Are you a child, a tween or a teen and school kinda sucks? I hear ya. I really do, but there is hope. Things do get better. If you find yourself struggling to fit in or you miss your old friends and the world feels like a strange place, please know that there is hope. I know, I know, you wish that we could fix things right now, and we can, but first it helps to know that there are many many others who are also going through your struggles. We understand. The story I am sharing today is from many years back and even the memories of this incident have no impact on me anymore. But it didn’t happen overnight. However, I am writing with the hope that it may help you, other teens or young adults out there. If you ever feel hopeless, lost and wish someone could understand you, then you are in the right place to regain hope and live life to the fullest.
As a child and teen, I was quite contented with my relationships, school, life and friends. Despite being a quiet child, I had a few friends, especially in secondary school and we had a great time together, while frequently being a pain in our teachers’ necks. But when I moved schools, like most other teens, I also struggled a bit. The struggle only lasted for a short while but it did make me a better person.
It was almost a turning point when one day, I sat in an empty classroom and cried. I was alone. Just two months before this incident, I had newly joined this grammar school, in a totally different country. That was still fine, but unfortunately, I joined in the middle of the academic year, in January, while others had started their schooling in September. I missed four months of social interactions and basic friendship foundations with this batch of teens. The culture was new, the people were new and even the teaching methods were novel to me. Everyone else had already settled in, with their own group of friends, their own cliques, while I had to leave my friends behind at my old school. As if this wasn’t enough, I used to be a shy and sensitive soul. In fact, I barely knew how to befriend people until I entered adulthood. So, despite being a teenager, I still felt like a child within.
When the environment is not conducive, we don’t feel a sense of belonging and people don’t seem to care when they are teens. Or at least they are not encouraged to show how they feel. My new classmates started making plans for their day out and I assumed I would be invited. But when the plan unfolded, and I was left out, as if I just didn’t exist, I was sad and various thoughts ran through my little head:
“They just shared their entire plan, their fun day out amongst friends, and I was supposed to be in their group now, weren’t I? How come I was left out? I am not invited.”
After a few moments, while holding my smile, I excused myself and left the recreational common room. The recess wouldn’t end just yet, so I rushed to the topmost floor, nearest to the roof and locked myself in a classroom and allowed myself to cry. This was a time when I had no connected phone and no one was in my presence physically for me to share my pain with. Just me, myself, and I. When people started walking in for the French lesson, my tears were all wiped, as if nothing ever happened. My heart was swollen with pain, the loneliness and despair was evident in my faint smile. Thankfully I sat near the window, and in two hours the day would be over. I could grab my bag and rush out of the door. It’s not like anyone cared anyway! I was thankful for empty classrooms, for they became my coping mechanism. No one sought them, and I didn’t have to face anyone. Besides, I could be lonely and alone, without anyone noticing. I can imagine that a lot of kids, teens and young adults go through the same thing but perhaps we are scared to share it with others.
This incident may not sound like a big deal, however, as a teenager who was still finding her way into this world and every single day was a struggle. I felt lost. I believed in God, but I didn’t know that I could call upon Him, etc. Imagine waking up every morning to go to a school where you don’t belong, where teachers are cold, and classmates couldn’t care less. Imagine having a class, with just one other classmate and the teacher. You have to do your homework, duh, and when the entire focus is on you, you end up hating that lesson. If you are lonely in an environment where you are spending the majority of your day, what are you meant to do during your free time? How do you avoid those strangers all the time? Teenagers are clueless themselves, and I wasn’t any wiser. It’s okay! Don’t be hard on yourself.
Yes, friendships and relationships are the main essence of having a good school life, but did you know that you can befriend yourself and if you let your heart bloom, the world can start to look beautiful. As for me, I didn’t know any better, so day after day, I struggled, whether it’s because I couldn’t afford the end of year T-shirt, or adhering to the semi-formal uniform and getting scolded for breaking those rules. Every comment or judgemental stare made me feel like a stranger. Heck, I even judged myself all the time. Self-love was not even a myth for me. Why? Because I didn’t know such a thing existed, let alone knowing how to practice it.
However, things did turn around. As it is with all good and bad things, those days came to an end. However dramatic the above story sounds, it only lasted for about 15 months. When I joined University, it was almost a breeze, although I admit there was some deja-vu in the first 3 months of Uni. Teenagers and young adults do struggle to give others a sense of belonging. Do you know why? Because they are yet to discover their own comfort and self-love themselves. In fact, kindness is something you can only offer if you are fulfilled yourself. How do i know this? Well the above episodes left a lasting impact on my soul.
If you see some kindness in me today and notice that I try to give a sense of belonging to anyone and everyone, I hope you know why, now. It isn’t superficial. It comes from the deepest corner of my heart. Over the years, I vowed to always make people feel belonged, I gradually vowed to myself that no matter what, I will surely befriend the person who seems lost. I now always give a sense of belonging to anyone who comes my way. That child who is all alone at parties, or the adult who is in a corner, or the newcomer. Or even the new member of staff who is all lost, I’ll put my foot forward and give them a sense of belonging. You will not necessarily see me mingle with the crowds. They probably don’t need it. But be aware, look around, ‘Care to Stop’ as Swami says, and you will notice that people want to feel belonged. They want a smile. They want to feel loved.
If as a teen you crave to belong, and you wish to be happy, try these:
1. Try to appreciate yourself first.
Contemplate on what your friends and family love about you and appreciate yourself.
2. Know that you are absolutely awesome and unique, and then you are set to change the world.
Have you seen how a single flower can attract many bees? It doesn’t need other flowers to feel beautiful and attract the bees, it’s just living it up. You can do the same and you must have seen examples of this in movies.
3. Be your own best friend and befriend the outsiders.
Befriend the loners and those who want to be your friend. Give others a sense of belonging.
4. Genuinely compliment someone, but try it when they are alone, initially because I know that groups can be intimidating.
Start with the small things and you’ll notice how your self-esteem increases multifold.
5. Find something you love about yourself and cultivate it.
If you remind yourself about your qualities, it will be easier to love yourself.
From my own experience, I know that it only takes one good intention and one moment of true, loving care to change someone’s life. So, my message for you today is to be aware, teach yourself and maybe your kids too, if you’re a parent, that everyone wants to feel belonged. When you see new kids, or when people are looking lost by themselves or kids are playing on their own, try to befriend them. Most elderly gentlemen and ladies who are out for a walk, really enjoy some chit chat, so, slow down, smile, and ask them how they are. We all have a beautiful heart worth exploring.
And after that experience at school, where do I stand today? I think the fact that I wrote this on os.me says it all. Now, I stand in a place where I seek to give a sense of belonging. You can too. Loneliness is a thing of the past, because when we love, then the entire world becomes our own friend. Try it. Things will get better, there is hope. If you’re a teenager reading this and wish you could share your plight, feel free to drop me a line. You are beautiful, you belong, you can change the world and things will definitely get better. Go live it up, champ!
P.S: The main story in this post was initially written to be shared as part of the #WriteWithOSme challenge. But after a bit of a roller coaster ride (posting, deleting and reposting) along with advice from beautiful souls, I edited it to add more learnings. I hope you find it useful. If you don’t, then please go have some nice mango pudding on my behalf!:D