Proud to be weird
I had a happy childhood. I grew up in the newly developed suburb of Bollmora, south of Stockholm, Sweden. Our flat was big and modern, the surroundings mainly forested and there were playgrounds and paved bicycle paths everywhere. We had a dog called Zondor, a very kind but rather stubborn boxer. It was the early 1970s and things were good.
When I was six I started pre-school, and the year after that first class at the school proper. Over the next four and a half years, I made a few friends, an enemy or two and had a couple of crushes on girls in my class. Pretty typical stuff, all told.
I wasn’t bullied. I was a bit shy, but somehow rather cocky, and I actually ended up in a fight over something silly that I’ve forgotten now. I lost the fight.
Then, when I was 11, we moved to the countryside in Åland, Finland. Things were suddenly very different. I was different, what with my big city accent and slightly cocky attitude. Within five minutes I had been targeted by the class bullies.
The following four and a half years were not happy years. I quickly learned to feel fear, to try to stay invisible and to live with that icy panic in my stomach every time I was going to school. I wasn’t subjected to particularly heavy bullying (it was mostly verbal abuse, assisted by some punching and shoving into walls or pushing into ditches), but it was a constant thing. It was relentless. I went from being a self-assured happy boy to an intimidated and scared one.
As I tried to keep my head down and myself out of trouble, I could feel my self-esteem dissolving and disappearing. Anything I showed an interest in was immediately ridiculed. I was left with no doubt that I was different and weird. If I was particularly good in a subject at school, I was targeted for being a teacher’s pet. If I was bad at something I was told I was worthless.
Yes. Worthless. More than anything, I was taught to feel worthless.
Things changed for the better once I was out of primary school. Most of my bullies went for practical educations, whilst I went to Ålands Lyceum, the local sixth form college or high school. I wasn’t bullied anymore, but I was still shell-shocked and withdrawn. I had learned that people could be mean and sadistic, and it would take years before I would recover from that.
The thing is that I was still the same self-assured person somewhere deep inside. There was a conflict inside me, a fight between my two personalities. I had been taught to feel worthless, but I didn’t actually believe that I was worthless. I’d learned to modify my behaviour, and to not trust other people, but I still knew somehow that I was worth something.
This made it easier to rebuild my confidence, but the scars from having been bullied wouldn’t go away completely.
Proud to be weird
And today, the same conflict lives on. I still have two fundamentally different forces fighting for dominance inside my brain. But, with the benefit of 45 years experience, I’ve regained most of my confidence. (No doubt partly due to me working as a teacher some 15 years ago. After all, there are few things that boost your confidence more than to manage to stand in front of 25 surly teenagers and try to teach them science on a daily basis.)
So today, my original personality usually wins out. Most of the time. I still have relapses. I still sometimes feel like an outsider; like I don’t fit in. I can still get that icy panic, even though it’s less frequent and less intense than it used to be.
The difference is that I now know that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change who I really am. It doesn’t define me. I’m still me and I know my worth. I might be different and weird, but I’m proud to be weird. I’m proud to be me.
And that’s something no one can ever take away.