stared into their drinks, before politely agreeing that Amber was, indeed, not entirely awful. Yeah, they were ALL pretty drunk, now I come to think of it.

I was just starting to feel embarrassed – I mean, flattered, obviously, but embarrassed – when she ruined it all.

“It’s just so surprising,” she said, “Because the whole time I’ve known you, I totally thought you were really stuck up and unapproachable, and it’s a shame, because you’re not like that AT ALL!”

And then for the rest of the night, she wouldn’t stop going on about how she USED to think I was, like, REALLY SNOBBY AND AWFUL, but that’d she’d been SO WRONG, and now that she knew the truth, we were totally going to be BFFS.

It was a bit like when you get a new haircut, and everyone’s all, “Oh, that’s just SO MUCH BETTER on you! I didn’t like to say at the time, but I really hated your last cut! This one is amazing, though, it really takes years off you!” On the one hand, you’re happy they like your haircut, and flattered by all the nice things they’re saying about it… but on the other hand, you can’t help but be retrospectively offended on behalf of the OLD you: oh yeah, and completely mortified by the realisation that, all this time, everyone’s secretly been hating your haircut, and wishing you would change it.

My personality is a bit like that old haircut, I guess. You think it’s OK at the time, and, if you’re lucky, no one tells you any different, but then, years later, you look back and realise you spent a large part of your life looking like the ‘before’ shot on a makeover show: and you’re not totally sure you ever really made it to the “‘after” part, either.

These days, I work hard to overcome my natural shyness/awkwardness, and behave as “normally” as I can in social situations, but inside I’m still 11 years old, and terrified that no one really likes me, no matter how hard I try. Speaking of that, though…
things I learned from re-reading my childhood diaries

I used to try much harder

After the bullying that ruined my final year of primary school, I really tried my best to be like everyone else. I joined the swimming team, the running team, the netball team – every team they’d let me into, basically. I was completely useless at all of those things, but I thought that if I just tried to throw myself into it, and join in with everything possible, I could make people like me. Of course, that didn’t work, and these days I’ve more or less learned that lesson: I no longer feel the need to do things I don’t want to do, just to please other people, and that has to be a good thing, right?

I really, really hated myself in high school

I seriously wasn’t joking about that booklet I made: it was called ‘Amber’s Magic Summer Makeover’, and it’s filled with cruel caricatures of myself, plus detailed plans on how I was going to change every single aspect of my appearance and personality over the course of one “magic” summer. I know you can’t see me right now (at least, I hope to God you can’t, or everything I’ve ever known about the internet is wrong…), but I’m typing this with my head beneath a pillow, in a bid to hide my utter shame about how STUPID I was…

By that stage, though, I’d decided the reason no one liked me was probably because I was ugly, and badly-dressed, and that if I could just find a way to get rid of my freckles (I HATED my freckles. It’s strange, because I rarely even THINK about my freckles now, but back then, if you’d told me I could get a head transplant to get rid of them, I’d have happily sold my soul to raise the cash…) and persuade my parents to buy me whatever brand of expensive sportswear was in “fashion” at the time, then all my problems would be over.

Er, I think this is the bit where I’m supposed to be all, “But when I look back at photos of myself at that age, I feel really sad, because I’d give anything to look like that now!” That’s how it’s supposed to go, isn’t it? It’s not like that for me, though: when I look back at photos of myself from that age, I just think, “Yeah, I was an unfortunate looking kid: I’m really glad I spent all that money on braces when I was older!” The fact is, I always viewed clothes and makeup as a solution to a problem: the problem being ME, and how completely awful I thought I was, in every possible way.

I’d like to say I don’t do that any more, but I’m still my own worst critic: I know you probably wouldn’t think it, because I post photos of myself on the internet every day, but I still look at those photos and instantly zero in on all of my flaws, and I still use humour as a way to put myself down first, so no one else can beat me too it. It’s like, “If I’ve already pointed out my flaws, YOU can’t use them as a stick to beat me, can you?”

I have no idea where I’m going with this. I feel like there should be some neat little conclusion where I come to some profound realisation about my life, and from that day forth, am a far better person for it. The main conclusion I’ve come to, though, is that I am still the same person: I’m still 11 years old in my head – and I think a part of me always will be.

I did get rid of the perm, though: at least that’s something.

You might also like:

The Secret Diary of a Failed Showjumper

Embarrassing extracts from my teenage diaries

Things I learned from reading my childhood diaries

P.S. I write a weekly diary which goes out every Friday to my subscribers. Sign up below to get on the list...

books by Amber Eve
  • This made me laugh and feel sad at the same time. I felt similarly to you during my teenage years (and beyond!) and it’s only in the last few years that I’ve really started to feel better about myself. For the record, I love your blog, I love your writing style, I think you look great, and I think you’d be a great person to be friends with (in the most non-creepy way possible!)

