Friday, November 22, 2013

Lessons Learned: Odd One Out

Good day,

            This is going to be my first Lesson Learned, where I get a bit personal and give you, gentle reader, a glimpse behind the mask and show you how my life experiences made me man I am today, as well as any wisdom I can impart on you. So, in honour of Bullying Awareness Week, I’m going to talk about a subject I’m quite passionate about.

            Here’s my story. When I was a child, I had what you’d call The Big Triple-A: Asthma, Anxiety, and Asperger’s. Now, by that last one, I don’t mean that I was some self-diagnosed cretin trying to rationalize the piles of Sonic The Hedgehog pornography he printed out, categorized, and put in binders under his bed. See, I was born in that golden age before the internet, when people sought out actual psychologists instead of digital ones. I had problems expressing the information I was processing, and preferred to be alone instead of socialize with the other kids. The asthma didn’t help either, and I was prone to hacking fits and blacking out and couldn’t really fit in with the more athletic kids, and my anxiety has been a constant throughout my life, and too complex for me to put in just one editorial.

            Long story short, it was this combination of factors that led to me being targeted by bullies on a regular basis. Ah, those were the days. Getting stomped into the mud. Being chased and terrorized by my classmates. Bigger kids threatening to break my fingers and kill my parents. Hit with coat zippers and sticks. Held cruciform by three kids as a fourth charged me and kicked me in the stomach. What joy, what privilege!

            So, from First Grade all the way to high school, I had a big ‘Kick Me’ sign stapled to my back. Now, I had friends, but for the first little while my social anxiety dictated that I couldn’t have more than one at a time, at any given time. Then, when I felt ready to move in larger circles, the friends I did make didn’t like each other for the longest time, and I didn’t know how to make them see past their differences. Plus, when friends brought me into their circles, adjusting to other people’s personalities was taxing for a wreck as myself.

And I did stand up for myself to the best of my abilities, in the way kids are told to stand up to their bullies: through being louder and more physical. This, however, actually makes things worse. “You throw a stone, we bring a knife,” that sort of dance. Then, when I was thirteen and in the principal’s office for decking a kid who was bugging me during French class, I was told that at my age such actions could see me with a criminal record, so that pushed the violence out of me, but not my anger. I still yelled at people who got under my skin and harassed me, which just made me look spastic, and gave my tormentors a good laugh.

            Being unable to fight may have kept me out of juvie, but suppressing my anger and frustration led to getting lost in my thoughts in a very bad way. It all reached a head one dark night when I was doing the dishes in my house. I found myself cleaning a particularly large kitchen knife, staring down at it quite lovingly, when an errant thought said “You know, my school doesn’t have metal detectors. I could probably sneak this in.” Just then, fortunately, I felt a chill, forcing me to put it back in the drawer and shove that morbid idea and its kin away.

            And so I grew up. Rather, I worked to better myself. I didn’t give in. I learned how to make and keep friends properly, made some good memories, had the privilege to go to university and college, fell in and out of love, and evolved into who I am now. The boy I was never went away, though. He still lives deep in the bowels of my subconscious, crying and begging to be left alone. Now and then, he comes out, one way or another, and I have to tell him everything will be okay.

            Which is always the hardest part.

            Actually, the hardest part is what I’m going to tell you right now.

If you’re a young ‘un reading this who’s going through bullying, I wish I could sit here and delude you with a positive message like ‘you will survive this,’ but I can’t. This may pass. Your bullies might grow up and realize they were assholes to you, or they might not. Many are usually ignorant to the damage they cause people on a psychological and emotional level. Even in the next stages of your life, this kind of abuse will follow you. You’ll find people who made their way through the world by being aggressive and mean-spirited, and they’ll look at you as an anomaly that needs to be snuffed out or forced to change. For us, the sensitive ones, the world is unforgiving.

            And if the abuse is not external, then it will certainly be internal. You’re your own worst enemy, after all. See, maybe you’re surrounded by good people, genuine and honest people who love you, and that’s great! Too bad no-one warns you about the triggers. Yeah, that’s right, we get triggered. It could be a buzzword that was slung at you in your younger years like ‘faggot’ or ‘retard’ or ‘idiot.’ Maybe it’s something innocent like being laughed at. Either way, something’s going to set you off, and you’re going to get mad, and then you’re going to get mad at getting mad because you feel like an idiot. “Why the hell am I like this?” you’ll ask. “Didn’t I move past this point?”

            The fact is, we can’t. We don’t survive this. Not all of us, not entirely.

            So do this instead.

            First, find people you can trust and confide in. This is key. If you come from a loving family, talk to them, but either way, make friends and build connections. If it gets worse, go seek out a counsellor, someone who can look at your situation from the outside and offer some suggestions. Then, get away from chat rooms, forums, and social media websites, because those places can be open playing fields for jackasses. Don’t say anything, just randomize your passwords and don’t log in for however long you need to. Finally, find a way to vent. Pent up thoughts and emotions are the death of us. Just make sure you find a healthy medium. Draw, write, sing, scream, punch a pillow, talk to yourself. Get it out of your head.

            No, you won’t survive this. So fight it instead. Wrestle it to the ground and tame it. Own it and learn its weaknesses.

            And when you do, tell me how you did it, because we’re in this together. You, me, and the rest of the freaks. Do what you have to do. Just don’t give up, because taking any of the darker roads out of this mess will be treated as a victory by your tormentors, and the last think you need is to give them that.

            Don’t be a survivor. Be the winner.

See you next time,


RWI

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