In the weeks leading up to my final exam I became very nervous and anxious. Not because I didn’t know my stuff, but because I would have to stand up in front of people and perform. Not as in a play or concert, and not in the way I am most comfortable with, which is the written word. I’d very much like to write articles and books at an academic level. But now I was going to have to leave the safety of the well-thought out thrice-changed and amended sentences of the text and get on up in front of a committee that would rate my performance. And that idea had me scared out of my wits. I “knew” one of two things would happen – in the actual event both did, but thanks to the supportive people I had with me I pulled through – I’d freeze like a deer in headlights or I’d start talking both upon breathing in and out. A friend who had been present had been amazed, because she’d never experienced that in anyone.
Before giving the trial lecture I had a few decisions to make. Whether or not I wanted familiar faces in the possible crowd, the lecture was open to anyone, or just hope that it would only be myself and the committee. And also, which language I would do it in, as I’d written my thesis in English and received the theme for my trial lecture in English, but the likelihood of anyone non-Norwegian speaking in the audience was in my opinion very slim. The administration felt, however, that I should do it all in one language, though there wasn’t any particular rules dictating that. I decided to gather some friends that I wouldn’t feel nervous about performing in front of, and took this as an opportunity to show off my Ulster-twang. In the end it all went surprisingly well, and even friends who hadn’t encountered English in their own curricula, had understood it all. Mission accomplished.
But that’s not really why I’m writing this. In the days leading up to this I tried to find the reason as to why I was so incredibly scared of failing. OK, so there is the obvious chance of actually failing, but that would not mean the end of the world. As a very supportive friend said, the worst thing that could happen was my having to do another paper and another trial lecture. I could live with that, and was prepared for that happening. So why this extreme anxiety for telling a small group of people about what I’d learned up until this point?
While dabbling in quasi-psychology is not to be recommended, I actually think I can trace a lot of this back to primary and secondary school.
Where I grew up I didn’t fit in. I didn’t have many real friends, and I was always on the side of things, trying to fit in, but never actually belonging. Those were the good times, when I was allowed to be with the group, instead of altogether excluded. But there was little support for me to be had there, one saying right out “You’re not like us.”
I don’t think I tried to be different, apparently that was just a natural talent, but I sure wasn’t given any slack either. It probably didn’t help that most of the other children knew each other beforehand. I know it must have been very fun for those teasing me, because I was very easy to tick off. But it didn’t stop there. I can’t remember everything, but what really stands out was that I could never catch a break.
When I did something well, I was teased about it. When someone else performed better, I was teased about that too. I didn’t want to show anyone my drawings before they were finished, because they might say something, and if I did show them afterwards, my stance was “it’s okay, but it’s not very good”
Thing is, it wasn’t everybody bullying me all the time. And it was by no means everybody who did at all. But to me, almost everybody was on the side of the bullies or kept out if it. There was little support for me to be had (though a few would try to comfort me after or get a teacher).
The only time I had something that could look like support from the “community” was when someone else who wasn’t quite accepted by the rest tried his hand at what a lot of other people had been doing for a long time, which essentially was putting me down and pushing me out.
It was lonely, and I ate my feelings, just as I’ve done over the past few weeks. I’m not bitter, or angry, but I am sad. And what is more, within this context there was the school projects and presentations. I worked hard on those, so that nobody would say I didn’t pull my part. Perhaps I instead pulled the part of others, instead.
I know there were some who hoped to be on my group so they could sit back and relax. And I was always terrified that I would be taunted when the day of the presentation came, that my performance wouldn’t equal the work I’d put into it, that I’d be the one pulling us down. Because that was the absolute worst. Not being taunted for being good at school, but being taunted for not even being good enough at that – Because obviously I was not good enough as a person. Would I fail as a student as well?
Experiencing this didn’t make me stronger, it didn’t help me grow tougher, and to this day I am terrified to fail.
And I was one of the lucky ones. I got a new chance when I started upper secondary with none of my former classmates attending the same school. There were people there who were willing to accept me, weirdness and all, and there were people who didn’t accept me putting myself down – That had been my only “defence” in the end – and who had the nerve to tell me so. Thank you.
I’m going to end this post before I start crying for real, because it is still painful to me. I think it’s been 11 years since I graduated from that school. I’m not angry or bitter, and I’m not resentful either. But if you were at school with me at that time and you read this, the pain I felt back then, that still wells up some times, that stuck with me. So if I’m acting weird when you meet me, if I’m acting aloof or distant it is because meeting you reminds me of that. I’m sorry, I’ve tried to put it all behind me, but I can’t see you without feeling some of those things I felt back then.
I’m not writing this to make anyone feel bad, but I would like for the world to know, what being bullied can do to a person. It’s been more than a decade, but it still haunts me. I know that some of those I went to school with are parents now, and I hope you are teaching your children to do better. I hope we all can teach the next generations to do better.