One experience I'd like to reclaim is growing up without friends… and being bullied in general. In school, I oftentimes found myself isolated growing up. I don't say this lightly, either. My best friend in elementary school told me on the last day of 5th grade that we were never really friends and that she had just been pretending for the past five years. I remember getting off the bus that day as she told me with tears in my eyes.
Other than her, I didn't have any true friends who wanted to see me outside of school. Going into middle school, I had a few friends in passing, but very rarely formed any healthy relationships. I was excluded from the inside "clique". Unfortunately, my isolation turned slowly to resentment and depression; my mind turned popularity into the enemy. Before high school, I attended a field hockey camp with my team where I was forced to eat lunch daily alone because they believed a rumor about me and refused to see past it. I called my mom crying every day.
When I invited most of the girls in my grade to a slumber party, only three showed up-- only one actually spent the night. For a long time, that's how things went when I had parties. To this day, I still over invite people due to social anxiety and the fear that only two semi-acquaintances will show up and I'll be forced to make awkward small talk with them that will result in them never wanting to speak to me again.
This pattern continued into high school where my group of friends remained small, inconsistent, and not healthy. By sophomore year, my best friend at the time wrote about how annoying I was for an English class assignment. The teacher read it aloud to the class, unaware that it was about me, but everyone else knew. I felt so small.
Loneliness was an open feeling for me. I grew up with as an only child. Before school started, I will admit, I didn't feel quite so alone. The street I grew up on had few kids that I played with. My best friend at the time lived across the street from me and the neighbors down the road weren't so bad either. Except, my best friend moved away and those boys and I soon drifted apart as the social pressures of middle school landed us in different circles.
Even the people I ate lunch with in the cafeteria never made the effort to truly be my friend. I saw that those who talked to me still humored the classroom bullies who blatantly reminded me that I was an outsider every day. I had teachers who watched me be mocked and stand idly by. I had a boy tell me to kill myself every day for a whole school year.
I was so deprived of affection, even platonically, that I would accept any sort of attention as friendship-- even when a class bully decided to "take me under his wing" and "teach me how to look better on Instagram so I could make friends". I didn't realize at the time that he was trying to mock me.
So, on my sweet sixteen, I over-invited people like I always did. I reached out to my field hockey team, the choir kids, those I knew from student government. Every social circle I had even a brief conversation with received an invite. On the day of my party, they each arrived one by one.
When they all piled into my grandparent's living room to watch me open presents, my grandmother laughed because she didn't know if the floor could hold that many people. I remember feeling so awkward as I gawked at the gathering in the same spot where only three girls had dared to show up years before.
By the end of my high school years, I wasn't alone anymore. I often question what changed. Personally, I grew up. That also means that those around me did as well. And while high school cliques weren't dismantled entirely, I had found that my school became a little softer as I moved through the grades. I'm so grateful that I finally had friends.
However, the years before that had damaged me in so many ways and still continues to do so. Despite my sweet sixteen, I always still over invite. I can't quite shake the feeling that somehow all those people will start hating me again (after all, it has happened). I had severe trust issues and still do.
All the nights I spent alone (and only ever being invited to a handful of parties, oftentimes last minute and as an afterthought) really had given me a lot of time to think. All that thinking just started buzzing in my head and, I guess, it's never really stopped. Some small part of me always thinks I'm alone. When my mom asks me if I'm going out, I laugh and say "with what friends". It's not because I have no friends now, but some part of me will always feel that way.
I still fall victim to toxic relationships an above average amount. When you have no one, you'll accept anything. So, now I always find myself allowing people into my life who only seek to tear me down. I give second chances, third chances, fourth chances, and so on forever since I'm afraid if I put my foot down, I'll be left with no one. The friends I do have get annoyed when I constantly need reassurance that they like me. Part of me feels like that's probably driving them away, anyway.
In the back of my mind, I'm always convinced I'll end up alone in the end.
And, you know, nowadays I wonder if all those people who showed up did so because they were my friends or if they did it for the post on Instagram since sweet sixteens always got a few extra likes. Especially because once I graduated, very few of them bothered to keep in touch. And while everyone tends to drift apart from their high school friends, some small part of me always thinks back to that last day fifth grade where my best friend was suddenly no longer a friend at all.
Sometimes "local" Twitter drives me insane. Today, it's driving me insane for a different reason. There's been an uptick of Tweets claiming to have "mental breakdowns" or have "no friends". People today really tote mental illness around as if its some award they won, but rarely have they actually experienced true mental illness or been bullied. I've even seen some of the most popular girls from high school try to claim they've been on the outside.
I won't act like we don't all feel like outsiders at some point, but to push a narrative that you are the one to be pitied when the individuals who you bullied and snubbed watch you joke around about a "mental breakdown" is low. Recovery from bullying, isolation, and the resulting mental illnesses is not easy and the way we make light of it on social media is worrisome. Making jokes about your mental illness to cope is perfectly acceptable and no one should be able to patrol how you tell your own truth, but those memes have led neurotypical individuals to believe that they, too, can claim the experiences that they often times were the ones to cause.
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