How I Overcame Bullying and Gaslighting in College
I cannot tell you the amount of times I have tried typing this out and every single time, over the last 6 years, I have erased it. Part of it was because I did not feel like it was necessary to share since I had overcome it and the other part of me was scared about how it would be perceived (*to a certain extent*). In today’s social climate, we have all experienced bullying in various ways whether it was in the work space, school, sports, socially, or at home...the list goes on. I wanted to write this out because I finally felt like I had a platform to share my story during a time of social relevance and also because I want every young kid/teen/adult out there to know they are strong enough to overcome the biggest adversities they face at their age.
Before I begin, please note the following: I have some amazing friends who are of Indian/Pakistani descent who are wonderful that I met in college and over the course of time since...so this is not a generalization of a race by any means, I am just sharing my story in terms of one lot of people from my hometown.
Ok. Here we go.
I grew up in a part of town where I was the only Indian student for a good amount of time. While most people went to Christian or Band camp during the summer, we went to India often or I spent the summer with my grandparents. I loved having the best of both worlds being an Indian American citizen. At home, we would watch MTV but we’d also watch B4U (Indian music channel). I played tennis, soccer and trained in Indian Classical dance. I was fortunate to be surrounded by amazing friends and an inclusive student body group so I never felt out of place growing up. That being said, I didn’t get to showcase my Indian side as much as others may have growing up. Being very Indian was something I did not get to show and share as much as others who come from my culture may have at my age.
When I got to college, I started to meet more Indian people. I told my new brown friends that I grew up in a very non-brown neighborhood but I was still very much excited to befriend those who I could relate to in a different way, in a way that was culturally important to me. I met people who loved to eat Indian food and dance to Bollywood music at college parties. At the university I attended, we had a cultural show board and Indian dance teams that dominated the “social scene” as well as the social calendar. Much like a clichéd high school environment, we had cliques and a pronounced social hierarchy within a group of approx. 250+ Indian kids. This was all new to me. I hadn’t really seen this before and it was captivating. My freshman year, I stuck to my friends from HS and our new friends from the dorms but started to befriend more of Browntown (yes it’s a thing) as the year closed out. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I became close with girls who were very much established in this said “Indian social hierarchy” as they grew up in school districts where a lot of my Indian classmates were from. At first, things were great. We hung out all the time, coordinated library dates, went to dance practice together and were in constant communication. Separation anxiety was a thing. We talked about different guys we were crushing on and how we’d totally have each other as bridesmaids in our future weddings. Girly stuff. Halfway through sophomore year, one of my best girlfriends set me up with a guy I met at a rival university and he ended up being the first boy I had briefly talked to/dated, ever. As the usual saga goes, I thought I was living my best life! I had a great set of friends, was head over heels for a guy who also loved Shah Rukh Khan and tennis as much as I did and was socially thriving. I thought I got it right the first time, it was basically a Taylor Swift song in the making. Even though I had to move away for an internship that summer, I was looking forward to junior year and for things to continue the way they were. But things turned south when I found out he was sneaking around with a girl that I was told “not to worry about”. #Classic. Long story short, I was devastated and traumatized. Not because of the sneaking around as much as it was because he started to manipulate our situation and change the narrative in a way that made me out to be the bad guy. Much like another type of Taylor Swift song…classic dialog like telling friends I was crazy or obsessing and how dare I accuse him of any wrongdoing. He would say one thing to me and another story to our friends only to cover up his guilt and his insecurities…with the help of my best friend at the time. Gotta love it. This imparted several insecurities as I felt blind-sided and vulnerable in a very public setting at the time.
My life took a turn for the worse and they didn’t spare me in the least bit; I had two campuses gossiping about me behind my back. I started to get made fun of in random social circles, I found/got sent messages of people online saying awful things about me that were not true. I mean, how much can you say about a girl who tried to date a guy once and it didn’t get very far? After a certain point and the initial rejection, I don’t think I even liked him – I just wanted him to stop slandering and isolating me the way he did but he didn’t want to hear me out. In this process, I learned so much about human nature and people. Other students started joining in on it, I had never seen a body of people take sides and go out of their way to humiliate and shut down someone the way they treated me. My reputation had been dragged through a community I was so excited to be a part of, for reasons unknown to me till this day. My Facebook was hacked and all sorts of things were changed to compliment the gossip being spread. I tried many times to stick up for myself, but in a community of folks that toxic, anyone who spoke up against the group was deemed crazy and attention seeking. A part of me started to believe that maybe I was delusional (even though I wasn’t) and that was tough to battle mentally.
