I would wake up to my wonderful family, go to school and see the smiling faces of my friends, and receive test marks I was proud of. Even though I seemed to have the perfect life, all my accomplishments and happy moments were overshadowed by the pain I experienced. It did not matter what day of the week it was because I knew I would be bullied. I was bullied every day.
I would rush home after school, run upstairs to shut the door behind me and cry. I would lie in bed trying to mediate my levels of breathing and clenching my hands trying to transform the pressure into comfort. Tears would run down my face as I was flooded with memories.
This is the world I lived in for many years. I am about to share a story with you, a story that is personal to my heart. This is a story that completely changed my childhood.
It all started in fourth grade. During class one day, in my peripheral vision, I noticed a boy imitating my movements. Every time I pushed up my glasses or switched the position of my legs and arms, he too did the same. Every time I nodded in acknowledgement of the teacher’s instructions towards the class, he too did the same. His facial expressions throughout the lesson were the exact same as mine as well, uncharacteristic of his usual self. I brushed off the sense of uneasiness and told myself these were all simply coincidences.
Throughout the following days, it became apparent to me that these were no longer coincidences. He copied every movement I had and nudged his friends, encouraging them to copy me as well. He acted as a leader within the class- these friends were followers. They mimicked my mannerisms whenever I presented, was in class, attended school assemblies, or ate food during recess. They silently smirked or laughed after mocking me, but little did they know how much their laughter hurt. Every time, the sight of their imitation of me or laughter towards me induced so much pain. I felt as if there was no escape.
During lunch one day, the leader picked up an orange and said this orange is exactly like me, fat and round. All his friends laughed hysterically at his comment. They did not see the tears streaming down my face. I was constantly faced with destructive comments such as “you’re fat” or “you’re ugly.” These comments took a tremendous toll on me emotionally.
Looking at me, people would see a confident child that speaks so comfortably as an M.C. in front of hundreds of people at assemblies, enjoys presentations and loves sharing work with the class when called upon by the teacher. No one could tell how broken I was inside every time I looked in the mirror or remembered how I was ridiculed. I wanted to fade into the backdrop of the world. For them, I was simply their entertainment.
At the young age of 10, I began to experience high levels of self-consciousness. They negatively affected my ability to focus in class, and gradually destroyed every bit of self-esteem I felt I had. I felt uncomfortable to move or to speak, knowing their eyes were always on me.
When I gained the courage to kindly ask the leader to stop, he denied that he was imitating me. After I told the teacher and she spoke to the leader, the group of boys still did not stop. My supportive friends also requested the leader to put a halt to his hurtful actions, yet he still refused to stop. It felt as though I was trapped in this endless repetitive cycle of bullying- there was no solution. Apart from enjoying my school work, class and time with friends, every moment I failed to pretend that I was not being bullied was painful. Despite my entrance into the gifted program, life was not as easy as it should have been for any 10-year-old. Any 10-year-old, child of any age or human being in general does not deserve to be bullied.
What is the most painful of all is the fact that these bullies continued to make fun of me by mocking me in grade five, six, seven and eight. I often wondered, “Why me?” I have never shown anything but kindness to these boys; I did not understand why I was treated this way. Did they choose me because of the way I look? I will never know why they chose me to be their victim, nor will I ever understand how they had the audacity to continue to bully me every single day for five years.
One of the most hurtful comments one of the boys said was, “You can’t run for class president, you’ll never make it and I’ll make sure of that by telling everyone not to vote.” I was distraught but I found the strength to continue to try my best during the campaign. I didn’t let him stop me from pursuing my goals and ran for president again the following year. I won the election that following year and years later became president of a club in my university.
Reflecting back, I sometimes tell myself that what they did to me is okay because children are young throughout elementary and middle school and do not reach intellectual maturity until later on in life. However, then I remember how every moment I witnessed their hurtful actions slowly wiped the smile off my face. I deserved to enjoy life; I deserved a wonderful childhood, but these boys took that away from me. I will never have it back, and they will never realize what it was like to be in my shoes. I hope that whoever reads this will learn to stop and think before their actions or words. Why? Because you will never know the extent of the impact you have on someone. You have the capability to completely turn around someone’s life. Every little action you take is much bigger than you think it is.
Fortunately, life got better. I gradually trained myself to become numb to hurtful actions and words from the group of boys who bullied me. I learned how to do this as I focused more on other parts of my life, and started to care about what they did less and less. I immersed myself in hobbies such as numerous school clubs, and played piano as an emotional and creative outlet. Another strategy that helped me was learning to remind myself about the people that value me, my support system. Their laughter and comments about me being ugly became a background noise I filtered out. One day I overheard one of the boys in the group telling his friend, “She doesn’t care anymore so it’s pointless. Making fun of her isn’t as fun as it used to be.” This was the moment I realized you have to hold the power within your hands, never give anyone the power of controlling your happiness. Never show anyone who hurts you how they are affecting you. Your sadness is their pleasure; you have to show them that you are strong no matter what.
Despite all of the pain in the past, I forgive everyone. All these experiences helped me grow into the person I am today. I gained self-confidence about my body image and no longer felt the need to change the way I looked. I learned how to be content with my reflection in the mirror, and I cared less about what people around me thought about me. I gained the courage to stand up for myself whenever I was brought down, I was stronger than I ever was. I realized how incredibly valuable my own happiness is, and I hope you realize your self-worth and how important your happiness is too.
My journey also made me evolve into a very empathetic person. I gained a better understanding of other people’s perspectives, which allowed me to help individuals in various situations. Throughout my childhood, whenever I witnessed someone on the playground during my recesses who was in need of support, I was there for them. While growing up, I was a pillar of strength for my friends whenever they needed advice or someone to talk to in the face of adversity. During my adulthood, I was never asked to help with conflict resolution at the school I volunteered at since there were always supervisors during recess. However, I have a sense of compassion that made me step in whenever a child was victimized. I strived to, and continue to strive to ensure no child has to ever feel the way I did or to succumb to the pressures of bullying. In all walks of life, I always try my best to take the initiative to stand up for others and mitigate the situation. I encourage you to also do the same. Never be a bystander, and always do your best to help those in need.
If you are experiencing bullying, remember that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Obstacles in life are inevitable. What you are experiencing now will not last forever. You will heal, you will be stronger than you ever were. Life is constantly changing, you will look back at your experiences one day and smile at how much better life has gotten.
After experiencing my journey, I would advise you to never be afraid to seek help, to stand up for yourself and to never stop believing in yourself. Find a passion and nurture it, it will help you find joy and self-confidence within. Write down and think of all the things you like about yourself and all the people who cherish you in your life. Once you remove the bullies from the equation, you will be surprised at how many things there are to look forward to in life. When you remember how they’ve hurt you, remind yourself that you don’t know how difficult the life of the bully is. There could always be negative circumstances in their life, contributing to the way they act.
As hard as your journey may be, it will all be worth it. Their words do not matter, their words cannot define you. You are much greater than you think you are.