Tests. I pride myself in always being well-prepared for them. Especially the prep. It must have something to do with my adoration for words, paper, pens and the like. I am a queen of preparing for examinations and quizzes.

The ones I am not a fan of are the unexpected tests, where I don’t get to whip out all my prep and planning tools. And life has had a way of giving me those very tests, the unexpected ones. The biggest of them all, in my twenty-something years of life (I’ll leave the exact number as a surprise, k?) was a series of uber-unfortunate events that life sent my way.

 

My First Few Months

It started in my first few months of secondary school (high school for the US School system). I was a happy-go-lucky thirteen-year-old who one particular mean girl decided to pick a fight with, behind my back. No seriously, one day she decided to punch me in the neck from behind, catching me totally unaware. I had never been in a physical fight in my life, so it was a huge shock. I didn’t know where it came from, what place in that girl’s heart told her it was okay to start a fight with a defenceless person. But I knew I didn’t want it to happen ever again. I didn’t want the years of bullying that ensued afterwards to happen either.

So, I did what any angst-filled, ‘my-life-will-end-if-people-don’t-like-me’ thinking teenage girl would do: I made a conscious decision to change the way the world saw me; and whatever I became, one thing was for sure, I would not be bullied again, physically or otherwise.

What hadn’t really sunk in back then was that I was essentially telling myself: “Talisa, you’re defective the way you are. That must be why you’re a target for bullies out of nowhere. Let’s fix this. Let’s fix you.”

 

Fixing Me

And so the ‘fixer-upper’ me unveiled herself bit by bit. The *NSYNC loving, glitter-gel-pen-collecting, poetry-writing, English Lit-adoring girl was sent away. And, in her place, came the crop-top-wearing, blonde-highlights-made-with-pure-bleach-sporting, boyfriend-chasing, I’ve-got-to-wear-what-she’s-wearing cool girl. Alright, ‘wannabe’ cool girl. On the occasions when that didn’t work and still being taunted at school, I’d simply lie to my parents to avoid having to go altogether.

Somehow, sending the message of “I’m just like you” seemed to make more sense to get my bullies to leave me alone. I could go on and on for days about what I did and stopped doing to ingratiate myself with the ‘mean girls’ of my school. I became a fraction of myself, and for years and years, I thought that was okay.

I decided to change the real me so that a newer version could take her place and take the pain away. Things that I loved doing, I’d stopped for a year, turned two, turned five, turned ten and more. The shame that came with being the only girl in my year group who was constantly attacked, turned into a shame I projected onto myself. I was ashamed of me. So, the next logical step seemed to just ‘be’ someone else.

 

Unfixing Me

Can I just say I was terrible at it though? This ‘changed’ me. It must have something to do with the fact that I was trying to be the mirror image of someone I was not and would never be. I tried to be the party girl. Tried to be one of the popular girls. Tried to be the girl with a boyfriend at fourteen. Tried to be the girl with the multiple ear piercings (or two). Tried to be the girl who didn’t feel the need to study yet still successfully pass every exam (PS, I loved studying). Tried and failed at each one. No seriously, failed miserably. Both my extra ear piercings closed within weeks.

Did change ‘find’ me? Not quite. It’s more of ‘I pushed change onto myself,’ as what I thought was a means of stopping others from hurting me. At the end of it all though, I only wound up hurting myself. Why? Because I caved. I gave in. Actions from my bullies that were probably only meant to hurt me at the moment, cost me years and years of my life, a life that I could’ve lived whole-heartedly and unashamedly.

 

Stay True

I may still never know why I was the subject of relentless fights and bullying at school. What I do know is that I may have failed the ‘test’ then, the ‘How Well Can You Stay True to You?’ test. I caved to pressure and changed in an effort to become someone people wouldn’t threaten, harass, fight and hurt.

I guess we can call this an ode against change. More specifically, against changing who you are to fit a mould or to please or placate others. Don’t stifle yourself to soothe others’ animosity. Don’t silence your voice, your passions, your soul because it makes other people uncomfortable or annoyed. Stay true to you.

 

Talisa Garbo is a twenty-something with a heart for people, pastels and pretty paper things. She is also a mental health advocate, having battled social anxiety and PTSD.

By day, she is a marketer and communications specialist, by night she blogs and brainstorms for her retail business. You can find her at https://shesthatnewgirl.com.