There were days I didn’t leave my apartment because I didn’t want to show face or be seen to fuel more talk, all because of 2 people who had some sort of self-proclaimed command on the groupthink of our group on campus. Some friends/classmates were scared to stand by me once they saw how awfully others got treated. I refused to show up to parties (the ones that I was invited to at least) because all people did was stare or make me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t dance my junior year and stepped down from culture show exec board, even though dancing is one of my favorite hobbies and I loved student leadership. I would cover my face walking to class just so I wouldn’t run into people in my apartment complex, because at that point I didn’t know who was genuine. I became a total recluse, which is the opposite of my personality. I even contemplated switching schools because I didn’t know if I could handle another year, but ultimately, I came back for senior year because I was not going to let this define my college experience. I wish I was lying or being dramatic, I am not. I sought peace and comfort in my friends and family who had been there through all of this and helped me stay afloat somehow (and to them, I am forever thankful and indebted).
Senior year, I came back to campus to make the most of the time I had left. I didn’t want to look back and think I let them dictate my college years even though junior year really had changed my life and me as a person. I wish I could tell you the bullying, gossiping, and name calling had ended but it hadn’t. It had stained my name and people kept trying to bring me down. This time around, I wouldn’t allow it in the slightest bit. I didn’t hide in my apartment bedroom, I didn’t avoid going to class, I went to every event because at that point, the more I was out and about…the less scared I became of them. After college, I spent some months at home and worked towards moving to my dream city, Chicago, and finding the right job for me because in this whole college experience I even lost the desire to go to med school, something I was so passionate about before. Even when I moved to Chicago in 2014, some of the same college students socialized in the city and still tried to isolate me there too. There was never going to be any sort of apology or making up for the past from their end. After realizing that, I was done trying to wave a white flag, healed on my own, and found solace in my new career, my new life and found friendship and love in the hands of some very kind people instead and that became my entire world; it couldn’t have come at a better time. Since then, I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been and am glad to be away from all the noise. Even today, I always hear things that are said about me, especially now that I am more active on social media but it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to 6 years ago. The opinion of those who are stuck in the past should not place any value of those trying to evolve and find their meaningful place in the world.
I know, this all sounds crazy right? It sounds like some sequel of Mean Girls or some awful catty wannabe spinoff of Gossip Girl (minus the cute outfits and of course, Chuck Bass). This was a part of my college experience. It was a long, long lesson that truly changed the way I looked at the world at 19/20 years old. To be honest, I grew up very quickly during those years as I learned to be a one woman army but I wouldn’t have it any other way, as wild as that may sound. I felt like I had to hold back and couldn’t experience college to the fullest out of fear of being scrutinized and that’s okay. I truly am glad I went through that because I became a stronger person at a young age and I can understand and empathize what girls in high school, college and even post grad may go through.
If you are reading this today and have or are going through something such as bullying and harassment, please remember this: No one’s voice is more important than the voice inside of your head. You are strong enough to take on anything and anyone that comes your way. No adversity is big enough to knock you out. If it does, learn to get back on your two feet, grab life by the horns and show them who is boss. Keep your support system close and ask for help when you cannot go through it by yourself. It is safe to ask for help during times of need, I encourage it and in hindsight, wish I had sought more help. There is no point in trying to “get even” and it is much more important to take the high road. Karma catches up to everyone who has done you wrong in various capacities and sometimes if we are lucky, God will let us watch. When there are days where you feel like tough times will never end, know that this too shall pass. I promise you, there is light at the end of the tunnel and once you get there, it is a very beautiful place to be. 😊
*If you are reading this and are having thoughts of despair, depression or even more serious, hurting yourself in any way please call 1-800-273-8255. If you feel like you don't have a support system, you are not alone. There are people out there willing to help. Contact https://www.stopbullying.gov/ as well for more resources*