Last semester, my Creative Nonfiction class was surely not my comfort zone. My works were greatly criticized, but all I know is it helped me improve. My professor told us to write a personal narrative of a significant experience we had in our lives. I had shared this in class, but I also want to share it here on my personal blog since writing my own personal narrative was a first for me. Just as I have learned from my experience, I hope you will to. Enjoy this (painfully long, yet inspiring) piece!
“How to Recover from Bullying”
By Stephanie Angelique C. Micaller
At the age of seven, I was a spoiled brat-in-the-making with bullying tendencies. But after six years, I became a 13-year-old bullied outcast. Add two more years, I have completely transformed into a depressed loner, homeschooled for the rest of my high school years. I’ve always blamed bullies, negative words and actions, and other people for how I turned out, but I never dared to point a finger at me. With 2-and-a-half-year spent at home, I was given enough time to reflect, straighten my crooked thinking, and allow God to put some sense back in me.
I’ve only been enrolled in three schools before I entered college at 17 years old. I attended pre-school at St. Elizabeth Academy. How it sounded is not as fancy as it looked. My pre-school was just a house considered to be a school because it has a teacher and a few students. The only thing I could remember from during that time was being thought how to multiply numbers. Being 4 years old, my poor little brain found multiplication a bit too difficult to take in. But for whatever reason, after I graduated nursery, the school closed down. My mother transferred me in a new school for kindergarten, Wesley Child Development Center. I would only be reminded of this school because of my first crush. When my preparatory days came, I have transferred once again, and this time it was in Metropolitan International Christian Academy, formerly known as Bible Baptist Educational Institution. Oh, how could I ever forget this school? This was where I accumulated half of my life experiences. Everything was smooth-sailing until I reached 4th grade. It was in 4th grade that everything took a turn in my life. To be bullied was introduced to me that time. My bullies – consisted of mostly boys and a girl – somehow came up with the most creative terms of endearment just for me. Panget was the most popular one of them, and there were bulldog and “gori” or gorilla, which was the least popular of the three. Though these pet names stuck with me for a long time, I never really got used to it. I used to cry my heart out, most of the time, because of it. It was also at this point, I’ve learned how to hate, not just my bullies, but also myself.
I asked God many questions: Why was I born this way? Why can’t I be like the pretty and beautiful girls? Be beautiful like Helen of Troy, whose perfect face launched a thousand ships? I must admit the latter part was a bit of an exaggeration, but that was what I truly felt at that moment. Those days, when there were school presentations and events and every girl was dolled up and looking pretty, I’d look at my number one bully, and realized how pretty she was and boy, I felt so insecure about it.
My No.1 bully – taller than me, fair-skinned, with beautiful long black hair – is a typical girly girl. She’s a year ahead of me, I was a fourth-grader and she was a fifth-grader, which gives her an unreasonable, yet understandable reason to harass me. I never knew why she bullied me in the first place, maybe because of my looks or personality. I was a plain Jane, a wallflower that doesn’t talk much, I don’t even stand out in a crowd, but when it came to my academic records – I was popular. The bullying started with teasing and name-calling, and then worsened the moment I entered 6th grade; when I was given an opportunity to experience a temporary acceleration to 1st year high school.
One fine day, my adviser asked me to stay after class. I comfortably took a seat near her desk. She laid down the supposedly good news with evident excitement. She began by showering me with compliments, telling me I was exceptionally good in my studies, and then quickly got to her point, “Would you like to be accelerated?” Without much deliberation, I straightforwardly said, “No.” I never forgot the puzzled look on her face at my reply. Well, who wouldn’t be? It was a great opportunity. Surprisingly, she did not let me off the hook that easily.
Determined to change my mind, she suggested I spend the rest of my first quarter attending classes with the freshmen at the high school building, sort of like testing the waters. I knew I wouldn’t win this one, so I just agreed. If only she knew, how much I disliked most of the freshmen in my high school, to be more specific, the boys and my No.1 bully. The first quarter went by roughly. I spent lunch times eating alone because no one wanted me to eat with them and I’m alone most of the time. I constantly skipped classes as if it was the only solution for that nightmare to be over.
What a big relief it was for me when second quarter finally stepped in. But I was wrong; still the nightmare went on until my freshman years. Tired of having to deal with bullies, I slowly distanced myself from others, even from my friends. I just kept the company of my only best friend at that time, a classmate since prep. No one knew I was being bullied until I decided to quit school. That was all, or just what I thought it took to make the bullying stop.
My parents were disappointed, of course. Even my advisers and other teachers were disappointed. It was the first time I ever felt I was such a big let down. My high school life story did not end how I wanted it to be just because I quit. But it wasn’t a sad ending though; I could consider this chapter of my life ending happily. Believe me; it took me years before I finally got to accept the positive aspect of something so negative. But one thing’s for sure, the moment I looked on a different direction, the grass was really greener on the other side. Now the question is how I ended up happy when I was bullied in the first place. Here’s how.
