For years I have distanced myself from people I used to be friends with.
Since the experience of moving schools, being bullied and isolated in this new setting and falling under the weight of mental health problems which I could neither appreciate or understand at this point, I have made a conscious effort to keep my distance from people, including people I have bonded with in the past. I have gotten used to the idea that I can only be a disappointment to people because the accusations and opinions of my past bullies still burn at the forefront of my mind, demanding to be heard even all of these years later. Their words, the way they looked at me, the smirks they gave their friends when I entered the room and the sarcastic comments on social media that I would only hear about after they had trickled through the grapevine of the rest of the year group still remind me in every social interaction that I am inadequate, the weirdo, the outsider that no-one could possibly like.
When I look in the mirror and see my face scourged with acne scars I remember the boy who appeared next to me in the lunch line, laughed and told me that I should wash my face – it would stop me looking so weird he said. When I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a train window, I am transported back to the time when the boy who sat next to me in Biology burst out laughing when he saw my glasses for the first time and encouraged his friends to all have a good gawp at me, right there in the middle of the lesson.
When I am walking between lectures at Uni, I suddenly speed-up and look around fervently as my mind is cast back to the time when I was chased across the school courtyard by a group of boys who were laughing and shouting at me about how ugly I was. When I’m in my dorm room at Uni, I double check that I have locked the door before I can properly relax because my chest tightens when I recall the numerous times a group of boys burst through the closed door of the music room I was in alone and refused to leave, taunting me incessantly, knowing that I had no-one there to defend me and they could say and do whatever they wanted without any teachers in earshot.
I still remember the faces and names of these bullies, clear as day. I remember the viciously appeased look in their eyes which appeared once they knew that they had hit a nerve in me. I remember the aggression in their voices and movements as they collaborated to gather round me, knowing that I hated to be touched by anyone, let alone them. I remember the way they gave me a long studious look up and down when I entered the gym in my PE kit, making every part of my exposed skin crawl and my stomach squirm, knowing how inevitably disgusting I must look.
All of these memories are stored in a fire-proof box in my mind which no amount of talking therapy can penetrate. Any friends that I used to have, I push away, keeping texts to a minimum and conjuring a myriad of excuses as to why I can’t meet-up with them. I scroll excessively through my friends’ profiles on Facebook to remind myself about how much better their lives are in comparison to mine as I obsess over their carefree smiles which they share in photos where they have their arms slung over the shoulders of other pretty friends, which remind of how there are no pictures of me with my friends because I have always refused to put my face in front of a camera, as the bullies’ catcalls about my ugly face continue to rebound around my head. I tell myself over and over again how different I am to these people I used to call my friends, there is no way that they could find me interesting anymore, I am just a hermit who stays in her room and hides herself away from the world.
The words of bullies still control my life no matter how much I try to bat them away or rationalise them. But, as I get older, I have faith that one day I will be strong enough to make their words stop having such an effect on me. One day, this torment will be a bad memory that I have since learned from and the details of their faces and actions will be a distant memory. For now though, I will have to continue working and struggling through the long-lasting effects which their ‘fun’ has had on me and try to cling on to the friends who are still trying to reach out to me, no matter how much I have tried to keep them at arm’s length.