As a child, I was angry. I was bitter and to a large extent I was lonely. Looking at me, you would never have guessed. I was loud. I always had something to say. I had not learnt to enjoy my own company. I did not like who I was and those around me at the time did not like me either because they did not understand me fully. I am not sure I understood myself either. It is only now that I realise that I was angry.
When I first came to the UK, aged 10, I had a thick Nigerian accent, a too healthy sense of self and a certain sense of entitlement. So it was a shock to my system to find that I was mocked for my accent (this beautiful accent?!) and avoided like the plague because they did not know anything about Nigeria. I was “that girl from Africa”. It was especially hard for me to find that even the Nigerians in my class even rejected me. It was a very lonely time for me. Sadly, my teachers did not know what to do with me either so they too, limited their interaction with me to just teaching. They turned a blind eye to the bullying and name calling that went on in the play ground. (My head teacher was awesone though).
So come high school, I had made up my mind. I would be bullied no more. I started high school on the attack. This did not stop the name calling ( I was fat, well, very round in high school) but this time, I did not walk away, cry in the toilets and eat when I got home. I fought back. I fought well. So much so, I am ashamed to say, I became a bully. Only the brave dared insult me to my face.
I loved the fact that instead of being attacked and shamed, people shivered if I so much as turned my head. I fought with boys my age and older. I challenged everyone who disagreed with me. It was a terrible time. At least, I was safe. I was still angry and very hurt on the inside but I was safe.
In year 10, I moved Church and ‘found Jesus’. The running joke in my year was that Jesus appeared to me in a dream. That brought with it, acceptance. I was loved. I was accepted. I was not alone. I no longer had to stick up for myself. I stopped fighting and focused my efforts (positively) on other people. I told everyone and their brother that they were also loved. I felt no need to defend myself. I still got into trouble now and again (I remember chasing a classmate with a huge tree branch – yep! You read that correctly) but on the whole, I was so much happier.
To focus my ‘energy’, my teachers made me a School monitor and it worked extremely well. I was then asked to help with decorating our class room walls. I did this with 2 of my friends. Those evenings were fun. I felt useful. I was being productive and we got vouchers for the local shopping centre for our efforts.
I had a teacher who, for whatever reason saw the turmoil that was going on inside my head. She saw the mess and while other teachers rolled their eyes at me when I walked past or told new teachers that I was ‘notorious’ and should be avoided, she decided I was not what they said I was. She gave me a chance and because of that, other teachers started seeing it too. She gave me my first proper journal and instructed me to use it. She encouraged me to sing, and try at life. She decided to take me on and mentor me. I have always wondered why she decided to help me. I hope to find out one day.
It is no surprise that I studied hard for her class and hers, is the only class I got an A in.
I will never forget her. She changed my life.
Why am I sharing this?
If you are a student, there is always a loner in your class, do not join the majority to mock and ridicule them, step away and say hello. Be kind. You do not know the battle they are fighting. I am not saying become besties (although you might find that you like them enough to become their best friend). Just be a friend. You really do have the power to change a life.
For those at work, you all know the ‘weirdo’ in the office. Do not join in and spread the mean spirited description of that person at work. Find out about the person directly – make your mind up from your personal experience. Get to know a person before you join in to make a person’s life worse than it is. This life is hard enough without loneliness and sadness to add.
‘Rejects’ are people too. Stand up and be different. Stretch a caring hand to the ones who need a friend. Be a listening ear. Say good morning, hello or just smile at them. Please, if you cannot do this, in the very least, do not make life harder for them.
I look back on those years and wonder what would have happened if not for the grace of God.
When you are on the outside looking in, it is even harder to deal with because you are acutely aware that it is just you. The things that go through your head in those times, I do not wish on my worst enemy.
You have the power to change a person’s outlook on life with just a simple “hello”.
All it costs you is time, please give it.
Be an advocate for the sad, rejected and lonely.
They are people too!