Podcasts and Puberty (that word is so gross)

Written By - Tessa Cash

I started listening to podcasts because when I moved to London solo two years ago, mornings alone were hard. Studies show there is a dip in serotonin in the human body in the AM, not to mention my history with depression and my very terse relationship with food, which regulates dopamine. All these factors teamed with facing a day of predominant isolation in my self employed state created a recipe for a recurring mild depression that lasted into the afternoon. I tried listening to music but when I needed a break from that I was, at a loss.

In a shameful admission, I stopped reading books years ago. Something an unkind person pointed out to me when we began dating in the Indian summer of 2017. More on him later. When I developed anorexia nervosa at age 13, my concentration went dead. I’d read pages upon pages of words that simply wouldn’t permeate my brain. I loved reading as a child. I’d devour books by the pile and adored the family trips we took to the library. While my sister opted to hire videos, one of which she watched every entire day of the holidays, (yes the old school style VHS kind), I’d fill my little basket with all sorts of literature. Well, loose terminology used there, (read: The Baby Sitter’s Club), but you get my point. Poor Marmee. She had to limit ten books to each child so the family didn’t go broke on rogue book penalties. At the end of the two weeks there’d be a mad scramble to locate all forty books on the hiring receipt.

I become obsessed with cook books in the height of my illness. I’d sit on the ducted heating thumbing through pages of lusciously photographed food I wouldn’t allow myself to eat, wrapped in a blanket that inflated as the warm air blew up from the covered vent cut into the floor. The pictures were comforting, as was the heat that pervaded my skeletal frame, and the recipes were concise enough for my starving mind to comprehend.

My illness had been years in the making. I was such a happy kid, tearing around on my blue wheeled bicycle, frolicking in rock pools and conjuring all sorts of imaginary tales and stories about my boogie board, the teepee house we stayed in when Grandpa died, the baby bunnies we bred and put in terracotta pot plants one weekend. I didn’t give a care or thought to anything sad or unimportant. I loved our Sunday family lunches, where we’d spend hours around the table making our own rolls from the fresh baps Mum would buy from Baker’s Delight. Togetherness was important. Food was important. It wasn’t abused or used for comfort or control or punishment. I remember playing with our neighbour one Saturday afternoon. We were having such fun when his mother called him in for lunch. Aw no, I thought. He’ll be gone for hours! He returned fifteen minutes later with half a ham sandwich on supermarket bread and I just about died. That’s lunch? Lol. How hilarious. It was one of those realisations you have as a kid when it becomes surprisingly clear that not every family is like yours. Similar to the realisations you have when your body starts changing, and all of a sudden there are lumps and hair in places that didn’t have lumps or hair before. I distinctly remember walking down towards the esplanade in Geelong when I first noticed hair under my arms. I was devastated. Oh no. I’ll literally never be able to wear a singlet top again. Ever. And how was I supposed to go to the beach with this embarrassing dirty tuft of hair on my body? Gross.

My pubescent body didn’t stop there either. My menstrual cycle graced her very unwelcomed presence one morning before school. I’d heard about this strange phenomenon but it’s one of those things you can’t really fathom until it’s actually happening to your body. I howled from the toilet in fear at seeing the faint pink stain on the crumpled up piece of toilet tissue. It scared me. The pain scared me and quite frankly was inconvenient and frustrating. I remember confronting my elder sister about this strange puberty phenomenal. She was bandaged up in a big harness (bra), and two pairs of cotton knickers with a big maxi pad wedged somewhere up in there. “It’s just the way it is T,” came her solemnly accepting voice. What? No. No no no. This was awful. I wanted to run around and go swimming and ride my bike and not have to worry about being constricted by a nappy and a harness and horrible cramps that cascaded down my legs and made my tailbone sharply spasm. My mother never used tampons and hence never offered them as an option. So one very warm day on a family holiday in North Queensland I decided to take matters into my own hands. There was no way I couldn’t go swimming that day. It was a hot and sticky tropical heat that only exists in the rainforest. I crouched down in the tiny bed and breakfast bathroom unaware that the light I had turned on was emanating heat from above. I held a mirror up to my pussy with one hand and held the very unfamiliar sanitary item in the other. I think that might have been perhaps the second time I had actually explored my vagina up close. I didn’t even know where I was supposed to put that blessed contraption. The  furious squatting continued beneath the en-suite bathroom’s heated lights and at some point during the unofficial first fingering of myself, my vision began to cloud in. All of a sudden with eyes wide open, in the middle of the day, my sight was completely black. I was petrified. “Mum! MUUUUMMMMM,” I screeched from the second floor. She arrived shortly after my blood curdling screams had her racing up the stairs. She led me to the edge of the bed after a very panicked explanation of what I’d tried to do. I’d only wanted to go swimming. That had been it. The thing was, my mother had never used tampons, despite the fact that she’d had four vaginal births sans pain relief. In those five minutes that it took for my sight to return I wondered how I was going to continue on living blind because of a tampon fail. Those stupid packets had warned about toxic shock syndrome and I should have listened. I was a stupid girl. I felt so guilty that I had been so selfish as to harm myself because of something related to my genitalia.

In short, puberty was difficult. The other change that I found incredibly difficult was the extra padding that seemed to slowly but steadily creep onto my physique. Padding that points to the fact that I was greedy, grotesque and lazy, and essentially, what good is a woman who possesses all these qualities? Surely you can’t tell those things about a woman or a person solely by their appearance. But apparently, according to society, you can. I became an individual that was looked upon as lesser, and these taunts and cruel criticisms began to cut quite deeply. I couldn’t control what my body was doing. I wasn’t eating an excessive amount, nor was I a sedentary couch potato. Kids say horrible things and you can hardly blame young, primary aged minds but surely it is an adult’s job to correct these young minds? For some reason, they didn’t. When I’d speak up against these taunts the authority in charge would contort my cries for help into the same sort of disses or ignore them claiming they were my issue to deal with. I do remember one teacher who stood up for me upon explaining an altercation with a very inappropriate colleague of hers. Her vivid cry of support can still be heard in my mind, “I will be your advocate!” she strongly stated. Mrs. Buskes, wherever you are, thank you. I SALUTE YOU.

In amongst all these changes and all these people saying these negative things that apparently I had become, I began to stop trusting my intelligence, my courage of conviction, my intuition, and slowly my ability to absorb information and think clearly under pressure. I struggled in my last years at school and compensated by re writing most things I’d read under the guise of ‘studying.’ I’d write essays in advance, play to my memory strengths and regurgitate two thousand word pieces, almost word for word. I wish I could go back and tell that girl she wasn’t loathesome, or lazy, or unattractive. More importantly, that she wasn’t stupid, or unnecessarily crying wolf. That is was and is smart and brave and that she champions the weak and maintains courage under fire, and that she is a wonderful friend, daughter and lover.

So podcasts and consequently audiobooks. They’re cool way to expand your mind if you’re having trouble concentrating or finding the time to read or if you simply don’t want to lug a big book around.

More on these little audio gems later xox