I was a sensitive child. I felt every emotion like a tsunami, full blast. I was a crier. Every emotion burst through tears.
In my generation, I feel as though unless the emotion was not joy, children were not really allowed to have negative emotions. As I’ve heard from countless peers, expressing displeasure with your parents or any authority figure was a no-go. Showing irritation or just anger wasn’t going to end up good for you. So I compensated by crying.
Crying wasn’t as bad as anger or disappointment. But it was still not good. I couldn’t control it, but I could try to hide it. So my tears became, over time, quiet and private, as much as I could.
I was, however, mostly happy until I was about ten. Before then, I’d attended my neighborhood elementary school. Our school was all black, with majority black teachers, I think. I skipped first grade, even though my mother says my kindergarten teacher wasn’t going to recommend it because I was immature. She took my crying for weakness. My mother didn’t care what she said. I remember the second day of first grade being told to empty my desk because I was going to a new classroom.
Elementary school was uneventful. I was a model student. I had friends, I was well-liked (I think), and was only picked on a bit for being a cry-baby, having skinny legs, and chewing like a horse. Once – and only once – do I remember anyone picking on me because I was smart. That was more because the teacher really liked me – he was the same teacher that had taught my mother 20 years earlier.
Then I went to middle school.
I suppose middle school is awful for everyone because prepubescent preteens are just not nice people. I was a new student starting in the sixth grade, when everyone else had also attended the school for fifth grade. There were three new students, and I was one of them. The other two new girls were the ones that gave me so much trouble.
I remember two incidents that, of course, had me in tears. The first was in a science class. One of the two girls walked up to me and said, “You know why we don’t like you, right?” I was taken aback, not because I didn’t know she didn’t like me, but because of the gall she had to not wait until the appointed time to harass your classmate: lunch. What I remember most of all, however, was when the teacher, who overheard the exchange, simply said, “This is not the time for this.” Well, of course it’s not. But I expected the teacher to protect me. I expected her to reprimand the girl. I expected her to care about me. She didn’t.
The second incident occurred because I had written a note to myself about how much I hated these girls. They made me hate going to school. I spent a lot of sixth grade with my head down. I still don’t know how, but one of the girls found the note. They confronted me in the hallway, telling me that they were going to fight me after school. I’d never been in a fight before and I was so scared. The new school wasn’t in my neighborhood anymore; it was a bus and subway ride away. I dreamed about them pushing me in front of a train or out the doors of the bus. For weeks I was terrified to go to school or to leave school. That was the first time I felt anxiety on the level of a panic attack. I thought I was going to die just thinking about them. We took the subway back and forth by ourselves. Who was going to protect me?
The fight never happened. But I lost faith that adults were going to help me. I figured the whole sixth grade knew how mean these girls were. It was unfathomable to me that the adults didn’t know too. Why didn’t they do something ? Around the same time, I first heard the Gospel. But it confused me. Why would a loving, all-knowing Father with the ability to do anything not stop this pain? Why, at ten, did I feel like no one — not God, not my parents, no one — loved me?
I hated life. I didn’t tell anyone about my thoughts.
This feeling of abject vulnerability stayed with me until very recently. It’s slowly dissipated as I’ve learned more and surrounded myself with people who are willing to understand. It didn’t go away completely until I could believe that I had the tools to protect myself.
Things changed for me after that year. I went from being happy to being so very sad and feeling so very alone. I now know that my first depressive episode happened around sixth or seventh grade, between 10 and 11.
But then, I knew nothing. I just thought I was an unlovable cry-baby who no one wanted in their life.
That was all in the beginning.