    June 21, 2016
  • Cristina Maria


    I’d still love to read through your diaries (this doesn’t sound creepy at all, right?) to be honest purely because I know if I could go back in time, I’d slap all that nonsense out of my 14 year old head too (I think 14 was my epic failure age, I hated myself so much haha). I was kind of the opposite of you, all I wanted was to be special and different and not like anyone else but for people to still think that I’m awesome. So I ended up with all these weird hobbies (like Japanese rock music) that I cringe at now. I don’t regret it though, everybody has to go through these phases in order to build who they are now. And it’s natural to look back and think “wow I was so awful back then” because you’ve grown, you’re more experienced and you’re able to tell the difference. Kinda like how we look back on the 80’s and think “how could people wear that and not realize that leopard leotards are not cool”.

    June 21, 2016
  • I was having a massive clear out of our ‘behind the wall storage space’ (read – I dumped stuff in there 10 years ago when I moved in and haven’t looked at it since) last weekend and came across a giant bag. In amongst the soft toys I never want to get rid of becauser I am sappy like that and my sixth form year book, I came across all my old diaries (including my dream diary). I naturally sat down right in the middle of the clear out and read them all, and immediately was utterly ashamed of my younger self (aged 14-17). I had no self-esteem, and the pages were just filled with ranting and raving at the world that apparently owed me something (in between describing everything as ‘class’ – a turn of phrase I don’t even remember ever using, thankfully!) Childhood diaries are funny things, mine at least apparently held the worst of me, and the most obsessive parts of me (some of the things I would say about the boys I fancied would have probably had me on some form of restraining order if they had ever read it)! My husband just laughed at me though so at least I know that I have (hopefully!) moved on a bit since then! It’s kind of reassuring to know that I wasn’t a complete one off and that most people’s childhood diaries are probably fairly similar in terms of self doubt, fear and raw emotion, if not in terms of practical experience! I do admire your bravery in putting even snippits up on your blog though – I would be mortified if anyone ever read mine!

    June 21, 2016
  • The Other Emma


    I’ll join the incredibly awkward club too if I’m allowed (please??) I still can be tongue tied and shy around people and I ALWAYS feel like I missed out on the life lesson on how to have your sh*t together and be “normal” Even now that I KNOW alot of people struggle with feeling the same way I forget that the instatnt I start to feel uncomfortable and am transported right back to my teenage years and feeling like a total outsider.

    June 21, 2016
  • Chiarina


    This post really resonated with me. I am ashamed of many things I did and thought when I was younger. When I look back to to when I was 11-14, I was ugly and socially akward. When I was 15-17, I just tried too hard. When I was 18-22, I sort of started to find myself. I think the ranges may change, but most of us go through these phases or similar ones… We can only hope we like ourselves at the end of this process (which is still going on for me and I am 35… but trying to be a better person is never passè, is it?)

    June 21, 2016
  • Grasshopper


    Oh yes, please let me join the awkward group, too! I’m also pretty sure I missed out on that lesson on how to be normal! 🙂 I’ve felt all the same emotions, from finding it hard to make friends to really, truly believing that I was the ugliest girl ever, and even for a brief moment wishing I was dead. I felt this never-ending struggle between trying to fit in and also be an individual. Really, all I wanted was for people to like me, to not make fun of me as I walked down the hall in school, to be allowed to be me and not be criticized for it, for a guy to take interest in me and it be real (not a cruel joke his friends put him up to)… the list goes on and on. I know now that when people are cruel to others, often it is their own insecurities at the root of it, and that has helped me get past a lot of things to some degree, but at the heart of it, I’m still the same person who cringes every time she has to go into a new social setting where she knows no one. I’ve learned to cope, to “fake it till you make it” and sometimes I even surprise myself, but people still mistake my reserved nature for being stuck-up.

    June 21, 2016
  • Absolutely relate as well. “I listed every single thing I hated about myself, and what I planned to do about it.” YES. I did this too, and several other variations of it. I once listed a few types of personalities, describing them and how people would react to them, to decide which one to adopt in order to be popular. :/ I have about a dozen journals ranging from ages 4-20s and it can be funny, sad, and interesting to read them.

    June 21, 2016
  • Jackie P.


    I was just thinking about how much I miss the secret diary! I would love it if you brought them back. I can definitely relate to how you felt then, and I definitely still feel that now also.

