Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The person I was. The person I am.

The person I am today is largely a product of my upbringing and experiences. While I can't complain about anything on the upbringing part, the experiences, specially in school life were largely messed up. From the age of six to the age of seventeen is a period which I consciously endeavor not to recall.

I was a dyslexic child. By the time I entered first standard, it was fairly evident that I had multiple issues with reading, writing and understanding. I would take ages to copy from the blackboard, my bs and ds  and other letters were invariably jumbled. Often I would write in mirror images. I would take ages to understand simple concepts and yet sometimes I would get the most challenging puzzles in seconds. I found it difficult to express myself. I hardly understood maths and every time I was made to stand up and read in class, the entire batch ended up laughing.Dyslexia was almost an unknown and poorly understood learning disability at that time. The teachers would mostly end up frustrated and angry and mostly chose to ignore my presence in class. I was also extremely naive and vulnerable. Unfortunately to add to that, I was seated with the most dominating girl of the glass in class 1 itself. She turned out to be a massive bully. And because of the fact that she had an influential background, she was not reprimanded at any time during the entire academic year. Even our seats were not changed. School became a nightmare for me in no time. I would begin my day as a scared child and come back home crying in the arms of my mother. Everyday.

Second and Third standards were a little more tolerable. I tried to deal with my alienation and learning issues. But I had also developed a personality issue by then. Because I was constantly ignored or made fun of. I started seeking refuge in the company of anyone who would do as much as to talk kindly to me. As a consequence I became clingy. Something that stayed with me for a long time. I made a couple of conditional friends. But I was still always lonely. I am trying hard to recall a good memory in these years at school and yet I find myself failing miserably. The extent to which I was ignored should be well illustrated by the fact that for five years I was not even allotted a house. Even when I came to school everyday. Sometimes I still get nightmares recalling that. And I was so perpetually scared of everyone that I never approached my teachers to correct it. 

I had nothing fancy to show. Nor by the way of wealth or talent or intelligence or academics. That made my marginalization much easier. Yet I never failed to amuse my class fellows and frustrate my teachers. So much that everything I did eventually started irritating them. Even the fact that I was ambidextrous and could write and draw with both my hands. On more that three occasions I was reprimanded for working with both my hands because some teachers were unaware of the phenomenon of ambidexterity. So I felt guilty even about things that I should have been proud about. 
I loved drawing. So during a long assembly when a skit was being presented, I noticed a beautiful sketch of folded hands drawn on the blackboard on the stage and copied it. For the rest of the school hours. I was standing outside the class and crying. 

After a while I really started feeling ashamed about my constant humiliation at school and started hiding these things from my parents. Telling them stories of how I was appreciated and admired so that they wouldn't feel so pained and terrible everyday. Eventually they had a completely different picture presented to them at the Parent Teacher Meets. Then I would break down in front of my mother and weep in her lap for hours. Had she not been there as an unwavering and unconditional support, I wouldn't have been alive today. 

My attempts to take responsibility were mostly ignored and sometimes even mocked at. I remember putting my hand up for several minutes as my teacher was selecting volunteers for a program and after ignoring it all the while she told me that I am not trustworthy. Later in life after having taken numerous posts of responsibility and being acknowledged for them, I still see that little girl with her tired hand in the air, filled with hope. I still hear the teacher say those words and I still feel that tear silently slip from the corner of my eye. I still feel unworthy and uncertain.

The people I used to call friends were never my friends. Behind my back I was constantly criticized and made fun of. So desperate I was for company that I would apologize to them even if it was not my fault because I couldn't bear the constant alienation and rejection. My presence in their life was secondary, conditional and often tedious. By this time I had also resorted to buffoonery to gain some sort of acceptance. 

This continued even after my father was transferred and I changed schools. In fact the girls were smarter and much more dominating. As classes advanced, the methods of bullying, mocking and marginalizing also became more advanced, more complicated. The mockery became more rude, the insults more demeaning. I was branded a weirdo, loner, dumb, clingy among other things. But by this time I had overcome my dyslexia. solely because of my mother's tireless efforts. But the hatred, fear and loathing that I had developed for school was too deeply entrenched to go. In fact something or the other kept reinforcing it. 

Ninth onward I started getting some positive attention. I was very good with literature and biology and picking up on other subjects. Some very understanding and supportive teachers and my mother's support brought me back from the brink of severe depression. The next three years were tolerable. I made a few friends, found some acknowledgement and appreciation for a few talents that I had discovered in myself and did decently well academically. With great effort and introspection I had also got rid of my tendency to cling to people. 

It was only in college after an year and half of struggling that I finally fought my way to myself. I was told that my goodness of character was a weakness and I should change. I decided not to change that in me. These were the values that my mother had given me. I wouldn't give them up for heaven. On the contrary I eventually started to proving to people how it was not my weakness but my strength, my absolute strength. It made a huge difference in my life. I also started accepting myself as a person and started learning to appreciate my own company. Funnily enough, the moment I freed myself of the need to be in company and transformed my loneliness into cherished solitude, I found myself in plenty of company. I was now wanted, respected, even cherished. 

When my graduation ended and I went back to meet my teachers and staff, the head of the lab staff called me and introduced me to the new batch and said, "In my seventeen years of working here, I have not met a student like her. In all the people I have seen through these years. She is the best human being I have come across." Like the hundreds of people who had no idea how much they had damaged me, this man had absolutely no idea how much he had healed me. I left the class and bawled for an hour. My being felt complete and vindicated. 

Fortunately, there onward, I have met many beautiful and unbelievably kind people who have welcomed me in their lives with so much warmth and so much love that it is difficult to believe sometimes. I have made incredibly close and cherished friends. I have been unconditionally accepted and I have been loved for being the same broken self that I am. I have had no need to lie or fake for the sake of acceptance. More importantly I am now at peace with myself.

But Ma.. dear people. This woman that I call my mother is such an awe inspiring person. So full of goodness and kindness and strength and support and faith and love. I hold her in wondrous respect. I hold her sacred. And know this for sure. If you ever see anything good in me. It is only a reflection of her. She has made me fight and win a battle I had never imagined that I could even stand up to. She is much more than a parent. She is my answered prayer, my anchor, my guide, my guardian, my best friend. She is my soul.

I have shared this experience with you for many reasons. The one selfish purpose is venting. I have realized that I still suffer from low self esteem issues because of my childhood. I want to forgive my past and move on. I also want you to realize how much damage harsh words and careless remarks can do to the psyche of vulnerable people. Children and adults alike. I wanted to tell you what alienation feels like to people. And I also wanted to tell you that love and acceptance can heal even the most damaged souls. Even the scars might fade. The people who are the most difficult to love may also be the ones who need it the most. 

Most of all forgive and accept yourself and know that you are beautiful and cherished. The darkness doesn't last forever.