PSA: Kids With Mental Illness Are Easy Targets

I was a totally weird kid. I had zero social skills and no indoor voice. Usually, because I was uncomfortable. I just didn’t understand it at the time. It’s likely not much has changed. And frankly, I’m okay with that. Childhood is hard enough but throw in being a missionary kid with an undiagnosed/unmedicated mental illness at a boarding school in the middle of the Indian Ocean and what do you have?

The perfect storm for the friendless.

It was a small school so the options for friendship were not exactly overwhelming. I was only 8 the first time I set foot there. I tried to fit in but the odds were against me from the start. I mean, I was the kid with three pony tails, for the love. What was I thinking?

It wasn’t long before I became an easy target for the popular girls (aka - the only other girls in our class). I’m not sure if they were bored or just cruel, but I made it easy for them. I was stubborn and just unstable enough to fight back.

I shared a room with the leader of the she-pack for two years, which I now refer to as my time in prison. She was larger than me and not afraid to push me around. Literally. When I was brushing my teeth? Shove. When I was sitting at a table? Shove. She would lie about me to staff members. Hide my belongings. Empty my shampoo, conditioner, etc…into the toilet. And they believed her. Always. Because I was the weird one. And she knew it.

Only 11 years old, one day she said, “I would kill myself if I were you.” That would not be the last time someone would say those words to me in my lifetime. It is hard to describe the depth of pain and loneliness a child that young is capable of.

I would like to think that children are not capable of evil but there were times she made me wonder. And it was particularly worse when the she-pack increased their numbers. These otherwise adorable looking young girls used to chant, “Two’s company, three’s a crowd, four’s too many, five’s not allowed.” Guess what number I was?

Always the odd number out.

It’s been over 25 years and if I’m honest, sometimes it still feels like yesterday. I think because of how young and vulnerable I was. I want to protect her. Because by the time I was 13 I took *Betty up on her offer and tried to kill myself at that school. And everyone wondered why. There were other factors, to be sure, but bullying played it's nasty part.

I’m a mother now. An adult living and functioning with mental illness. Even after all these years I see similar stories. Kids being bullied. Killing themselves. Or trying. And everyone scratching their heads.

What if just one adult had believed me? Recognized how badly I was hurting? The signs were there. Mental illness is evident in children. Innocent, lovable children. Weird is not bad. Different is not bad. We owe it to them to pay attention. To recognize the signs. To listen. Not to allow them to become targets for larger, more popular, clever kids. Because honestly, five is not a crowd. And I’m a pretty fantastic time, even if I don’t rock the tri-pony any more.

On a side note, if you are or were weird or struggle with emotional problems, or have kids that do, you are in good company. You are loved. Believed. Accepted. Just as you are. Some of the most amazing things in history have come from the people in our club. You are truly capable of great things! And I am so honored to share this space with you.

*I have changed this persons name.