Resilience in Adversity
November 18, 2020
When I was a little girl, I couldn’t have conceived of the multitude of trials that face young people today. Times were simpler. Yes, we had bullies and we needed heroes to show us how to be resilient in times of adversity, but back then, the good guys always won on tv and it was pretty easy to figure out who the villain was. Evil and violence, if we were lucky, were not things we faced on daily basis. There were no computers or smartphones back then that exposed us to the constant thoughts, feelings, or opinions of others.
Heck, for most of my childhood, I didn’t even have cable. There were only three maybe four channels to surf and if we wanted to change the channel, we had to get up and move. Playing with my siblings was often more interesting.
I didn’t need as much resilience in adversity back then. Instead, I worried about skinned knees, tangled kite strings, lost dogs, and anything lower than a “C” on a report card.
Most adults of my era hoped we were at least average or, if lucky, above average. That we had a friend. Summers were for mowing lawns, sleeping in, watching Saturday cartoons, Star Trek marathons, swimming, and playing outside. At least that was my experience.
I didn’t have much adversity in my home, at least that I was aware of as a child. I did, however, have adversity in other areas of my life that required me to develop a resilience that I came to depend on over the years.
I faithfully kept a journal as a youngster, and, as of late, I’ve set a goal to take up the practice of record-keeping again. But this time I’ve decided to do it in more of a memoir-style with the purpose being to share my life experiences with my nieces and nephews.
Since two of them are currently serving missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I promised I would write to them every week, especially as they are spending much of their time away from home in isolation, I get to accomplish two objectives at once.
Since many, many people in this world are targets of bullying, I decided that this is a topic I could share with all of you as well. I sincerely hope that none of you go through similar or worse experiences, but I suspect many have and do.
My stories are certainly not the worst examples of bullying nor are they even that typical. And these aren’t all the representations of bullying that I’ve experienced over the course of my life either. I’ve omitted several, purposely. The point isn’t to tell you the mean things people can do to one another, but to share some thoughts on how to overcome and rise above what others say and do to you.
Since grandma has been going through some work bullying recently, the topic of bullying has come up frequently these past weeks, so I thought it might make for a good journal topic.
Bullying Story #1
I would say my first experience with bullying would have been kindergarten and my poopy pants incident.
Now I’m sure you’re shocked that I was bullied in school after having seen my awesome bowl haircut and my handsewn Amish-style dress complete with itchy-scritchy lace at the sleeves, neck, and hemline, which, for those of you who are wondering, did indeed end at the ankles.
Not only did I have an amazing sense of fashion and came from obvious money, but I entered school at the very tender age of, count ‘em on your fingers, four years old. The reason for this, my friends, is that my mom already had me (the oldest), my two-year-old brother, and a newborn sister.
The next in line was going to be knocking on the door before we could blink, therefore, the earlier mom could get one of us out from underfoot, the better. Back in those days, if you turned five the year you went to kindergarten, you could sign up, so I went, ready or not.
What I wasn’t ready for, was that the teacher would tell me when I could or couldn’t use the facilities. When a kid has to go, a kid has to go. Holding it wasn’t an option for a four-year-old.
Despite the adultish knowledge I possess now, my grey-haired teacher did not appear to share this opinion in 1973 and felt that I could perfectly well contain my need until I walked, yes, I said walked, the nearly two miles (and yes, I have mapped it) home in the hot Arizona afternoon sunshine.
During reading time, I sat squirming. Then, at recess she watched me, forbidding me to enter the bathroom, which was a playground rule for some inexplicable reason. Unable to attend to my needs, I ran for the cement tunnel and hid my shame in my drawers, hoping no one would notice.
Crime and Punishment
Unfortunately, my schoolmates did notice, and, as a result, my teacher made a big “stink” about it, proclaiming to all that I was obviously still too young to potty myself properly. As such, I was, in her opinion, ineligible for the lofty educational halls where she conducted her rigorous kindergarten coursework or to be granted a seat among her pupils.
I spent the rest of the day standing in the corner of class with everyone staring and giggling and never made a friend the rest of that year or the next. I thought things might change in second grade, but I was mistaken.
Bullying Story #2
A Special Day Out
Around 1975 or so, my mom gave me a perm which resulted in the chopping off of all my hair, which brought about the wearing of a scarf for my school photo. That’s neither here nor there. What is important is an incident that happened with another teacher that year.
On my birthday, which fell in October, my mom decided that I needed to have a special day out. She called me in sick at school and we went to the mall for a day of shopping. My mother bought me a pretty necklace and it was an all-around special enough day for me that it was memorable and I was thrilled.
My recollection is a bit faulty here because I recall being alone with mom which is highly unlikely. I also vividly remember the necklace being an Annie necklace, which isn’t possible.
I checked and the film didn’t come out until 1982. In 1982 I would have been thirteen and probably wouldn’t have been as interested in an Annie necklace as a tween. I believe this necklace on the right is the gifted jewelry item I’m referring to.
On a side note, in 1982, my parents took us to see Annie and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in the movie theater as a double feature. Annie was first. About Annie, there never has been, and never will be, an Annie film like this one. I’m sorry but you just can’t beat Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, and Tim Curry. It’s not possible. It will never be done. Just don’t try, Hollywood.
As far as Star Trek goes, I’ve been a Trekkie since I sat with my dad watching Saturday marathons in the ’70s hoping to catch a show we hadn’t seen. I associate Star Trek with my father and the Next Generation with dating my husband so the franchise means a lot to me. Many of you know I modeled my character, Mr. Kadam on Mr. Spock. When Spock died at the end of The Wrath of Khan when I saw the film in 1982, I cried so hard, I was practically inconsolable as we left the theater.
Back to the 2nd Grade
Back in school, after my birthday mall trip with my mom, the teacher took attendance. When she asked if I’d recovered from my illness, I proudly showed off my new necklace and told her I hadn’t been sick at all, but I’d had a special day instead.
She slapped her hand down on my desk and told the entire class what she thought of such behavior and that if anyone else ever tried such a thing, she’d send them to the principal’s office for a spanking. And, yes, the principal spanked in those days. Rumor had it, his spanking board had rusty nails embedded in the paddle. So again, no friends that year or the next.
Bullying Story #3
By the time I hit fourth grade, my family erupted in chickenpox, just in time for me to escape the verbal assault of another teacher who told me I was too stupid to learn either history or math. I used my poxy skin rash to escape the last two months of the school year and almost had to repeat the 4th grade.
Luckily, my mom intervened and I went on to the 5th grade and a new teacher. Despite excelling at math that year, it was still suggested that I wasn’t quite ready for middle school and plans were made for me to be transitioned to a different elementary school instead. One that had a sixth grade.
Bullying in Middle School & High School
Of course, middle school brought on its fair share of bullying, but sixth grade at a new school had given me a new start and I’d made a few friends that carried over. Unfortunately, middle school was big and I was quickly lost in the shuffle of students. Still, I had some nice teachers and found I enjoyed writing, English, and poetry.
There was an unfortunate vomiting incident after running a mile and our P. E. teacher also insisted on measuring our fat in front of everyone with a calibration tool. That was a fun new way to humiliate kids into exercising.
(Isn’t that 8th-grade photo awesome? I totally look like I would fit in on Stranger Things. Pretty sure I’d get eaten by something nasty though.)
By the time I got to high school, my self-esteem was shot and I knew the best way to avoid being bullied was to try to go unnoticed, never raise my hand, and sit in the back of the class. Trying to make friends was unwise. They’d either turn on you at the earliest opportunity or laugh in your face at the start. Either way, it meant pain.
I also suffered from not developing the traditional talents that my siblings and parents possessed. My inability to sing, play a musical instrument, dance, act, or excel in academics did not go unnoticed in such a talented family.
Once, my very lovely and gifted sister, Linda, spoke in church, extolling the virtues of her siblings. One by one, she praised their various gifts, saving me for last, and then she stood there, trying to summon up one talent, one thing that I did well, and my dear little sister couldn’t think of anything. I sunk lower and lower in the pew as our entire congregation waited with bated breath for her to come up with something. Anything.
The back of my neck burned and we sat. Another moment passed and another. Finally, she said, “Colleen is a good…sewer.” How humiliating. Especially because it wasn’t true. She’d told an outright lie. In church, no less. How pathetic was I that she couldn’t think of a single thing that I could do well?
One sister was beautiful and popular and a peacemaker. Another was smart and could sing and act. My mother was organized and talented in all areas, but Colleen? Nope. Nada. Nothing.
Now, this wasn’t bullying.
This was just…sad.
And it definitely added to the way I felt about myself.
A couple of things started turning that around. The first was a teacher, Brother Rosser, who let me eat lunch at the seminary building. One day he pestered me with enough teasing questions that I let my guard down and answered him with all the snark I normally kept hidden.
No one else was around to hear it except him and it shocked him so completely that from that day on, he gave me a new nickname, Vicious.
He used it all the time, even in class. Everyone wanted to know why he would call me, the quiet-as-a-mouse-sits-in-the-back-of-class kid, Vicious. It made the other kids begin to treat me differently.
I Do Have Talents
The second thing that helped me change the way I saw myself, was taking an American Sign Language class. I only signed up because I wanted to know what secrets the girls were passing between them, certain they were talking about me, just by using their hands instead of voices.
Turns out, I was good at ASL. Really good. I began making friends. Smart kids started saying I should take Shakespeare. I did. I was good at that, too.
Then I graduated high school and you’d think that bullying stopped there.
Bullying Story #4
After high school, I started working at a grocery store in the deli. It was a good company that had desirable positions with benefits. This made the workers competitive and nervous, especially when lots of new aspiring part-timers were hired. I was one of those.
Part of the job was helping customers, but we were also required to accomplish certain tasks. So, to wean out newbies, long time employees used the tried and true method of having the newer employees help all the customers, freeing up their time so they’d get all their work done and the boss would be pleased with their work.
