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To the Women in the Supermarket Who Called Me 'Crazy'

I was in the supermarket today. I went to get a bread roll for lunch from the bakery cabinet. Two middle aged women in business attire were waiting behind me. I heard whispered comments “crazy… overweight…freak.” I didn’t look at them as I walked off with my lunch. I went to the stationery aisle to buy a birthday card for my soon-to-be 10-year-old niece. I took my time looking at the cards. I wanted to get the right one. A young girl doesn’t turn 10 every day after all! The whispering women were looking through the gaps in the shelves. “What’s she doing?” one asked. I didn’t hear what the other said. They laughed and walked off. Presumably the weird fat lady had stopped being entertaining.

I have a few things to say to those women who apparently felt the need to ridicule and belittle me:

I experienced bullying every day through high school. The bus journey was torture with boys calling me names and girls excluding me and laughing at me. When I got to school, already frazzled and stressed from the bus trip, mean girls and boys used seemingly every moment of unsupervised time to harass me. I experienced physical and sexual assault as a teenager, and almost all of the incidents happened at school. Teachers seemed to think finishing class and racing out to spend lunch in the playground was somehow enjoyable. It wasn’t for me. It was more like “Lord of the Flies.” Experiencing all the laughing and teasing led to self-hatred and a lot of destructive and dangerous times for young adult me. So when the two women started teasing and mocking me because I didn’t fit whatever their idea of a “normal” person was, I was transported right back into the school yard.

I cannot hep being “weird.” I have a number of neurological and mental health conditions which make me seem a little odd or unusual. My mental illness is hell enough by itself without people being awful to me. I work hard to manage my illness and the difficulties that go with it. It is a near-constant struggle. At times in the past I have given up, having simply had enough. I am lucky to still be in the world. Even without derision and bullying from strangers, my self esteem is not always very good and I hate myself at times. Bullying me for my difference when every day I try to remain in control of my mind and actions is rather cruel.

The women in the supermarket were my age or older. While I recognize children can be inappropriate and have trouble keeping judgmental or blunt comments to themselves, presumably these women had learned to filter out nasty comments. I imagine they were perfectly in control of what they said, meaning their cruel and petty hatred was probably intentional. I still don’t understand why a grown woman would think that was OK.

Picking on people due to difference is pernicious. The women evidently weren’t taking my welfare into consideration. They are lucky I am quite good at seeing my positive qualities and not taking rude behavior to heart. I tell myself people like them are in fact in need of support and kindness. I think if it was bad for me to experience their teasing, then imagine what it is like to live inside the mind of someone who behaves like that? But what if I wasn’t quite so grounded? What if I was in the depths of depression? What if I had a body image issue and was particularly attuned to fat-shaming and this sent me into a spiral of self hatred? What — and I am glad this was not the case but it could have been — what if I was feeling suicidal? Those thoughtless comments could have tipped me over the edge.

author holding an award

I am an amazing person. I am intelligent and sensitive. I am what might be described as conventionally successful, with a professional job and a string of accomplishments. I will listen to anyone and help them out if they need it. I am recognized nationally for my volunteering and advocacy, with awards form the Australian Government and Volunteering Australia. I spend almost every spare moment I have supporting others. None of these things make me any better or worse than another person. I wonder though, if these women had known those things about me rather than just seeing me being odd and awkward, whether they would have behaved differently. This saddens me. For me, a quick retort stating all my apparently impressive accomplishments would probably have resulted in endless (probably insincere) apologies, but what would be the case for someone else who didn’t have all my various successes? Basically we are all worthy of respect, regardless of disability, mental illness, sexuality, gender identity, race, faith, socio-economic status or anything else.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.