If only I had their HS experience...
I’m having dinner with my parents and somehow class reunions come up. I say “Well, mine was last night. That makes me feel old.” My father replies with shock, “Your high school reunion was yesterday?! Why didn’t you go?!” Frowning with confusion, I say “Um, gee, I don’t know, I hated high school?” Has he met me? Wasn’t he here for this? My mother recalled of course, adding “do you not remember what she went through?”
When I got home from dinner and checked my Facebook, my newsfeed was filled with pictures from the reunion party and plenty of “good to see everyone, let’s do this again soon” updates. As I came across some of the faces of those who made my adolescence something I’d rather forget, I was relieved I hadn’t changed my mind and showed up. Then the strangest thing happened. I suddenly felt this brush of anxiety and discomfort. It was the same feeling I experienced every time I’d see a former bully (either from middle or high school) or even entered a school. It’s a feeling that, when it hits me in public, I become instantly introverted, quiet, socially unsure, insecure and paranoid: I revert back to the teenager I once was. The best example of this was my first day of tutoring at a city high school when I was a graduate student. Walking down an empty hallway, I giddily rehearsed my “professional face;” I was actually kind of excited to start the new job. However, my excitement turned to fear when the bell rung and a bustling herd of students swarmed around me. My heart-rate elevated, I avoided looking anyone in the face and I started to worry if my pupils would like me or not. Why was I scared of them? I wasn’t in the position of a peer, I was an authority figure. It was never so lucid that my social school experience traumatized me.
I feel nervous as I I’m typing this now; I’m trying to fight the memories from flooding in. I don’t want to recall all the specific moments of humiliation, denigration, rejection, unwarranted intentional cruelty and psychological warfare that was so inescapable. I couldn’t even immediately trust those who tried to be kind to me because there were so many pranks and ambushes at my expense. What did I do to deserve any of it? According to some kids, it was because I “was too happy” or “too nice.” In trying to get their teen to relax and not be so concerned with appearances, I’ve often heard parents say “no one is paying that
much attention to you,” but the truth is that they are and any single thing could be used as a ration to harass your child. People nitpicked at the jewelry I wore, my hair, my clothes, even the shape of my lips. Guys overlooked me because I was so tragically uncool, but I was accused of being a lesbian because I didn’t have a boyfriend (not that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian; kids use sexuality as a pick point too). You come home bawling your eyes out to your parents, trying figure out “why you?” but there’s no real answer, they just hate you. You bend over backwards trying to turn yourself into whoever they want you to be, but they mock your efforts. People tell you to stand up for yourself or fight back, but no amount of verbal taunts or fists thrown (especially if you’re not good at comebacks or fighting) satisfy what you really want: for it to stop. Your parents and school administrators (sometimes
the staff gives a darn) want to help, but they can only do so much. Once the realization comes that there’s nothing you can do to fix it, the overwhelming sense of defeat, powerlessness and helplessness nearly breaks you. That feeling is part of what leads so many of today’s bullying victims to violence and/or suicide. Some try to encourage students by saying, “Stay strong. It’s just 4 years; it will go by quickly,” but that’s a lifetime when you’re bracing yourself for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 4 years. The torment exceeds that time-frame with this generation, as bullies can now continue abuse online with social media. Given that most social media enables people to connect with others all over the world, youth can be terrorized or baited by people they haven’t even met in person (I write more about cyber-bullying amongst kids and adults in “Social Media Demons.”)
Janice Ian (Lizzy Caplan, R) got the best of her bully, Regina George (Rachel McAdams, L) in "Mean Girls"
I much rather go to the Wildcats reunion in 2018....
What many over-simplify as rite of passage and a part of growing up is an experience that truly sticks with the individual and has psychological and social effects beyond grade school, including social anxiety or withdrawal, low self-esteem, defensiveness, aggression, a negative disposition or trust issues. Someone recently said to me “I was one of those people who heard something so much, that I believed it. I believed my bullies. I believed that I was worthless and ugly and that no one would want or like me. I spent my entire 20’s trying to kiss up, appease and perform for people. I did all types of low-down things, trying to get someone’s
approval. I never met myself because I was constantly someone else. I didn’t realize how all this was connected until I reached 30.” For me, being an outcast lead to expecting people to dislike me. I was always pleasantly surprised if people took a liking to me. Also, as I wrote in “Friendships in Your 20’s”
, I was so used to having few friends, that I embraced anyone who was nice to me and tolerated things I shouldn’t have to maintain relationships.
