Sunday, 5 January 2014

My Bully Brain

Our lives are being shaped without our understanding all the time. Daily little events, large memorable ones, large ones we've forgotten. I had a recent run in with a connection I'd never made on my own recently, through a conversation with a friend. 

Though I have a history of being bullied in the past, I had never identified those specific experiences in high school as being linked to my core personality traits these days. It was something that happened, I moved beyond it, and then life moved beyond that, and somewhere in that jumbled mess of movement, I figured the effect had pretty much petered out. 

My experience with bullying was with a group of girls when I first went into high school. We were becoming a tight-knit group, as girls at the age of 14 do. We listened to the same music (Evanescence, Dashboard Confessional), we hung out in each other's basements, we were "alternative" together (watching Rocky Horror Picture Show and reading books about sexual positions). It was my new group and I was relatively pleased with myself at the time, I remember, for having one, because this was an entirely new school with no follow through from my previous classmates, so all of my friends had to be new. 

It was also around this time in my life that I began really, really struggling with a lingering depression that had been there for many years. I didn't know how to feel well in myself, or feel successfully in any way really, and this concerned me. I thought that, as a teenager, I should be able to feel in conflict. I should be emotional about figuring out my sexuality, and excited about my new friends, and happy that my mom was ok after her long illness, and worried about my new classes. 
At the time I just felt…like I should feel something. Pleased, with the friends. Excited even about the new music and about the fact that this school allowed me to write every single day. I couldn't seem to feel much else though, and so I started sinking into a sense of looming isolation. 

My solution to this was about one part typical teenager, and one part atypical…person. Typically, I decided it was a personal flaw, one that would never be overcome, and so what was the point of trying to dig my heels in against it anymore?  The atypical part was my then decision that if I wanted to keep pushing forward, the only thing I could really do was try to keep other people from feeling the way that I felt. And I genuinely, deeply wanted this to work because honestly, I couldn't imagine letting someone feel as alone as I felt at that time. I had dealt with so much fear in the past year with my mother's near passing, and with a depression that wouldn't let me feel for so long, that my sense was of an emptiness that was permanent.

I wished so hard at the time that someone had reached in there and helped me stop that emptiness. At the time I thought I needed love. I think I really needed love, medication, and a good counselor. I didn't know those were options. So I set off on my quest to be a bubbly, supportive person who helped keep others from having the nastiness that was coating my insides, coat their insides. 

My friends saw this, and the "leader" of the pack decided that I was a "phony." Specifically, it was relayed to me, she believed that no one could be as nice as me and mean it genuinely. 

I say "relayed to me" because one day at school, my friends simply stopped talking to me, that that was that. No text messages or phone calls anymore. They wouldn't speak with me, and I didn't understand why until the rumors they were spreading started making it really hard to make friends with other people, too, and then I found out what was going on. 

So I started making new friends, and this is how my story usually continues forward. I had these friends, they bullied me, I got new friends, and those friends were amazing, and my life moved forward, and here we are today.

My close friend recently broke this narrative as I was telling it, however, by casually noting, "ah, that's why you don't really have any girl friends, then."

I'll tell you, that caught me off guard. Because it's true. I don't have that many female friends. I have a few, several very close, but the majority of my friends after that incident, and particularly the new ones I made in high school, were men (well, boys, and now men, you get the idea).

And guess when I stopped trusting girls?

This amazed me. I'd never actually made that connection before. Whenever people asked about my uniquely male heavy friend group, I always agreed and then told them that I just got on with guys better. That I felt like I'd missed class on the day that they taught us how to get on with girls; that I didn't understand the codes and rules and unspoken this and thats. 

So here we are. Bullying is still affecting me. Me, confident me, at 25. I am only just now starting to make more female friends, a trend which I've been taking on intentionally. A few days following this casual statement by my friend, I found myself thinking about it as I walked into his house. Several guys in the room, several girls. I gravitate immediately towards the guys because I know exactly how to interact with them. All of my interactions with the girls feel flawed (in my eyes).

 I see myself feeling nervous with them, not trusting that I can be who I am around them, and it comes full circle to me that I am still afraid of interacting with groups of girls because I am afraid they will reject me, just like I was rejected when I was 14.

It's not some great tragedy, I think. My set of extremely supportive (and yes, mostly male) friends make me incredibly happy. We share interests and hobbies and our personalities mesh well. But maybe I would be that way with women too, if I'd had a different experience?

And maybe I still can be. It's a goal for 2014: make more female friends. 

The point isn't the pain caused by the bullying, or that bullying is wrong, or that life is a tragedy. That's not the point here. What I'm trying to show is that in these years, there's something about me that's been shaped without me understanding why. 

What in your life is being shaped without your understanding?

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