Désiree Schneider 22nd February 2019
Excluded, ridiculed, shouted at, ignored, named and shamed for things I did not do. Nothing unusual and pretty harmless compared to other forms of bullying people sadly experience at school or in the workplace every day. My shyness, my “uncool” friends, my love for Manga and Anime, the few extra pounds and my colourful choice of clothes (I never liked jeans back then, even though they were unavoidably trendy) made me a suitable target. It all led me to looking for excuses to not go to school, purposefully hurting myself to skip PE and dreaming about how the local train station and its tracks could relieve me of all of this.
There is a benefit though: Those years were like an intensive training course in coping with bullshit — a skill that came in extremely handy later in life and ultimately made me a stronger person, no matter how cliched it sounds.
People can bully you for anything
That was the first lesson I had to learn. I was not bullied because of my race, my skin colour, my religion or because I had pissed anyone off. I was bullied because, honestly, I was a weird kid. In addition to my obsession with Japanese culture, the small doodles I drew in class and the deep fascination with everything that, well, was obviously not cool. On top of that, I had the ability to always do the wrong thing at the right time and have never been a fashion advocate.
People can be targeted for being too ugly, too pretty, too thin, too thick, too smart or too weird
Nevertheless, I saw people that were singled out for more and for less. Some kids in primary school had the misfortune to have that new haircut their mum thought would be easier to maintain. Others had been caught eating their bogeys or had the newest Eastpak backpack. The reason for being bullied can literally be anything. People can be targeted for being too ugly, too pretty, too thin, too thick, too smart or too weird to whoever appoints themselves on bully duty that day. There is no system behind it.
I learned to be my own, independent human being
This awareness – which is hard to get when you’re in that situation – helped me to find myself, but I am not down-playing that there were points when I was lost. But the experience showed me how I wanted to be: stronger, independent, quick-witted and eloquent.
It might sound clichéd, but it is true. Back in my childhood days, the bullies mostly were not the brightest under the sun. I never was the type to counter-attack by using violence, I wanted to use words to take them out. Maybe that part of the reason I ended up in journalism.
I live a happy adult life because I could let go of my childhood memories
I live a happy adult life because I could let go of my childhood memories. When I now try to picture what my seven seven-year-old self would have done, when that big, cool girl approached her telling her she looked like crap every other day of the week, I cannot remember how I would have acted. I most likely would have been paralysed, run away or have broken into tears. Now I would counter something witty or slap her and tell her to mind her own business.
I love that I can do that. That I have the strength and courage to do it. I love it because I can make a decision on my own without a clouded judgement of fear. And I can only do it because I was forced to learn to stand up for myself when I was at my lowest. The feeling of not believing in yourself and having no self-worth is something I never want to experience again.
Despite how outgoing I might seem, I don’t trust people easily. I do not expect much from people around me and can tolerate a lot because I accept that I am my own person and must take care of my own well-being. That is probably why I sometimes act detached and am not afraid to explore the world.
I became thick-skinned
Through the experience of being bullied I, of course, learned resilience, which now pays off in my freelance work as a journalist and being a student, where I have to work with many different people and under the pressure of deadlines. I know that everything is going to be over and get better, no matter how bad a situation may seem at very moment.
Moreover, there is just no point in wasting your time on negative comments or stupid people. No matter if it is at work or in your private life.
I don’t mind being alone
Another plus, I like to be alone. When I was bullied, I spent to most time with myself. Now I came to enjoy my own company. I even go as far as to take quality-time just for myself, which isn’t about selfishness but self-respect. I know what I have been through, and I know what my body and mind can do and when they need rest.
Travelling alone is bliss, you should try it
I am actually most creative when I am alone. I read, think, cook, dance and write a lot. Travelling alone is bliss, you should try it.
I am aware of my feelings, my actions, and my surroundings
Spending so much time with myself made me utterly aware of my own emotions and thoughts and how to keep them under control and in parts also how to be strategic. By reading and understanding myself, I also became better at reading other people and to be aware of my surroundings. I am sceptic about people and question things a lot (in a healthy way) and have learned the unspoken language of other people.
Because of my wish to fit in and to avoid conflict, I became good at explaining things to different people by adapting my way of speaking to the conversation partner. This again is very helpful for my job and in my everyday life, dealing with different kind of people.
I became a friendly, understanding and outgoing person
(Almost) every morning I wake up, I try to become a better person – except for those bad or hungover days everyone has once in a while. I am motivated to aim for a successful life, in which I am accepted and prove that I am right in what I do. For me, this is a positive form of self-healing.
Being bullied taught me how dark and aimless life can feel. Most importantly, it has given me the strength to intervene. If I were to spot someone being bullied in school or even outside of school, I would report it to the responsible people and make sure it is dealt with.
There is no good nor evil in bullying, even if you might believe there is
At the same time, I have no clue how it is to be a bully. Still, I try to understand them. It does not mean that their behaviour is acceptable, but that those people are but that those people are also bullied often experience another form of abuse or discrimination. I know some of the people that bullied me back in my childhood days and they have had bullies of their own: parents, siblings or other people. It does not justify their behaviour but think about it. Have you ever taken out your anger, desperation or grief on someone else?
Most bullies are not genuinely evil, even though that might be hard to believe when they just peed on your notebook or came up with a new rhyme about you. The worst, for me, are the bystanders. They are often too afraid to do anything or just don’t care. And that is something I cannot accept; because you can always slip a note to someone responsible without bringing yourself in danger, and how could someone not care?!
However, all this does not mean that people should be bullied or that anyone being bullied will necessarily become stronger afterwards. Being bullied has severe and long-lasting negative consequences for both the bully and the bullied. I am only saying that in my experience it has made me a stronger person.
If you are or were bullied, and are still recovering and healing, remember: speak up. There is always help out there and it will turn out to the better and can make you stronger.
Désiree Schneider 22nd February 2019