To be completely candid, this is a difficult article to write. I’m not putting this up on the internet to be a role model or positive example- I’m using my blog instead as a form of therapy. It isn’t my choice that I’ve been bullied, but it is my choice to decide how I handle it. And frankly, I haven’t always coped in the best way.
Also, this is mostly about the emotional effects of bullying, but I also reveal a lot of my own mental health journey. Mental health is extremely relevant to how we socialize with others, and in my case, it plays a very large role in my life.
I’m also publishing this article as an apology. If you’re reading this and I have hurt you, scoffed at you, rolled my eyes at you, or made a bitchy remark, maybe this article will help explain why I turned out the way I did, and how I’m trying to fix that.
Since I was born, I’ve always been a highly sensitive person. Physical stimuli like pain and noise have always been extremely intense for me, and definitely contributed to my generalized anxiety disorder when I was little. There were other things going on in my early life that caused lasting emotional distress, but I’ve managed to deal with those issues separately and resolve them.
Anyway, bullying. I was bullied in elementary school for my extreme sensitivity, because it made me an easy target. There was a particular trio of girls who emotionally tormented me from 1st grade to 4th, no matter how much my counselors and teachers tried to intervene. Because I struggled so much with making friends, I learned to spend a lot of my time alone. I’ve always been mostly introverted, and enjoy doing quiet activities in my own company. This is something that I have carried into my adult life, through activities such as writing, reading, and knitting. I’m sure I speak for many other sensitive people when I say it’s extremely calming to spend time in your own company, away from loud stimuli and large crowds of people. My brain can’t focus on various sounds at once, so I do my very best work when I’m completely alone and undisturbed.
Like many others, my middle school years were quite hard for me. Cliques, cyberbullying, and rumors that spread like wildfire were rampant. Our middle school years are some of our most meaningful times for emotional growth, along with finding a sense of identity and self-esteem. I had some friends in middle school, but I was still overwhelmingly aware of my “outcast” status. I found myself being picked last for gym day after day, until finally, I stopped going to gym altogether to read books in the locker room. I knew it would be useless to talk about my feelings to a counselor or teacher; you can’t make people want to be your friend, and why should you, anyway?
I definitely had a reputation by the time I reached high school. My teachers thought I was gifted, my classmates thought I was a basket case, and I thought I was misunderstood. When my parents split up during my sophomore year of high school, I completely broke down inside, not knowing how to deal with the stress. I cut my hair short, dyed it black, and started living out a short-lived goth phase. I was sick and tired of being walked all over, and I wanted my public image to show that: “If I look unapproachable enough, maybe people will leave me alone.”
Obviously, that didn’t really work out. I’m a total softie on the inside, and no amount of painting myself with black lipstick and bitchy smirks could stop that. Even if it fooled other people, I didn’t fool myself for a minute. During my “goth” period, other students ridiculed me by copying my dark makeup looks and posting them on Instagram, trying to embarrass me.
On top of feeling completely alienated by my peers, I had another privation eating me alive in high school. I had struggled my whole life up to that point with undiagnosed generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. I lived the first sixteen years of my life not having a single clue that any of these disorders applied to me and my health. At Amesbury High School, you see, we weren’t taught that mental health could be a spectrum. I lived most of my life naively believing that you could only be happy or sad. If you felt somewhere in between, or even if you felt neither, well, you had to figure that out yourself.
I knew I wasn’t suicidal, or crazy, or hell, even depressed. I’ve always been a relatively happy person. But if I wasn’t depressed or crazy, what was wrong with me? Why did I find myself constantly having anxiety attacks in classes, eating lunch in bathroom stalls, picking fights with girls and obsessing over whether or not boys liked me? After one particular scary incident, in which I broke down in tears during school, my counselor and school nurse stuck me in a fluorescent-lighted room and locked the door. They made me call my mother and tell her what happened on speaker phone. And then, after that mess, they sent me to a hospital in the next town over, for a “psychological evaluation.” I remember my mother sat me down in a chair before I went to the doctor, and curled my hair for me. While I sat in my bedroom, feeling the heat against my neck, I heard my father come into our apartment uninvited. He was screaming and fuming, scared, and I was even more scared, crying and wondering what was wrong with me.
I told the doctor at the hospital everything that had happened to me in the past few years. I told her about my parents getting divorced, my completely random panic attacks, my social anxiety, and the increased levels of distress I experienced during my menstrual period. She scoffed when I told her that my school thought I was a danger to myself and my peers, which is when I realized my school was doing this to students to avoid being sued. I told the doctor about all the individual research I had done on anxiety disorders and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and after hearing me out, the doctor signed off on my medical forms and wished me the best.
That horrible experience was actually one of the most life-changing turning points of my life. After I returned to school, the principal made my mother and I attend a meeting in a conference room with him and some other faculty. Essentially, I had to tell a room full of old men that my outburst was caused due to my menstrual distress.
Some good did come from that, I’m happy to say. I started seeing a therapist, who put me on a 10mg dosage of Escitalopram (Lexapro). That, along with starting oral birth control, significantly helped to reduce my anxiety and hormonal irritability. If I had just been aware of these options and earlier in life, I could have avoided a mile of pain and embarrassment. Maybe, if I had been screened correctly instead of immediately being written off as a “danger”, all of this trauma could have been avoided.
Since being on Lexapro, I’ve noticed significant improvements to my mood and overall health. Less anxiety means less social avoidance, which, in turn, has turned me into a more social person. I’ve decided, after processing the initial grief, that my parents’ divorce is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It opened a door for me that was scary at the time, but looking back, it needed to be opened.
Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent, but it’s relevant to my current life at college. My anxiety was still around, but it was nowhere near as bad as it used to be. After high school, I was so, so excited for a fresh start, to surround myself with people who didn’t know my name, who didn’t think I was a basket case. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I should have assumed it wasn’t going to be as awesome as I thought it would.