    June 21, 2016
  • oh Amber I wish you knew how gorgeous we (particularly me) thought you were (and indeed are). Our school was pretty hard at times with some awful girls there, I seriously don’t know how I dodged getting beat up but thankfully I did! I don’t know where I’m going with this comment but I just wanted you to know I’ve always thought you were beautiful (that’s not creepy is it? ;)) xx

    June 21, 2016
  • Lily


    Do you still keep a diary, Amber? I have a feeling you have mentioned whether you do or don’t but I can’t quite remember off the top of my head. I was wondering if rereading your kid/teenage diaries had changed how you felt about your current day diary/non-existent current day diary.

    June 21, 2016
  • Myra


    You sound just like 90% of all teenagers, and one in particular – Anne of Green Gables. Teenage angst is just that, when you are trying to separate yourself from your family and assert your individuality. It is tough, but so funny when you look back and see how naive you were. I love reading your secret diaries, and all your blogs for that matter. ?

    June 21, 2016
  • Brenda


    Our lives were pretty much parallel, freckles and all. As a child, I moved around a lot and just as I would make friends, we would move again. I spent so many of my awkward teen years trying to fit in and be accepted that I did some really silly, stupid and unacceptable things that I still beat myself up for every freaking day. And I am 44! Good grief, I would love to let all that s*#t go! Just this morning I was driving to the gym and a thought popped into my head about something I had done when I was 13. I berated myself, told myself how stupid that was, completely raked myself over the coals for something that I did 30 years ago!!! I’m thinking of trying the rubber-band technique. Putting a rubber band around my wrist and snapping it every time a negative thought about my youth pops into my head. Because seriously, I am so tired of thinking about all that stuff!!!!! However… I have totally loved having a peek into your diaries, Amber! Maybe because it has shown me that many people, most people probably, went through similar stuff. I think it is part of our human condition to need to be accepted. To have a place where we belong. To feel wanted. Now that I am married, I have that place within my home with my awesome husband and children, but I still have a hard time with friends. I have a few close friends who I love dearly, but it is difficult to form lasting relationships with other women my age. We are so busy raising families of our own, keeping our head above water, and then you throw in some insecurities and that pretty much puts a damper on everything. Anyway, keep us informed on what you decide to do with your diaries, Amber! If you do an ebook, I would totally be on board with that.

    June 21, 2016
  • Moni


    Well, to be honest I STILL don’t like myself in most photos. To me my smile is too wide, my teeth are too big, and my hair never ever looks even remotely good. And it’s totally the same when I look at photos of me as a child. It even gets worse in my teenage years, when everything I ever wore was at least 2 sizes too big. How could I??!! I obviously didn’t know that these pictures would be preserved for eternity. Oh boy…
    The funny thing is that I still managed to find friends (due to common hobbies and interests) in those years, and even had boyfriends who obviously found me attractive. So there must be something about my personality that’s not all bad, obviously… Although I’m not totally convinced.

    June 21, 2016
  • I still think it’s so brave you post your old diaries! I have many old diaries but gosh.. I was pretty darn pretentious haha… Also a lot of really bad poetry in there.
    I can totally relate to this, though! I’ve always had trouble making friends too, being a pretty shy, introverted person who prefers to spend time by myself. And I too spend much of high school unhappy with myself. I only just graduated and I feel like my overall wellbeing has already improved.
    Anyways, if you did post as an ebook or something I would totally read. I think it’s super great that you do this. Often times, people are so ashamed by their younger selves/stupid things they did/how they looked or acted. I don’t think we need to be ashamed. It’s all part of our life story, we should just laugh and be glad it’s over!! 🙂
    Julia |

    June 22, 2016
  • Trudy


    Some people say that the teenage years are the best part of your life. I would not want to go back to being a teen again, ever. My teenage years were the worst, full of all the angst and self-doubt that you describe. I only started feeling more comfortable about myself and my looks, in my twenties. I recently threw out all my old diaries, I couldn’t bear to think of anyone else ever finding and reading them, and I couldn’t bear to read them again myself, it brought back too many bad memories!

    June 22, 2016
  • I’m so glad it isn’t just me that’s spent most of my life being plagued by accusations of stuck-up snobbery! I feel like how I was perceived was one of the key factors to the break-up of my first relationship aka his friends all thought I was a stuck-up loser and therefore, as a teen, it simply could never have lasted. So from one woman who doesn’t easily make friends to another, you know what I’ve realised? We’re the kind of people that when others do take the time to get to know us and get past the introvert barrier, we make the deepest, most special friendships that last for life. Probably because we’re so grateful someone’s taken the time?! But anyway, I’d rather be like me and have a few close friends I can really depend on and who don’t take up to much of my introverted time (ha!) than a whole host of acquaintances who if I invited them to my birthday party (or upcoming wedding), wouldn’t bother to come…

    June 22, 2016