Image via iStock
Anna Gragert
February 04, 2016 1:59 pm

I felt a weight on my chest as their words hit me. They went in one ear, but didn’t leave through the other and disperse into the stale school air. Their voices stayed with me, steeping in my brain. I had no defense, no way to unplug a cerebral drain and let the acidic liquid flow from my mind. I was alone in a sea of monstrous words. Even worse: the sea of monstrous words was inside me.

I was bullied every single day, for four years straight, from 5th grade to 8th grade. I feared my alarm clock, because it signaled that it was time for me to go to school, to face all the people who took advantage of my sensitivity, my quiet nature, my kindness. I started every day with a panic attack and cried as the sun set beneath the tall maple tress surrounding my safe space, my home.

It was the worst time of my life. A time that one out of every four students experiences.

But, you know what? Oddly enough, I’m grateful for it all.

If I’d never gone through that monster-in-the-closet-type experience, I would not be the woman I am today. Bullying made me stronger. It made me a warrior. If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself that. I’d tell myself a lot, actually.

Here’s what I’d tell my middle school self:

Bullies are cruel for a reason. And that reason has nothing to do with you.

I’m not a perfect person. I’ve lashed out at the people I love. I’ve said things I regret. There are days when I go against my principles and use the word “hate” as I’m referring to someone else. When I ask myself why I’m acting this way, the answer is always: I’m hurting today.

People don’t bully for fun. They don’t bully because this type of evil was passed down from one generation to the next. They bully because they’re in pain and this pain has nowhere else to go but out of their mouths and into someone else’s ears.

“It’s not your fault” – I’d give anything to say those four words to my younger self.

There’s nothing wrong with being sensitive.

I’d often curse my sensitivity when I was younger because I hated feeling everything so deeply. I hated the fact that pebbles didn’t create soft waves in my head – they created tsunamis.

With every birthday, I take a moment to remember that sensitivity is a superpower. It paves the way for empathy, for connecting with other human beings as you work to understand their respective situations. Without sensitivity, the world would be lacking something special.

I want this planet’s cracks to be filled with compassion, understanding, and warm hugs that give us all the strength to keep going. Therefore, I’m never going to push my sensitivity away.

Fear not, no one can take you away from… well, you! 

I used to worry that bullying would make me unkind. I’d imagine that, at the end of my middle school career, I’d become a Disney villain full of hatred, revenge plans, and poisonous apples.

Yet, none of the above happened. In fact, I came out of my bullying experience kinder, smarter, and stronger than ever. Because no one can take who I am away from me. There’s always going to be a light within me that no darkness can extinguish.

Words matter. 

When I’d talk to my parents, my siblings, and school psychologists about bullying, they’d always ask me, “Why don’t you stand up for yourself?” They made it sound so simple, as though something was wrong with me because I couldn’t overcome my silence.

After I left middle school, I never had the same problem. I always stood up for myself and unleashed the words I’d kept locked inside. Ergo, I’ve often wondered: why? What changed?

It took four years of bullying to make me realize that my words mattered. Ultimately, middle school provided me with this tidbit of wisdom: standing up for yourself will not make you unlikable – it will help you reclaim your identity.

You’re the heroine of this story.

During my senior year of high school, I wrote my college essay on what I’m writing about now. When I had my favorite English teacher read it, she handed it back to me and said, “Thank you for letting me read your hero’s journey.” I responded with a smile and a confused look, to which she laughed and exclaimed: “Oh, don’t worry! We’ll talk about it next semester in Heroes.”

Heroes refers to a class that’s based around Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. During class, we’d read various works and watch movies depicting characters who follow similar paths on their way to becoming history-making heroes.

One stage of this journey is called “The Ordeal” and it describes the point when a hero must face their greatest fear. Once they overcome this pivotal obstacle in their narrative and reach the other side, they’re on their way to reaching the final stage, which is when they return home with a treasure that has the power to change the world. Most importantly, the hero has been transformed.

All along, I was a heroine. The only difference is, now, I have the greatest treasure there is:

the knowledge that it does get better.

(Images via iStock)

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