I have never found the words to accurately describe my high school experience. I often push away adolescent memories due to the pain they cause when they swirl around in my head, even a decade later. I hide away these parts of my past, and in doing so, hide away parts of who I am. But this is the first time that I am choosing to openly share these memories in hopes that it helps others know that they are not alone and that it truly does get better when you isolate yourself from toxic people.
At 14 years old, I was called a prude because I had never been kissed before. I was in 8th grade at this point and did not fully understand how subtle bullying could be. I thought I was simply being teased. I had a boyfriend in 8th grade and it felt like a huge deal to me for us to hold hands and eat at the same lunch table together. People talked, even back then. But it was only the beginning of the downfall of my entire self-worth.
At 15 years old, I started to change my appearance. I colored my hair darker, wore “preppy” clothes, and had to have the popular accessories (nice cell phone, designer purse, and jewelry). At 15 years old, I began to play a part to gain recognition. I wanted so badly to be seen. I was in 9th grade and officially in high school. I felt like an adult even though I didn’t have a damn clue what that even meant. I felt so deeply that I needed to act a certain way to be popular. I started dating a “popular” kid and became known through that relationship. Some people didn’t remember my name, but rather knew I was this person’s girlfriend. Maybe that is where it all started… that desire to fulfill my entire identity in my relationship. With this “popular” relationship came more verbal bullying from others. I was not viewed as worthy. I did not fit in. I was playing pretend and everyone knew.
At 16 years old, I continued to play into this role I had created for myself because I felt stuck in it. My boyfriend, the popular kid that everyone loved, began to manipulate me in many ways. I felt pressured to do things because “everyone else already was.” I was not ready. I was very clear about that and his solution was to lie about it to his friends because he was getting made fun of as well. He lied to his friends that we had lost our virginity to one another despite the fact that we very much had not. What was “meant” to stay between his friends spread throughout our 10th grade classmates. I went from being called a prude to being called a slut. I felt so protective of my boyfriend at the time that I didn’t want to embarrass him by coming clean with the lie, so I endured the rumors and whispers. But then, it all escalated as we went into 11th grade.
At 17 years old, I was harassed on various social media sites, as well as through anonymous text messages. I was called ugly, hideous, fat, disgusting, idiotic, among others. This harassment continued throughout my 11th grade year. This relationship I was in was an on/off situation primarily due to cheating and verbal abuse that escalated to physical abuse during our 10th grade year. He was the popular one and despite the heartbreak and pain he caused me, I always took him back. Our classmates would contact me on social media and tell me how stupid I was for thinking I was worthy at all or how dumb I was for not seeing that I was being cheated on again and again. Looking back, I was in complete denial but I had only really known this relationship in my adolescence and became so consumed in it. I did not know how to live without this boy… so I continued to endure the bullying others gave me as well as the abuse he gave as well. I became so isolated in this year of my life. It resulted in me skipping my lunch periods by spending time in the library, acting like I had homework to catch up on, or if I were too hungry to skip lunch, I’d get my food in the lunch line and eat in one of the bathroom stalls. I cannot tell you how often I cried in those stalls. The bullying and harassment became so severe that I went to the school counselor numerous times and just pleaded for help. She looked at my transcript and figured out that I could graduate 6 months early if we changed my class schedule. I immediately took this option. I remember my mom had to approve of it and I cried to her, telling her that this was my only out and I needed it. I had to escape and she helped me do so.
At 18 years old, I was finishing out my final semester of high school, set to wrap up December 2008 and officially graduate January 2009. This last semester of high school was probably the worst of it all. A teacher noticed bruises on my arm and pulled me aside and asked me if I was being hurt by someone. I lied. I protected him again. But this sparked something: someone saw me in a different light other than the labels others had thrown at me. Someone finally saw me. I finally ended my abusive relationship and eventually began dating someone else, which resulted in me being called all sorts of things, one of which I remember was “slutty bitch.” I had never told anyone at this point in my life that I was being verbally and physically abused by the popular kid. I even kept it from my counselor I was seeing because I knew she’d have to report it. I always protected him because I felt that made me a worthy person. My whole reality was skewed. This boy was seen as someone he was not, for he played a part too. I tried to escape but sadly, I ended up back with him for another year before finally separating myself from him entirely when I was 20 years old.
The bullying I endured nearly killed me at 18 years old. I remember crying on my bathroom floor and wanting to just disappear forever. I wanted to be what I was not: strong, capable, worthy. But then, day by day, I slowly began to pick myself up off of the floor. I began to tell myself that I was strong, that I was capable, and that I was worthy. I told myself these things again and again until I believed them. I truly hope this offers a light to others. Because my 28-year-old self thanks my 18-year-old self for holding on for dear life despite everything working against her. My 18-year-old self was always strong, capable, and worthy. She just couldn’t see it because it was veiled by these toxic people. Lift up the veil and rid yourself of people, places, or things that keep you from your true self.
If you need help, please reach out.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Crisis Text Line
“TALK” to 741741
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline