Wednesday Ramble – A Letter to my 17-year-old self
So, I am approaching my 27th birthday, and this year is very important because I will graduate (finally) and start my professional life as a librarian!!(fingers crossed) It got me thinking about how 10 years ago (TEN YEARS AGO!?!?!?) I was about to turn 17. This was also a monumental year for me, both bitter, and sweet.
The year I was savagely bullied, and met my sweetheart
I was a junior, working at McDonalds, a photographer for the newspaper (back in the day when we actually DEVELOPED the film!), and a member of the diving team. I had a group of friends. Not best friends, I wasn’t really that social. But friends nonetheless.The day after Christmas we went on a day trip. Secrets were revealed about a member of our group. Secrets I had known for years, but had never told a soul. Somehow I ended up blamed for the unearthing of these secrets. And this led to my horrible year of being viciously bullied.
The “it” girl
There was a new girl in town. She’s the girl we’ve all met before. The alpha girl, the queen bee. The Regina George. The “pretty on the outside, ugly on the inside” girl who can bend most everyone to her will. But I was never really good at bowing. You could probably use words like “stubborn,” “willful,” “defiant,” and “difficult” to describe me. All true, all true. Well this girl was dating the boy whose secrets were revealed. They went nuclear, trying to do damage control and shift the focus away from his secrets. She and the boy went through a couple of others in the group first, terrorizing them until they caved. Eventually I guess they were directed to me.
The “scapegoat” girl (that’s me)
Even now I’m not clear on how I became the scapegoat for this one. But it was not the first, or last time I would be cast in that role. The problem with being different, and with refusing to bow down, is that it makes the bullies want to throw everything they have at you. They want to see you collapse. They want to see you break. And I was always the outsider, the fits-nowhere girl, the quiet one, the reader. As many of you know, society desperately wants to split us into either Leader (Queen Bee) or Follower (Worker Bee). I never really fell into either group. I didn’t really want people following me and tripping on my heels all the time, and I enjoy going against the grain too much to be a follower. What this means is that I had a giant bullseye on my back for bullies to aim for.
So they came at me, for months and months. They didn’t break me, but they did make sure I suffered.
The thing about bullies
Bullies are pretty universal, they don’t seem to change much. So there was all the normal, expected stuff. They shunned me, they spread false rumors, they hissed insults at me in the halls (FAT, SLUT, WHORE, BITCH, IDIOT). Actually its mildly insulting how unimaginative they were. One of them actually tried to shove me down the stairs at school. My 17th birthday was the worst day of my life up to that point (it still ranks in the top 3). I spend my entire birthday being inundated with unending texts full of insults and hate. (whore, slut , go kill yourself, no one likes you, you’re fat, you’re stupid). Also this was the day before unlimited texting, which means I actually paid for this abuse. And if you’ve ever been bullied this way, through media, you know its not as easy as “turning the phone off, staying off the computer” because its like a sick compulsion. You HAVE to know what they are saying. Because the only thing worse than hearing the abuse, is wondering about it.
For the next almost year, I suffered from this bully, her posse, her boyfriend (who was MY ex-boyfriend). My “friends” who somehow became her friends, even though she’d treated them the same way as she treated me. They thought what so many people do, that its better to be the bullies’ friend than her enemy. I don’t know if they were right or not. But it wasn’t ever really an option for me. When it comes to fight or flight, turns out I respond by stubbornly standing my ground. But life is all about balance, and even through this torture there was a light. Two weeks after my horrible birthday, I met John. He would be my lifeline and my savior. Two weeks later we were dating. And ten years later, we still are. More than a boyfriend I found my best friend during the worst time of my life.
I was lucky. I was so much luckier than so many people who suffer such severe bullying. I had great parents, I had an indominable will not to bend, and I had John. And so I survived. But many, many of us don’t. If I could, I’d like to tell my 17 year old self some things I’ve learned, I’d like to tell all 17 year olds (current, future, and past) that life doesn’t always get easier after high school. But it can and does get BETTER.
A Letter to my 17-year-old self
There are so many things I wish you knew. You can’t imagine where life is going to take you.
- I wish you knew how amazing you are. How strong, and capable. You have no concept of what an incredible creature you are. But that’s ok, because you will.
- I wish you knew that you actually can do more than you think. And you will.
- I wish you knew that it gets SO.MUCH.BETTER. In fact, it gets amazing, incredible, fantastic.
- I wish you knew that friends will come and go and that its ok when they do.
- I wish you knew its ok to fail, as long as you never fail to try.
- I wish you knew how fun its going to be, figuring out who you are. And how much fun it is to watch as who you are changes again, and again.
- I wish you would stop eating the way you do, because it doesn’t cover up your pain or your loneliness. I wish you knew that nothing feels better than treating yourself and your body with respect and love.
- I wish you knew that you can, in fact run a mile. In fact you can run 3. You will be surprised when you run for fun.
- I wish you knew that Art History is so NOT a good idea for a degree. But its ok, at least when you get to the Louvre you know what the hell is going on. Oh, yea, you get to go to the Louvre!
- I wish I could tell you that the woman in Belgium is actually a scam artist, and you should NOT give her that money. But thats ok, because you end up with a fantastic story out of it. (yes, you go to Belgium. Its in Europe, please buy a world map, your sense of geography is appalling.)
- I wish I could tell you that having to take that job at Vertical Screen does not mean you have failed, and that you’ll end up learning so much about yourself there.
- I wish you’d figured out you should be a librarian earlier. I mean, really, how did we not see that one coming? Seriously?
- I wish I could tell you to stop being so shy. But thats ok, eventually you will be able to talk to strangers and talk in front of groups. In fact, you end up being a great trainer and speaker. You won’t believe how liberating and joyful it is to gain your voice.
- I wish I could say you’re never bullied again. But I won’t lie, because you will be. But you handle it so well next time. It doesn’t destroy your life. You’ve been forged in fire, and you’re so strong now.
- I wish I could tell you not to let those betrayals make you so suspicious of people, but unfortunately that one kind of sticks with you. We’ll work on that.
- I wish I could tell you that the things that are the most scary, tend to be the most worth it.
- I wish I could tell you that those things you are waiting for, they are so worth the wait.
- I wish i could tell you that it is impossible to know what you want to do when you’re 18
- I wish you knew how to leap fearlessly without panicking about what is underneath you.
- I wish I could tell you that some things don’t change. You still read a lot. Probably more than is healthy. You’re still with John (bet you didn’t see that coming, huh?), you’re still pretty defiant, you still occasionally want to dye your hair pink, or shave one side of it. You still cant decide on what tattoo to get. You still change your mind a lot, you still can’t cook. You still love cats, in fact you have two crazy ones you adore. You’re still close to your parents, and they are still awesome.
- I wish I could tell you that you are going to make mistakes, and you’re even going to fail sometimes.
- I wish I could tell you that in 10 years you have no regrets. You love the person you are and you are glad things worked out the way they did.
- And finally, id tell you to be happy. Just be happy.
Although it’s sometimes difficult, I enjoy sharing my story. I hope it helps anyone who has suffered similarly. Do you have a story you want to share? What would you tell your 17 year old self?