Looking back on the bullying from a position of strength

When I was born, I had a complex condition that caused me to become almost blind in my left eye. The only way to deal with it was to patch up my good eye, making me a pirate without depth perception. The kids teased me then, and although I don't remember any of it, I think it was the beginning of thinking that teasing was normal. I compensated then by focusing on the love I had to give and I couldn't give it away fast enough. That selfless openness made me a target for bullies, unhappy people with axes to grind and even a sexual predator that I was lucky to fend off.

In Kindergarten, I started to exhibit clear signs of ADHD, but my parents didn't want to have me tested for fear of being labeled. The attempt to protect me was both a blessing and a curse. It avoided stigmatization, but meant I was just the annoying kid who had trouble sitting still, who sharpened his pencil down to the metal eraser holder, and who would turn the teacher's stories into punchlines for kids to laugh.

Getting laughs made me feel good, but made enemies within the administration. My kindergarten teacher would write letters to my mom every Friday, listing everything I had done to annoy her, and at subsequent teacher/parent meetings, my parents would get angrier and angrier with me, starting to blame my behaviour on "not caring" about others, which was entirely untrue.

Although I had only one bully in my first few years of grade school, I had friends and was happy. But the school administrators were not happy and found a way to get rid of me by testing me for the gifted program and sending me to a different school for grade 4. This would mark the beginning of the darkest time of my life.

Used to getting laughs and making my mark, my personality of quirks and my complete lack of social nuance very quickly turned my classmates against me, including the administration. I was teased and taunted every day without fail. Kids shoved me into lockers, intimidated me in the bathroom, jump kicked me in the back of the head when I walked down the halls, and more than I can possibly remember. My teachers would call me out in front of my peers, get me to talk about the bullying in the open so I could be seen tearing up, and would sneer in my direction if I was inappropriate (being that way was a condition of the ADHD but, of course, noone knew that). This false caring and lack of true solutions created a deep distrust in adults and cemented my silence about what was happening to me.

In grade 5, I remember a new kid starting mid-year, whom I made fast friends with. Then one day another kid took him aside and gave him an ultimatum. He sided with the bullies, and became one of the worst bullies I would experience during that time. The betrayal was brutal and crushing, far worse than the bullying before it because although the others bullied me, they didn't really know me. This was different, and I vowed to escape.

I managed to get admitted to an art high school before my last year of junior high, and this gave me a one-year head start on high school. And that summer, I participated in an exchange program where I made true friends.

Over time, I've realized that the bullying at my old schools only happened because the administration didn't do their jobs properly. It's true that kids are kids, but they look to adults to know where the lines are. In the cases of my previous schools, the administration either brushed off the bullying or were seen by my peers as ignoring it, effectively giving their silent permission. When the message is that different is bad and needs to be destroyed, and when the kids are left to manage this process, the result is bullying.

I don't dream about the bullies anymore, but I still have high anxiety and my trust is hard to earn. I've worked hard to manage without meds which, in and of itself, is a real challenge. But I've always liked a good challenge. I also got a proper diagnosis for the ADHD, which was helpful in accepting myself. Knowing why you are different and finding others like you is the first step to finding your strength. I travel the world a lot and it is a huge help. I am also self-employed, avoiding the high school politics found in a lot of offices (I'm sorry to say that bullying doesn't go away, it just learns how to look civilized). I also seek out safe havens in good people.

I suppose my message is that life goes on, change is good, and allies are out there.

I have managed to hold on to enough of my love for others to discover that life eventually rewards you back ten times over with friends, relationships, experiences and much more. You need to just remember to breathe deep and be yourself.

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