I have been subjected to many bullies in my life. I got made fun of in middle school for wanting to wear shorts instead of a skirt, for having a mustache (and for shaving it), and for not kissing boys. Getting teased for having short hair and looking like a boy. For being too weird. For being the wrong kind of weird. While completely awful, these bullies didn’t have anything on my worst bully.
When I was in school my parents used to tell people that they didn’t need to push or prompt me to study or do my homework because I pushed myself harder than my parents ever would. Initially this created a strong work ethic within me; I had goals that I wanted to achieve, and I better reach them and succeed with flying colors.
The problem occurred when this ethic turned into the ugly, toxic bully that still lingers today. My value and worth were graded on an impossible scale; the more I set myself up for failure, the more excuses I had to internally beat myself up. I got a 90 on a math test, but I could have gotten more questions right. That social interaction you had a couple of days ago? Those people are definitely making fun of everything you said. I became awkward because I told myself I was awkward. I told myself I was never smart enough, so I never felt like any of my accomplishments meant anything. I was insatiable.
Bullying myself became a way of life. From grade school to my Masters program nothing was good enough for myself. Write a really great essay? You’re not actually a good writer. Get into college? Yeah, but not the one you really wanted. Graduate with a Masters from a great school? That’s great, but you’re the fourth one in your family to get one, that isn’t that special you know.
My internal bully questioned and berated everything I did and said. That voice was strengthened by my decade-long unchecked depression. You should feel like dirt, because you aren’t good enough for any of what you have. Don’t count on things staying good for long, you know that other shoe is going to drop, and all of this is going to go away. You have a girlfriend that seems to love and care for you- good luck with that. Once she finds out what you’re really like, how you’re a giant loser, she’ll leave; it’s not like you’re worth someone that awesome.
Like any disease my depression took it’s toll and in the spring of 2013 I had myself a mental breakdown. Three years later, I still say it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I was finally able to look at what I was doing to myself. No one was saying these awful things about me, I internalized the hatred so deeply that it felt natural. Piece by piece I had to pull away the bully that had lived in me for so long. There are still elements left of that bully still inside of me, but I’m much more equipped to stand up for myself and take it down. I was lucky to have a support network that helped pick away those parts, and call me out on my bullying ways. My then girlfriend (now fiance) has been the most important advocate. She sees when I’m about to bully myself and shuts it down.
I’m my own worst enemy but now, I know what I’m up against- and I know I can win.