In 6th grade, I was bullied so often and so hard that I sat in bed at night, crying and asking God to end my life unless there was some reason for the hell I endured. If you told a 6th grade version of me that I’d be happy I was bullied at any point in my life I probably would have laughed until I exploded. Middle school (AKA the Dark Ages) is a rough time for everyone, especially slightly effeminate hockey players who really liked show tunes. I was no stranger to being called a “fag” and being table topped in the hallway. Someone even went so far as to kick me in the back while I was peeing at a urinal. To this day, I hate public restrooms. The one and only time I had the courage to tell a teacher (when I was caught crying in class) about the kind of things that were going on, I got a nervous “Uh… Do you want to see a therapist?”
Yes, being bullied sucks major ass. I would not recommend trying it. But let me tell you some invaluable things I learned from being bullied.
1. How to find good people
I became an exceptional judge of character. How? When you have to jump from lunch table to lunch table because you have a friend count of zero, you learn to find people that will stick with you. The people who welcome you when you’re totally alone are the people you want by your side when you have the option to pick your friends.
2. How to be alone
No one will ever be “good” at being alone. But I spent years in my own head, overthinking and complicating everything around me. How can I get people to like me? What can I say? What can I do? What should I wear? The answer is simple, no one is going to like you for what you wear or do or say. Not really. They may want to hang out with you or eat lunch with you or not vandalize your yearbook with slurs but they won’t like you. They need to like you for you, and you develop in being alone. In reading. In writing. In thinking. In creating who you are and coming into a real personality beyond a pair of Nikes or some cheap Abercrombie cologne.
3. How to make fun of myself
When everyone else is making fun of you, the last thing you want is to take it personally. Why? Because everyone needs to knock someone down to be funny. It’s the universal funny bone. If you can make fun of someone, you’ll get laughs. It was a big day in my life when I realized that people would laugh with me if I made fun of myself. And it didn’t hurt nearly as much if I did it because I knew where to draw the line. And I had so much to laugh at as a middle schooler! Acne! Huge hair! Zero friends! This shit writes itself!
4. How to stick up for myself
This is maybe the most important thing I learned through being bullied. The world will always have bullies. They may or may not call you slurs. They may or may not be middle school boys. They might be professors or neighbors or strangers on the street. They might be a parent or a best friend or a lover. The truth of the matter is, not everyone in the world has your back. And 6th grade me learned a valuable lesson. Don’t take their shit. There will come a day when you realize your worth as a human being is ten times that of the little shit who stole your stuff on the bus, or threw chalk at you, or pegged you with basketballs, or held you underwater. That day is the day when you finally stand up for yourself. And the best thing about that day is that it’s not just a blip on the radar or some fleeting moment. That day is the first of many days where you draw a clear, hard line in the sand and you hold your ground.
6th grade me cried a lot. At times, I wished I were dead. Sometimes, I took steps to make that a reality. But through all the shit I dealt with, I became who I am today. And I’d like to think 6th grade me would be proud of not only who I am, but the people I surround myself with, the morals I hold, and the ground I’ve continued to hold for all these years.