When I was young, I had a lot of confidence. I spoke out and organized "plays" with my siblings and cousins. I sang out loud and ran around the playground. I did not know I could be defeated.
Then, I came upon my bully. I did not recognize him at first. He had not always been my bully. He used to be my friend, even my protector. He used to like me. It felt like it happened overnight, although I am sure that is not the case. I am also sure that my bully had a bully of his own, crushing his spirit long before he crushed mine. But I was a child and I could not see his bully.
All that confidence, all that self-esteem just left. It is amazing how quickly one act of cruelty can crush a child. It is even more amazing how continuous acts of cruelty can wear a child down until it feels like there is nothing left.
In my bully's wake, I felt small and insignificant and lost. Just as I had known I was powerful and talented, I suddenly understood I was weak and unimportant. I tried to make my bully like me again. I really tried. I did not tell anyone. I pretended I did not mind when he punched me on the arm or told me I was ugly and stupid. I held my breath and told myself I never needed oxygen anyway.
After a couple years, my family moved and my bully lost interest. Maybe his bully stayed behind in the move. Maybe he grew up. Maybe he found love. Maybe a teacher paid attention and told him he mattered. I don't know. He never really talked to me again. He never really explained why he hated me. I never knew what I had done.
When the bullying stopped, there was no apology. There was no attempt at friendship or reconciliation. There was really just indifference. I am not sure the indifference was better. Isn't that a funny thing? At least when he was my bully, I mattered. I was part of his life and we might become friends again. He might like me again. He might forgive me for whatever I had done. When he became indifferent, it was like I literally disappeared.
Of course, I had not done anything. I was just there. Maybe I looked too happy one day when he was miserable. Maybe I was just the easy target. I used to think it was because I really was ugly or stupid. Now I understand it had very little to do with me.
I do not often talk about being bullied. I do not often talk about the long-term effects on my self-esteem. I do not talk about how my bully's voice is still in my head. I do not talk about the self-sabotage I have participated in to prove that my bully was right all along.
But my bully wasn't right. They never are. It's one of the things about bullies. They are loud but they are not right.
As I continue to build Inclusivi-tee, organize a 28 Day Sustainability Challenge in February, and plan a big Earth Day launch for my book, I will keep reminding myself that my bully is wrong.
As I speak about sustainability and do my part to save the world. I will keep reminding myself that my bully knows nothing.
As I interview healers and creators on my podcast, I will keep reminding myself that my bully has no power.
Maybe by 2022, I will not have to keep reminding myself. Maybe my bully will just go away. But I won't hold my breath. I am no longer a child and I understand I need oxygen.