Removing the dominion and control my adolescent memories have over my conscious and emotions has been a work in progress as I have new epiphanies about how the past has affected me over time. It can be difficult to unpack and release the past as a bullying victim because it seems there isn’t much of a way to address it. You graduate; that’s it. The perpetrators leave with little-to-no consequence or remorse, while you leave scathed. You can go on to have a rather great life, but you won’t be able to tell the story of your existence without having to tread those embarrassing, hurtful and uncomfortable chapters; those inalterable and undeletable chapters. That’s why some people go to reunions solely for bragging: to revise history. By rubbing it in the face of a bully how awesome their life is, people feel that they’ve finally gained justice for themselves and changed how the story ended.
You would think talking about your experience with others would help healing, but I’ve found that unless you’re speaking with a therapist, your sharing might be in vain. Some people I went to school with either forgot it occurred, denied or rationalized it (1 person argued I brought the bullying on myself because I kept trying to fit in). All of these invalidating reactions enraged me. How is it we make it to adulthood and still feel so nonchalant about bullying? Others who weren’t school-mates gave me the old “don’t hold a grudge, people change, get over it” bit. 1) Yes, some
change, but I’m not going to care much about the 2013 edition of my bullies because I didn’t and don’t benefit from their personal changes. 2) Simply remembering what’s happened to me is not holding a grudge. Laughing at my bullies’ misfortunes, doing voodoo to curse them or praying for their demise would more so fall under “holding a grudge.” 3) I despise when people say “get over it” in any
situation. It’s negating and insensitive. It’s still quite regular to respond cavalierly to bullying accounts, even to celebrities. I heard someone accuse Lady Gaga of over-reacting, if not exaggerating, about her experience with being terrorized in school. The only people that sympathized with me at all were those who empathized
and had a similar journey. Needless to say, talking about it did only some
service for me.
I frequently have dreams about my high school. I either get notified I didn’t really graduate and have to go back, I miss my bus, I’m trapped there while a disaster (like a bad storm or an attack) happens or I apprehensively walk down the hallway hoping no one says anything to me, but all the students end up laughing and hurling insults at me. A few weeks ago, my mother showed me a collection of school portraits she found. My eyes slowly watered as I stared at my 9th grade photo. I looked so defenseless. Maybe that’s what the other kids saw, so it made me an easy target. I suppose I had a little toughness about me because I constantly braved a face while people openly talked about, made fun of and dismissed me. I was determined to smile through it because I didn’t want to give people the satisfaction of knowing it was hurting me. What I braved then makes me feel so vulnerable now. I guess that’s why I’m writing this article. Internally, I’m hoping spilling my guts on the world-wide-web (as I have before about other things) will have a cathartic outcome and my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)-like bouts whenever I encounter school-related stimuli will stop.
Freshman year, a student told me one day I’d be on a “geek to chic” high school reunion episode of the “Maury Povich Show” and that it would require contacting all 4 graduating classes from 2000-2003 to gather everyone that hated me. Don’t stand by the phone waiting for a producer to call you. Sorry to disappoint, but 1) I figured out I was pretty by myself, no thanks to you. I might have given anything to get a “thumbs up” from you when I was 14, but I don’t need it now, thanks. 2) You will NOT be receiving a free to trip to New York and an appearance on syndicated TV at my charge and 3) I have 0 desire to see you. If I wanted to see you, I could make less of a spectacle of myself and show up at your reunion.
A friend/classmate said “Are you sure you don’t want to come to the reunion?” I replied “Reunion? Screw that.” She then said “It might help to come. You can confront people about what they did, give them a piece of your mind and leave.” Like I said, I’m content with my decision not to attend, but just in case I later regret not taking an opportunity to speak with a former bully, I have this simple quote from a great Kelly Clarkson song:
“I would never wish bad things, but I don’t wish you well.”
I’m not going to speak well or ill-will; I’ll just let karma do its job.
I'm tired of people bragging about their assets and status like it actually means something.
Straight from my journal, live and in living print.
