Thursday, 9 June 2016

Unfit for Social Groups

My interactions with people have always been curious; I've never felt like I really fit in properly anywhere and I suspect the people I tried to fit in with felt the same way about me.

I was raised with 3 brothers and 1 sister. My brothers were always closer than my sister and I always felt more influenced by them than my sister. I feel now that this was a good thing, having that mainly male influence while holding on to the female influence my mother and sometimes my sister offered me. My dad helped out with the male influence too, of course. What I'm trying to say is... I was 10 years old, playing with Barbies and listening to Linkin Park, watching the Powerpuff Girls and aspiring to be an astronomer.

I always had a dual edge in terms of interests. As I grew older I didn't think it was appropriate for me to have both - I had to pick either wearing pink and listening to pop music or wearing black and listening to rock/metal, having cuddly toys or collecting snails (something I did actually do when I was 7-8). Things became even worse when it came to fitting in: I no longer had my friends because, let's be honest, we didn't like the same things. When you have someone like me who has interests that deviate from your own and someone else comes along who *does* like the same things, it's a no-brainer. No matter how nice I was, how much I contributed and how much I tried to compromise, I was simply "too different" from the group and easily replaced.

Of course, this was never the only problem. Young children can be very cruel, rarely thinking things through. If you're 7 years old and call someone names, you don't think about how it makes them feel, you just find it funny on a superficial level. When I was at primary school, in the last year or so of it, I got my ears pinned back. My parents and I thought that it would avoid any bullying at secondary school over my large, stuck out ears. The decision was made after I had already experienced bullying for them for several years (examples: being called "Dumbo" and the very original "big ears".)

My thinking was along the lines of: So, I get an operation done and they're gonna be fixed. I'll look normal and people will stop calling me names! I'll have friends again!

Not quite.

It just shifted to something else. I liked different things, I behaved differently and I attracted praise from the teachers for my work. I was the teacher's pet and I was pretty confident in my abilities. I knew I was smart; "the test scores told me so and so did my parents and teachers!" The ears were fixed, but there were a multitude of other things to get picked on for. Getting an operation done didn't get me back the friends that abandoned me, it didn't stop me from getting picked on or laughed at by entire classes in corridors. I don't think there was anything at that point to save myself from going under. I made friends with people from the years below me because no-one in my own year wanted anything to do with me. It was a struggle but I still had my confidence in myself. I thought, "this is my last year of primary school anyway, a brand new start is just around the corner!"

Attending secondary school felt like a chance to focus on my studies, get things done and keep going. Very importantly, it felt like a new beginning for me in terms of socialising. I imagined attending and finding a group of people just like me. Maybe I would find some girls that also played video games and liked science! The bubble quickly burst.

It quickly turned into something entirely different. Of course, as it was the first year, there was a focus on pairing up and meeting new people... some people were from primary school though, they weren't new to me and certainly weren't people I wanted to pair up with. I tried to cling to some of them because clinging to people who were apathetic at best to me seemed better than meeting anyone new. I shouldn't have bothered.

I also met people who had left my primary school before P7. Some seemed very well prepared to make my life hell almost immediately. One girl and her group quickly cornered me as she mentioned me being a thief and stealing something from their house when I was 6. This person had been holding that against me for years and was now prepared to taint everyone's image of me before they even formed their own first impressions. The girl always considered herself a bit of a queen bee and in all honesty, I couldn't stand her smug face myself. Why she made this decision to pick on me in our first week at school though is still a mystery to me. Maybe she wanted to get in there first and form everyone's opinions for them. I didn't stand a chance. 

In my first few years of school, I went through several groups. Some groups I didn't fit in with, some I desperately *wanted* to fit in with but couldn't and some out and out told me that they weren't going to invite me to join their special group because we simply didn't have enough in common. For the first couple of years, I just joined whatever group needed an extra member in class projects. The rest of the time I spent on my own. I worked on my own projects (actually asking on several occasions if I could just work on my own instead of in a group. I prayed for days when the class had even numbers.) I ate my lunch down in front of the school where there were trees for shelter and played Snake (primitive times) on my phone. I texted my mum while she was at work or phoned her just to speak to her so I wouldn't look and feel so alone. Sometimes I ate lunch in the toilets. Anywhere I could get away and be on my own was what I desired.

I pretty quickly realised in my first year that I wasn't as smart any more. I still felt motivated, of course, but it quickly became a case of "I'm perfectly average at most things and just not good at others." Thus the self-confidence I had in my academic abilities quickly faded. I had lost this and I had lost my social self-confidence. Oh, and any I had in my physical appearance, that was the first to go.

