Confessions of a once bullied teen
May 17, 2012 | 11:00 am
(Updated: March 29, 2013 | 2:14 pm)
Of all the personal details I share in writing, there’s been one topic I’ve wavered about. It’s still almost too raw a memory, too revealing of who I am, leaving me somehow exposed even though it’s discussed more on a social and political level now than maybe ever before.
But because I’m challenged by it is the very reason I should write it, right? And because it has become a talking point in the national dialogue, it’s now in context, and I feel a responsibility to share.
I’m talking about bullying.
There is a difference between teasing and bullying. Bullying causes social isolation, anxiety disorders, depression and physical illness – all of which I battled as a result.
As a young girl I wasn’t a shining example of self-esteem, with all the upheavals and stressors in my then short life, and I wasn’t yet aware of what it meant to not value myself – to spend every moment wishing that I was different and essentially believing I was insignificant.
Early in elementary school I endured teasing, some a bit over the top, but it was in the realm of average – what most kids probably experience.
In fifth grade that changed. It was my first year in Kentucky, during the first Gulf War, and some kids in my class found out that I was Middle Eastern. As I’ve mentioned before, an alliterative nickname for me involving a former dictator spread among my peers.
Until that point, I had had no idea how different I was. After that there was a constant state of bullying.
Each day on the school bus the following year – my first year of middle school – some of the most popular-because-they’re-mean girls spent weeks telling me how cool I was, asking me how they could be as cool as me, raving, etc. I thought they were serious, and I had never felt better about myself. I went home every day with pep in my step.
It wasn’t until a couple weeks later that it hit me like a sledgehammer; they were just fucking with me the whole time. The next day on the bus, I sat in the first row; they called for me to come back, but I shook my head “no,” and they realized I’d caught on. The entire bus erupted with laughter.
I sat in the front of the bus from then on. I call out this story because it was the precise moment my self-esteem cratered due to bullying.
Shortly after, some popular cheerleader-types started a “trend”: Every time I stood by any girl, she would tap her nose and everyone around would run away. It caught on like wildfire, and eventually, I wasn’t able to walk up to anyone without classmates scattering. Finally, a girl caved and told me their plot.
I was destroyed. I sat by myself under a tree at recess and ate lunch in the bathroom – oh yeah, I was that girl. Eventually, I told my mom that I was sick and couldn’t go outside during recess anymore. She wrote a note to the school saying I could sit in the office during breaks. I never told my parents why. I never told anyone why.
As I got older, the name-calling changed from “stupid” and “freak” to “dyke” and “freak,” but the feeling was the same.
Those are just a few stories of many. They set the tone for the next decade of my life and caused damage that I had to actively undo. I had to reconstruct my sense of self-worth from dust. It seemed hopeless, but as it turns out, it was anything but.
I decided I wanted to fight for my future and my existence. Through therapy and by relocating to more metropolitan cities, I was able to heal, though it took what seems like forever. I teetered between fight and flight for so long that I can easily understand why someone wouldn’t want to fight.
That’s why it’s critically important for those who’ve never really been bullied – and maybe don’t fully understand the big deal – to stand up for the kids who are, to support anti-bullying efforts, and teach awareness.
Bullying derails lives, ruins lives, and even plays a role in ending lives, as we know. It causes permanent scar tissue that hurts every day no matter how long the wounds have seemed to be healed. It’s not a rite of passage. It’s abuse, and if we can help stop it even once, we’re helping someone’s light shine that much brighter.