• Years ago, I was bullied. Not physically, but emotionally. I was tormented by jeering comments and people doing everything they could to push all the buttons that would make me yell and scream at them. As a sufferer of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and Asperger’s Syndrome (a fairly mild disorder on the Autism spectrum) I was rather intelligent compared to most of my peers who were considered normal by societal standards, and I absorbed information like a sponge so long as it interested me. However, as a price for that, my recognition of social cues and my emotional filters were subpar.

    As a kid, I was a social butterfly. I was always among the oddballs and such, but that didn’t matter to me as long as I had fun. I seemed like a regular kid, though rather defiant and prone to emotional meltdowns and outbursts that were of an abnormal intensity for a child my age. It led my mother to seek help from a children’s psychiatrist to figure out what was wrong. I continued to see psychiatrists for years and try out different medications to see what would even out my mood the best. Other than that, I was quite normal. However, once middle school rolled around, I discovered that I was not so normal.

    Right from the beginning of middle school, kids seem to have the sudden need to establish themselves in some way or another, whether it be as a cheerleader, an athlete, the most popular, the biggest thug, etc. And so a huge “race” ensues as people try to clamber their way to the top of the heap. Those who don’t manage to come out totally ahead instead opt to desperately cling on to whoever comes out on top and gather around them as followers for some illusion of self-importance and whatnot. Then there are always those groups who refuse to cling to the top dogs and instead form their own little circles and end up just fine somewhere in the middle. However, there those who are dragged so far under the pile that everyone else walks all over them. I was one of them. Not only was I dragged under, I was trampled in the initial race at the very start and then sucked into the pile once everyone at the top settled in. I got a small break from it in seventh grade because I attended a different school where few people knew me from elementary school. But I ended up back at the previous school in eighth grade, where EVERYONE in my grade knew me and the ones at the top had gotten meaner. I was sucked into the pile again, even further down that time and was left clinging onto a group of oddballs by the pinky. My grades slipped, most likely as a subconscious cry for help and an effort to feel like I had control over SOMETHING. By the time that school year ended, I was left so emotionally crippled that my visits to the psychologist had gone from figuring out my newly diagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome to figuring out what to do about my depression while figuring out my other issues too. I had gone from a social butterfly to an introverted turtle who was too afraid of sticking her head out of her shell for fear that something will hit her again and again until she pulled it back in.

    That shaped a lot of who I was in high school. I attended a charter school where most of the work was on computers and students had only a limited amount of free time to interact with each other (a 10 minutes break for snacks). So I was safe there, but I dared not risk it by trying to fit in at first. I preferred more to befriend the teachers than I did to befriend most of the students. I eventually did find a group of students who I felt safe with, but I found that, as intelligent as I was, I had a hard time understanding half of what they were talking about with all their geek speak about computers and science and whatever. But they never chased me away or were mean to me. They accepted me as I was despite not being able to keep up with them. At the same time though, a part of me felt alienated because, as sweet and kind as those guys were to me, I couldn’t join in on most of their conversations out of fear of seeming ignorant. So I mostly kept my mouth shut around them when they’d talk about whatever hydro-what’s-it they were working on for smart lab and I’d just sit there with my thoughts or I’d try to follow what they said. I even got on friendly terms with one of the school rebels/potheads, though I’d hardly call him a friend. We barely spoke to each other, but he was never harsh or showed annoyance when my still-infantile control over my brain’s dialogue filter slipped and I chatted a bit too much or at inappropriate times. As time passed, I managed to come out of my depression for the most part, though I still lacked the desire to go out for fun time with friends or even get peoples’ numbers.

    I’m in college now. I’m still struggling to fix my issues with my social insecurities. Though I’ve healed from all the hurt that I felt years ago, I’m still scarred. I have trouble forming friendships and maintaining them after the semesters are over. I have never been in a real romantic relationship. To be honest, I feel lonely. I have a hard time letting loose. I’ve gotten better at joining in on conversations and social situations, but I’m left with a lingering paranoia. When I want to say something in the conversation, I’m constantly double- and triple-checking it in my mind, afraid that something I say or declare I like might get me some weird looks. A lot of times, if I do decide to say it, it’s often passed the point of being appropriate and they’ve moved on to the next subject and don’t care about it anymore. So most of what I want to say is never said. I wouldn’t have this issue if I felt like I could be honest about who I am, but it takes a while for me to reach that point in a friendship. In fact, the only person I can be completely relaxed around is my best friend of 15 or so years now (since first grade). However, once that point of relaxation is reached with a new or potential friendship, I become anxious and scattered. I want to run away and be content to just be on my own. But I keep getting pulled back to people by my need for human interaction.

    Occasionally, I become too relaxed and accidentally shove my foot in my mouth. Now, that would be easy for me to laugh off if it weren’t something that I struggle to prevent every day. So when I do shove my foot in my mouth, I find myself unable to just laugh it off or even apologize. Due to social conditioning lingering from my middle school days, when I do or say something to cause an awkward situation, the instinct to flee hits me so hard that it causes physical pain in my chest and upper back, like a snake is squeezing my rib cage while some maniac keeps jabbing me in the back with an icicle. I question my self-worth every day and wonder if it’s even worth it to pursue my dream of being a professional photographer and travelling the world. I can barely maintain a friendship with someone, much less project an air of confidence in a business situation. My anxiety issues already keep me from taking on a full class load and from working while I go to school (along with the business market for the latter).

    I’m a lot stronger than I was years ago, but the scars and suffering still linger, even though I cannot remember most of it. I’m 20 years old now, as I write this. I’ll be 21 in early October. I was 11 when the bullying first started and 13 when it all ended. The effects of bullying don’t just go away within a couple years. It doesn’t build character. It breaks it. It leads to anguish, pain, fear, self-loathing, and wondering what you did to deserve to be treated so poorly. To those of you who have read this to the end and who have never known what it feels like to be bullied, I will tell you this: I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone. No child or teenager should have to endure that when they’re already dealing with puberty and figuring out who they are and where their place is in the world. No one should have to endure so much pain when they’re at the most emotionally fragile point of their life, where such harsh words and treatment can be engraved in the brain so much easier than they would if they were adults and will last so much longer, and when their personality can be shaped much easier by their surroundings and peers than at any other point in their life. I’m not sure if people can ever fully recover from that. Sure, those who survive it do get stronger from having to pick themselves off the ground again and again, but at what cost?