Did The Ugly Duckling Have PTSD?

I recently read this article with the same title as this post. As I get older, I wonder what effects that the severe childhood bullying that I suffered have had, and continue to have, on my life. See, I was the ugly duckling. I have been fat from a fairly young age, and my mom had a penchant for getting me a mullet style haircut and getting me penny loafers for school. Not exactly the coolest thing, you know what I mean? Even as I got older, there weren’t a lot of choices of cool clothes for the awkward chunky girl in the early ’90s.

Pics of me from 5th through early 8th grade

I remember teasing about my weight since maybe 4th or 5th grade. This was also a transition time in my life where my dad’s job was transferred from Clear Lake, Iowa to Minnesota, and I was saying with my mother to finish out my 5th grade year before following him (my parents divorced when I was like, 4?). I remember some mean girls in 5th grade picking on me, and one of them kicking me in the stomach one day, HARD. I never could run fast and gym class was always a nightmare for me. I also have a hazy memory of being at my mother’s house during this period, and she going out to do something or other. She was always telling me to stay out of food, for what reason I do not remember. On this day, she had told me this again, and then she left. Shortly thereafter, I heated up some leftover pasta and was eating it at the table when she came back, having forgotten something. She saw me eating the pasta, and I remember her words clearly to this day… “Do you want to be fat like you cousin XXXX?!?!?” I remember the shame that I felt, and how ugly and worthless I felt that I was. This is the earliest clear memory I have about hating my body.

In 6th grade I remember dreading doing the mile run, because I was always last and the teacher said mean things to me about it. I was a volunteer crossing guard before and after school, and I remember kids lying to school officials about it and almost losing my ability to do that for some unknown reason. It seemed like I was always the target, and I didn’t know why.

The worst of it as I remember was in 7th grade. I was 12. This is an awful age anyway, and I guess there was some class vote, and I was chosen as the class bitch; to be picked on every day, as much as possible. I don’t think a day went by where I was not made fun of because of my weight at least 20 times. Mooing sounds; boys saying, “I smell bacon-Kelly! Close your legs!” All sorts of fat, ugly, vile, stupid things. I had like 2 friends, both nerds like me.

I cannot describe what this does to a person. It grinds you down and makes you believe that you are absolutely worthless. I faked sick a lot so I could stay home from school. I was so anxious I refused to sleep alone, opting to sleep with my father, which was highly unorthodox for that age. I tried to tell teachers what was going on, and I know they saw it-how could you not, it was CONSTANT. But no one helped me. I talked to my dad about it, but I don’t think he knew how to help. The line about ignoring it and all that. I don’t think he really understood how severe it was, and I did not have the emotional lexicon to tell him how miserable I was. It got so bad that one night, when I was home alone, I got a large chef’s knife out of the drawer. I sat on the kitchen floor for a long time, holding it to my wrist. I honestly did not want to live one more day with such pain. Some little voice inside me told me not to do it, and I went and cried myself to sleep. I told my dad that I could not go back to that school and that I wanted to go live with my mom. He assented and made the arrangements.

Not that mom’s was free of issues. By this time, my mother was remarried to a man I will call Dave. Dave was a horrible man. The first contact I ever had with him went like this:

*Phone rings*

Me: “Hello?”

Him: “Let me talk to XXX (my mom).”

Me: “She’s not here, she is at work.”

Him: “No she’s not, get her on the phone.”

Me: “I’m serious, she is not here.”

Him: “I know she is fucking there so get her on the phone RIGHT NOW.” *This shit continues for a while*

Me: “SHE’S NOT FUCKING HERE. FUCK YOU.” *Hang up*

I had never met him, dear reader. This was rectified later that day, where I was forced to apologize to him for my behavior by my mother. I have rarely felt so humiliated in my entire life. I don’t recall anything being said to him. He was a terribly abusive man to my mother, for a very long time. I remember a situation shortly after I moved in with them where he got so mad at one of my brothers and hit him so hard it left huge red welts on his leg. Bro was 3, maybe? Me, a 12-13 year old kid, looked my stepdad clear in the face and said, with a eerily calm voice, “If you ever do that again….I will kill you.” I was 100% serious.

