Thursday, February 21, 2013

Doodle 205 - On bullying

I struggled with whether or not write about this topic at all, this has been on my draft folder for well over 2 months and finally today I decided to post it because the video posted at the very end has been shared on my facebook feed at least 10 times since last week I think. Don't get me wrong, it is important, but I couldn't quite figure out a way to speak about it without rambling too much (I ramble... a LOT), but in the end I decided I should say something, because it might help someone else.

I was bullied, from elementary school until leaving high school, on a daily basis, year in and year out, it was so constant and ever-present I developed anxiety problems, my stomach became ultra sensitive to stress and my grades and attention suffered big time.

Growing up back in Mexico I was a social, chatty and well behaved child. I looked and sounded like every other kid in the playground, I had no adjustment issues, I was fine.

Then, my dad got offered a post working at Spain, it was just supposed to be a year-contract, so we packed our suitcases, shuttered our home and left for a year-long adventure away.

Things weren't easy, my brother was still under observation from cancer treatments, we didn't have family nor friends, but we wrapped around each other, were brave and figured it would be something new that we would look back onto later in life fondly, something that would expand my brother's and I horizons.

I started elementary with unbridled enthusiasm, I couldn't wait to make friends, to play with someone, but things didn't work out that way. My first day foretold the struggles I would be up to for years to come. My skin was several shades darker than everybody else's, I had a weird accent and was taller than most of the girls in the class. To make matters more complicated, I looked like a gipsy, and gipsies don't have very good rep in Spaniard society.

The school kids wouldn't speak to me, they would just stare and move away. I was both hurt and confused, I had never been treated that way before in my life. I was lucky though, a bespecled tall blonde girl was brave enough to smile at me, and ask me about my name, where I was from and we became friends. To this day she is still my very best friend in the world, I consider her my sister, and I am incredibly lucky she is in my life.

I was teased because of my looks, my speech, for being foreign. I got smacked about, pushed, and I had to fight back, so I got my fighting know-how and started to change into a more quiet, reserved person.

I no longer trusted people at all, I always looked for body language, inflections, words that would tell me when someone was untrustworthy, manipulative, violent even.

I cried myself to sleep and felt utterly depressed, but I had a small band of ragtag friends, outcasts just like me, just three of us, we protected each other, valued each other and hung around together. Yes I was bullied every day, but I still felt lucky to have them, even when at times they were so afraid themselves that they couldn't step in and save me.

Years went by, my dad's contract kept getting extended and before we knew it we were close to our 10 year anniversary living at Spain.

I got accepted into one of the most demanding high schools of my area and I had to say goodbye to my friends, we all started classes in completely different schools, I felt so alone and hopeless.

I had learned to be always ready for battle, ready for a lashing, ready for mockery, rumors, or worse, so when the kids at my new school extended their hand in friendship I recoiled like a feral cat and distanced myself from them.

The only times anybody outside my small band of friends had suggested I become part of a group I had come to regret it dearly, I wasn't going to fall for that again.

Unfortunately I might have become so warped that I completely misunderstood the good intentions of those high school kids. What can I say, hindsight it is easy to see, but back then I was just scared and wary.

I soon found myself all alone, I developed an odd reputation for being a lone wolf, a geek who enjoyed books, anime and living inside her head much better than actual human interaction.

I got into trouble with my peers a lot. I would stand up for people when I felt they were being bullied, I stood up for teachers when kids would try and weasel out of exams or assignments by lying about deadlines, etc.

I had developed a very strong sense of justice over the years and also a disregard for popularity and a bit of a devil-may-care attitude when it came to physical confrontation. What can I say, I could really throw down when I needed to.

And so I was all alone, never part of any groups, with the odd classmate that would talk to me here and there, but they never stuck around for long, threats of harm, of being labeled an outcast if they continued talking to me scared them away.

I retreated into the web when it started catching on. My friends lived an ocean away, I read so many books that I barely slept. I dreaded going to school, not in a "OMG school is sooo boring", more in a: "OK, who is going to try and ridicule, hit, or start something with me today?" type of way.

No boys would ever talk to me, and if they did, they went to other schools. I became convinced I never wanted to be on a real relationship anyway, that anybody I trusted would probably just use me, abuse me and make me regret I was alive.

Life was grim, not terrible, I had a home to go to, food on the table and went on cool trips every 4 years or so, plus I still had my friends from elementary and we would get together whenever possible and for the hours we were together, we were happy.

The daily bullying grind got very tiring though, and at several points I thought I might be better off dead.

Yes, I let my teenage angst get the best of me and thought about ending things, I was a very clumsy person though, so even if I did try I failed miserably.

I would steel myself every night for the next morning, I would force myself to wake up, get out of bed, get dressed all while going over every single thing I had done and said at school the day before, over every single interaction or hint of a slip that could mean I would have a group of bullies at the ready with taunts, insults or blows.

I kept quiet, I chose my words carefully, I learned to play scenarios inside my head before doing anything in a desperate attempt to escape as much harm as possible.

And worst, I learned to keep it all to myself.