As I triumph and tumble through my 20’s, I’ve had a lot of “ah-ha” moments about different things. One of the more recent realizations has been about friendship. I think most people have something they yearn for throughout life that sets up a pattern of behavior and in my case, I’ve always wanted that classic “BFF;” like the ones you see on TV. You know, the “Shawn” to my “Cory” (“Boy Meets World”)? The friend that uncannily understands you, grows with you as opposed to apart from you and you two bicker once every blue moon? Some may say that type of friend is rare or doesn’t exist, but as cynical as I tend to be, I’ve always believed in the concept because of how often I’ve seen it in daily life and it seemed like everyone had that classic friend but me. Most of grade school, I was always the least popular kid; I didn’t fit in for some silly reason or another. I got separated from the one kid who was my partner in crime due to being a “navy brat (my searches to find her on social media have been unsuccessful).” Anyhow, being low on friends lead me to invite anyone into my life that would be nice to me. This wasn’t a great idea. Long story short, I tolerated a lot things I shouldn’t have and was hesitant to end relationships because either I was scared I wouldn’t make any new friends or it felt like I would be wasting years of time and effort. I should’ve taken the leap while I was still in the large social world that was college, because it’s harder to make new comrades you can deeply connect with once in the workforce.
I’ve realized how much various relationships gradually and insidiously brought me down, and when you’re already cynical and have an ongoing battle with depression, it’s a formula for disaster. Things can get especially tricky with friendships in your 20’s, as most 20-somethings have a lot of self-absorption, arrogance, insensitivity and self-righteousness that they’re oblivious to.
You have friends that will tell you how to behave, nitpick at everything you do, convince you you're crazy, strange, need to change and that everything is wrong with you. They’ll make you inadvertently (and sometimes purposely) feel bad about yourself; see every flaw in you. Use the things you’ve told them in confidence to judge you or take digs when it’s convenient. In the least, they’ll fail to repay the love and respect you’ve given them. It will be hard to dissociate and say goodbye because they were all there for you at some point, but that was some point. Once they no longer meet emotional needs, they're taking up space. I used to hate the adage that some are around for a “season and a reason” because I've always believed that loyalty is a part of true friendship, but not everyone operates that way, unfortunately. Not everyone has the same expectations of their friends or the same definitions of friendship. Some fail as a friend, not because they're bad or disloyal people, but because they don't know how to be a friend. There are more people in this world who have never been truly loved and don't know what it is to be bonded to another, than those who do. Most spend their life chasing that type of thing. Whether or not you have sympathy for their lack of knowledge and the patience to try to show them what it means, is it up to you, but know that it's a very difficult task and your pupil may never learn.
It will be easy to accept poor friendships or behavior because you don’t know that there’s something better. After a couple of these bad boys, you’ll think this crap is the norm and Shawn Hunter isn’t out there, but he is. Try making friends in a setting unorthodox to you. Shawn may be of a different background or culture than you. He might be that kid next to you in class, church, work or hell, Wal-mart. You never know. I think I’ve finally found Shawn; let’s hope I’m right. We met in the most unusual, unexpected way. So far, this is one of the best friendships I’ve ever had and it only made my peer history insights more vivid. I’m already seeing a positive transition in my attitude and perspective. It’s funny how much a simple change in scenery (or in this case, camaraderie) can make a world of difference.
Being the Kelly Clarkson fan I am, I follow her Facebook news feed. On February 8th, her team posted her two upcoming People Magazine covers (week of February 18th) in which the headline was “I Found Love At Last!...Finding Mr. Right.” I was flabbergasted for a few reasons. In 2010, I wrote an article about how magazines with a mostly female audience over-emphasize sex and romance as opposed to self-accomplishment and growth.
Being the girl-power singer Clarkson is, I’m surprised she would feed into such a bad media habit (granted there may be more to her feature than the headline indicates). Secondly, I wonder why she would do that type of cover story as if an engagement break or divorce can’t happen. How foolish would she feel if they split or had a bitter ending? She would’ve publicly declared that she figured dating out and found “Mr. Right,” only to appear to be really wrong. Once footballer Roy Williams became singer Kelly Rowland’s ex-fiancé, Rowland said she felt “embarrassed” for repeatedly publicly gushing about her engagement and covering Modern Bride
, vowing to keep her future private relationships private.
I’ve never understood why celebrities advertise their relationships with cover stories and joint interviews. What’s the story there? So what, you’re in love. I thought they didn’t like everyone being in their business. I find it especially obnoxious when they arrogantly imply they have invincible, eternal love or make the same declarations about their current partner that they did about the last three. Maybe you should stop falling in love like a high-school student, but that’s another article. Actors Nicole Kidman & Tom Cruise reportedly claimed to People Magazine that they would “be on their honeymoon for the rest of their lives.” Are they dead, because I’m pretty sure their honeymoon is over. As a matter of fact, isn’t Cruise ending is third honeymoon with Katie Holmes, whom he notoriously giddily jumped on Oprah’s couch about? Unless you’re shipping a project or overcame some hurdle together, like a severe illness, why are you promoting your relationship again?
