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Fortress of Solitude
Teasing drove me to desperation—and away from my family

One day in 5th grade, a boy came and sat next to me in the cafeteria during lunch. Before I could react, he took my pizza from me and threw it in my face for no apparent reason. I got up and chased him around the cafeteria, trying to ignore the cackling and hurtful remarks like “ugly girl” and “dummy” coming from the other kids. This wasn’t the first time I’d had to defend myself against my classmates.

When I was in elementary school, I didn’t really have friends because I was shy and quiet and I focused on being a proper student. Most of the other kids in my school disrespected teachers and misbehaved. Starting in 2nd grade, my classmates took it upon themselves to bully, tease, and totally humiliate me.

They would hit me and call me degrading names like stupid, crazy girl, and b-tch. I was always anxious because I thought that every kid in my school had it in for me. My acting like a scared animal around them only caused them to torment me even more.

But when I told the teacher a kid had hit me, they would wait until after class to punish the kid, or they wouldn’t do anything at all. I began to feel as though I was on my own to defend myself. I thought of myself as a weak person because I felt it was my job to stop the bullying and I couldn’t. I felt vulnerable and alone.

Luckily, even though school was bad, I always had another place to cheer me up: home. At home, I felt safe and invincible, like an impenetrable fortress that could never be brought down. My parents and three sisters accepted me for who I was.

But even so, I didn’t tell my family what was happening, because I felt it was my job to watch my own back. If I was quiet and they asked what was wrong, I would just get anxious and say, “Nothing,” even though I wanted to say how bad I was feeling inside.

As the bullying continued over the years, I grew more distant from my parents and sisters. I still talked to them, but only short talks about my day. Somehow, they knew that I was having some kind of trouble at school without me having to tell them. They told me not to be phased by it and to ignore it. But it was already too late for that.

I could see they were worried about me and I felt guilty because I thought I was a burden to them. After school I began going straight to my room, isolating myself from the rest of the family. I didn’t want them to know how bad things were at school. Unfortunately, it eventually managed to reach home.

In 6th grade, due to the constant bullying and my rapid decrease in self-esteem, my grades took a turn for the worse. My parents started to lecture me that I could do better than this. I wanted nothing more than to tell them why my grades had dropped and why I had become distant from them, but I thought they would just pass it off as a pitiful excuse and yell at me even more. I was convinced that nobody would understand what was happening to me, so I kept the problem to myself.

Meanwhile, the stress of school and home was taking its toll on me. I felt like I was going to break any second. Then I became suicidal. I felt that since I couldn’t talk to anybody, I would end my own life. I thought that maybe my parents and sisters wouldn’t care if I killed myself because I wasn’t acting like my usual self anymore. I thought that everyone would be better off without me. I pictured myself with a knife aimed at my wrists or my throat. I was planning to do it when nobody was around to stop me.

But then I thought about how my suicide would impact my family. Deep down, I knew that my family really did care about me. After a few months of thinking about suicide, I also knew I needed to share my feelings with someone.

I’m still not sure why, but I was afraid if I talked to my parents, they would think I was exaggerating. So instead, I told my 6th grade teacher that I needed to talk to her. I sat down nervously and she asked what was wrong.

“All the kids in school treat me as though I’m their play toy. They tease, hit and make fun of me. It’s been happening for years now,” I said. After that, I told her that I couldn’t take it anymore and I wanted to commit suicide. At this point, I was crying and I was nervous about her reaction.

Her eyes widened, her eyebrows and face were perked in a worried manner. She took me to the psychiatrist on the first floor. He told me to sit down and then my teacher left the room to give us privacy. I got scared and wanted to leave, but I knew that if I did, my feelings would stay bottled up like a sealed jar of pickles.

It was silent in the room except for the sound of kids playing outside at recess. Then the psychiatrist broke the silence and said, “Everything will be OK. Just tell me what you said. It won’t leave this room. However, if it’s something serious like you planning to hurt yourself or others, or if it’s abuse at home, I’ll have to get you help.”

