After spending a week at MVP Summit with old and new friends, I feel energized. My brain has been refilled with lots of happy memories 😊
And one not-so-happy memory:
I just left karaoke crying after being booed off stage by a stranger. Years of bullying came flooding back in seconds, killing all confidence I've finally built up. I'm ashamed of not handling it better, but thankful I have friends who care. Don't be that stranger. Be kind.— Cathrine Wilhelmsen (@cathrinew) March 22, 2019
One. Just one negative experience during an otherwise fantastic week. One negative experience that objectively really wasn’t that big of a deal, followed by an absolutely overwhelming number of replies full of love and support. (Thank you 💙) And yet, this one negative experience has dominated my thoughts and feelings for days.
It’s easy to say that I refuse to let one stranger and one negative experience take over and push my happy memories away. Actually doing it is a whole different situation. No matter how determined I am or how much support I get, dealing with an experience like this is never easy for me.
I have trained my brain for many years to respond in a certain way, to gnaw at the negative even when it’s surrounded by positive. That habit does not change overnight just because I want it to. It’s something I need to actively work on to improve, and that requires determination and effort over time.
Writing is my way of dealing with things like this. Structuring my thoughts, describing my feelings, and reflecting on why I reacted the way I did is all part of my process.
But why are you sharing this publicly?
I’m very aware that my social media accounts are mostly highlight reels. I choose to focus on the positive things in my life, and so what most people see is the happy, bubbly, super excited version of me. I wish life was like that all the time 😊 But it’s not. Most days are not. Some days, you get flat out told that you suck, and instead of being strong and brushing it off, you end up crying and withdrawing from everything and everyone.
And that’s ok. That’s life. We’re flawed, and if we weren’t flawed, we wouldn’t be human. But being human also means we have choices. We can choose to take responsibility for our own feelings, get back up, try to learn from our experiences, and keep going.
Writing helps me. If I can also help someone else by sharing this publicly, whether it is helping one person understand why someone can react strongly to something seemingly small, or showing another person that they’re not alone in experiencing similar feelings, I will count that as a double win 😊
So what happened?
#SQLKaraoke is a thing. I absolutely love it. It’s where I get to enjoy doing something silly, have fun with friends, and drop my guard for a few hours. I get to be me, just me, completely me, without worrying about anything else. This time, I had been looking forward to #SQLKaraoke for weeks.
I joined two good friends to sing Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen, one of my all-time favorite songs. I couldn’t stop laughing while singing. We weren’t in sync. We only had two microphones for three people. The karaoke version was different than the version I’m used to so I got confused. I know we weren’t great. It’s karaoke. But we had so. much. fun 😁
Until the song stopped. While our group was clapping and laughing, I heard a loud “BOOOOOOOO!” I looked over to where it was coming from, and a man looked at me and continued. “You suck!”
And that’s when I made my biggest mistake that night. In hindsight, I should have ignored him and walked away. But he was being mean on purpose, and I don’t tolerate that kind of behavior. I confronted him, and we ended up going back and forth a couple of times in the style of “Excuse me?” “You suck!” “Really? You’re really doing this?” “Get off the fucking stage, bitch!”
And I did. Back at our table, I was fuming and started to shake. I was so embarrassed and angry. Truthfully, all I wanted to do was walk over and punch him. My friends tried to calm me down, some went over to talk to him, his friend came over and apologized to me on his behalf, but I still wasn’t able to let it go.
And that’s when I started spiraling down. After leaving the table to calm myself down, I burst into tears. I kept crying while my friends were holding and comforting me, trying to cheer me up. Realizing I had caused a scene and disrupted my friends’ fun, I went from feeling embarrassed and angry to feeling ashamed by my own inability to just let it go. I left shortly after and tweeted from the car, conflicted, wishing that people could just be kind to each other.
Why did I react so strongly to something that objectively wasn’t really that big of a deal?
When I started school, I was bullied because I was shorter and smaller than everyone else. I was laughed at, pushed, pulled, shoved and chased by older boys. My mom raised hell at my school when she found out and put a stop to it. The bullying only lasted for a little over half a year, but it felt like forever to a 6-year old.
