Building defenses | Reality Check

For a very long time, I did not know who I was. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had lost a big part of myself. I was closed off to the world because it was easier to handle criticism and rejection when my heart wasn’t exposed. It was a survival mechanism to protect myself and I didn’t even realise that I had employed it.

Around the time I turned 13, there were a lot of big changes in my life- my family moved towns, my mother’s tumultuous marriage ended abruptly and I was being bullied at school. I will always be glad that their relationship ended at that time because any longer could have been deadly for us, literally. But the fallout of something that happened nearly half my lifetime ago is still being felt.

But I could’t look forward to school as an escape from the drama at home. I was the new kid thrown into a group of teenagers who had known each other since they were 6 years old. I was never going to fit in and I never did. I was the easy target because I was new and different and I really didn’t have the energy to troubleshoot the situation. I was teased because I always wore my hair the same way, I didn’t shave my legs or wash my hair often enough, I rolled my socks instead of folding them and my school dress was two sizes too big.

I couldn’t do anything to fit in and I wasn’t about to compromise my morals in order to do so. At one point, I thought I had found a friend group that I could trust but I was wrong. After a few weeks of eating lunch together I got an email stating that they didn’t like me and could I stop hanging around them. It was signed with all five names at the bottom. I asked them the next day and most of them denied it but I had the email. I never deleted it because it reminded me that I wasn’t welcome.

So with everything, I built a thick shell around me and did not let anyone it. I forgot that I was a bubbly person who liked to joke sarcastically and laugh. Boys never stood a chance because I always assumed their advances were a joke or had some ulterior motive. I eventually built up some superficial friendships but I knew that when they said, “How was your weekend?” they didn’t actually care for an answer. Looking back on it, I had mild to moderate depression during my high school years.

It was a long time after cutting contact with most of my graduating class before I found a group of friends where I could be myself again. Eventually, the fun and happy girl I had lost began to make a re-appearance. Confidence did not come naturally. And I still hate to talk about myself because it was drilled into me that I shouldn’t ‘brag’ about myself. I struggle to write a resume with my achievements.

Bullying has consequences that are not always physical. I was beaten down with words until I could’t even recognise myself when all I needed was a friend to talk to. Bullying was not the biggest or most important thing to happen to me, but it happened during a time when I needed a friend. I am still dealing with some of the consequences to my confidence and I fear that this is baggage that may be taken into a future relationship.

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