Quitting school was not the best option. I knew that, and I’m not recommending quitting school to anyone who’s being bullied. So during that 2-and-a-half-year I stayed home, I was home-schooled. Home-school was easy and fun at first. I can do schoolwork at my own time and pace. I had obviously no homework. Most especially, there were no bullies and teachers I have to deal with. All I had to do was go to the office of the Living Heritage Academy, a home-school program by the Philippine Christian School of Tomorrow, in Pasig once a month to get self-study materials on different subjects, which are called PACES, medium-sized booklets I have to answer, finish, and check with all honesty through the use of score keys, which they also provide, for me to take home. All my parents did was pay for my tuition and learning materials and record my progress once I finished a PACE by putting a gold star, for a perfect score, or a colored star, if not perfect, in my progress chart, also provided by Living Heritage Academy. That’s what home-school is like so it tends to get boring once prolonged. Home-school had its benefits, I cannot deny that, but it did deprive me of some unforgettable experiences I could only get in high school like prom night. So as not to bore the life out of me, I wisely spent my time at home reflecting. As I’ve already said, quitting school was a really bad idea. I have allowed emotions to take control of my decisions. But nonetheless, during my time of reflection, I had time to assess what had happened to me and just boost my self-confidence in reading a very inspirational book, the Bible. It told me I was fearfully and wonderfully made and I was created in a certain way for a purpose, and I did believe. It may sound corny, but it’s a remedy that works. I began to develop a desire to know and understand people more, instead of instantly judging them by their actions. I’ve also discovered to let go of my negative emotions through self-expression. I began to write – of what I felt, of what I thought, of anything under the sun. Writing was sort of a release for me. Slowly, I got a clearer and more positive perspective of my circumstances.
2. REACH OUT
Bullies are still people. They also have hearts that can feel. Being a bully is not something innate; it’s just that their circumstances may have pushed them to become one. Despite of what my No.1 bully had done to me, I needed to reach out to her to patch the unwanted gap between us. Because I knew if I wouldn’t be able to resolve this issue, a part of me wouldn’t function right.
I still remember that day. One morning, we were all at McDonald’s in PRC, Makati – me, my first year adviser, my No.1 bully, and her two other friends. Classes were already over, and summer vacation had just started. This was during the school year when I quit school. I was seated uncomfortably. I don’t know if it was because of our seating arrangement – my adviser seated beside me and the 3 other girls on the other side of the table. Days before the confrontation, my adviser called at home just to ask me if I would like to speak to her and my No.1 bully. I said yes right away. To tell you the truth, I was not prepared, yet I felt the need to settle things once and for all. I went willingly that day without any doubt that this is what I wanted. The moment I stepped through the glass doors of McDonald’s, I also walked into a very memorable experience. She was the first one to speak, as soon as she opened her mouth I realized my wrong judgment of against her. She told me she grew up in a family where she was not given much attention. She was the middle child of five siblings. When I asked her the reason for her bullying, she gave a simple answer: she was insecure. Why was she insecure? Up to this day, I still don’t know the answer. Now that was weird, all this time I believed I’m the only one who’s insecure. She and her friends said their apologies. After everything I’ve heard, I wasn’t able to utter a single word. Was it because of shock? No. Was it because I’m happy? Definitely yes. Before we left, my adviser asked me if everything’s okay. Judging from what I’ve learned and what I felt, I said everything’s okay, and it’s the total truth. I left McDonald’s that morning happy and light with all the baggage of anger and bitterness removed from my heart, simple as that. Sometimes, a sincere “sorry” can make a huge difference. When I decided to reach out; I made a really big step on my way to recovery and in becoming a better person. I learned how to love myself and others again and also to forgive.
Improving my self was the last part in my recovery. There were only four important aspects of my self I focused to improve on – my mind, my heart, my abilities, and my outward appearance. To get my mind and my heart straight I knew I needed to get my relationship straight, my relationship with Christ. To be right is to do the right thing. So I did what is right; I gave all my effort in this relationship, and in turn, I was able to improve drastically in how I think and how I handle my emotions. I involved myself more in the Born-again Christian church I’m attending ever since I was a kid, today I’m actively part of the youth group, a scriptwriter, and a dancer. Involving myself helped me greatly in discovering my gifts. My abilities multiplied. Growing up, I knew I had a talent in drawing. But when I turned 7, I got involved in our church’s dance ministry so another love had been born, my love for dancing. Still, it was not enough for me; I started to write at fifteen. I knew I wanted to excel and improve in my abilities so I exposed myself to different trainings – summer dance workshops at Abel Meholah Dance Centre at Mandaluyong, an 8-session painting class at Art Informal in Greenhills, and I decided to shift from being a fine arts student in Philippine Women’s University to journalism in Letran for my writing. These trainings did not only help improve my abilities, but it also boosted my self-esteem. Improving my outward appearance was easy; I just had to feel good on the inside to feel beautiful on the outside. And with this thinking, I treated myself to a makeover. I bought clothes that I wouldn’t normally wear then, and had a brand new haircut. People around me noticed the change, but I knew it wasn’t because of the makeover but because finally I was able to feel beautiful inside and out. My self-improvement strategy had been a great help in my recovery by getting back the confidence that I had lost during the time I was being bullied. But I still believe, I would never stop improving myself as long as I’m alive.
“Life was not what I thought it was, 24 hours ago…”
Now I know that what we become is entirely up to us. Today, I’m a totally different person, and by that I mean better. They say experience is the best teacher. Cliché and overrated as it may sound, everyone can still attest to its truth. But I must say learning from others’ experiences and mistakes is much better and less painful.
The only constant and persistent thing in life is change. I can only hope and be willing to let these changes make me a better person. Negative experiences happen in our lives for a reason. But the result is up to you, as they say, it’s either you become bitter or better. Life has taught me many things – to give more, to love and accept beyond reason, to try new things. Without these experiences, the good and the bad, I would have never believed in God, I would have never learned to paint and to dance, I would have never loved writing, and I would have never known the meaning of my existence. But these experiences occurred, and I chose to be otherwise.