In my early elementary school days, I had a lot of friends. I almost always had a companion in the schoolyard. I spent hours on weeknights hogging up the house phone to talk to them. I spent countless weekends going to play dates and birthday parties and going to the mall or the movies.
I wasn't popular by any means, but I would say that I had a decent amount of friends, especially since I've always been pretty shy.
Everything changed when I got to sixth grade. At the time, I was pretty wise for my age. I had recognized that friend groups change and people grow apart, but as my friends started to drift away, I could sense that this was different. Throughout the year, my classmates steadily stopped talking to me and my friends began to distance.
Seventh grade was when the true bullying began. My intent is not to hash up middle school drama by talking about this, so I'll spare most of the details. To make a very long story short, this bullying, which carried on into eighth grade, resulted in me losing pretty much all of my friends both in school and in my community theatre group because I was betrayed by someone with whom I trusted my entire life at the time.
To this day, I still can't figure out what the turning point was. Maybe it was because I started doing theatre. Maybe it was because I never had a "rebellious" phase like many of my classmates did. Maybe it was because my new orthodontic palate expander created a huge gap between my two front teeth. Maybe it was because I had recently put on a lot of weight. Maybe it was the harsh reality that I was really struggling with what I later learned was anxiety.
But no matter what it was, it shouldn't have been a reason for them to treat me terribly as they did.
Contrary to popular belief, words and actions do hurt, even if the hurt isn't visible to someone on the outside. I was hurt in a lot of ways, but one of the most significant ways was that it affected my ability to make friends. It began as trust issues and developed into feeling intensely anxious in most social situations.
In high school, I didn't form any close relationships with anyone. I was friends with most people on the surface. We were school friends, but mostly never more than that. It was my own doing. This is not to say that I didn't want friends. I did not think that I could trust anyone. I feared social conflict and getting hurt again.
To put that into perspective, I remember once during my sophomore year I found out that there was a not so nice rumor being spread about me around the school, and I had one of the worst anxiety attacks of my life. I was too afraid to open up to pretty much anyone about anything. I found myself not really talking to anyone unless I was spoken to.
Throughout high school, my social anxiety got a little better, but I still never had close friends, so I hoped that college would be my time. I thought that I would finally have a best friend that I could tell anything to, something I missed so desperately, but I was wrong. I thought that I had finally had overcome my baggage enough to finally make a close friend or two, but I didn't.
Like high school, over the past two semesters and while dealing with a lot of unwanted anxiety, I made a good amount of school friends, but I still didn't make any close ones. I still couldn't bring myself to really open up to anyone and talk about anything more than what was happening around us. I couldn't bring myself to connect.
I hope that this article doesn't come across as me not being able to get over the bullying that happened in middle school and that I keep dwelling on it. That is not what this is. I've moved on as much as I can, but to be quite honest, I still have a lot of healing to do. The bullying I experienced as a 13-year-old made a significant impact on my mental and social health.
I know that I am not alone in this either. So many children and teens are bullied on a daily basis. We are taught about the effects that bullying can have on a person, but I don't think that we take them seriously enough and that people realize how serious and long-lasting the effects can truly be.
To be honest, I didn't even consider how impactful bullying can be until I was living it myself. It is also important to acknowledge that there are people out there who have experienced worse than me. I see and hear them too.
No one should have to experience any sort of physical or mental pain because people choose not to be nice. It is so important that we be good to one another and that we teach those around us to do the same. You never know the true impact that words and actions can have on someone. You never know what someone is going through. Kindness goes a long way.