As I have always been customer-oriented, I was happy to help customers, but my work suffered as a result. My co-workers reinforced the idea that I wasn’t able to get everything done, that I wasn’t trainable, and that it was unlikely I’d be able to cut the deli “mustard,” as it were. I was on the verge of losing my job and being pushed out when I realized that the salad bar staff never had to help customers.
(Note: Salad bars were huge in the late ’80s and early ’90s. As such the salad bar was the biggest deli moneymaker at the grocery store.)
From that day on, I determined I needed to work the salad bar.
I shared my goal with my manager who told me I wasn’t up to snuff and I’d never get there based on my current job performance. It was unlikely I’d even qualify for the standard raise and get $3.50 an hour instead of the starting $3.25. “Besides,” she said, “there are no hours for training.”
Not willing to give up, I asked who was the best salad bar employee and planned to return on my day off at five am. Not only did I come in once but two other shifts as well, to learn how to do the job. Nobody could call me up to the front to work because I was on my own time.
The salad bar guy was more than happy to have help all day and decided if there was someone new who could do the job, then he could take a few days off. When he did, I filled in. I came in early my first shift and created the best, most stunning salad bar my boss and the store manager had ever seen.
Every bowl was perfectly rounded and piled high with gorgeous, glistening salads. Every spoon, set of tongs, and dressing dipper was aligned exactly the same. The ice and kale was mounded and chilled to polar precision.
Not only did I get the raise, and the promotion, I was untouchable after that. No one even thought of bullying me again. I was gold. The salad bar was my full-time gig until I left that place of employment.
Is It Over Now?
Unfortunately, no. That wasn’t my last experience with bullying. In fact, there might be more bullying waiting for me around the corner somewhere in my future.
Though I grew up thinking I had no talent, that no one would ever be my friend, that I wasn’t pretty, that I’d never find a guy who could love me, and that I was mostly good for nothing, I know that was never true.
Truth #1-You Have Gifts, You Are Beautiful, You Are Glorious
God gives every single person born on this earth multiple gifts. They might not all be dancing and singing, and they shouldn’t be. How boring would it be if that’s all everyone could do? Each of us is a beautiful and glorious and unique person.
Truth #2-You Are Loved, You Are Amazing, You Are Valuable, You Are Cherished
Look at that little baby. I can see the soul behind the eyes in that photo. That baby is happy. God loves her and she’s lucky enough to have a family who loves her.
Heck, she was lucky enough in 1969 to have that sweet console television set. How awesome is that?
What isn’t sweet, is that it’s so damaging to hurt our brothers and sisters by making them feel as if they have no worth. That they aren’t amazing, valuable, and cherished.
Children should never be made to feel that they are less than special, or that they are not loved, especially by a teacher.
Truth #3-You Can Help Others, You Can Stand Up, You Can Offer A Hand, You Can Be A Friend
First, while it’s true that some people can sink you into despair and make you feel less than, it’s equally true that other, well-meaning souls can boost you right back up.
Being a friend, standing up for someone, offering a hand to someone who needs one, can mean so much. Making that effort helps others, and helps yourself at the same time.
Truth #4-Forgiveness Can Help You Heal Too
Second, when I became a New York Times Bestselling Author, it didn’t change how I saw myself. By that time in my life, I’d become very settled in my own skin. It did, however, change how some others saw me. In fact, several of my old bullies have made efforts to come to see me at book events.
One bully was first in line, waited for hours, and owned every book I’ve ever written. Her life hadn’t gone well. She was unhappy. Well versed in public dealings by that time, I smiled, posed for photos, wished her and her family well, and didn’t show that my heart was racing.
Afterward, I pondered what had happened. She’d seemed genuinely happy to be there. Even excited to see me. That she considered us to be on friendly terms, was obvious. In fact, it probably didn’t even occur to her that I thought of her as a bully. I wondered then if I still did. Could I let it go?
On reflection, she didn’t appear to be nervous about how I might act toward her. Perhaps that’s just the level of confidence a bully possesses. Or, maybe her actions weren’t as impactful or as memorable for her as they were for me. Either way, she’s moved on. Perhaps it was time for me to move on too.
Truth #5-Resilience Requires Knowing Your Potential
Finally, the definition of resilient is having the ability to spring back, being tough, or being able to recover quickly. In scientific terms, resilience is the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after it’s been deformed by stress.
What’s interesting about resiliency is that now that I’m in my fifth decade of life and I’ve lived through all these experiences, is I can look back and recognize the lessons learned.
Resiliency, to me, means something more than simply springing back to your original shape, being tough, or recovering quickly after stress. When you are exposed to stressors, it shapes you into something new. There’s an excellent example of this regarding trees.
When a tree grows in a windy area, it sinks its roots down deep. This video is talking about spiritual whirlwinds but the principle applies in the same way.
For some of us, resilience takes time. I think the most important and key factor in becoming resilient, is in knowing exactly who you are and what you’re capable of.
When a child, or anyone for that matter, can feel God’s hand in their life and knows that even if no one else in the entire world loves them, cares about them, or is willing to stand beside them except Him, then they can still stand tall and proud.
Because when a person knows, truly knows, who they are…
In their spirit.
In their heart.
And in their mind.
No force on earth.
Can stop them.
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