I was still tagging on to any group I could find. I would lurk behind them at break and lunch to make it look like I wasn't as much of a loner as I was. Everyone knew the situation though and none of the groups invited me in. Around this time, we were all adding each other on MSN Messenger and having group conversations with people from the school. I would add them and hardly ever speak to them but they would still invite me to these massive group conversations with about 20 others from school in there. Then some of those people added me and again, no speaking, but inviting each other to group conversations. I met some people this way - all older - and some I spoke to online quite frequently. Some even invited me out places. I felt very cool being invited out to these places with people years older than me but it didn't last very long before they also realised we had nothing in common.

I was about 13 and became friends with girls that were similar to me perhaps in not their hobbies and interests but their manner. We stayed friends for a while but grew apart - the fact that we didn't have much in common to begin with also aided in this. I found it a little bit difficult to fit in with anyone since I had long started to dress like a "goth" or "emo" around this time. Very OTT dress-style... a style not many shared. This was also around the time I started to actively hurt myself; anything before this time was just a little bit of nipping or poking myself with sewing needles and whatnot. I never purposely drew blood or left scars. I graduated to using the nail clippers to remove small areas of skin and using shaving blades to create superficial wounds. Nothing was particularly noticeable and no-one pointed it out.

Around the time I turned 14, I met even more people online from school that were older. I even "internet dated" one or two (this consists of not actually meeting up or holding hands physically, just saying "I heart yewwww" on MSN). I did meet one person, however, who I ended up *properly* dating and he remains the only person from this period of time that I still have left.

As time went on, I joined another group. We had classes together and despite the others being very different to me, we found common ground in the strangest of places and stayed best friends for a year or two until the classes changed around again. Looking back, I recognise several "friendships of convenience": people becoming friends with me purely because we have to sit together or because they need another person to fill up their group. Once the classes change, I was cast out. This was happening gradually anyway and there were several upsetting events (being excluded from activities for whatever mundane reason) which made things crystal clear to me.

I've always felt people spoke about me differently to how they would someone else. For the longest time I felt like there was something wrong with me - like they were speaking about me as if I had some kind of disability, as if I had something stopping me from being fully immersed with them in what was going on. I never felt like I was on anyone else's level, like they thought I just wasn't right for the "role". In all honesty, it drove me insane. The worst thing was, because this was happening with so many different people over so many years, my thinking changed. There would be a voice in my head telling me "so many people over so many years treated me like I was a bad person and that many people can't be wrong." I don't think this helped my case. I was unaware that this focus I had on there being something wrong with me was probably affecting how people viewed me to begin with. No-one wants to be friends with the girl who breaks down crying in the lunch hall screaming "why is it never enough?" because despite studying her hardest, she only got a 65% in her history test.

I was back to moving between groups. I had almost given up at this time. I had some casual friends. I did my GCSEs. I did alright but I was certain I could have done better and this gave me something else to beat myself up over. Around this time is when things really started to plummet for me; I was tearful all the time and had to train myself to smile through it and to not let it be that obvious. I came home during break or lunch time to cut myself, to overdose on prescription meds or partake in other self destructive behaviour. My social skills were in tatters and my attendance fell to under 30% as I was doing my A-levels; I couldn't look people in the eye, beat myself up for saying the wrong word or drawing attention to myself and would rather completely miss out on something than make a scene by attending (I skipped a biology mock exam for A-level because I was too embarrassed to walk into the exam hall 5 minutes late when everyone else had already sat down.) I would miss some days due to an unrelated illness and be too anxious to come back and ask someone to lend me their notes.

I should come back to that group I mentioned who surrounded me in first year and called me a thief. Some girls left that group, one even apologised to me a few years later for what she took part in but there were a few core members that kept that hate going right until (and probably after) I walked out of that building for the very last time. Looking back, I'm sure anyone would agree that I was probably one of the easiest targets you could get. Calling me names or intimidating worked well even when I was with other people; I was rarely (if ever) defended by others and when I was on my own, the intimidation of an 8 stone self harmer who already hated herself was far too easy.

I still think back to everything I experienced. The intimidation, the mind games and name calling that went on for years will continue to echo in my head until the day I die. I'm alive today thanks to a multitude of medication which, in essence, is stopping me from thinking about it. To think of it is to let it bounce around in my head for even longer. To think of it for even longer will make me tear myself apart... physically and mentally.

I wonder if I had been different, would things have been easier? If I listened to the music I was supposed to, liked the films I was supposed to, spoke like I was supposed to, looked like I was supposed to... would I be sitting here writing a blog entry about my social experiences many years ago? Would I be the person I am today? Would I be someone better or someone worse? Maybe things would have been even worse. It's difficult to imagine. I both wish I had never gone through any of that (and that no-one ever has to again) and also think of how miraculous it is for me to still be here. 

It's very important to remember I've come out the other side in (mostly) one piece.