Life Stories Life

The bullying I endured as a child has left me anxious as an adult

When I was about eight years old, I became the victim of childhood bullying. Two girls I had been friends with suddenly stopped talking to me. This was soon followed by other girls in their friend circle. Eventually, the rest of the class no longer spoke to me or wanted to be around me in any capacity. It was over twenty years ago now, but I still wonder, what did I do?

Was it because after some game that I couldn’t win I, in a moment of childish anger, grumbled how much I hated those two girls loudly enough for them to hear? Was it because sometimes I tended to absentmindedly roll my eyes at nothing in particular, and they took offense to that? Was it because they always thought I was annoying, with my crybaby tendencies, and decided they’d had enough of me?

Either way, what I did doesn’t matter.

That is something I have had to repeat to myself over the years because I get so caught up in what I possibly did to deserve being subject to bullying. I bought into this idea that they acted unkindly towards me because I was socially awkward or ugly. From my perspective, everyone sided with those girls because they were better-looking, or just better than me in general. I’ve often wondered if the bullying would have stopped if I stopped being difficult or weird.

For a long time, I also didn’t even register what had happened to me was childhood bullying. I came to look at the situation as those who alienated me simply exercising their right to choose who they wished to be friends with. I thought because I was awkward, didn’t have the same interests, and my personality clashed with theirs, that expecting decency was a burden to them.

There came a point I thought of my childhood bullying as simply a response to my own bad behavior. I was not within what I perceived to be the popular social circle at my school, and I didn’t receive the same romantic attention from my peers as those girls did. So I thought being ostracized, mocked, and receiving verbal abuse from my classmates was justified because it was only my jealousy that caused me to view them poorly.

As a result of all this, I don’t look at my childhood fondly. Rather, when I think of being a child again, I think of being powerless and subject to the whims of others. When I have reflected back on those times in the past, I would ruminate on all the ways I could have defended myself because of a harmful myth that surrounded childhood bullying: bullying would stop when the victim stood up for themselves. But victims of bullying are not equipped to defend themselves because our society does not teach children the necessary skills to do so. Even most adults don’t know how to properly defend themselves or others.

Correspondingly, I think the adults involved at the time didn’t even recognize the situation as childhood bullying. I remember when my third-grade teacher gathered the other girls and me outside of our classroom. She tried to talk out the issues between us in an attempt at conflict mediation. However, the problem with her approach is I was then treated as having the same level of culpability as those girls, despite them being a collective and me being by myself. What’s more, the teacher seemed to view the issue as simply a disagreement between friends rather than what it was: a group of friends against one kid, which was an inherent power imbalance, making it bullying.

Consequently, because no one named my experience childhood bullying, I didn’t realize it was until adulthood. I had a preconceived notion of bullying, thinking it was limited to physical assault. However, according to the CDC, different types of bullying can include relational or social bullying, such as deliberate ostracization of the victim.

I also didn’t recognize my experiences as being traumatic until conversations around mental health on social media got me reflecting on my own struggles, and what they may be linked to. Childhood bullying is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), a potentially traumatic incident that can have negative, lasting consequences on a person.

One such effect is children can experience feelings of shame or anxiety or have difficulty concentrating. I recall when the bullying reached its peak in severity, my grades dropped significantly. In addition, I generally lost all motivation for engaging in school activities. Kids who are bullied may also experience depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties that can persist into adulthood. I resorted to self-harm as a teenager in response to stress, I struggle with insomnia as an adult, and I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. In the worst-case scenarios, such problems can lead to suicide.

So what can be done to recover from the trauma of bullying? For me, acknowledging that yes, I was bullied, and yes, it does still affect me was a start. Treating trauma from bullying as a serious mental health issue also allows victims to take the steps to seek treatment through a doctor or counseling. Just because the experience happened as a child, between other children, does not mean it should be regarded as trivial or something to be dismissed. Because of the bullying, my childhood was often painful and traumatic. I’m not wrong for feeling bad for how I was treated as a kid as an adult.

However, at least I’ve come to understandI didn’t deserve it. All this blame I put on myself throughout the years has caused me to develop severely low self-esteem and alleviate the burden of responsibility from those who hurt me. In adulthood, I’m deciding I don’t deserve to continue suffering for what happened to me as a child. What’s more, no child ever deserves to be treated in a way that is harmful or traumatizing. And I hope as the conversations around bullying improve over time, bullying against children will be never be normalized again. 

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Family Life Stories Life

This is my open letter of apology to my sister

Growing up, I had only a few friends. From the ages of twelve to sixteen, I had a grand total of three people I would talk to and even then, I only felt comfortable messaging one out of these three friends. But, the one consistent person in my life has always been my older sister, someone I owe a big apology to. 

