I have always been different.  My first memory of actually feeling “different” was in preschool, when no one would talk to me.  What was wrong with me, I thought. Then I found a new friend, who happened to be the only one in the class that would talk to me. Unfortunately, the next year we both went to different schools and I had to make new friends at a new school.

 

Rejection starts young. Making new friends was always a challenge for me, especially in a world where you had to ask permission to play with friends, only to live in fear that they would say “no.” I guess you could say I had a pattern of making friends and losing friends. Looking back, my elementary school years were tough, but I did have the gift of Erin, a good friend who was with me throughout middle school.

 

Remembering back, on my 9th birthday my parents bought me my first pair of “misfit” mismatched socks; this was the beginning of me expressing my differences. Since that day I have only worn mismatching socks. Those socks reminded me that I was different in a good way. Believe me, I needed that reminder badly, because the bullies were always trying to remind me that I was different in a bad way. 

 

I think back to 6th grade, my first year of middle school and a time when other students really began to pick up on my learning disability. I was placed in a class where the teacher insisted on assigned seats and tablemates for the year.  I immediately felt trapped. My tablemates called me names like, “puppy dog, tattletale, goodie- two-shoes,” and made fun of my spelling. On occasion they would throw things at me, like spit balls and erasers. When I asked the teacher to move my seat, he said I was stuck with that seat for the rest of the year. Additionally, a student whose locker was next to mine began to make fun of me. It progressed to slamming my head in-between my locker door on a daily basis. Honestly, I could not handle it any more. School was the last place I wanted to be.

 

During this time I began to have eating problems and became a person I would never want to turn into. I didn’t know who I could turn to for help, and I was so afraid to speak up. Fortunately, my friend Erin told the school what was happening and that made going to school a little easier.  Erin still does not know she saved my life. 

 

In 7th grade I began to discover myself a little more. Sure I was different, but I was beginning to like who I was becoming. It was just trying to convince others that I was likable. My memory was confirmed when I recently found an old paper that I had written for English class. Here’s an excerpt:

 

They think that I am a strange individual.  I have never been popular.  It used to bug me, but now it does not bother me at all.  I have gotten used to people bugging me and I don’t let it get to me anymore.  For example, people used to make fun of me for being short, but now I know that good things come in small packages.  I am comfortable in my own skin.  Funny, I am actually the opposite of what people think I am.  I am goofy and love to laugh.  I am very active and always going on adventurous rides.  I am always talking and am a social butterfly.  Most people don’t know that I am very involved in many activities outside of school. Few have ever seen the true side of me at school because they do not want to.  My family sees the true me.  I allow my family to see my many special talents and interests because they love me, accept me for who I am and won’t make fun of me.  None of the things inside my box are on the outside.  This is because when I try to show people they ignore me.  They do not want to take the time to see the real me.  I wish that I could show everyone how special I am.

 

When I was in 8th grade the girl who had the locker above me would call me names, then it progressed to spilling coffee in my locker.  Two months later, she intentionally spilled chocolate milk in my locker and all over my belongings. My locker smelled like rotten milk for weeks and I became the laughing stock of the grade. I would graduate from 8th grade with the hope that by going to a different high school I would no longer be tormented by seeing the faces of the kids who bullied me throughout middle school.

 

I was so happy my first day of high school. I was a new person, no one knew about me. I had a chance to be the true me and make new friends. Life was fine for a while but after robbers targeted our house, my anxiety was heightened and I brought that and my emotions with me to school. Not a great way to win friends.

The bullying games began once again, classmates hiding my lunch in a drawer, putting my coat in the fridge, and putting my backpack in in the closet. One day they even velcroed a stapler to the ceiling to see how long it took to fall on my head. 

 

I began to lose myself again, but I was trying to fight off the feelings before I reached a breaking point. I did not want to go to school again. I would have anxiety attacks just walking into the building. Frustrated and defeated, I became that person I never wanted to be once again. But, I fought through with the help of my family and friends.

It has been a difficult journey, but I have learned a lot of lessons along the way that can hopefully help others. Three lessons have stayed with me: Be yourself, find your voice and always help others.

 

Getting to know yourself and being proud of who you are, inside and out, is the best way to live life. Yes, I have always been different, but now being different makes me proud.

 

I was able to overcome most of the issues of being bullied by directing my negative energy into helping out others. I recently helped create 100 kid bags for the food pantry, helped raise money for relay for life, and helped with blood drives throw the American Red Cross.  Through these small acts of kindness I hope to help people overcome the negativity that accompanies being different, so that they can celebrate their differences and feel good. Maybe then bullying will be eradicated. I am a stronger person now because I can use my pain and sorrow as fuel to help others.

 

Another lesson was the importance of finding a supportive community that helps you find your voice. I found the Misfit Sock Movement, which uses mismatched socks as a way for people to celebrate what makes them different and take a stand against bullying.  Needless to say, wearing mismatched socks has taken on special meaning.  These socks are now a symbol of strength for me. This Movement helped me to love myself for who I am, not for what other people call me. Additionally, I was able to lean on the Girl Scouts and achieve my Gold Award, the highest award possible. With the help of a girls community service organization called the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, I was able to find myself.  These girls are my true friends, and they will be there for me, forever. They have helped me find my self-confidence. My family has also always been there to support me always, especially my brother ,who is 4 years older than me. We can talk about everything together. 

 

In the end, we are not defined by high school or by others. We are define by who we are and who we are to others. With a promise in my heart,  I will go forward with a smile and never stop trying to find the good in others. After all, even bullies have heart, sometimes it’s just harder to find.

 

I am honor to be the Commencement speaker for Misfit (Strong) University. Thanks for all the love and support,

Erica Bowe

© 2016 by Madeleine Loosbrock.