A Permanent Scar: Bullying & Shame With Eczema

I have always been somewhat of a “loner” and “outsider” growing up. Being a refugee in a new country at 10 years old, where I didn’t even speak the language, didn’t really help my case. And dealing with eczema from an early age certainly didn’t, either.

How did bullying impact my life?

I was bullied much of my life before I even knew what bullying was. It first started in my home country, Bosnia, after the Yugoslavian war ended in 1996. The bombing and shelling may have ended, but the scarring within my mind and heart lingered for a long time after.

With my parents coming from two very different backgrounds, I was a target, starting in first grade at a young age. I didn't fit in, especially after the propaganda of war seeped into kids' minds.

Which incident left it's mark?

One of the clearest memories of my childhood is of a day walking home from school. There were boys making fun of me. Whether it was because I didn't fit into their religion, because I looked different with my eczema, or perhaps both, I honestly can't remember. But I do remember eventually being shoved into a pile of gravel and rocks, taking a hard fall onto my knees. Somehow, I walked home with my knees bleeding down to my ankles, soaking into my socks and shoes. I shouted for my parents, walking up to our building, my cries echoing through the neighborhood. Those scars still remain on my knees as a constant reminder of my childhood. A constant reminder of how cruel people can be, especially when you are "different" and they don't understand it.

How was our move to the United States?

In addition to the bullying, my parents were working and not getting paid. We lost the roof we had over our heads and didn’t even have food to eat. So, my parents fought to get us to the United States. And while it was a long and difficult process, thankfully, they succeeded.

We walked into our new apartment after flying into Chicago from a long, arduous night in New York. The place was bare to its bones. We didn’t have beds or furniture - we had nothing but the clothes on our backs. Thankfully, we were able to get help here through the government and churches and continue our lives. Unfortunately, being the new kid at school, as an immigrant who didn’t even speak English, didn’t exactly make me the popular kid in school.

How did my skin fare?

At the same time, my eczema started to get worse. Kids would make fun of me behind my back, thinking I didn’t understand. Sadly, I understood every word. Whether it was about being from another country and being “different,” the scars covering my forehead from years of being pushed around and falling down, or the red and itchy skin covering my body - there was always something.

Did it change as I got older?

As I got older, I thought I was dealing with the shame by being “strong" and putting on a brave face. But in reality, I was mostly suppressing it. I learned to keep my head down; I read one book after another and learned English fastest in my district in one year – passing out of ESL entirely. In the years following that, I was in the top percentile of every English class I took until I graduated. I learned to cover up my skin with long sleeves, wear hats, and do whatever else I needed to do to feel “safe.”

Nonetheless, this continued to be an issue through high school. I worked hard and graduated a year early to get out as fast as possible. My skin and health continued to spiral downwards, though. I lost my hair at 17 and then again at 24 during topical steroid withdrawal. I tried to be a “normal” part of society as much as I could, but TSW left me bedridden and completely isolated.

Where am I now?

To this day, I am still working on healing the wounds of shame, bullying, and isolation. They have made long-lasting marks on my heart and soul. I seek connection, yet I fear it at the same time. Most of the time, I am afraid to even go outside. After years and decades of abuse, bullying, health problems, and so many other unexpected changes life brought me, I grew tired and didn’t really want to fight anymore. My mind built self-defense mechanisms to keep me protected. And my heart built walls around it, thinking it was keeping me safe.

The process of opening my heart and beginning to heal has been a long journey and continues to be for me. I still hear the laughter and words of those who were not so kind to me throughout my life. But I can at least say I have forgiven them. Maybe I’ll never forget, but through this healing journey, forgiveness has been a major part of the process. And hopefully, one day, I will be able to say that all of it made me stronger. Maybe not today, but one day, I will.

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