I developed what I know now was fairly severe anxiety and depression. I stopped brushing my hair in early 8th grade for some reason, and it eventually got so matted and gross that I had to cut my hair hella short, like a boy’s hair. At my new school, bullying started up again. Girls picked on me in the school locker room before and after gym class, which I already hated, saying I was fat and ugly and stinky and throwing deodorant cans at me. I often told the teacher that II forgot my gym clothes and had to sit out. I failed gym that quarter because I did it so many times. It’s the only class I have EVER failed.

At some point, some mean girls decided that I didn’t wear a bra (why, I have no idea), and took to trying to feel my back for a clasp or a strap. I got so mad one day before science class that I turned around, looked in one of the bitches’ faces and pulled up my bra strap out of my shirt and yelled, “IS THIS WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR?” I remember her being very embarrassed at being called out, and the bullying easing some after that. I remember the taste of power that I felt in that moment.

I was just finding my footing and making friends at the new school when my mom decided she needed to move to a different town that was closer to her job; this would require me to change schools. I didn’t want to do that, and things with Dave were not good. I opted to go back to live with my Dad after about 6 months after moving in with my mom. I know this decision hurt her. I remember her being hurt and angry, and having to walk up the highway on a bitter cold winter night a few blocks to call my dad collect on a payphone to talk about it an arrange things.

Making this choice meant going back to my old school where the bullying occurred. For a while it started up and I endured it, until one day I just snapped. These two nasty girls were taunting me and threatening to hurt me and all this shit, and I just fucking lost it. I turned around on them, in the library, and yelled something like “I’M TIRED OF THIS. LET’S FUCKING FIGHT”. I was panting and crying and terrified and FURIOUS. I do not remember the words, but I remember the feeling. I was ready to fight, even if I got my ass beat. I was fucking DONE. A counselor appeared and broke up the almost-fight. I don’t remember a ton of bullying after that. Sure, there were still comments here and there throughout my high school years, but nothing like before, and I had a tight group of nerdy theatre-tech, churchy youth group outcasts to hang with, and we were fine with our nerdliness.

I was fat, awkward and ugly throughout high school. I didn’t get attention from boys, and I am sure that is why. I dealt with it, and kept myself busy with lots of other things. I remember after graduating one of these guys from high school finding me in a chat room online (yes, I know… ha ha) and asking me out. I’m all like, “Do you remember that we went to high school and you wouldn’t give me the time of day? Fuck if I am going to date you now!” I left high school with a deeply ingrained hatred of my body and a complex and deep set of insecurities and vulnerabilities in regard to worthiness. I was desperate for male attention to validate me. Being totally inexperienced in the ways of men set me up to make a series of poor decisions with men, and putting myself in non-ideal and even dangerous situations even into adulthood. That’s another post.

I’m 37 years old and I still don’t know what all this means. I do know that as a young and middle adult I have made a lot of poor choices that stemmed from anxiety that I didn’t understand I had for a long time, and from a deep seated sense of unworthiness. I allowed myself to be treated in ways no one should ever be treated because I didn’t think I could attract anything better. I have abandonment issues that are finally starting to heal. If anything goes wrong in my closest personal relationships, I have a terrible voice inside of me that tells me how stupid I am and how unworthy of love I am. I am hyper-vigilant to the words and actions of others, and I assume the worst, all the time.

I have been in therapy on and off for 10 years. I take medication for depression and anxiety and will take it for the rest of my life. I have klonopin for the really bad days, and I am experimenting with CBD. I fight the demons on a regular basis. I am sure there are other sources of this trauma, and good ol’ lack of neurotransmitters. But I have to believe that these horrific experiences have played an important role in laying the groundwork for the challenges I have now. This revelation isn’t particularly earth-shattering, but its a another piece of the puzzle on my journey of healing.

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