Just like elementary school, I once again found myself being targeted for my anxiety and sensitivity, but this time, it was being carried out by grown adults. Freshman year of college was extremely difficult for me- I was bullied extensively by my former roommate and her posse of friends, by methods of manipulation and fear tactics. One time, I spent a night sleeping in the laundry room, for my own safety. I came into college with high hopes and visions of myself being appreciated and loved. Instead, I felt afraid to even leave my room, afraid to trust peers, and afraid to make connections. At one point, after suffering an anxiety attack due to the bullying, the campus police showed up and cornered me in a public space. As students crowded around the door to see what was happening, I had to sit through about twenty minutes of male police officers asking me what medications I was taking, what conditions I had, was I having boy problems? Did I want to go to the hospital? Was I going to hurt someone?
No, I said, for what felt like that 900th time. I have an anxiety disorder. I’m being bullied. I’m not a threat to you, myself, or the damn college. Similarly to the incident in high school, I was traumatized by this public mental health shaming. For months afterwords, I remained in the constant state of paranoia, feeling panic attacks come on just at the sound of a siren. It’s extremely difficult to be open with authority, and even peers, about anxiety, especially when the system doesn’t know how to properly understand those situations. I’m happy to say that all of the police officers involved were “reprimanded.”
I feel like this article is starting to sound too sad. Here’s a picture of my dog to cheer us all up! And don’t worry, there’s a happy ending.
I’m a junior now, and I’m happy to say that group of toxic people have left my life completely, and according to my college, they have also been “reprimanded for their actions.” About a year ago, around the time I had moved out of that horrible situation and into my own room, I started writing my blog. I also started getting seriously interested in crystals, healing stones, knitting and period dressing- all things I have kept up to this day. I have something to take pride in, to strive towards, and build my name around. My writing has, and always will be, my saviour.
I am a cheerful young woman, filled with gratitude and silliness. When I’m around my friends, and even by myself, I’m full of smiles and creativity and energy. I am by far in the best place I’ve ever been, emotionally and socially. Despite my happiness, however, I am still held back by one thing. I’ve maintained a stubbornness, and furthermore, a streak of unforgivingness towards those who intentionally hurt me. If you want to be my friend, that’s great, but the minute I feel intentionally hurt or excluded, I will mercilessly cut you out. Sure, it’s necessary sometimes to cut the toxic people out, but I’ve reached such a level of hurt, I shut out everybody the minute they make a mistake. Even people who don’t even know me have gotten the cold shoulder from me- mostly popular people on campus, with swarms of friends, and even relatively nice co workers. If I feel unincluded, I take it painfully personally. I don’t forgive, and I certainly don’t forget. After you’ve spent more than a decade of your life feeling ridiculed, betrayed, and ostracized, it’s hard to suddenly gain trust and warmth towards strangers. As psychology has shown, it’s all a part of our fight-or-flight instinct. Here’s a few paragraphs taken directly from WhyTeamBullying.com:
“The human body responds with ‘fight or flight’ mechanisms designed to help us escape from dangerous situations, when we are subjected to bullying. This is caused by the feelings of fear that victims often suffer.
Additional stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline are produced leading to a faster heart rate, constricted blood vessels, and a tensing of muscles, and a release of the energy your body would normally store for fuel.
Systems which are not required for ‘fight or flight’ are often constrained by the body during this release, such as digestion, immune and reproductive systems. In a typical danger situation, this response only impacts the body for a short period, but the repeated exercising of this mechanism by a bullying victim both the frequency and the duration of the stress response can be dangerously high.
The link between this stress response and future health issues has not been proven, but is suspected by many experts to be one of the key factors at play in the health issues bullying victims go on to suffer.”
I also have a really awful impulse problem that has developed over the last few months. I don’t have a problem turning to someone and saying, “Excuse me, is there a problem?” If I see they’re staring at me. It’s not always the smart thing to do, and it certainly doesn’t win me friends, but again, it’s a power-dynamic thing for people who have a past of being victimized. It’s very much a “You can bully me if I bully you first” attitude.
Like I said, I’m not broadcasting this to pretend I’m a great role model, or anything like that. I’m putting this out as a way of healing and acknowledgment, and maybe, find another victim of bullying who feels the same way. Being bullied has effectively turned me into a bitch, and it’s one of the only things about myself I wish I could change. I have days where I feel happy and full of forgiveness, weeks, even, when I think I’ve finally let go of my scars. And then, after a minor incident or disappointment, the hurt comes rushing back.
Partly, this is my own conscious fault and wrongdoing. When I take interest in someone, I usually let them in way too quickly and spill my feelings too fast. And then, of course, I find myself shocked when the friendship/relationship doesn’t work out.
If you’ve even gotten this far in my article, and if this strikes a chord in you as well, I want you to know that you’re not a broken human. I’m not broken, and I’m not damaged; there are things I need to improve on, and I believe in my heart and my abilities. If I can do that, so can you.
If you’re struggling with social anxiety and making friends, there are people who are happy to talk to you. I’ve had some shitty therapists in the past (one of them actually blackmailed me, but that’s another story), but I promise there are also a lot of genuinely good ones. Don’t feel shameful in talking about your feelings. I’m out her on a limb sharing my story, and it’s a little scary, but only good things will come from being completely honest with yourself. And I promise, no matter how hard things seem, they will get better. If someone had told me my junior year of high school that I would one day be this happy, I probably wouldn’t believe them. But I’m here, I’m full of gratitude, and damn, I’m so happy with who I am. The next step for me is to face this coldness I’ve developed, and hopefully, find peace with myself, my peers, and those who have hurt me in the past.
Coming up next: My Favorite Drugstore Products