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  • Tanyah Cain

From Struggles to Triumph: A Middle School Journey of Resilience

In middle school, things took a turn for the worse. It was then that I began to grapple with my reading and writing difficulties, and I frequently found myself comparing my abilities to those of my fellow students. It was deeply embarrassing to consistently receive lower grades than my peers and disheartening to receive assignments covered in red marks. I felt like no matter how hard I worked, it was never good enough. I became self-conscious about my inability to answer questions correctly in class. My Norwegian teacher didn't make things any easier for me; he would openly laugh at me along with the other students if I answered a question incorrectly. Looking back, I suspect his strategy might have been to encourage me to study more diligently by using humiliation as a form of motivation. What I learned from this experience was that it was unwise to participate in class discussions. To this day, I still get a mental block when I have to answer questions on the spot. Even if I had thoroughly prepared and knew the answers, I never had enough confidence in myself to respond. I was afraid of my own distractibility and worried that I had misunderstood or misread something. Today, I still carry an irrational but deeply ingrained belief that I'm not smart. Despite my conscious understanding of my intelligence, my subconscious echoes the many challenging school experiences, whispering, "You know nothing."

During elementary school, I often sought refuge in my own world of imagination, but in middle school, I yearned for close friendships. It was during this period that the focus on appearance and body image intensified. I continued to experience bullying and felt immense shame, as I perceived myself as overweight. I was always the last one chosen, the one no one wanted on their team. There was an incident where I was assigned to collaborate with a boy from elementary school who had bullied me extensively, and when he started bullying me again in front of a new student from middle school, I snapped. I became uncontrollably furious and lashed out, hitting and kicking as hard as I could. I was so enraged that both boys were left stunned and defeated. I first took down one and then the other. I think, at that moment, I couldn't bear the thought of enduring yet another bully. I was sent to the principal's office, but I didn't care. It was after this incident that the older boys from ninth grade approached me and congratulated me for being so brave. After that, no one dared to bully me, and I was invited to join the group of rebellious students by the smoking corner. At that moment, it felt like a salvation, but it would later have dire consequences.. Around the same time, I developed an eating disorder, ran away from home, and began using marijuana. Throughout the rest of middle school, I was known as the most rebellious girl in the entire school. Like most teenagers, I constantly feared not being liked, but I managed to somewhat fit into most social groups at school. I was deeply committed to protecting others from bullying and mediated between various cliques in the school.

Despite my clashes with certain teachers and my tough exterior towards classmates, I was, for the most part, highly respectful. Despite truancy, smoking, and drinking, others saw me as caring, kind, and compassionate. Teachers often attributed my disruptions in class to concentration issues. They viewed me as somewhat absent-minded but still considered me sweet and kind. These qualities gradually became core elements of my personality. I continue to strive to be kind, compassionate, and eager to assist in my daily life. Nevertheless, I am grateful because today, I have a strong affinity for children and adolescents facing various challenges and behavioral issues. I truly understand what they are going through. My ninth-grade head teacher once told me that I would never become a successful academic. He claimed that it was futile for me to apply to high school and that I would only take a spot away from someone else. This made me feel like a second-rate individual. Today, I no longer dwell on the damage caused by his bullying and derogatory comments. Instead, I am grateful for what I have achieved and am determined to help others. No one will ever make me feel dumb again or unworthy of being who I am. Instead, my goal is to empower others to reclaim their power and self-confidence.

As a teenager, I frequented the cannabis scene in Hønefoss and Oslo. I remember feeling safe and accepted for who I was. No one made me feel stupid, and our sense of camaraderie was strong. We rebelled where we could, through activities like Blitz, engaging in political discussions, and exploring life's complexities. Many of us in that scene hadn't excelled in school, but we all had grand dreams of what we could achieve in life. As the years passed, some fell by the wayside. The entrenched belief that something was wrong with us became harder to escape from. Some turned to harder drugs and tragically lost their lives. Many grappled with mental health issues stemming from their school years and parental disappointments, which had left deep scars. I was fortunate to have parents with an unwavering belief in me, providing me with a platform where my ADHD proved to be immensely valuable. I learned to work in my family's fast-food kitchen and felt like a master of my craft. This job, which I held on weekends, provided me with an escape from the world of substance abuse and brought me back to my family, where I excelled in my work. My boundless energy and enthusiasm allowed me to complete tasks swiftly, and I served customers with a smile. When I arrived at work, three other employees could go home. This workplace was where I could truly shine.

My academic skills developed in adulthood. It was under duress from the employment agency that I reluctantly enrolled in a course for adults with reading and writing difficulties. Initially, I had no interest in participating, convinced that I was not cut out for academia. I firmly believed that dyslexic individuals couldn't be forced into reading and writing. However, it was at this course that I encountered a teacher who instilled faith in myself. I received copious emotional support and positive feedback. For the first time in my life, I was told that I was academically capable and intelligent. This teacher was to change my life, urging me to pursue social sciences as an independent candidate. The day I passed the oral examination in social sciences with an A, everything changed for me. I had no idea how unintelligent I had felt until I had written proof that I was not, in fact, unintelligent. I distanced myself from the world of substance abuse and became a passionate advocate for dyslexics. We initiated our own dyslexia association and lobbied in parliament for accessible education for dyslexic individuals. I completed my primary and secondary education and earned a place at the university.

In light of my own experiences during middle school, it has become abundantly clear that our educational system is in dire need of reform. The stories shared, like mine, are emblematic of a relentless cycle that entraps individuals, unleashing a torrent of challenges that exacerbate existing issues such as social isolation, unemployment, mental health struggles, and substance dependency. Tragically, some find themselves ensnared in violent activities, a path that can ultimately lead to incarceration. The relentless onslaught of bullying, unyielding humiliation, and academic struggles systematically chips away at an individual's self-esteem and sense of self-worth, often leaving lasting scars that persist into adulthood. This, in turn, hampers the ability to forge healthy relationships and pursue meaningful employment, as anxiety and depression loom large, complicating societal navigation.

My own journey, filled with moments of despair and self-doubt, illustrates the pressing need for systemic change in our education system. The enduring repercussions of enduring humiliation and emotional turmoil can be profound, leading many, like me, to seek solace in unhealthy coping mechanisms, including substance abuse. This not only compounds individual suffering but also taints the perception of those affected within their communities, limiting access to education and employment opportunities, thus perpetuating the cycle of unemployment and social isolation. Now, I'm taking a stand and extending a call to action. I urge you, dear reader, and everyone you know, to join me in advocating for comprehensive change within our educational system. Together, we can ensure that stories like mine cease to define the lives of countless individuals. With the right support, timely intervention, and access to essential resources, we can help others overcome the tribulations of their past, allowing them to forge lives filled with purpose and fulfillment.

This endeavor is not just a personal mission but a collective one—an urgent reminder of the imperative to revamp our educational system. If you or someone you know has undergone similar trials, I implore you to step forward and share your story. Join me in my efforts to bring about transformative change by establishing a new educational paradigm, one that nurtures our youth, enlightens them about the harsh realities they may face, equips them with the tools to navigate these challenges, and instills unwavering self-confidence in their abilities. I invite you to explore my blogs and content, and consider lending your support. Together, we can rewrite the narrative, ensuring that no one is ever made to feel unworthy or incapable of achieving their dreams. Join me in empowering others to reclaim their power and self-confidence, and let us work together to make a lasting impact on our educational system and the lives of those it serves.

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