Growing up and getting out

I was 12 the first time I watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Sitting in my grandparents’ living room, my Grampy asked if I had seen the film. I answered with a disinterested “No” and turned back to my daydreaming. Before I could protest, my grandparents had put the DVD in and pressed play. I was stuck — an afternoon with an old movie and older people.

I’m happy to say that at the end of the 103 minutes, I had fallen in love with the movie. Ferris Bueller was simply fantastic, an unabashedly confident and brazenly carefree person who acted first and thought second. He was everything I wanted to be.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” is a well-known and well-loved quote from the movie.

My favourite, though, comes from the beginning of the film: “A person should not believe in an -ism. He should believe in himself.” For some reason, that offhand comment made by a charming, cocky, fictional kid resonated with me.

I had a difficult time believing in myself up until that point in my life. As hard as I tried to be like Bueller, I still found it difficult to muster the courage to believe in myself, which, in turn, had a detrimental effect on my wellbeing.

For as long as I can remember, I had a problem with loneliness. Up to and including twelfth grade, I would usually eat alone at school, preferring the company of my thoughts to my peers. When I did venture out to try and make friends, I was met with skepticism and faced almost unbearable teasing.

At an early age, I had been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, which basically means that if I see a group of people whispering, I immediately jump to the conclusion that they are talking about me. This was pure torture for a kid who didn’t really have any friends as it was.

There was one incident that happened during a lunch break in fourth grade. I was sitting alone near the baseball diamond, which was used for kickball mostly, when I looked up to see a group of maybe 10 of my classmates watching me from the opposite side of the field. I paid them no mind. I got up from my spot and walked around for a while, kicking whatever pine cones I could find and minding my own business. I remember turning around to see an even larger group of students following me, which seemed suspicious and, quite frankly, scared me to death.

My pace quickened, as did my classmates’, until I found myself trapped between two portables with no exit. As my peers closed in, I frantically searched for an escape, then sat down and began to cry, accepting the fact that I was about to get my ass kicked — I was trapped.

I kept telling myself all those years that I would get out someday, but time and time again, every minor success was followed by an epic letdown. It seemed that no matter what I did or how hard I tried, it was never enough and I would always be the lonely, weird kid that couldn’t talk to anybody, nicknamed ‘spaz’ for good measure.

I couldn’t believe in anything, let alone myself. That dream of being charming and too cocky for my own good, like Bueller, faded and died.

It took a few more years for things to start getting better. Thanks to puberty and a mother who pushed me to play sports and grow big, I wasn’t bullied as often, but I still felt alone. I felt like I still wasn’t good enough to have friends and maybe it wasn’t worth the effort to try to be happy or successful, because it was all going to fall apart anyway.

I felt like Cameron Frye, Bueller’s best friend, who just needed a push from his best friend to get him out of his own head. Only, I didn’t have a best friend.

At my lowest points, I was crushed and broken ­— a shell of the person I wished I could be. With no friends, no motivation, and an ego in constant flux, I pondered my existence, waiting for something to change.

Spending the time and making the effort to understand my mental health helped me overcome my fear of being alone. I decided to improve myself and not let my anxiety get the best of me anymore. Nobody needed to help me — I could be my own Bueller.

It has taken some time, but I can safely say that I’ve Bueller-ified myself to the point where I’m proud of who I am. I’m an unabashedly confident, brazenly carefree person. I pursue my dreams with unbridled positivity and determination.

I accept myself, as well as others, with open arms. I am no longer afraid to let people in, and I know now that I am worthy of having friends.

I believe in myself.

Sure, there are definitely days where I feel alone. There are times when I revert back to the kid I once was, scared of what people may think of me — but that can be a good reminder. Without that kid, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Without those experiences, I don’t think I could have made it to the point where I believe in myself wholeheartedly. I am comfortable with feeling alone at times, but I truly know that I’m not.