What I Would Tell My 7th Grade Self

Inspired by the post titled “To My 7th Grade Self” at the blog ronkempmusic.

Just last week (and believe me, it had nothing to do with the post that inspired me because I only read it yesterday– but it further ignited my desire to blog about what I would say to my 7th grade self, if only I could)– I caught myself telling a colleague: “If only I could go back to when I was in junior high and react/behave like my 40-something self.  Things would’ve been so different.  I would’ve given the kids in my school a piece of my mind.  I would’ve reacted/behaved in a ‘I won’t take this crap from no one’ attitude.”

Yes, if only there WERE only such a thing as time travel!

180px-StrangeAtmosphereIf there WERE such a thing, then I would go straight back to 7th grade, when the worst period of my life began and went on for a good six years until I graduated high school.  I hated that school.  My classmates treated me like I was beneath them.  I was, after all, completely lacking in self esteem, shy as all hell, unattractive, poorly dressed, unpopular, friendless and last but not least….the only Chinese girl in a class of approximately 350 students.  And boy, it was the slowest, most painful six years of my life!  If it weren’t for my Biology teacher that I befriended in 10th grade, I would’ve literally been friendless in that entire high school system.  Note: I’m talking about friendships with classmates, not friendships outside of school, which I did have.  I had friends from my Chinese school, Chinese teen club, and Chinese church.  I found making friends in my extremely caucasian–and very racist– high school quite an exercise in futility.

Back then, I HATED my life.  HATED it with every ounce of my being.  I just wanted to drop off the face of the earth.  I was lonely.  I felt like life had no purpose if I was going to be such an outcast and people who weren’t of the same ethnicity were going to be so racist toward me.  That was not a battle that, back then, I had any energy or interest in fighting.  It didn’t help that my parents and I fought all the time, and my brother and I fought all the time.

My friends and blog followers know me to have taken up the cause of not only postpartum depression advocacy, but anti-bullying advocacy as well.  As you can see, the roots of my anti-bullying advocacy date back to my 7th grade to 12th grade years.  Back then–in the late 70s, early 80s– there was no Internet, and hence, there was no such thing as cyberbullying when I was in school….and thank goodness for that!   I wasn’t bullied to the extent that kids today are bullied.  Kids said mean things to me due to my race and appearance, and no one made any attempts to be friends with me.  Didn’t help that I had no friends going into the school because I was new to the area, having just moved there in time for the start of junior high school.  Talk about LOUSY timing!

Having no Internet had its pluses and its minuses.  What minuses?  Well, for one thing, where did a teen turn for help in getting through the angst and feeling like no one understands them and what they are going through?  Going to parents wasn’t really an option, in general, for most teens….and it still isn’t really an option, in general, today.  Why?  In my case, and in the case of many first-generation-born-in-the U.S. kids, the previous generation was born and raised in a different country with different cultural standards, perspectives and practices.  As in the case of my parents, they had it much tougher than we did.  Hence, there is a gap between their experiences and yours….and never the twain shall meet.  Even if the prior generation were born here, there is STILL a generation gap.  And all too often, there are plenty of challenges due to that gap….and never the twain shall meet.

Friends with whom you trust your feelings can serve as an outlet, but I didn’t have any close enough for me to confide in.  I pretty much kept it all to myself, feeling hopeless, lost and desperate to the point that I felt like ending it all quite a number of times–but thankfully was too afraid to carry it out–with frequent lashing out at my parents for not understanding and only making things worse for me.  The huge fights we used to get into tore a huge hole in our relationship that took until after I had my own child to mend.

A non-judgmental ear and someone with experience in providing guidance/mentoring is what is needed, and usually you would find that in the form of a guidance counselor or a mental healthcare professional.  The guidance counselor in my school was absolutely of NO help, and I went to a psychiatrist once, but I had zero patience with talking to someone who looked like they didn’t really care and couldn’t make a difference.  So I never went back.

Now, getting to what I would tell my 7th grade self.  Here is what I would say:

I know you are hating life right now, but please hang on.  I know you will find it hard to believe  that you will learn to really enjoy life.  It WILL have meaning.  You will adopt a work hard, play hard, live for the day attitude.  You will grab life by the horns, determined to explore different activities, fall in love with traveling and sailing, have a family, and experience life to the fullest.

Right now, you may feel like life has no purpose, that you’d be better off not existing because then you would no longer have to endure the loneliness and each day of the tortuously slow and miserable school year for the next 6  years.  You may feel like you’re the only one who is having family challenges, but believe me, you are far from alone in that area!  So many kids have dysfunctional families.  Some are able to mend their relationships with their parents and/or siblings down the road.  Others aren’t so fortunate.  You will be able to have a much healthier relationship with your parents once you get married and have a child of your own.

I promise you that, even though you don’t feel as if you have any talents, you do!  You will find that your strength is writing, even though you will hate writing papers in high school.  You will find, with time, that you will sing in choirs for the next dozen years….all through high school, college and even in New York City choirs after you start working in New York City.  You will spend six weeks on a trip of your life in Taiwan, after which you will come back a changed person.  On that trip, you will find that you have the ability to make friends easily with anyone.  You will have a family, and in the process, have a life-changing experience that will result in your becoming a published author and blogger.  You will figure out that your purpose is to take your own personal experiences of bullying, lack of guidance/mentoring in school, and motherhood to help others.  To help others NOT to have to suffer the way you did.

