When I was 15 I did not know why I had to stay up all night before a deadline to be able to submit my work.
I did not know why I woke up at 3am before a Chemistry or History class to rely on my short term memory as I did not relate to the subjects.
I did not know why I always came up with all sorts of ideas, how I sometimes interrupted and liked to find different kind of solutions to a mathematical problem.
I had not yet realised why I sometimes got so engrossed in things I loved that I forgot to eat or look up for hours.
Nor why sometimes at the end of the School day I would get tension headaches and has to live school as I could no longer stand the sitting, the waiting, the paying attention.
Some people saw that I was different, but for so long, I never knew how. They used to tell me I have potential but that I should work harder to get excellent results. I did not care about the excellent results, I just wanted to be myself and to do the things I loved: Maths, Physics, Reading, Writing and Painting.
“I only found out at 34 that I have a bad case of ADHD, which, undiagnosed was affecting my mental health a lot.
Here is my story of being bullied as a Neurodivergent teen.”
She was beautiful and tall, with soft skin, full lips and big, sad, angry eyes. She was voluptuous and attractive, possessing a magnetic charisma that had people eating out of her palm.
We became best friends in the last year of secondary school, just as we were turning 15. We thought of ourselves as rebels.
Fast forward. Three months later after the summer holiday on our first day of high school. She was in another class and she was determined to put me down.
I never discovered what the trigger for this shift was, what made her go against me. Perhaps she saw me, at the graduation party of secondary school, where I had my first ever kiss with the DJ, in the forest behind the venue. Maybe she saw, on that first day of school, in my smile, my tan and my eyes that I had just had a great summer. Maybe she didn’t. Maybe it was because I was wearing brand new colourful clothes that my mom had brought me from Germany—while her mom had divorced her dad. Perhaps she just saw that my brain was wired differently, that I saw things in another way, with my propensity to lose my keys three times a week, my loud colourful manner and clothes and my excitement for different, random things.
”She turned most of the popular kids in school against me in just a few days, and started to work towards breaking my spirit, which she achieved in a matter of weeks.”
She called me Laika, for a reason unknown to me. I still wonder what she thought was similar about me and a dog that orbited the Earth. Maybe she just wanted to convey that I was a b**ch . . . or maybe that I was just spaced out and meant to be on another planet.
I started dreading going to school, dreading going out with my friends, for fear of seeing her. It would make me physically ill, with cold sweats and becoming pale, with blood draining from my face. I was no longer eating, I was barely sleeping, waking in panic with the same cold sweats, dreading the coming morning when I would see her again. Around this time, I stopped painting and writing for many years. (I am only beginning to rediscover my creativity again now).
I did not tell a soul what was happening to me, not even a soulless page of a journal. I worried that my sister and her best friend would read it. They liked to go through my notebooks, looking for drawings of people kissing and little love poems.
“I did not tell a soul what was happening to me, not even a soulless page of a journal.”
I remember the relief I felt, every day, while going home, mixed with the terrible shame of not being able to stand up to her. I needed to ask for help but I was overcome with fear of making it worse. I became smaller and smaller until I turned into part of the flooring., People’s feet were stepping around me in different directions. I was there—a static, cold, grey piece of marble—trying to hide my hurt as she kept walking right over me.
I don’t want to imagine how it must feel, nowadays, when you can’t escape from it all. When a ping of a notification on your smartphone can send you right back there to the humiliation, opening a bleeding wound. I imagine how it must feel having the whole world scrutinise you and your actions, and some finding you wanting. Without any filter and with the protective armour of a screen, attacking your very being.
After months of suffering in silence, months of accumulating shame and resentment, I finally stood up to her. After being verbally abused, I answered back—and she literally spat at me in the face. I then grabbed her hair and told her that this has gone too far and that I was going to talk to the Principal.
I went in the direction of the office, but I was shaking so badly and was so affected that I don’t even remember if I talked to someone or if I just sat there, in a safe space, calming myself down. This episode really helped to limit the attacks to just indirect comments to her friends, and we never really spoke again.
A few months after this incident, I began to live a close to normal teenage life again. However, every time I would get a glimpse of her or one of her friends, my body would remind me of unresolved issues with MYSELF: How could I have let this happen to me for so long? Why didn’t I tell anyone? How could I deal with all the anger, fear and stomach-churning shame?
I did forgive her, after a while.
I was just the recipient of her overflow of terrible pain. I understood, it was her only way of knowing how to handle it at that time. She did not know how to feel like she belonged another way. And I forgive myself for not having the courage at first, and I am proud that finally, I went and asked for help.
I don’t know if I want to meet her again or not, I wonder whether that whole amalgam of feelings will come back. Part of me does want to see her again—to tell her how much she hurt me. Part of me does not want her to take too much credit of affecting someone else’s life.
Writing these words, I can smell and taste of the baloney sandwiches my friends and I used to eat in the cafe in the corner, next to the school. I now feel grateful for the friendships those years of my life brought me.
Some of those people are still very close to me now. The boy who believed in me and told me 100 times a day how beautiful I was. The close friends I used to, and still, confide in with my deepest thoughts.
We are all so very different, may this be coming from gender, sexual preference, social status, where we were born and the opportunities we have had in our development, or may it come from the way our thinking is divergent in any way. At the same time, we are so similar in so many ways.
We all want to be loved, to belong, and to feel significant. To be seen for who we are and feel accepted and appreciated. Sometimes we make mistakes, some bigger than others. We seek our goals in the wrong way, we get overwhelmed—we hurt, and start being hurtful. We can hide from the people who need us the most.
“The only way we can tackle bullying of any kind is with firmness standing against the behaviour, and with tolerance and compassion for the humans involved.”
The only way we can tackle bullying of any kind is with firmness standing against the behaviour, and with tolerance and compassion for the humans involved. Let’s reach out when we see someone being bullied.
To the one being attacked, making sure they are OK, telling them we have their back and that they are getting the help they need.
And to the attacker, telling them that their behaviour is not to be tolerated, but also asking them if they are OK, inviting them to be kind and asking them if they have someone who they can talk to about their pain.
“Nobody deserves to feel like they are alone in the whole world, whether they are the victim or the abuser.”
Because pain stems from pain, if we don’t reach out and help all involved, there is no end to the cycle. There are already too many waisted lives and broken spirits because painful words from pouty mouths or a smart keyboard[DC2] have been used to spread the hurt instead of counselling or therapy to try to heal it.
Romanian Ana-Maria was diagnosed with ADHD at age 32, and now lives in Spain. She writes to share her story of growing up undiagnosed and being bullied with the neurodivergent population.