I was slightly taken aback a few days ago when a member at the gym I work at suddenly asked me: “were you bullied?” He’s one of our “regulars” and I’m rather fond of him. I had also recently shared the existence of my little blog with him, so when he asked me that question I immediately thought of my previous post. “Wasn’t everyone?” I responded. All of a sudden I felt sort of insecure and “seen.” Before I made the clever deduction that he had read my blog, my first thought was “can you actually tell that I was bullied in middle school. Does that still shine through my eyes?” Even though this wasn’t the case… perhaps it does.
In my life so far, I have been surprised to discover that many of the most intelligent, caring, driven, and talented people whose path I’ve crossed were bullied in grade school. Do aspects of their painful past still shine through their eyes? Maybe. But perhaps it’s BECAUSE they were bullied that they evolved into the person they are today. Perhaps the bullying lit a fire underneath them, and it is that which drove them to prove to the world that they’re worth it, and that those bullies were wrong. That they are better than the way they were treated. Perhaps that drive to prove the people from their past wrong is what inspired them to take chances, and to create a life for themselves that would make them all jealous and ashamed. At some point along the journey hopefully our efforts stop being about them and start being about us, but perhaps many of us think back sometimes and wonder… why me? I’m speaking outwardly with this section, but many of these statements are things that I have had to tell myself over and over again as I’ve grown-up. I’m not the person who was bullied in middle school. I’ve evolved, and I can leave that scared and uncertain little girl behind me.
I used to write poetry. Actually, from grades 4-8 I wrote poetry all the time. I carried around a little notebook and would write whenever I had a spare moment. Some of the poems I still remember. Especially this one:
I’M IN THERE – (a poem written and illustrated by a 12 year old me)
As something different from me,
At least from outside.
I did not look like me
I was too ugly to be
Someone other than myself
I find as people pass me by
I’m just that girl from the far outside.
The girl with no name,
I have nothing to gain
But a little self dignity
Like that girl in the frame.
Maybe this is me,
Maybe I’ve hidden
From myself all these years
Afraid of what? I ask myself.
Maybe that girl who has finally broke free
That old stubborn, Self Conscious Me.
Too much make-up,
Too many clips,
I was fake. Not real.
But now my personality has woken to fix
Myself up out of those childish lies,
The lies that made me the same in everyone’s eyes
Instead of unique, as unique as the sky.
And so now I feel quite right to say:
I’m Free, I’m Free
As night and day.
Sure, there are a lot of cliches in my work, but at it’s core this pre-teenage version of who I am today was desperately trying to understand why her identity should be determined by the pressures of highschool. Why, because she wasn’t popular, should she not feel worthy or beautiful. This poem was about a person who felt ugly because she did not fit into the mold of what she thought she was supposed to be. Discouraged, because when she tried she felt inauthentic. Afraid because the passionate and artistic girl she’d identified as being a part of herself didn’t fit into this new world of hormones and boys.
This person was of course me. At the end of the poem I say that “I’m Free” but 11 years later that’s still not entirely true.
Like many teenagers I was bullied. It still hurts. There is no worse feeling than realizing you’re being mocked by a classroom full of people you thought were your friends. If my life was a snow globe, I had turned myself into a figurine that I thought exactly fit the mold of what other people wanted me to be. I buried my voice deep inside of me to avoid fights and differing opinions. Then I enclosed myself in a box made of glass so that while I could see out but no one could get in to touch me.
In Brené Brown’s TED talk on Vulnerability she talked about how by numbing vulnerability we not only numb our ability to experience the “bad” emotions like anger, sadness, and jealousy but also happiness. By enclosing myself in my snow globe I was doing just that… but on a day I will never forget (when I was in grade 8) my world was suddenly shattered when I realized that despite my efforts to protect myself and to remain invisible, I could not hide from everyone.
It all started with a love note on my desk left by an admirer from the other french immersion class. I did not like him, but as an insecure pre-teen I was over-joyed by the prospect that somone (A BOY) liked me. I was in that stage of a girls life when worthiness comes from male attention. Your mom can say that she “loves you” and that “you’re beautiful” – but “she has to say that.” It’s a different thing when a person who isn’t weighted by any obligations acknowledges you.
So here was this note. I excitedly showed some choice people in the class. What was I going to say? How was I going to respond. I mulled over what to say to this boy all over lunch hour. I was a giddy little school girl. I don’t think that I mentioned that this was the first time that I ever received male attention.
Finally the bell rang to let us know that it was time to go back to class. I retrieved my neatly organized binder from my locker and returned to my desk only to find another note waiting for me. I opened it up and this is what I read: “I was only joking. I could never like someone like you.”
“Like me?” What is that supposed to mean? Am I an alien? What am I like? I felt like I was going to be sick, and I sunk back in my chair completely humiliated. It didn’t take me long to learn that both notes were written by a “popular” girl in my class, and that she had recruited the entire class to play along in this little prank she was going to pull.
However much I’ve grown, this little prank still hurts me to this day. I know that I should just get over it already. I mean, it happened almost an entire decade ago… but somehow every time I think back I remember what it felt like to read that note. I remember the humiliation and the hurt. The self-doubt. “Like me” rings in my ears. I’ve changed so much since then, and in that time the hurt has turned to anger.
Anger that someone could find joy in anothers pain. Anger not only that this experience is part of my past, but that 1000′s of girls are being treated in this way and worse. It pisses me off because a “harmless” prank done in “good fun” has shaped the lives of so many girls and boys. Worse, perhaps they believed that how they were treated accurately refelcted their woth. Maybe because they were called ugly once in grade 9, they stuggle to look in the mirror with love and acceptance. This is my own story, but I know that I share this same story with many.
I don’t explore the emotion of anger a lot in this blog, but this makes me ANGRY!
After a year of working on myself, and listening to endless podcasts on positivity and abundance the circuits that were hard-wired into my brain are slowly beginning to shift. I am in the process of working on a feature film for school, and as I worked with the director on set I suddenly became accutely aware of how far I have come.
I am writing this post today as a shout out to any girl (or guy) who was ever bullied, or who is currently being bullied. I just want to let you know that you are wothy of an amazing life. That you deserve a full and exciting experience, and that YOU ARE NOT WHAT YOU ARE BEING / WERE CALLED.
You are beautiful! You are smart! You are talented! And you can do whatever you set your mind to.
I want to let you know that grade school does eventually end, and that you can choose to carry the weight of your past with you or you can let it go. I’m not saying it’s an easy process. I mean, it’s more than 10 years later and I’m still carrying around a bit of the weight… but it is possible.
You have a right to be happy, and please don’t ever think that what they said about you is true. It’s not. You have limitless potential. So go forward in your life and do what you love. You are not defined by your past, and P.S: I don’t care what they said. THEY WERE WRONG!
I wish someone had said this to me, but now I’m saying it to you.