When we were younger, my older sister and I were often called twins – we were so in-sync all the time whether it was sentences, responses, or even emotions. My sister is in fact just under two years older than I am and although she can be a bit up herself for being the older sibling at times, I can’t say I’ve never connected with her even though my sister was always a little more sympathetic to things than I was or even still am; if I shed a tear, she shed a waterfall. 

Exhibit A; I slipped headfirst into the side of the building and got a concussion at school one time in year three and she cried more than I did as she went off to get a teacher who basically told her to calm down because not a single coherent word was coming out of her mouth. Though I had to stay home battling a throbbing headache for the upcoming weeks, my sister would spend her time at school making get well soon cards for me and coming home to just sit with me. 

I remember when she was leaving primary school and on her last day, I was filled with dread because I realized that if I now had a spat with my friends, I couldn’t run off to my sister. She was now going to be somewhere that would require me to climb out of the school gates undetected, crossroads safely and not get kidnapped by the white van that appears to be everywhere. Far too much effort for the kid who barely got off the sofa once she sat down.

I got through that year anyhow and remember my sister giving me a pep talk before my first day of secondary school with the same sentence over and over: “I’m there if you need me.” It got really sour, really fast. 

Although undiagnosed at the time, social anxiety has always been a lifelong struggle of mine and I always took comfort in familiarity in my surroundings. I expressed to my sister how nervous I was about starting school on our walk there and she agreed for both of us to meet during break time in the school canteen. The first day had already been awful for me with the highlight of it realizing that I would be picked on by this one girl for the next five years. Her reason? She thought I was ugly. 

As I sat at a table waiting for my sister, a group of girls from my class walked past me making comments about how ‘ugly’ I was. I became the focal point of their laughter when my sister walked up to me and gave me a hug asking how my first few lessons were. I was suddenly torn between being in my safe space and fitting in – would I have been spared the embarrassment if I didn’t talk to my sister? I didn’t know it wouldn’t matter either way; the class bullies ran with it, teasing me relentlessly for the next five years. 

I got teased for a myriad of things during my time at secondary school, but it was all largely in comparison to me and my sister. She was tall, fairer-skinned (colorism at its finest), pretty, and above all, skinny. It didn’t help that she was also smart so whenever we had the same teachers, I would have to face comparisons by the teachers which would just become more ammunition for the class bullies. One girl in my class spread the rumor that I was adopted because there was no way one sister could be so beautiful and the other one so ugly. Another girl told me that my sister should be embarrassed to have such a fat sibling. The comments only got more demeaning from there.

I took it all out on my sister. I started arguing with her every morning so she would leave for school without me and purposefully get out of class really late so I wouldn’t have to walk home with her. Everything anyone has ever bought me down for, I would blame on her and I made sure she knew it. I bullied my own sister for my insecurities and that is a regret that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I regret my actions especially because my sister is a kind soul who has only ever encouraged me and waited patiently for me to work through any issues I was having.

It wasn’t until I got out of secondary school that I realized how awful I had been to someone who had never been mean to me – we came out of school with an overwrought relationship on my behalf. The road to healing has been long but my sister deserves to know that none of it was her fault and if I could undo it, I would.

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Gender & Identity Life

I was bullied in middle school, but it was a turning point in my life

Trigger warning: Mentions of bullying, anxiety, self hate, and abusive relationships.

Middle school is universally a trial-some time for most of us, and being bullied in middle school really didn’t help my case. It’s the age when you’re a fresh teenager and you’re just genuinely (and hungrily) trying to figure out who you really are.

Middle school is that age when everything and nothing feel cool all at the same time. It’s also the age when we’re extremely vulnerable as it shapes a huge part of our adult personalities in the way that it passes. For me, middle school wasn’t all bad, until I was bullied. The first two years were actually pretty great; I was a popular girl, and I loved being the center of attention.

But, eighth grade is when everything changed for me. I switched schools mid-semester and I ended up in an alien land where nobody knew who I was (and didn’t want to, either). I felt lonely and isolated.

The icing on the cake was the fact that I was bullied in that new school.

Up until then, I hadn’t been insecure about the way I looked. I was a happy-go-lucky 12-year-old who suddenly wasn’t so happy-go-lucky at 13 when all of her flaws were magnified and made fun of. The bullying made me hate the way I looked. I became excessively critical of my physical features and my personality as well. I felt as if the two were directly proportional – the more good looking you are, the more people like you. It was honestly a very screwed up way for me to look at myself but it was the sad reality of my life for years.

Over the course of high school, I went through a transitional phase where puberty wasn’t the worst to me. Yet I still held that belief very close to my heart – wherein the more good looking I’d be, the more people would like me.

