I became an extremely shy tween after a few years of elementary school; I was outgoing, sort of, in what were mostly inappropriate ways, up through fourth grade. By fifth, the system and the bullies had done their work. I have only two memories of fifth grade: the fact that our elementary school had to share a campus with the junior high, and my class was there, while my best only friend's was at the elementary school; and that my teacher, Mr. Ayers, quit smoking that year, but saved all the money he would have spent on cigarettes and took his wife to Vegas. Being on the junior high campus meant recess alone, on the junior high athletic field (no playground). When I could get away with it, I spent recess waiting at the classroom door. We got to go back to the elementary school campus for lunch, the highlight of every day, as I'd get a few precious minutes with Kris.
I learned to be invisible that year; I'm pretty sure I was clinically depressed, possibly for the first, but certainly not the last, time. Sixth grade was marginally better, as all the sixth grade classes were on the junior high campus, so Kris and I had recess together again. My usual bully-boys were both in my class, so I had to endure them at school, as well as on the bus, at the bus stop, and around my neighborhood; one lived on the street below, and one above. I don't remember being bullied by girls; they mostly ignored me.
Junior high was better in some ways; at least I had elective classes with Kris, such as Mrs. Frazini's creative writing. The students were easier to escape, but the classes weren't. Math became algebra, and I was doomed. I nearly failed junior high.
In the meantime, getting to the Faced Fears topic...
My parents' beloved Religious Science minister, Dr. Reina Lady Smith, passed on to her next plane of existence, and they went looking for a new church. They decided on a Unity church, which had similar, though not identical, beliefs, and most importantly, a very active youth group, the Y.O.U., or Youth of Unity. They attended for a few weeks, encouraging me to go, too, but I dragged my feet. Meeting new people was hell on me; meeting new *kids* was impossible. The kids I already knew were mostly scary and awful. My mom continued to pester. I finally gave in, agreeing to go to church.
When we got there, the kids were hanging out in the church kitchen; I could see them through the serving window. Mom offered to introduce me. I declined, and, to her great surprise, said I'd be fine alone, and walked away from her. I purposefully strode into the kitchen, walked up to a very cute older boy, and said, "My name is Nancy. Would you like to have a new member?"
I shocked myself a little. My mom was dumbfounded. The guy said, "Sure!" and introduced me around.
How had I done it? I realized, in that moment standing next to my mom, that these were strangers. They didn't know me from Eve. I could, in that instant, shed my skin. I could step out from the puny, stupid, worthless shell of Nancy and be anyone I chose with these people. They didn't know. They would only know the person I chose to be with them.
I overcame my fear of - what, people? strangers? other kids? of being me? - by pretending to be someone else. Fake it til you make it. In a lot of ways, it was wonderful. I could be Not In School there. My history of classroom humiliations, test failures, lonesome bus rides, boredom and bafflement did not follow me here. They Didn't Know.
I had a ready-made social network that expanded way beyond our one church; Unity is national, and YOU groups likewise. We had weekend rallies every other month, where we'd travel to another so.cal. church; have lessons and a dance (a rally wasn't successful if you didn't hook up ;-), spend the night at someone's house. We had a national conference once a year, which gave me my first plane trip, to St. Louis, Missouri, in the middle of the summer. I'd never experienced humidity before.
The rallies in particular had one effect I would not identify until many years later: I'd learned to "get high" on religion. The group consciousness, the social contact, the feeling of acceptance and genuine love combined to make one heady brew. The one thing that always kind of bothered me was, as much as I tried, I didn't seem to "believe" as much or as well as the others. I prayed and meditated along with whoever was leading, but I couldn't manage to do the same on my own. Nonetheless, I told my mom I wanted to be a Unity minister. I'm pretty sure she knew that was unlikely, happy though the idea might have made her; I was completely tongue-tied if asked to speak in a group.
I'd reached a point where, whenever anyone asked what I wanted to do with my life, I'd say something different, often what I thought they wanted to hear. I was also looking for direction from their responses, as I had no idea at all who I was or What I Wanted to Be when I grew up. (That's not entirely true. I had one dream, which my mom shot down with an "oh no you're NOT!" - to be a jockey. There were no women jockeys as yet, but it was Too Dangerous. I also wanted to be a vet, but school shot that one down - "You'd better improve in math!") To the YOU youth pastor: I think I'll end up a scrub nurse. (I watched MASH.) His response? Oh, you should be a doctor instead! To the high school vice principal, who was meeting with students to counsel them on their futures: I'm going to be a lawyer. (My St. Brother was in law school.) His response? Wow. Okay. (Awestruck Respect.) To my high school English teacher, whose papers I helped grade: I think I'd like to be a proofreader. Her response? No, you should be a writer! (The only one of those jobs I've ever done: proofreader. I have had a couple of articles published, too.)
But I digress. I guess I faced that fear and overcame it, plus I learned I could be someone else, depending on the group. I had not known how easy it was, how good I already was, at camouflage. I'd been blending into the background for years; now, I was learning how to adapt while still functioning, not merely trying to hide. I carried that skill with me, to college and Sigma Kappa and to other church groups, and later to work and homeschool groups and even online. It's kind of exhausting.