Content warning: The following story contains references to bullying and mental health, which may be triggering for some readers.
"I am scared of you," Anonymous
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
I am scared of you.
“You’re too ugly to shake your hair like that.”
“(My other friend) said you’re gross and that she won’t be my friend if I keep talking to you, so I can’t be friends with you anymore.”
A stranger saw my father’s paycheck and snickered at us.
“You’re going to hell.”
My mom had to take care of my grandfather with Alzheimer’s, so I often needed to take care of my younger sister. She has high functioning autism. If you weren’t looking, my smart toddler of a sister would drag over a chair to unlock the child-proofed doors so she could go outside and visit the neighbors’ pond alone. While this was understandably dangerous, the neighbors, who did not understand the complicated behavior of autism, began to gang up on my family. They’d call the police whenever they saw my sister playing outside, even if my parents were outside watching her. They would stand by their mailbox and laugh as I tried to chase her down and bring her home. I was eight.
“You’re not as smart as you think you are.”
I was convinced that my family and I were worth less than everyone else until I was 13 years old.
“You only got in because you’re a girl. You won’t make it at that university.”
I had a best friend in college. We both came from low-income families and were supportive of each other in our stressful academic environment. Then he wanted to date me. He wanted me to break up with my boyfriend for him, and I didn’t feel the same. To “convince himself I wasn’t good enough for him, he convinced everyone else.” Our mutual friends believed him. I had to move to a new living group. Several months later he later realized he was in the wrong, but the damage was done. I had lost 20% of my body weight, I almost failed out of school, and I completely stopped trusting everyone. I didn’t tell anyone how seriously that event had affected me until 2 and a half years later. I was scared they wouldn’t take me seriously, but I began to realize I had found truly supportive friends.
Abandonment from social groups is my constant, all-consuming fear.
I can’t stay at parties with people I don’t know.
When I first meet you, I am distant. I won’t speak up and share my opinions with you until I am absolutely sure you are a kind, non-judgmental person.
This is why I have anxiety attacks when people I’ve seen be maliciously judgmental come anywhere near my friends.
I don’t trust you.
My boss had a different work strategy than me. Once when I didn’t meet an expectation, he talked badly about me when he thought I was out of earshot. My trust for this boss professor was lost, and we avoided talking to each other one-on-one for almost a year. Recently, he decided to blame a project failure on me by telling the head professor of the lab I wasn’t at work and that I wasn’t working with my teammates because I didn’t like them. The head professor asked my other lab members about these accusations and they were completely contradicted. When I first heard about the accusations, I was so scared I hid in my lab office and sobbed. Were people going to believe his false statements? Was I going to be kicked out of my lab? It was happening again.
But it didn’t happen again. Luckily the lead professor wanted to hear my story and she saw the unprofessional bullying for what it was. I no longer work under that first boss, but some of my labmates still believe his words.
Today, I will not change myself to fit the social expectations of others.
I have a big nose, I get acne, and I wear mostly black and grey. I wouldn’t change a thing.
I have a wonderful, caring, respectful, and incredibly supportive group of friends.
I am not going to accept any malicious judgment towards anyone for any reason.
I know I am a person who deserves care and respect, but there is a reason I’m scared of you.
About the art:
I felt a really personal connection to this survivor, and their story. I immediately took to the idea of fear being a monster that controls the way you view others perceptions of you. A monster that no matter how hard you try you can't ignore.
I took some influence from artists I admire - including that of Hannah Gaucher, one of our own artists. Using watercolor and ink, I portrayed a young woman unable to release the grasp of her own fear even when she understands that what the fear is telling her is wrong.
I loved making this piece, and I hope it can remind this survivor that she has the strength to get through, even when it feels like this dark cloud of anxiety is hovering over her.