I stopped confiding in my closest friends, I never told my family when someone was bullying me, when a teacher would pick on me for no real reason, when bad things happened... I just swallowed the bitter pill, looked up to the sky and wished for some sort of miracle, something to take me away to some other place where I wouldn't be so afraid of being myself, and the little chipper girl I once was disappeared altogether.

And then, I graduated high school, I met new friends, went on more adventures, started college after my heart was broken by failing to enter art school (I actually started classes in my second choice, History and Geography).

I was suddenly allowed to be myself. My first day in college people I had never met and who were as wide eye as me talked to me, and I couldn't sense a hint of malice, and it felt both wonderful and weird.

And then, there was Andrei. Someone who somehow seemed so utterly fascinated by me, and I couldn't quite grasp it. I had always been told I was ugly, annoying, stupid, and suddenly this one person was telling me the opposite.

It took me a while to accept it, to believe him even, I had built my persona, my walls, perfected my locks, installed nets and invented ways to ensure I was safe, alone, but safe.

Things were so very different, scary but lovely all the same.

I am not saying I haven't met bullies since high school, unfortunately a whole lot of bullies never outgrow that phase and get stuck there, and they have to get jobs too and you might get saddled with a bully at work, but I learned to be confident, to project an outgoing persona when needed (I am still a loner, but I can be all charm if I need to), to engage others, and most importantly, to give people a chance.

I still can spot a bully a mile away. I still can tell when someone is up to no good. I can read the mood well enough to know when to back out or keep on going with a topic, and most importantly, I can tell when someone needs help and how to step in and defuse situations.

I am still socially awkward, I still get anxious and nervous, I still hate talking to strangers, and I still feel panic when I find myself alone with people I have never met before and I have to fight with myself to stay put, be social, and not run off and find a quiet place to hide and never come out again.

Bullying isn't right, it can torture people, change them and make them into shadows of their former selves. I managed to survive it and become a much stronger, wiser person, but not everybody is that lucky. Not all at.

If you are a young girl or boy like I was, if you feel like tomorrow can only bring you more pain and sorrow, if you feel all alone, remember, you are not alone, I know it doesn't feel like it, I know sometimes all you can think of is how little people care about you, how nobody would care if you just let go, or even if they cared the world would go on spinning and they would be better off, but you are never alone, and I care, and people that know you, that love you care tens of thousands of times more. I have been there, and I can relate, I understand, and I can tell you this:

You are better than what they think. You are better than you think you are. You have strength and courage within you that can take you anywhere you want. Life sucks right now, I am not saying it doesn't, and it might not stop sucking for another while, but keep moving forward, keep looking ahead, keep fighting on, because the road will eventually get really good, you will get to see and do things you never imagined you would.

Don't let them drag you down, you have all of your tomorrows ahead of you, some of those tomorrows will hurt, but then some will make you so happy to be alive that you will wonder how you could ever think of not being there at all.

Life is funny, life is good, life is sad, life is terrible, but the fact that we laugh, cry, smile or sigh is what makes it worth it.

You are what makes life worth living.

Confident Beauty - blue, red and black mechanical pencil on plain sketchbook. Aprox 15 mins.

Island Girl - blue, red and black mechanical pencil on plain sketchbook. Aprox 15 mins.

Maybe? - blue and black mechanical pencil on plain sketchbook. Aprox 10 mins.


Dana Strotheide said...

Such a beautiful post! I, too, was bullied as a kid, and instead of retreating against it, I made myself into something I wasn't just to fit in. I'm only now (in my 30s) finding out who I really am. Thank you for sharing this post. We are not alone. I love reading your posts every day and you have inspired me to keep drawing and painting through the struggles. Thank yoU!

Rachel Ndeto said...

I want to thank you for this post. I also want to give you a great big hug for sharing everything you have, and for surviving and coming through it all with a positive result. You really are an inspiration. You deserve much happiness from here on out! Thank you!

Marebabe said...

Thank you for sharing from your heart. I can relate, even though I suffered from a comparatively light case of bullying. Whereas you woke up to a bright, new day when you started college, for me it was the first day of 9th grade in a new school. Such a revelation! I’m so glad you found Andrei. Be blessed, both of you, every day, forever!

And I especially like your final drawing for today. So expressive and fun!

ania said...

Thank you for sharing this with us.

You know what I've been thinking for nearly a year? With so much in common (according to what you all share) I don't know how you Andrei, and Jen and John (Yates) aren't the best of friends. Seriously.

I'm so glad you're still here - that you made it. Take care.

Leigh Ann said...

Thank you for this post. I've seen this video a couple of other places recently, but this is the first time I've watched it. It was hard to watch . . . to go back to that place . . . but it was so good. Your story is so powerful and well told and your words of encouragement are so well said and hopeful and a message that I wish every kid everywhere struggling with bullying could hear and take to heart.

Subtract the international move and the physical bullying from your story and add an alcoholic father who was usually ok but would unpredictably explode, and almost word for word I could tell the same story. Truly, right down to the reading people and continued social anxiety to this day. I am so glad that you came through it so brilliantly, which you have, even with the residual struggles. I'm so glad you shared your story. It was a brave thing to do. Here's to all of us beautiful people!

Thank you!