When I was sixteen years old, my mother hounded our family doctor into putting me into the hospital for a week. To say she was concerned was an understatement. She was downright scared. She and my father had to physically force me to go to school every day. Once there, I did my best to hide in the band room during breaks and free periods (my tormentors found me in the library at school once…it wasn’t pretty). When I was home, I stayed in my room, headphones on, nose stuck in a book or a pen in my hand as I went away. I was afraid to go out in public in case the tormentors’ parents saw me, because they were just as bad as their kids. I was ashamed to be alive. I hated myself, stopped singing, dancing, playing and making friends. I started carrying a knife in my pocket and would take it out, testing the edge of it against my skin, working up the courage to just slice the wrist and get it over with. My mother was terrified that she was going to lose me. But I was lucky. She fought for me when I had given up.
What was so bad? What did my tormentors do that was so horrible? Was I beaten on a regular basis? No. That was too easily recognized and my tormentors knew that they needed to hide from the adults. What did they do instead? They glued my locker shut. They set a fire in my book bag. They chanted and shook as if in an earthquake whenever I walked from class to class. They yelled every name in the book as I walked by (I was a slut, fat ass, wide load, bitch, trailer trash…). They pushed me into walls and lockers. They knocked things out my hands as I walked by. They spit at me, put gum in my hair, chew their food and threw it in my face. They slapped me, they pinched me, they tripped me when I walked on the stairs. They threw things at me in the classrooms when teachers backs were turned. Rigged desks to explode and break when I sat down on them. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. For four years I didn’t want to go to school in case I ran into these people. I didn’t want to be told I was worthless.
But I could have handled it. Really, I could have. I could even have handled their parents stopping my parents and saying some of the same damn things at the Fire Hall or pulling things out of our cart at the grocery store because it was ‘part of the problem’. I could have dealt with the teachers saying that bullying builds character, that those were the good kids and they wouldn’t do anything like that. I could have dealt with it if somebody, anybody, had just called my tormentors on their shit. If one person had said, sincerely, that what they were doing wasn’t right. Instead of laughing along with the bully. If one person, besides me, had turned to them and said grow up.
Thanks to my mom, I made it out of high school alive. I went on to university and graduated with a teaching degree. And then, because I remembered what had happened to me, I went back into the trenches. I call the bullies on their behaviour. I tell them to grow up. But it feels like I’m fighting a losing battle. I need help. It doesn’t have to be hard. When you see someone being bullied, say ‘that’s not okay’ and TURN AWAY. Don’t let girls call each other sluts and bitches in front of you and laugh at it. Don’t spread rumors about people and when you hear rumors, squash ’em (ask where they got their information, how can they know its the truth, what would they do if someone said that about them? Call them on it!). Call an adult in private if you don’t want to be involved and TELL THEM WHAT IS GOING ON (do this with multiple people), get involved with the person being bullied, don’t let the victim walk away feeling like you approved of what the bully did. Don’t let them think you agree with what the bully was doing. You don’t have to make friends with them, just tell them that they didn’t deserve that treatment, that no one deserves to be treated as worthless. Even the bullies. Don’t watch it happen like it’s reality television (and BAD reality tv at that) and gossip over it. It’s not entertainment.
And don’t, for heaven’s sake, think that just because you do it on the internet it means you can say ‘Just Kidding’ or ‘I wanted to get a rise out of people’ and that makes it okay. Make the world better, not worse. It’s easy to tear someone down. What’s hard is building someone or something up. Be better than the bullies. Be better today than you were yesterday.
And for anyone being bullied out there, hang on. It does get better. Stay with us. We need you. Please.