I was the weird kid who was bullied every day
Unlearning the self-rejection that helped me survive
When I was a kid, they didn’t call it “bullying”, they called it “teasing”. But whatever you call it, it was relentless, and it left a deep impression on my already fragile sense of belonging.
I was perpetually bewildered about what exactly made me a target. I’m sure it had to do with my neurodivergence, giftedness, sensitivity, my parents being liberal hippies in a very conservative rural town, and being a girl wearing my brothers’ hand-me-downs. The cool girls wore LA Gear shoes with the twists on the side in bright 80s colors. I wore boys shirts from the 70s which would be very cool and vintage now, but at the time were utterly unacceptable.
This was combined with being socialized by my dad, who I’m pretty sure was also neurodivergent, and completely out of touch with the dangerous terrain of late 80s girlhood. He was simply unequipped to teach me how to pass as “normal”, let alone attain coolness.
But…my brothers succeeded well enough—so I can’t really blame my parents or circumstances. I guess it was just me.
I must have tried to fit in, because I remember giving up at a certain point.
I started to realize in middle school that I was so very weird that my reputation preceded me. The first time I realized that people knew me who I didn’t know, I knew it wasn’t popularity, but the inverse: I was notorious.
By high school I was telling myself that I’d rather be infamous than invisible, but the fact is that I didn’t have a choice.
I was smart. My clothes were weird. I argued with teachers. I stood out. The other kids wanted to copy my homework, but they didn’t want to be my friend. They didn’t even want to be seen appearing to be my friend. They protected their own status by reinforcing mine.
I wish I could say I embraced it and never looked back, but a large part of me has been trying to attain “normal privilege” and ditch “weirdo stigma” my whole life.
It was a big part of why I was so eager to get married, and so hell-bent on staying married, despite everything it was costing me. But now I’m divorced, I’m still queer, still sensitive and smart, and now I’m realizing that my ADHD was a big part of why I was bullied as a kid, as well as why it hurt so much.
And there’s nothing I can do about it. I am finally realizing there is no soap that can scrub this out. There is no self-help book that will ever change this. This is who I am.
I am in the middle of a grief-and-healing process around the dream of normal that will never be, and the reality of weird that is just true.
Some days I’m ready to take on the world and fight to liberate everyone’s inner weirdo.
Other days, I can’t find any fire in me, and I struggle to remember what it feels like.
Today, I feel raw and tender. I feel just as sensitive as I was back then. I have skills now, but they don’t always help; my rawness feels exposed, like the new pale skin under a scab that you scraped off because it had started to itch. I feel like I’m accessing a level of vulnerability that I haven’t been in touch with in decades, and this younger part of me doesn’t have those skills. She’s just been hiding this whole time.
Some days she wants to put unicorns on everything, and other days she just wants to cry.
And I don’t know yet what the end result will be, because this is not just healing, it’s neurodivergent unmasking.
Healing restores wholeness; unmasking restores realness.
I’m doing both, but I know roughly what healing looks and feels like and where it leads. Unmasking is new to me. I thought those scabs were scars; I didn’t know there was a whole different person underneath them.
I don’t know who I really am under the decades of masking. My realness is something I’m still discovering, and the parts that were holding onto it for me are young. They need time to grow into the idea that they don’t have to hide. And I need to learn what they need, and how to keep them safe, while still letting them play. Right now, everything feels new and vulnerable.
I remember the day I realized I had a private self and a public self. I can’t remember how old I was (8? 11?), but I remember sitting on my bed and thinking that I hadn’t been me all day.
It was startling, because I hadn’t made a conscious choice to not be me. I just hadn’t been, because I’d been around other people all day. I only came back to myself when I was alone in my room.
But when I got to college, it was hard to find a place to ever be alone. I lived in a dorm, in a town full of college kids. My room on the farm in the woods, and the private self that lived there, were no longer accessible to me.
I stopped reading fiction. I finally had friends, and I wanted to hang out with them. I stopped making crafts, and started making websites instead. I grew up, and tried to be normal.
And I kept trying, until it all fell apart, and I found myself alone in a room again, talking to my private self.
This newsletter feels like me giving that girl her voice back.
It’s my original voice—the one that I silenced to try to be normal, and safe. The one I turned into sounding smart, being wise, having it all handled. So I would be acceptable, useful, and have something to contribute—so people would have no reason to reject me.
But all along, I was rejecting myself.
The way our brains respond to trauma and exclusion are beyond our conscious control, so I’m not blaming myself. But now that I am realizing what my life has been, when you add it all up—it changes things.
I spent a lifetime trying to ignore my needs and be what other people wanted, so they wouldn’t leave and wouldn’t be mean to me and wouldn’t kick me out of their group.
And it didn’t work. I’m more isolated now than I’ve ever been.
I tried to become what I thought would make me safe—but it didn’t make me safe. Because that’s not where safety comes from.
The life I thought would save me comes from the same culture and structures and people that allowed a little girl to be bullied (and sometimes participated in it) for a decade, just for being different. The world of “normal people” is what traumatized me to begin with.1
I will never fit into a world that normalizes harm. And I finally realize I don’t have to, and I don’t want to.
I don’t know where to find true safety yet, in the external world. But I know how to start creating it inside myself.
I want to allow the unmasking process to dissolve the parts of me that still confuse survival with safety. I want to internalize that conformity is not safety, it’s self-harm. And if a system or society wants me to harm myself to fit into it, it is not on my side.
I still have to survive in this world, which involves masking sometimes, but I don’t have to oppress myself in my own head, or when I’m alone. And I can seek out people I don’t have to mask with.
There was never anything wrong with me. I matter. And even if my material conditions don’t always reflect that back to me, I can scream it in my own mind to remind myself: I am valuable. I was always valuable, even if the people around me didn’t value me.
So my project right now is to value myself:
Value my voice.
Value my perspective.
Value my experience.
Value my differences.
Value what makes me “weird”, whether the world values it or not.
This isn’t an easy or simple thing because I still live in the world and have to survive in it. Life is always a moving train. But I know what direction to go in, and it’s the direction where I get to be my whole real self.
And maybe that means a more permanent feeling of vulnerability. Maybe that is the cost of unmasking: masks are also shields. Our survival skills help us fight. But I just want to walk through my life unarmed.2
My goal right now is to find my own OKness, and rework my life from that point outwards.
And that’s all I know right now. 💚