Future bitter breakups all over this cover
Considering the buzz it creates, you would think celebrities would be the ones to publicize their romantic entanglements the most, but they have nothing on everyday people. It’s crazy how many of our loved ones make shrines to their relationships out of their social media pages. I know one person who every other status or photo is about or of their boyfriend. The boyfriend comments on everything and they actually go back and forth having comment conversations that everyone can see. It makes me wonder…Is your relationship for you or me? The way some people plaster it, you would think their relationship was a product or service. I also want to ask “do you have an identity outside of your relationship? Most people use sites like Tumblr or Facebook to show their interests. You can learn a lot by looking at someone’s social media page. If look at my Tumblr, you’ll learn that I battle with depression, love music (especially Beyonce` & Demi Lovato), voted for Obama, watch General Hospital (recast Jason!) and love High School Musical. If I look at some people’s pages, all I’ll learn is that they’re in a relationship. Guess that’s who they are. And of course, if they break up with their beloved, all of the sudden they’ll be hush-hush. The moral to this story, kids, is that when you publicize your relationship, not only are you inviting everyone into your business, but you look foolish and like you’re defining yourself by your mate.
Straight from my journal, live and in living print.
I let fear dictate my life. I try to control my attachments to things and people so that I can’t be affected if I lose them. I sometimes tone down or re-route my ambitions so I won’t be setting myself up for disappointments or failures. I might deny myself an experience if I think the risk is too high. I don’t think trying to be responsibly cautious with attachments, ambitions and other decisions is bad, but I know it can be harmful if there isn’t any reasonable balance. Balance is something I struggle to have; I’m such an extreme personality, but that’s another journal for another day. I think different areas of my life have been stunted or are stagnant because I let my fears overwhelm me. It doesn’t help that I’m a control freak on top of that; hell, I’m a control freak just so bad things won’t happen.
I recently had the epiphany that I’m both afraid to have ambitions and afraid not to have them. I really should be working in media. I’m a writer and a music nerd; it’s only fitting. However, I’ve convinced myself that those dreams are untouchable and if I put a lot of energy toward it, I’m going to be deeply disappointed, feel like a failure and lost because I can’t execute my passions. I say all the time that I should find a way to be content with a run-of-the-mill, less entertaining, more practical, every day job and/or life because that’s inevitably what’s going to happen. Find a way to be happy with settling, so when that day comes, I won’t despise my life. On the flip side, I’m scared to not have ambitions for fear I’ll be shoulda’-coulda’ woulda’ ing, stuck in monotony and not living my best life, as Oprah would say.
Straight from my journal, live and in living print.
Depression is so overtaking. It dictates every day of my life. I wake up not knowing how I’m going to feel or how much of an emotional disaster the day is going to be. It dulls my senses. I can’t fully enjoy anything hardly anymore. I feel colorblind. Partially deaf.
It’s so hard to get through the day. The day seems so long. I struggle to get through the minutes and hours, just looking forward to the moment where I get to be asleep again. That’s the only time I have peace. I hate being awake. Sometimes I resent being alive. I know that’s a terrible thing to say and logically I’m not ready to die yet, but that’s the thing about depression- you have no “logic.” The logic is ‘I’m in pain, I’m so terribly sad, down and broken, I can’t stand another minute in this flesh.’
One of my favorite things about depression is the counteractive symptoms. I’m fatigued, but sometimes I can’t sleep; night terrors, nightmares or restlessness. When I can’t sleep, I try to stay up and be productive, but I struggle to concentrate. It all just makes me want to throw something. I get so frustrated. All of this is feels so inescapable.
J.Says answers another advice question she received. "From your personal & psychological perspective, what do you think will happen to my niece as she gets older? Her parents nit-pick & criticize her every move and she is only 8. What do you think the end result will be?"-Marchelle (recorded prior week)
To submit questions for J.Says, click the "Contact/Info" tab and fill out the form. J.Says is NOT a licensed therapist. Follow advice at your own discretion. *Note: This video was moved from a another section.
J.Says responds to an advice question sent to her: "Do relationship titles really matter?"-Jessica T. Hit the "Contact/Info" tab to submit questions for J.Says. J.Says is NOT a licensed therapist. Follow advice at your own discretion. *Note: This video has been moved from another section.