This philosophy really got the best of me when it culminated in an abusive relationship with someone who I thought only wanted the best for me for four long years. My bullying experience in middle school really twisted my perception of reality and made me extremely desperate for friends in the sense that I’d accepted the first person who came into my life and was decent enough to me – as a good friend of mine. 

I allowed people to walk all over me because of the insecurities I developed from bullying.

For four years I thought that being demeaned, manipulated, anxious, and scared were the normal thing to be in a close relationship. It’s honestly scary what being bullied in eighth grade did to me. It made me an anxious mess who didn’t believe in herself.

It took me the longest time ever to get over being bullied and finally get to the point where I stopped getting affected by what people had to say about my looks and finally to where I am today – absolutely and wholly confident about who I am and what I am made of.

Bullying is cruel and it stems from an ingrained hatred for someone who you don’t even know. And it took quite a toll on me. At the mere age of 13, when I was supposed to get to know myself on a deeper level, I began despising myself – all due to the twisted perceptions of other people.

I suffered from an identity crisis that lasted for years until I finally realized my worth. This identity crisis led me to have various insecurities and internalize self-doubt as an essential part of who I was. And it took a lot of effort to let that go, completely.

Bullying is absolutely horrid and I sincerely wouldn’t want anyone to go through that experience.

I’ve learned a lot in my 21 years of existence, and one lesson that will always stay close to me, because of my experience is that I’m here to spread love and only love – there is no place for such shallow hatred in my heart where I’d make a person feel bad about what they look like or who they are. Nobody deserves that.

Love Life Stories

When I moved to America from my home in India, my classmates tried their best to break me down

I was bullied in middle school and it made me a shell of the person I am today. I had recently moved from India to the United States and I was teased for being observant and having a lazy eye. It was traumatizing to move to a new place and try to adjust, just to feel different and lonely.

Although the teasing stopped after middle school, being bullied continued to impact me throughout high school. I was caught up in a vicious cycle of low self-esteem and the inability to express myself, so I became a lifeless person walking the halls.

I tried to assimilate by becoming quiet and detached from those around me, mostly because I didn’t have the strength to deal with being bullied anymore. It didn’t work. Being reclusive just made it worse because everyone else seemed to be adjusting well and I was still alone.

 I saw people around me be happy and social whereas I was quiet and had no friends.

In the middle of the eleventh grade, I realized that something needed to change. I hated that everyone had friends and I didn’t have that many. I tried to figure out how it happened and I realized that it was a matter of choosing who I wanted to be, and I had to take charge. I felt a need to be defined as more than just a quiet, shy girl. 

I needed to become someone I actually liked.

I had a personality, but it was hidden under the multiple blankets that needed to be unwrapped. Not many people actually made the effort to get to know me, and that bothered me because I knew that I was a great person.

I realized I needed to start making an effort.

I started doing the best I could to talk to people. I would take the time to join in random discussions which I thought were awkward, yet necessary. I didn’t solidly make ‘friends,’ and I didn’t become part of a clique or group of people, through this process, but at least I knew I was trying. And I made acquaintances who were interesting people.

I tried to make friends at home too.

 Opening up and getting to know people was a very slow process and I knew that it would take time, but I was okay with that. I cringe at the thought of trying to make friends. I could barely muster the courage to introduce myself, but I did anyway. 

By the time I left for college, I was still never satisfied with the progress that I’d made making friends, but college gave me the chance for a fresh start. I felt like I could leave most of my past behind. I made sure to choose a university where no one from my high school was going: a small suburban Penn State campus in Erie PA. I vowed to myself that I would not let the ghost of my past haunt me again.

 I would make friends and not be afraid to express myself.

Penn State Erie had a warm and welcoming campus and I made a lot of friends during the welcome week. Since then, everything has been better.

Though it was, and still is, hard sometimes.

My heart still beats crazy fast if I need to talk to a person I don’t know. It beats super fast when I try to talk in class in front of too many people. 

Until two years ago, I even hated ordering pizza or any take out over the phone because I feared my voice would be too quiet.

I still have time when my self-worth drops dramatically, but I notice it and am able to work on it. When it does, I remember where I came from and the progress I have made, and that I don’t let other people put me down anymore.

I can’t change what happened to me in the past or who I was, but I can make sure that I improve on the person that I am and change how to respond to the events that happened to me. Everyone has something they’re not proud of or feel the need to hide from, but I can’t hide from myself.

It takes time but it does happen. I still think about that time and wonder who would I be today without that experience of being bullied and having to struggle to make friends on my own.

I like to think that having that experience makes me stronger, so I have been able to make peace with it.