Sitting here at twenty-five, I by no means have it all figured out. I’m certain I still have a lot to learn about myself and about my place in the world. I won’t say I have regrets; I could perceive some of the things I have done in the past to be regretful, but I think it better to see these moments as part of my growth as a person on the trail of trial and error. At various points in my life, I thought, I am doing well, I am happy with who I am and how I am living. Five years on, I look back with raised eyebrows, quite surprised at how far off the mark I really was. I thought at that point, thankfully I’m older, now I am really who I want to be. Again, I was mistaken. I look back and realize I was not who I am today. Today I am a man who is increasingly trying to lead an authentic existence. It is difficult, and I can see how I still hold myself back, but compared to my younger selves, I’m doing much better. I see these realizations as incredibly positive. Every few years I grow as a person, maturing into my potential. When I’m thirty, I’m sure I’ll look back at someone still learning how to be my then present self. This fills me with promise and optimism for the future, as now I know, the person I love to be is someone I shall love increasingly with each passing year of my life.

My mother’s family worked in the mines in the north of England. My grandfather on her side was a policeman and for a while my grandmother was a school secretary. My father’s father, an Italian, was also a policeman. He worked at the airport, whereas my other grandfather was a (horse) mounted policeman. My Italian grandmother was a seamstress. In 1985, my father migrated to England. He met my mother and working hard for himself, created a comfortable life. He was able to send his first son to private school and then also each subsequent son.

Our life in Chelsea has been wonderful and truly privileged. Our father did however instill certain values into us. As a family we did not spend money needlessly. We would eat a home cooked dinner most nights, an outing to a restaurant a rarity saved for special occasions. We were spoilt in certain ways, yes, with attention and love. We were not however spoilt with things. We were not bought toys on a whim, only receiving gifts when they were earned (admittedly also very occasionally when they weren’t). When I began my time at boarding school, I was introduced to a world of wealth, privilege, and prosperity I had never encountered before. I schooled with children whose parents literally owned great swathes of countries and monopolized certain industries in others. A royal student was not unknown.

Making friends at school and university is a nuanced task. On one hand some might say to, “be yourself and everything will go smoothly,” whereas realistically it is not as simple as that. I made friends who introduced me to other friends outside of school; I started dating some of those friends and started morphing into those people, identifying with their lifestyle, until I craved that which I saw, their ability to buy their way wherever they pleased. It was a rush to act the millionaire.

Borrowed family threads were my costume, and a small allowance was my ticket to attend an opulent, impudent evening. I used my friends much more than they used me. I changed the way I spoke, the way I acted, the words I used, the humor I enjoyed, or, at least, pretended to enjoy. I became someone I was not and I get a feeling that this was one of the reasons I was bullied so badly at school. I’m sure there were other reasons too; however this could quite possibly have been one of them. I’m not sure I would respect my teenage self if I met him today.

At university, I was once again thrown into a world where my affected personality was not what I perceived as ideal to fit in. I, along with many others, changed the way we talked, changed the clothes we wore and acted like people we were not. It is said that university is the perfect place to reinvent yourself, and we did so unashamedly. I realize now that I should have shed everything which was not really me. If someone does initially judge you for being that which you are, maybe due to a preconceived notion that due to your clipped public school tones you are a spoilt brat, it will not matter after a time as they will get to know you! If you are a good, honest person with self-respect, then people will respect you too. One of the most popular girls at university, who I like to use as an example when thinking about this, did nothing to hold back her posh English accent and because she had self-respect and was herself (to the extent that I could see) she was very popular. In other words, those things which you think will ingratiate yourself with a potential friendship group, whatever their background, are in fact those things which will mark you out as a person who is not comfortable with who they are, someone wishing to present a dishonest representation of themselves. Intelligent as those people probably are, they will see through the facade and distance themselves when they catch wind.

Never forget where you come from. It is integral to live as authentic an existence as possible. It is infinitely more satisfying to be true to yourself, instead of pretending to be something you are not, and if you are all the while a pleasant and personable person, people will love you for it. This is a guarantee.

Unfortunately for me, however, even when my mask did start to melt away after first year, there dropped another more sinister mask over my features, one of depression and anxiety. I had started to smoke skunk. This powerful herb snatched away my confidence, my happiness, and my ability to live unhindered by dark and paranoid thoughts. This affliction also ruined the relationships I had built up over first year. I was glum and basically someone who was not a pleasure to be around. I must admit that since the discontinuation of inhalation I am less removed and inward facing, anxious and unhappy. If you are susceptible to its negative effects, weed can ruin your social life and life in general. If it does not relax you and cause you to be carefree, please, it is not worth it. You may have the occasional good high and find a boost in creativity, but the negatives can massively outweigh the positives, and you can cripple yourself in search of them. I believe that past experiences that have been painful and distressing can be a cause for this reaction to be had when weed is smoked, this might be a reason for some people to avoid this substance.

When engaging in sexual activity, always use a condom unless you are sure you are both clean (in which case you should probably still use one if she is not on a form of contraception). The stress and fear this situation produces are not worth that unsafe one night stand; you will find yourself sitting in a doctor’s office, watching a little paper stick, willing it not to show two stripes, willing it not to tell you that you’re HIV positive.

I realize this article is quite morbid, but if I am able to scare anybody into avoiding these situations, then it will all be worthwhile.

For the rest of your university life remember, even if you apply yourself a little, you will go so much further than if you do not apply yourself at all. Remember to attend the majority of your classes or you will forever live in fear of the dreaded attendance email. I still have nightmares to this day that I have for some reason failed to secure my degree, whether by working too little or not attending enough classes. You will receive final warnings and dressings down and the stress this causes is plentiful and unnecessary.

If I could go back and change one thing about my class work at university, it would probably be my note-taking. If possible buy a lightweight laptop for every class, create files for each year, semester, subject, and module and open a word document at the start of every class, that way you have a page of notes for each class that the computer will date and organize itself. Also, back everything up!

I hope this article will help you my brothers, and also my sisters. Good luck out there and be smart about it!