Things were pretty good for a few years, until I hit puberty. I grew very quickly in every way - except for my height. Once again, I was different from everyone else. The bullying started again, but this time in a different way. Instead of physical bullying, I was excluded, laughed at, and mocked to my face and behind my back. I withdrew from the other kids at school and found a community online instead. I was happy there. My mom still smiles when she remembers the first time I jokingly told her “but mom, all my friends live inside my computer”. There’s still some truth to that 😊
The bullying stopped when I started upper secondary school (high school) in a different part of the city, but I continued to be extremely shy and socially awkward well into my twenties. It was only after attending my first PASS Summit in 2013 that things changed. Today, I’m blessed to have friends all over the world. I’m happy with the life I’ve built for myself.
However. I still struggle with the consequences of being bullied as a child. I’ve been diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder with major depressive episodes. I feel self-confident about my skills, but I have low self-esteem and self-worth. I’m my own worst critic and I constantly fight my inner demons who tell me I’m not good enough.
These things are not visible, but I’m working on them every single day. And when I constantly have to fight my inner critic, I don’t always have enough energy to handle external critics. Constructive criticism? Not a problem at all, that just gives me things to work on and improve. Having someone point out that I am, in fact, not good enough? That I suck? To my face? In front of my friends? That makes it all too real. When my inner critic teams up with external critics, it’s nearly impossible to win the battle against my demons.
This is why comments like “just ignore it” and “don’t let it get to you” and “they’re not worth your time” doesn’t always stick. If I have a good day, my logical side usually wins. On the good days, I’m strong enough to let things go and move on. On the bad days, when my inner critic is at its strongest, even small things and usually insignificant comments can trigger or even completely break me.
And when things first turn bad, they can quickly spiral out of control. I’m still learning how to manage this and snap out of it. It’s difficult. The spiraling thought process can be complex and make absolutely no sense. Imagine something like this: “That person said something mean to me. They’re right. I’m not good enough. I suck. I’m worthless. I shouldn’t be here. Wait, stop, I shouldn’t talk myself down. I can’t even stop myself from talking myself down. Oh, I can’t do anything. I’m definitely worthless…” and so it goes.
It turns into a negative, destructive spiral where I feel horrible, which confirms that I’m worthless, and so I feel even more horrible because I know I shouldn’t feel worthless but I can’t snap out of it, and then I feel even more worthless, and then I get angry for not being able to snap out of it… And off we go, again.
It took years for me to build up the confidence to even talk to people. Getting up on stage, doing karaoke? Putting myself in a vulnerable situation, doing something I know I’m not very good at, in front of others? It scares me to death. But I do it anyway. I get up on that stage, push myself out of my comfort zone, and have fun with my friends.
This time, a stranger ruined my night. His comments triggered memories and feelings that I wasn’t strong enough to deal with at that moment. A few sentences sent me spiraling, shattering my self-confidence, leaving me ashamed of my reactions. My brain has been gnawing at it ever since. It really wasn’t that big of a deal. He was a no-one to me. Why did it bother me so much?
It took days of thinking and writing, but I finally realized and accepted that it was a big deal to me. Years of bullying came back to me in a single moment. Years of building up my self-confidence by pushing myself out of my comfort zone fell apart that night. I want to be strong, and so it made me angry to break down and feel so vulnerable. That’s not something I can just brush off. That’s not something I should just brush off.
But today, I can choose to let it go. I may not have been able to stop my brain from focusing on the negative this weekend, but I worked through it by writing all of this instead of letting is fester. That’s one step closer to changing my bad habits. I can’t change what happened, but I can get back up, continue to push myself out of my comfort zone, and keep going.
And who knows. Maybe next time I get booed off stage, I’ll have learned enough from this experience to invite the person to sing a horrible duet with me instead of getting angry 😄
Be kind. You never know what other people are dealing with.
About the Author
Cathrine Wilhelmsen is a Microsoft Data Platform MVP, BimlHero Certified Expert, international speaker, author, blogger, organizer, and chronic volunteer. She loves data and coding, as well as teaching and sharing knowledge - oh, and sci-fi, coffee, chocolate, and cats 🤓