That’s when I got really nervous because I thought that by help, he meant putting me in a strait jacket and hauling me off to the crazy house like they did on TV. But I needed to get my feelings out and in the open. So I told him the same thing that I’d told my teacher.

After that, he called my home and told my mother to come up to the school as soon as she could. In less than 10 minutes she was there, sitting across from me with a worried look on her face.

I stared at the floor for a long time, struggling with what I wanted to say to her. I’d been hiding these feelings for such a long time. I was scared that I was going to be sent off to a psychiatric facility for the rest of my life.

Finally, I said, “I feel like I can’t talk to anybody about how I feel. I…I feel like committing suicide. Maybe if I do, then my family wouldn’t have to deal with me.” Tears began to flow from my eyes and I was shaking. I waited for my mother to say something. It was the longest wait of my entire life.

Wiping tears from her eyes, she said, “Sweetheart, you should have told us how you were feeling. We could have helped you with your problems. You should never have kept those feelings inside for this long. They could cause damage to you. You know that you can always come to us when you need help. I don’t understand why this was any different.”

To me, this situation felt different because the problem was in school. If the problem had been at home, I would have asked for help. But somehow I felt that since I was the one getting bullied, it was my fault and I should deal with it.

Later that afternoon, my mom took me to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. To tell the truth, I wasn’t scared to go to the hospital anymore. I was happy that I had gotten it off of my chest.

At the hospital, a small woman with short hair and light skin sat down beside me and asked me why I felt suicidal. I told her about how I was always being bullied and teased in school, how I distanced myself from my family and bottled up my emotions. I felt that I wasn’t good enough for my parents and that I would never exceed their expectations no matter how hard I tried. I felt insignificant and isolated from my own family and I didn’t want to feel that way anymore.

The doctor told me that she had some problems when she was young, too. She said that people made fun of her head because it was the shape of a coconut. But she ignored them and focused on her own goals and people eventually stopped bothering her. She told me that if I have a goal that I want to reach, then I should just focus on that. Her words made me I felt like I wasn’t alone anymore—there were people out there like me.

I started meeting with a therapist every other Thursday. The more I talked about my problems, the more I felt at ease with myself. My dad took me to my sessions and afterwards, he would ask how they went or I would tell him about them myself. Day by day, I started opening up to my family and spending time with them like I used to do. I could tell that they were happy to see me regaining my confidence, because they often had a surprised smile on their faces.

I was determined to do better in school because I wanted to regain a part of me that I lost during the bullying. I was fueled by the thought that I’d prove the bullies wrong and set them straight after years of being humiliated. Therapy taught me some ways to face school with a new attitude. I learned to breathe deeply to calm my nerves and to tell myself something encouraging each day, like, “Don’t let them get to you” or, “I can make it.”

One day during school, one of my classmates kept calling me names and poking me in the side. I didn’t say anything or get upset. Instead, I ignored him and kept doing my work. The teacher turned around and yelled at him, which made him stop. After that, the kids in my class didn’t bother me as much as before. I felt happy knowing that the therapy seemed to be helping me to stay calm when I was picked on.

But things really changed once I graduated from my elementary school after 8th grade. In high school I was able to start over fresh in a place where no one knew that I was a target. I found people who had a lot in common with me and began making some good friends. By the middle of 9th grade I was feeling so much better that I stopped going to therapy.

There are things that I’m still struggling with, like my anxiety. I still feel nervous most of the time, about things like my grades, and asking for help if I need it, and walking through crowded hallways in between classes.

At home, I’m still afraid to talk to my family sometimes and when I feel like I want to be alone, I hide out in my room for an hour or two listening to music, reading, or napping. Then my family steps in and tries to get me to spend more time with them like I used to.

It makes me sad to know that my family misses the old me. I miss the old me, too.

I miss the feeling of wanting to spend time with my family. I don’t like feeling nervous, isolating myself in my room all the time and watching dust bunnies roll on the floor. I miss the fun, outgoing and carefree person that I used to be when I was little. I’m not sure how to get back to that person, but I’m trying.

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