1. If you do not defend yourself, no one else will.
I was the kind of person that took everything at face value. Admittedly, I still kind of am. When institutions like the school said things like “We will protect you” and “We have a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying,” I was inclined to believe them. But more often than not, your teachers have seen that you are being bullied. And no, they will not step in. If you’re telling yourself that one day they’ll just intervene all on their own, you’re kidding yourself. You are going to have to make them.
Cause chaos. Cause so much chaos that they cannot go on unless they acknowledge that something needs to be done. I was once strategically seated next to the most disruptive boy in class in order to get him to behave. Every quiet bookworm is familiar with this strategy. It never works. It only ever makes us a target. He took on a new hobby: drawing on my books. And when he got bored of that, he found another: my face. Eventually, I too found my hobby: I started carrying umbrellas. Big, long, strong ones. Umbrellas big and strong enough to leave a pretty bad bruise if you happened to be whacked along the backside with it. My mother was called in as a disciplinary action, but my teacher was the one who ended up getting told off. And in the end, I was never seated next to a troublemaker again.
2. Ignorance truly is bliss.
My whole life I’ve been stared at. Entering classrooms, walking down the corridors, waiting at the bus stop outside the school. And eventually, I got so used to the eyes that they ceased to exist; I got so used to the whispers and giggles that I developed selective hearing. My friends used to ask me how I walked past groups of people and didn’t flinch when I heard what they had said about me. I would always respond with a confused glance and a “What are you talking about?” So then they started telling me—every time someone would make a comment, or steal a glance for too long, or laugh in my direction. And eventually, I just had to tell my friends to stop making me aware of it. The people who intended for me to hear the comments and see the snarky behavior just grew more and more frustrated. I, however, had found my peace.
3. Shame is pride.
I’ve always been someone who gets embarrassed rather easily. Being bullied exacerbated that. I never saw it as prideful, though. In my head, if you had shame, you had mastered humility. But after a decade and a bit of being harassed and humiliated by my peers, I had an “ego death” experience. It wasn’t a complete ego death; my ego returned a couple of years later. But temporarily, my ego was disabled.
For at least two years, I stopped caring about everything, and I do mean everything, pertaining to my perception. It actually happened the summer I lost weight and started wearing makeup, when the bullying stopped. When everyone started treating me like a human being all of a sudden. When I realized that man was so fickle that they could be moved by a layer of lipgloss and a size 6 waist. I genuinely was so amused by it all. And it wasn’t just my physical appearance I stopped caring about—that isn’t the meaning of ego death. I was entirely released from my whole sense of self and every idea I’d ever had about the person I was or the person I should be. Quite honestly, I just didn’t care. And with Care and Pride went Shame. Humility entered the room next when I realized that I was not important nor was anything I did or said. And as morbid and depressing as that sounds, to me it felt like freedom.
4. It is not personal.
As personalized and tailored to you as they may make their digs and blows feel, it is not personal. They are simply hurt people, and as the saying goes…
Now, unless you’ve done something like kill their brother, it is highly unlikely that their life’s very essence revolves around your displeasure. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught in the crosshairs of someone else’s internal battle. And with the existence of the internet, you can be in the wrong place even when tucked away within the four walls of your own bedroom, so it may feel as though they are deliberately seeking you out. But often you’ll find that they’re going through something completely unrelated to you—they looked up and there you were. Sometimes it really is as simple as that.