Sunday, August 31, 2014

My New School (Mis)Adventure

It was my first day in a new high school. It was a new and frightening place. I smiled and put on my brave face. It was a lonely place. It felt like everyone else already knew each other and were friends. I was an outsider trying to forge my way through the days and get to know people, just a little bit at a time.
It is unfortunate my first day at this school was preceded by "the worst day of my life that far". It is even more unfortunate that I spilled my tale to a girl who would not become my ally.
I may have bared my soul to the wrong person. Would my fate have been any different if I had remained silent? I will never know. All I do know is what I felt. One of the most important players in this new game at my new school knew all that had taken me down in the past. As the next few months unfolded, it slowly and methodically happened all over again.
I had never belonged or not belonged to a clique before. I had spent the entirety of my life-that-far walking the path of 'Switzerland'. I was neutral. I felt safe in that space. I didn't have enemies and the friends I gained along my way were fiercely loyal and kind to me.
Perhaps I led a sheltered life before I walked through those doors. Maybe I was weakened by my experiences which immediately preceded this one. All I knew, is I had only one direction to go. Forward. One small step in front of the other. Baby steps. But forward steps all the same.
I felt a 'chill' in the air when my new acquaintances did not include me or invite me into their conversations. So I did the next brave thing. I opened up and said something to add to the conversation in progress. Were those icicles that were forming in the silence which followed my words or was I just imagining it?
I must have been imagining it. I was insecure. This was my problem. Not theirs.
I was new and I did not know my way. I asked questions. I asked so many questions. I asked the same question many times because (often, but not always) the answers changed depending on the circumstance. Because the answers fluctuated so much of the time the ground beneath my feet began to crumble. I was afraid to say anything, for fear of being wrong. So I looked for direction.
I was reprimanded and told I asked too many questions. I was not learning fast enough.I had to be told the same thing over and over (and over) again. I was berated in front of those I was just getting to know. I cowered. I accepted this truth. Because she was right. Nothing she said was a lie (except she definitely exaggerated about the number of times I asked the same trivial question, because I did remember that part).
I was shattered and broken. I may have cried all the way home from school that day. All I remember is each time I spoke about my 'new truth' I could not contain my emotions. I have never, ever cried so much and so often. Ever.
Did you ever have the feeling people are talking about you (almost) literally behind your back? I had that feeling. A lot. Silence when I walked into a room. Silence when I was answering someone else's question (as if I was being tested and judged). I could feel it in the air. It was palpable. I felt like I was on the outside of the popular clique.
I thought the other girls treated me differently when the 'leader' was out of the room. They were warm and friendly. They invited conversation. I told myself I didn't have to be everyone's friend. Everyone does not have to like me. "Get over yourself, girl!" I told myself time and time (and time) again.
I tried to make friends with the others. I looked for the positive. When I noticed the girls who were kind to me would not answer my questions and directed me to ask 'our leader', I was wounded. Especially when I discovered they knew the answer after they told me they didn't. What was going on here? Was I imagining this?
I took 'the leader's' advice and stopped asking questions until I had turned over every stone to find the answer to myself. I made notes. Lots of notes. I took my notes home and turned them into a quick-reference-guide so I could answer questions on the spot.
I mustered my courage and approached the-one-with-the-answers only when I had to do so. Only to be told "Later"; "The answer is here" [it wasn't]; "Didn't you look? [yes] read? [yes] remember? [obviously not, because I had to ask]" or she would simply do something herself and not teach me.
I approached the one who I seemed to need to please, in order to find a way to make it work. When that didn't work, I went to my superiors. "This is my problem and I need direction to find my way through it".
My superiors were very kind and empathetic. But they did not help me. They didn't offer guidance or a solution. They told me I could quit and start over at a new school. But they did not help me deal with what I was experiencing.
I did not want to quit and start this process all over again. So I spoke to a counsellor. I had an hour to find an action plan to guide me through this. One hour. And my counsellor did not hear me. She was headed down a Beginner Level Psychology course and I needed an Advance Crash Course. Now. Just as the hour was winding to a close, she finally heard my plea. I needed to know what I could do. I did not want to quit. I wanted to overcome this. As the clock ticked down the last few minutes she advised me to document everything. Dates, situations, names. You may need to know this to defend yourself, was the feeling I got as I walked out of that door.
I went back to school. Every day. I came home for lunch. Every day. Each day on the walk back to school I told myself "This is your chance to start the day over again. Forget the morning. Just start from now and move forward". I told myself to talk with those who were friendly and uplifting. I did not need to be everyone's friend. "Everyone does not have to like you" was the mantra I repeated to myself over and over and over again.
But why did my blood run cold when I saw this girl walk into the principal's office and talk behind closed doors? "Not everything is about you!", I chastised myself. Over and over (and over) again.
Closed doors. The chill in the air. I was in a class with those who were not my friends and I felt ostracised. I came home and confessed my concerns to my family. You are just imagining this! was the feeling I got from home. So I stopped talking. 
Every day was so hard. Waking up in the morning was the hardest part of all. I came home and numbed myself in front of the TV so I didn't have to think. I slept. I slept so much. If a friend called and asked me about my new school, I would try to be brave but the fa├žade crumbled. Yes, I was becoming a drama queen inside of my own head.
Forward steps. One step at a time. Just keep showing up. Look up. Look for the positive. Encourage the positive within those who seem friendly.
I kept doing it. One day at a time.
Until the day the principal called me into his office. I quietly chided to myself "This can't be good. I've never ever been called into a principal's office before."
Unfortunately, I was right. It was suggested to me, that I leave that school. Before the principal had even heard or even asked me about my side of the story. He listened to one side and when I told put a voice to my defence he said "I didn't know that".
I did what I thought was the right thing to do. "I have documentation. I can give it to you if you need it to ensure this doesn't happen to someone else..." His response? "I was hoping it wouldn't come to that". He did not say any more than that. It was my choice to let that statement hang in the air.

I had to tell my family. This time they heard me. In their eyes, they thought I was a victim of bullying.
I tried to do what was right. I mentioned this to another superior who immediately told me "We take these things very seriously". She had to make some calls and would get back to me.
The time it took for her to return her call was all the time it took for me to realize I couldn't fight it. I could not be in the same school and go head to head with this girl. If it was bad before, it would only become worse.
I was not strong enough to fight for myself. I changed schools.
I was fifty years old at the time. I was rendered powerless by someone who had the power to do so.

Was I a victim of bullying in the work place? I will never know for sure because I did not have the motivation confidence, stamina or tools to take a stand. There are two sides to every story and I can only imagine how things looked on the other side. All I knew for sure, is that I could not fight my own battle.

I was fifty years old! I had an arsenal of knowledge, tools, self esteem and support. But I felt powerless. How does a child handle their version of this same tale?
As our children head off to school this fall, please remember my story. If you see any changes in your child when they come home from school, sit down and listen to what they have to say.
We do not know what others are dealing with. Be gentle with those who touch your world today.

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