I promised this post yesterday, but it took me longer to write it than I thought it would. While this is a subject I've discussed with many, it is not one I've ever written about, especially not in public, and I can honestly say the idea scares me a little. But after that Lady Gaga concert and the things she said, I decided I should share my story. So here it is.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I was bullied as a kid.
But I didn't know it then.
I know that seems strange, right? How can you NOT KNOW you're being bullied? Well, when the bullies are the people you think are your best friends, it's not always easy to see the truth.
There is a lot more to bullying than stealing lunch money, shoving kids into lockers, and name calling. Sometimes bullying is slow and silent. Sometimes that is worse.
There was a girl I'd been friends with since pre-school. I don't think it would be fair to say her name here, so for the sake of privacy I'll only call her H. H and I had known each other for years. Her mother used to babysit me when we were small, even, but it wasn't until seventh grade that H and I became "best friends." As it turned out, we had a lot in common when it came to music and taste.
In the years that we were friends, we definitely had good times. There's a lot a owe to H. She got me into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, fan fiction, and Cruel Intentions - a movie that is now my favorite of all time. We had private jokes, critiqued each other's stories, had slumber parties, and shared some of the best years of middle and high school together. I thought H and I would be friends for the rest of our lives - like those friends you see in movies that have known each other forever.
But H was my bully.
I didn't know this for years, not until after our friendship dissolved, not until the hurt at having lost her as a friend faded and I suddenly woke up one day realizing that my life was happier without her in it. That's a strange thought to have about someone you considered a best friend, but it was true. I was a happier person once H and I stopped speaking, and this led me to look back over our friendship and ask myself just how good of a friend she'd really been.
I don't know when H began making me feel inferior. Sometime in middle school, I think. Just little things back then - comments about how my hair looked to poofy (I was a Hermione clone back in the day), or how the band I liked was just "okay." I looked up to H a lot, even though now I"m not sure why, and I really wanted her to like me, so I took her criticism as "advice" rather than insults.
It got worse as we got older though. So many times my comments or thoughts were met with eye rolling from H. Between the way she'd look at me and the things she'd say, it was made clear that she found me "annoying" a lot of the time.
"Annoying" was a word I heard a lot in high school. H told me I was annoying, H told our other friends that I was annoying, other friends told each other I was annoying behind my back. It all got back to me, of course, and I lived in constant fear of my own annoyingness. I second guessed every word out of my mouth, every move I made. There were days where I seriously considered never speaking again - not in front of my friends, anyway - so that I wouldn't be annoying them.
But that was the least of my worries. There were other comments, too. I remember one specifically. On many occasions H telling me that I looked terrible in the color red. She said it made me look like a tomato, convinced me I should never wear it. After a while, this had been drilled so deep into my head that I never wore red at all. I didn't buy red clothes and if someone bought them for me, I didn't wear them. It wasn't until last year, on a shopping trip with a friend, that this was remedied.
"Try this on," my friend said, tossing me a very, very pretty red top.
"I look terrible in red," I said.
She gave me an inquisitive look. "Really? Because you look great in pink, and those are similar tones. You should try it on. You never know."
So I did, just to humor her. When I walked out of the dressing room, my friend looked me up and down and said, "Who on earth told you that you look bad in red?"
"A girl I used to be friends with."
"Well, she lied. You look great in red!"
It wasn't until then that it hit me. Even after our friendship was over, I was still letting H get to me, still trusting her word. She was wrong, by the way. I don't look bad in red. I took me a long time, even after that day of shopping, to believe that fully, but its true. I now buy red clothing whenever I want. Even still, it takes a little effort. One comment like that, no matter how trivial, can really stick with a girl.
On top of all this, H had a way of making me feel like I was two steps behind everyone. If I discovered a new band I loved - she swore she'd been listening to them for years (a claim a later learned was rarely true). She constantly hinted that she was smarter than me and a better writer than me, knowing that academics and writing were the two most important things in my life.
