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To Rock Bottom and Back
It’s the first day of middle school, and I’m happy, ready see old friends. Students from 5 or 6 elementary schools all go into the same middle school here, so I’ll get to make new friends too and everything will be fine, right?
First impressions are everything. I told myself this on the bus ride to school, where I sat with my best friend, the only one I had really hung out with over the summer, Alyssa. We didn’t have any classes together. I could feel the first-day anxiety I had been fighting off beginning to slowly seep into my mind.
The first few months of middle school, I was hardly aware of my surroundings. My days consisted of hanging out with Alyssa, school, homework and unsuccessfully attempting to mediate the family conflicts that had begun at home. I didn’t take much notice of the snickers behind my back, always assuming they were directed at someone else. I couldn’t be the weird kid, right? I never had been. I was normal. I hadn’t changed at all from 5th to 6th grade. I tried to push away the loneliness of isolation as it began to dawn upon me that yes, I was the strange kid nobody wanted to sit with. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening to me, and it hurt. It was something I had never felt before. The kids I had gotten along just fine with in elementary school were now targeting me, and I didn’t know why. Things got progressively worse.
I couldn’t figure out at first, why I was so separate from my classmates. I came up with hundreds of possibilities: I dressed wrong, I talked weird, I was too dumb, I was too smart, I didn’t try hard enough, I didn’t look good enough, I had frizzy hair...There was no end to the list.
I was unable to determine what the magic transformation would be, what I could change about myself to start being normal. Sixth grade went by as a blur of trying to change my attitude, the way I talked and acted. I hardly had time to act like myself that year, I was so busy trying to act like someone who would fit in.
I had a new style, I had a slightly better haircut, I had bought new clothes. I thought I had matured over the summer, I hoped this would be another chance at a better first impression. I was wrong. I had changed, but no one gave me a second glance. I was jealous of all the other girls running up and hugging each other, excitedly greeting one another with compliments.
“Oh my god! You look so tan!”
“Your new haircut is so gorgeous!”
“Where did you get that dress? It’s so cute, I want one.”
I went to my first class and sat down at a desk. No one sat next to me. For the first few months, Alyssa and I still hung out. Gradually, she started to see that her reputation as “the only one who hung out with the weird girl” wasn’t doing her any other favors, and I didn’t blame her. She began to branch out and make new friends through a sports team. I didn’t have other friends. I was alone. Things got bad that year. Struggles increased at home, and things got worse at school. My classmates would make a mockery of any attempt I made to join them. My self-criticism got more specific as I pinpointed my flaws.
Maybe they’ll like you if you’re thinner.
Maybe they’ll like you if you wear makeup sometimes.
Maybe they’ll like you if you talk less.
Maybe they’ll like you if you stop answering all the teacher’s questions.
Maybe they’ll like you if you buy nicer clothes.
I became self conscious about everything I did in school, every aspect of myself. I lost weight dangerously quickly, started wearing make-up, and stopped trying as hard in school. I picked up the slang that I heard the more popular girls using. My parents were understandably concerned and confused with their child. Being Indian immigrants, they didn’t know what was normal and what wasn’t for an American pre-teen. What they did see were my grades, and they were mad. I had been an excellent, exceptionally bright student up to that point. They didn’t know if I’d gotten lazy, if my teachers were bad, or worse, if their conflicts and secrets had taken a toll on my studies. How could I tell them what was happening? How could I break it to them that their daughter was an outcast, had no friends?
In all honesty, I didn’t know myself back then that I was changing so drastically. All I knew was I wanted to fit, in I wanted to be accepted. I didn’t want to be whispered about and made fun of, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
Each day the same thoughts of insecurity infested my mind like a deadly disease; every move I made, every word I said, I could think of nothing other than “What if everyone else thought that was weird?”
I was in a state of utter despondency throughout most of that year, and lost my motivation to do all the things I loved. I couldn’t force myself to write, practice music, even reading and watching movies became uninteresting. I had hit rock bottom, and it seemed as though I had dug my grave there.
It’s true when they say that from rock bottom, things can only get better. I had all but given up on trying to please my classmates. There was no point in trying to change who I was, because I had realized that no matter what, they had me labelled. I was categorized and typecast as a loser, and I had come to the conclusion that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t possibly break out of the box that they had put me in. I didn’t have high hopes for the year; my goal was to survive.
I did more than survive. Eighth grade was nearly the exact opposite of the previous two years. No, I didn’t make a miraculous transformation into an impeccably dressed All-American Girl. The first day, a girl who I vaguely recognized from the hallways invited me to sit with her. I hesitantly accepted, afraid it would be some kind of joke, or even worse, that she would decide I wasn’t worth talking to after a while. We became acquaintances, then friends.
As we got closer, I became more confident about my social skills, and made other friends in the same classes. Through her, I began to get better, I began to talk to people, and socialize for myself. For the first time, I stopped caring what other people thought, and only befriended those who weren’t put off by my image as an outcast. As it turns out, the friends I made were more welcoming than I had expected. Of course, a majority of the grade still didn’t change their opinion of me, but I didn’t care. Starting to get closer to those who saw me as more than just my label was making me happier than I had been in years.
Acting like myself again was like breathing a breath of fresh air after having been sinking underwater for an eternity. I was goofy, and happy for the first time in two years, and I was thrilled to be accepted by the friends I had made. It no longer mattered much to me what the rest of the grade thought of me, as long as the companions I had come to care so deeply about were around.
Though at the time I would have given anything to have had my classmates’ approval, I now know that getting through that was only a testimony to my emotional strength, and that it led me to make friends who are truly good, non-judgemental people. Hitting rock bottom and clawing my way back up is one of my greatest personal accomplishments, and the people who are now my best friends came through when I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life bullied and alone. I can now recognize and take action when I see someone needs a friend, because I understand what that feels like. I have the life experience to not surround myself with people who are superficial and hurtful, but with those who are caring and open-minded. I know almost every student has heard this line before and it may seem cliché, but for anyone going through a similar situation; it really does get better.