Now, I’m not condoning bullying but unfortunately, we can’t keep our children protected in a bubble. Why not prepare them for the battle? Awareness for bully prevention but also preparation for…well…life. Let’s be honest, if being outcasted or rejected doesn’t happen in school, it will show itself at some point later in life. Adult women aren’t any better, sorry ladies. I know, next is, “it’s easy to say but you don’t know how it feels, you don’t understand”…and yes, I’m a mom. My momma bear will still come out if someone hurts the spirit of my child. And I will not tolerate my child hurting the spirit of another. Hear me out.
Around nine years old I was frequently befriended then defriended by a group of the “popular” girls. I remember the longing– and I’m reminded of that feeling even as an adult– of wanting so bad to fit in, to belong, to be valued by them.
Now years prior my mother, who had raised herself, needed to hit the reset button in her life. She joined the army and was stationed to South Korea. I know now, that her leaving had to do with her own struggles and not my value. But seeing it with child eyes, I felt like I wasn’t important enough for her to stay. I didn’t understand it beyond myself. When these girls outcasted me, they unknowingly validated that I wasn’t important. Lies I was already beginning to believe about myself.
During the befriended moments we had a lot of fun together, doing all the silly things young girls do like prank call people and play with make-up. When they would decide to defriend me, they would exclude me from sleepovers and birthday parties. Coming back to school talking about how much fun they had over the weekends. They would pass notes in class back and forth to each other—just not to me. Not to me, I didn’t belong, I wasn’t important. Some of the more isolating times were at recess when you’re surrounded by happy playful kids but you’re there alone. That’s a different kind of loneliness isn’t it? The kind where you aren’t physically alone but you feel as if you are because it seems like everyone has someone? Being alone and feeling alone are two different things and one can exist without the other.
During a phase when they had befriended me, I invited them all to my house for my 10th birthday party. They thought it would be funny to play a trick on me and all not show up. My parents had cake, presents, balloons and they didn’t show up. All but one friend who didn’t want to hurt me—Megan. Megan became just enough of what I needed to not lose all hope. A Godsend.
The bullying continued. I remember a time when they asked me to meet them at the school playground. We all lived within walking distance of the school, and I was so excited anytime I was included in something that they wanted to do. I walked up to the empty playground [assuming that it was empty because I was the first one there]. I decided to swing while I waited on them. I waited. And waited. They never showed up. I later found out that they were hiding and watching me wait there by myself. Which apparently is funny. Again, confirming what my mind was already telling me, I’m not important. I don’t belong, I’m different.
One of the girls started taking the bullying to another level. Scratching my name and phone number on playground equipment. Writing threatening letters to me about how she was going to trip me in the halls at school, one letter even said that she was going to kill me. She would always make fun of how I dressed. She made me feel like I was different. Being picked on for how you look publicly at school forces you to stay inside yourself. It brings a certain kind of distraction to what’s actually true about who you are. I buried who I was because I wasn’t accepted by people around me. An older kid and her would drive by my house yelling out awful things. My dad had to go talk to the school principal and this girl was ordered to stay away from me, this was years ago before people started speaking out against bullying. Thankfully, it was also before social media.
Those school hallways can feel lonely when you remove yourself from other kids. If I stayed unnoticed then they wouldn’t find out how different I was or realize how much I don’t belong. As I walked home from school one day, I distinctively remember kicking a rock to see how far I could make it home with the same rock. Trying to understand everything, I thought to myself, what if life is really just one big joke? Any minute, everyone is going to jump out and yell, “Just kidding, we love you!”
I would walk to the school playground sometimes and swing by myself for what seemed like hours. It was just me and the peaceful sky when I was on those swings. I remember in those moments really missing my mom. I’d look up at the moon and wonder if she was looking at it at that exact same moment that I was. I thought how lucky the moon was that it could see her from there. I wondered what she was doing, if she missed me and when I would get to see her again. My young interpretation wondered if I mattered more, would she have stayed?
