High school was a tough time for me. I was bullied nearly daily. I didn’t have any real friends. My only friend was a girl two grades lower than me, which definitely didn’t help when I went to Grad Night at Disneyland for our senior trip. I actually got ditched by my “friends.” Imagine spending the whole night in Disneyland by yourself. I haven’t been back since. My house was even targeted by my classmates for their weekend Toilet Papering. Yes, you could say I was once a “Social Leper,” what I call being a nerd way at the bottom of the social totem pole. I had to wait until I left high school to start over in college, when I could finally say I “cured” my “disease.” College was a chance to go somewhere where no one knew my former abysmal social life. But while in high school I forced myself to undergo “treatments” toward that future new beginning. High school was where I experimented to develop social skills I could use in the future. Here are a few of the “treatments” I tried:
First, I had to learn to get over my shyness and low self-esteem. I had to learn to TALK TO GIRLS. No girls would talk to me at my high school. Girls were like outer space aliens to me back then. I was seriously afraid of them, if I liked a girl. I could certainly talk to them in the hallways, about nothing, or ask to borrow their notes if I missed a class (I never missed a class!) but to actually date one, never. Furthermore, it would have been a waste of time for, as a Social Leper, no girl could afford to risk her social status being seen talking to me. So, I didn’t worry about dating in high school. I kept the focus on grades, where I really kicked ass. What I did instead was simply practice talking to girls outside of my school. On friday nights, when I was definitely not invited to any parties or asked to hang with anyone, I got dressed up in my fanciest jacket and jeans and went down to the local ice cream shop.
I knew as a customer the girl attendants had to talk to me, smile, and even laugh at my jokes. I knew I would be successful in making conversation so that’s what I did to practice. After a few evenings I managed to extend the conversations longer, even to 20 minutes! It showed me I can be witty and that I had something to contribute. I can make girls laugh. Good skill to have and skills I have depended on all my life.
Second, I joined clubs and sports teams. Granted, I wasn’t very talented. I couldn’t take the best pictures but I got to be a yearbook photographer. That put me in social situations where I got attention. Even if it was staged or artificial, it didn’t matter. I had the camera. Everyone had to smile at me. I also joined the basketball, track’n’field, and cross country teams. I sucked at all three, but I worked hard and got better over time. I managed to make the varsity squads on all three. I still didn’t have any friends but I learned that with hard work I can do anything. I did manage to stick with basketball and earned the Hustle Award two years in a row, because I was the kid who worked the hardest. Coach once saw me stay after practice to continue to run “suicides”, running up and down the gym floor. One time, for a special event, the cheerleaders “kidnapped” all the varsity basketball players and took them out to breakfast. We all got woken up one by one by all the cheerleaders. OMG I had females in my bedroom. I was shocked.
Third, I never gave up hope and I definitely tried to help others feel good, too. Sure, I pretty much had everyone either ignoring or making fun of me, but there’s always someone who is getting it much worse. I found that someone one afternoon. Patrick Wheatley, he made me look like the captain of the football team. He was really strange. I saw him at lunch one day and walked over to him to say hello. He seemed suspicious. I could totally understand that. So, he led me over to a tree on school grounds and started eating the ants off the tree trunks. OK, that was weird, but instead of responding in a way he probably meant me to, I simply said, “Wow, what do they taste like?” He said they were a little acidic. I said, “Interesting, you have a lot of guts to eat ants. I could never do that.” I hoped that I might have made a difference to Patrick that day, but I probably didn’t. He really had problems beyond my help. I thought about Patrick, thoughts I often had about myself, that someday he would show everyone how great he is, what a talent he is, maybe even be a CEO of a company or invent something. Sadly, Patrick later took his life in college. I was very sad when I heard the news. I, too, was in college at the time. I thought what a waste, and that no matter how bad life gets for me I will honor Patrick by keeping up the fight, and I will help anyone else that I can along the way.
This is really important; college became the cure. I survived high school and went on to success in college and in my career. As a Freshman in college, I first changed my name from Robert to Robb because it just sounded more familiar and friendly. After some trial and error, I cured myself. I joined clubs, got straight A’s after learning how to study smart, started a community service club and won the Community Service Award for my college, ran for office and became the Chair of the College of Science and Math Student Council at Cal Poly, and even landed a beautiful, wonderful runway model as my girlfriend. Years later, after leaving medical school, I actually taught science at a local high school in Las Vegas. I channeled the spirit of Patrick and searched for the Social Leper of that school. I brought him with me whenever the popular kids asked me (ME!) to eat lunch with them, and I got the one chance I had to explain something to him. I said, Chad, let me tell you something. HIGH SCHOOL SUCKS. It sucked for me. It sucks for you. Get through it. Everyone gets bullied. Just survive it all the way through because when you get to college, you can start over. You can be anything you want to be and no one will know or care that you were friendless.
College, my fellow Lepers, is a chance for the cure. Go get it!