I could go into a long list of all the other things that happened between H and I - it was all small, or seemed so, but small things build up over time. Instead of going through all of that, however, let me skip tot he end - to the reason H and I are no longer friends.
H and I were the part of a larger circle of friends, and H made it clear that she preferred their company to mine after a while. I lived in constant fear that they'd all ditch me, that they'd see I was just as annoying as H claimed. In the end, I did lose a lot of them, but not in the way I'd feared.
In the middle of senior year, without warning, H began to shut me out. She would ditch me to be with other people or lie to me about her plans. One New Years, she told me she couldn't come to my party because she "had family plans." Later, I learned she'd lied about this. Instead, she invited all of our friends to her house to hang out, knowing they'd pick her place over mine. She started having get together's at her house on weekends she knew I'd be out of town, just so that I couldn't come.
A few people in that group remained my friend after and told me the things H proceeded to say about me behind my back. She told them I "didn't want" to come, that I was lame. She made fun of me in front of them.
None of what I learned came as a surprise. The surprising part, really, was that after so many years as friends, she'd waited until then to finally push me out.
I know some of you are shaking your heads. "This isn't bullying," you might be thinking. "This is normal girl behavior. This is just childhood silliness. This is petty. This is nothing to worry about."
But it is bullying. I didn't consider bullying at the time, but now, two years later, I do. And here is why:
The things H did/said to me still affect me.
To this day, friendship is difficult for me. I am very frequently paranoid about how "annoying" I am, and I constantly get nervous whenever a friend doesn't talk to me for an extended time that he or she is pushing me out the way H did. Some of my relationships with friends and roommates in college have suffered because of the insecurities H left me with, and I'd be lying if I said that there aren't times when I think that no one wants to be my friend, and that if they do, they are doing it out of charity - because that's the way H always made me feel.
I'm writing this post for two reasons, and I hope my little story has achieved both.
First, I hope that this has some of you thinking about how you treat your friends. I'm sure H didn't realize she was bullying, either. To this day, she probably sees the way she treated me as just "normal" teenage girl drama. But even that, even the little things, can leave scars. Like I said, bullying can be less obvious, and it is easy to be a bully without realizing it. I know I have. It's something I will regret for the rest of my life, but I have. Not in the way H was, but in less frequent amounts to people I did not consider "friends." Nothing makes it okay, and had I known the way it could hurt a person I would have never said some of the things I did back then. So, all I ask, is that after reading this, ask yourself, "Am I/Have I been a bully?" If so, maybe there is time to fix it.
But the big reason I'm writing this post is because of how Lady Gaga inspired me on Saturday. She made me think about how the tables have turned. In her case, she went from being bullied for her "freakiness" to being one of the most famous women on the planet, and her "freakiness" is something people love about her. My story isn't so dramatic, but I have a similar note to add.
Remember what I said earlier about H making me feel like I wasn't as good of a writer? ;-)
It doesn't erase the wounds she left, but it does help to sometimes stop and realize, "Hey, you know, she made me feel so inferior. But I AM a good writer. I have a career writing books that people love, and she can't say that." And hey, some of the things H and I went through may make good material for a book one day, so there's that upside.
So I guess what I want to say is - to all of you who've felt bullied or put down or inferior by a classmate, relative, or even a "best friend" - know that, even if you don't forget, it does end. I've not been bullied by anyone sense. I now have friends who love me for me, who don't see me as "annoying," who WANT to spend time with me. I have friends who treat me as an equal, and despite the fact that sometimesI get scared or worried because of the things H said to me, I am usually a very happy person now. A very happy person who knows that I don't need friends who treat me that way.
And you? You don't need them either.
No one deserves friends who make them feel badly about themselves. No one deserves to feel ashamed of the person they are or want to be. Not to sound cliche or sappy, but just remember that one day, you will shine brighter than any of your bullies ever will.
Posted by Kody Keplinger at 1:07 AM