You are NOT ALONE in your teen experiences.  Most teens go through what is referred to as teen angst that is the result of the hormonal changes that come with puberty.  These changes, in turn, cause emotional changes that impact behavior and even ways of thinking.  Yes, you will experiences feelings of pain and hopelessness like none other you’ve experienced to date.  You have NOT had enough life experience to develop coping skills and perspective on things that you will have after you have first gone through a number of challenges that will cross your path.  These challenges may seem unnecessary to you and only serve to make life harder for you right now, but in actuality, they will serve to make you a stronger individual.

You, my dear, are a SURVIVOR.  Believe me, things DO get better.

If only there WERE such a thing as time travel.   I wish it were possible to tell my 7th grade self ALL that, to spare the young version of me the pain that I had to suffer.  But….as Ronkempmusic blog post points out:

There are young people, right now!, right under our noses who need to hear what we would tell our like-aged self if we could…..And, more than anything else, they need to be taught that there’s nothing in the world more powerful than love, but it must start with self love……Since we can’t go back in time and teach our own younger selves, the next best thing is to pass it on to today’s youth.

This is EXACTLY what I’ve been doing lately.  Instead of merely wishing I could travel back in time to try to change the path my 7th grade self ultimately takes, I am paying it forward with kids who need the help I never got when I was growing up.  One teen resource that is part of a growing anti-bullying movement is the Stand for the Silent closed group on Facebook (more on this in an upcoming post), which has over 33,000 members from around the globe.  I joined this group a few months ago to help provide an encouraging word or two and lend a non-judgmental ear to the teens that reach out for support and encouragement.  I am now regularly commenting (for as much as time will allow) on posts others in the group–mostly teens–leave.  My goal, like many of the other members in the group, is to be there for someone, much in the way I wish someone had been there for me…in my most angst-ridden moments that started when I was in 7th grade and didn’t ease up until I went off to college.

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121Help.Me – A 24/7 Youth Helpline

Facebook can be such a great resource, let me tell you.  Today, I saw a post from Stand for the Silent, which I had heard about from watching the Bully movie. The post announced this 24/7 helpline, 121help.me (Call 1-855-201-2121 (toll free) that is available for youth in need of someone non-judgmental to talk to, someone who will listen and provide some counseling over the phone.  Note that this is not meant to be a crisis/suicide hotline (for emergency situations, dial 911).  Calls at 121help.me are answered by counselors affiliated with the North American Alliance of Child Helplines.

Stand for the Silent is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2010 by a group of students from the Oklahoma State University after they heard the story of Kirk and Laura Smalley’s son Ty Field-Smalley.  At the age of eleven, Ty took his own life after being suspended from school for retaliating against a kid that was bullying him for over two years.  Ty’s story was one of those featured in the Bully movie.

I’m thankful for resources such as this that are available to help youth that may feel like they have no one they can talk to about their feelings.  Had I known about this resource when I was a teenager, I more than likely would have called this helpline.  I know, since I’ve been through the angst that comes with the isolating experience of adolescence–especially if you don’t have many friends–that having support is crucial.  If I didn’t have the Chinese teen club and Chinese church that I belonged to at that time–despite the fact that I didn’t quite feel like I fit in with those groups either (both groups were not made up of kids from my high school)–my loneliness might have completely taken over me.  As I mentioned in prior posts, I had no real friends in the high school I attended.  I was constantly fighting with my parents and one of my brothers.  I had no other relatives that lived near me or who were in a position to be of any help.  There might have been a couple of individuals that I sort of confided in about what I was going through, but I could only divulge so much to them.  What I needed was to talk to someone non-judgmental and neutral….someone who didn’t really know me.  Someone I felt comfortable confiding in, without that person potentially using the info to my detriment later on (as I learned that, unfortunately, girls tend to be backstabbers and gossipers).

If you are a teen that is going through a challenging point in your life, please remember that it is very important to find an outlet for your emotions.  Whether it be talking to a non-judgmental individual or journaling (writing thoughts down)…..you have to let it out.  Journaling (or even blogging) can be very therapeutic.  In the process of blogging or following a Facebook support page like Stand for the Silent, you will come across others who are in similar situations, so you will see that you are far from alone in your experience.   You will see that there are many good and caring individuals out there.  You will see others, like me, who have been where you are and have survived and have used their past experiences to help others by increasing awareness of the importance of resources like this for our youth, as well as starting up anti-bullying initiatives or support pages for teens.

My personal wish is to see more support services for teenage girls, as I feel they go through so much physiologically (and emotionally as a consequence) with the hormonal changes that come with the onset of menstruation and certain behaviors/emotions (aggression, moodiness, low self esteem, eating disorders from wanting to appear attractive, mood disorders like depression).  See my past post on why it’s so important to educate girls early of the physiological changes they will go through and the difference between premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).  The more support services and awareness, the less stigma and struggling through these physiologically- and emotionally-challenged years there will be among teenage girls….and the less risk there is for postpartum depression (PPD) onset down the road, as a history of depression is a risk factor for PPD.  It’s a vicious cycle I talk about in my book that we need to address early on.  Being proactive, rather than reactive (waiting til you’ve become depressed to do something).  If we were successful in doing this (along with seeing a growth in the numbers and types of postpartum support services), I fervently believe we will see a reduction in numbers of mothers suffering from PPD.

I want to see less suffering, more empathy, and more standing up for the silent (those that are being bullied…and I’m not solely referring to schools as the backdrop because bullying happens among adults at work too).   There is really no excuse for us not to achieve these if we put our minds to it!