I questioned a lot of things but I knew I didn’t want anyone else to hurt. I wanted to help every animal and every person. I didn’t want anyone to feel what I had felt as an outsider. It all gave me a compassion for people, I wanted to end pain and suffering. There was a hope in something more but instead I became a shell. Becoming a shell instead of becoming myself was safer. Ask a turtle.
Unfortunately, Megan and I ended up at different high schools because I moved to the other side of town. It was easy to become invisible because it was such a big school. I made a few friends here and there, but found it easier to blend in with the lockers than to take my chances with people. The only problem with being invisible was there were moments when not having your own group of friends made you stand out. Moments like Valentine’s Day when kids would get Crush soda delivered to each other during classes. Seriously, why is this necessary? We’re well aware of who likes who vs. those that fit under the category of “that one girl I sit next to”. And those dreaded assembly days. Who was I going to sit by? You can’t be the weird girl who sits off by herself, yet I never allowed myself to fit in with anyone else because that would require me to come out of my shell.
Toward my last few years in high school, every day at lunch was an awkward decision of who am I going to sit by? It was another example of how trying not to be noticed, makes you become noticed. It was just as uncomfortable sitting alone as it was sitting next to someone that you didn’t really know at all. I’m not sure if it was harder to stay a shell or harder to step outside myself. I missed school on Senior Class picture day, by this time, I couldn’t handle another moment where having no one to stand by would make me stand out. I didn’t want to be uncomfortable anymore. The good grades that I maintained out of my perfectionist coping strategy, allowed me to leave in December my Senior year. I walked out of those doors and put myself into college three hours away. I did not look back.
So, back to my point. What if…I realized that everyone feels like they don’t fit in at some point in their lives? What if I knew that although these years seem like it determines your whole life, there is an entirely different life waiting for you? The hope that would have supplied. What if I was prepared and expected the hard? I thought BECAUSE it was hard, it was wrong. My life, me. It was all wrong, it shouldn’t hurt.
We were made for hard things. In fact, it’s in the moments when I’ve stayed comfortable that I never grew in anything. Joshua 1:9 says “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” We are called to be strong because it’s going to be hard. We are called to be courageous because it’s going to be scary. We are called to be unafraid because we aren’t alone, God is with you. We were called to not be discouraged because there will be disappointment. We were designed to do the hard stuff, just not alone. God’s the safety net. You won’t know that your safety net exists if you never take the leap.
During those hurts, when the other girls made fun of me, I focused on the rejection. I focused on the isolation and pain. I let that become me. The problem with that is the real me got buried. The real me can overcome and doesn’t easily give up. (Ask my husband during our disagreements.) These hurts happened when I was so young that I never had the chance to discover the real me. What if instead, I would have focused on not burying myself? If I was prepared for hard, would I have went into my shell?
What if I would have known then that those school girls would come and go, I’m still going to be left with me? They treated me the way they did because of their own immature understanding of what was “cool” and funny. They used me to make themselves feel significance the easiest way that they knew how. It was never about me and my value. This is important, look at what I did just now with that pain.
I redefined it. I changed the meaning of what I went through. The pain that once represented my rejection and insignificance, now represents someone else’s immature understanding of themselves. I helped heal that part of my story that was never meant to keep me down. What if the bullied youth understood that?
Our expectations have to change early on, otherwise we waste so many of our years feeling misplaced. Wasted. Some even take their lives.
We need to understand how to redefine struggle and pain.
What if our youth redefined rejection as a heavy barbell that’s training you to not cling to other people’s opinions and acceptance? You are being trained to stand alone when you need to stand alone. To not rely on fitting in. You are being trained because there are big things that await you. You are being prepared to go against the grain. Redefine what you are feeling. Trust the process and hang on tight to who you are. Otherwise the world will take you…from you.
So, I say thank you to my bullies. Thank you for the training.