I was a loner growing up, the one no one wanted around. I struggled to relate to other people my age. I was always considered by my peers to be weird. I knew I was different but I never knew why. All I knew was that most the times I had the opportunity to connect with people and develop friendships, I’d mess it up. Then I’d hate myself for it.
School was pure hell for me. I was teased and harassed no matter what I did. Even the smallest expression on my face would get questioned and criticised. I couldn’t be myself. I’d walk around school trying to be invisible, trying to cover up my true feelings. And that itself was a strain on me. My class mates would throw balls of paper at me, the girl behind me would pull my hair or hit my head, a guy would hold out his foot in front of me to trip me as I walked past. In the passage on my way to the next class I’d be confronted with taunts like “retard” or “stupid”. Rumours about me spread like fire around the school.I noticed that no one else I knew at school was scorned as much as I was. So I began to see that there must be something wrong with me.
I desperately searched for ways I could earn respect from everyone. I behaved well in class and worked hard, which made me the teacher’s pet most my school years. I thought that if I couldn’t get respect from my peers I could at least earn the teacher’s favour, which would hopefully get me some protection from my enemies. I tried displaying my talents to give the other pupils a reason to like me. I sang in all the school talent shows, tried getting my Drama plays shown in assembly, and tried getting the best marks in class. With some people it worked. One guy even fell in love with my voice. But for most of my peers it made no difference. I’d still have to face the same public humiliation day after day.
I tried my best to make friends.I would put all my time and effort into a friendship, only to watch it go to waste. I tried to please everyone with the hope that someone would take a liking to me. Once or twice I even resorted to buying people things or giving them home made crunchies. There were two popular girls whose personalities I liked, and they seemed to get along with me. One day they agreed to let me hang with them at break. The trouble was that I had no clue how to socialise or what to talk about. I tagged along as they walked over to a big group of guys sitting on the grass. As soon as the guys saw me coming, they got up and walked away. I felt like a dagger had just stabbed whatever confidence I had left in me. When I was in grade 9, my group of friends I’d been sitting with each day at break suddenly decided to abandon me. They dispersed in two’s. When I tried to follow them they told me I wasn’t welcome around them anymore. There were many times I had to sit alone at break.
When I had just finished grade 11, I was hit with a huge knock to my system. My psychologist and a psychiatrist diagnosed me with Aspergers Syndrome. I felt shocked, like I had been run over by a bus. But it was a defining moment for me which turned my life around. I was also relieved. I finally knew why I had been a social outcast all my life, and why I struggled more than others to make friends. Aspergers is a mild form of autism. It’s a neurological, developmental disorder in the brain which changes a person’s whole perception of life. The main symptom is difficulty in socialising, and understanding what behaviour is appropriate for different situations. Usually people with the syndrome are intellectually superior to people their age, but they lag behind emotionally and physically.
My new found knowledge made it easier for me to endure the humiliation I experienced at school. I now understood that my problems in society were not caused by a lack of character, and I stopped judging myself all the time. Once I understood myself, I learnt to accept myself and not care about what other people thought of me. I stopped my endless efforts to please people. Instead of living my life in fear with my head hung low, I began to hold my head high and make myself heard.
I plucked up the courage to confront my bully. I made up my mind that I would show him I wasn’t going to accept his abuse. So when the usual “retard!” came my way the next day, I rebuked him. “Take a hike!” I said. Later I decided to tell him about the syndrome, with the hope that he would leave me alone. One day I saw him in the library alone and I took the chance. “Listen, I’ve been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. So if you think I’m weird, that’s the reason. Please just leave me alone.” He was amazed. He didn’t only leave me alone, but he actually defended me after that. He told me later that he felt privileged that I had trusted him with confidential information, and he would even die for me. I was shocked at how he had a total change of heart towards me.
After I left school I realised that I was better off not being one of the popular ones at school. Most of them gave in to peer pressure to please the crowd, and did things that would cause them harm later on. Many of them in school simply lived for their friends and their ego, without thinking of their future. But I lived for my future: a life where I could live the way I wanted and find belonging in my fields of interest. I decided that I would rather have two or three close friends, who totally accept me and understand me, rather than having loads of people around me, who will abandon me at a moment’s notice.If people do not like me for who I am, I would be wasting my time with them.
If I try to be what I am not, I will stumble for the rest of my life. I’ve learnt to embrace the things that make me different, instead of obsessing over them. Even if everyone else sees me as an outcast, I will choose to be different from the rest. I have come to understand how important it is to appreciate the things that make people different, whether it is a disability, race, gender, class etc. I try my best not to discriminate against people for any reason, because I know how it could scar them for life. Don’t be afraid to express your individuality, no matter what anyone else says. If you always follow the crowd, you will end up hiding who you really are inside.
Tell us what you think: Have you experienced bullying? Can you relate to Shellique’s story?