So it’s back to school with a heavy heart for most, I’m sure. Back to the books, the teachers, the uniforms and the god-awful food. Back to being told where to be and when to be there, back to being treated like a kid. Back to the shoe scuffing, duffel dragging monotony of bells, books and boredom.
For some however, this will be a time of utter dread. This will be a time of fear, insecurity and desperation. The recent respite and security of family festivities will disappear and reveal once again the stark reality of bullying at school. Forget the cyber stuff for a moment; I’m talking about the relentless and utterly soul destroying in-your-face attacks that will, for some kids be shaping the rest of their lives as I write this.
I don’t want these kids to feel afraid of being who they are, now or in the future. I don’t want them to see every day as a challenge that they fear will be too much for them. I don’t want them to get anywhere near the place of helplessness that led to the most tragic of outcomes for Izzy Dix and many others last year alone.
What I do want is for them to know – to really know – that there are empathetic hearts out there. Hearts and minds and souls and spirits that have been tested and crushed and challenged and have come through the other side scarred, damaged, changed for life but not beaten. I want these kids who are facing bullies every day, be it at school, in their homes or on their PD-fucking-A’s that they are not being singled out because of who they are – they are being targeted by those who don’t yet know themselves. They are being targeted by the most insecure of all. They are being targeted by the truly weak ones – the confirmation-seeking, approval-needing weaklings that haven’t yet formed a single cell of confidence to face the world as they should.
I want these kids who are being bullied to really seek out the wisdom and experience of those just like them; those who have come through it and as a result have the ammunition of hindsight. There is nothing more enlightening than experience – you can’t argue with something you’ve survived. You can’t doubt it, question it or second guess it. Many people have survived situations similar to what these kids are facing right now and a lot of those people want to share their stories and subsequent wisdom. Hopefully in some small way it might bridge the gap between helplessness and hope.
I don’t know what will happen with this blog. I know that for some it has been helpful, and that’s my only wish. I’m including a few more recent stories sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org – all I can say is that if you keep writing and sharing then I’ll keep posting.
Some recent thoughts –
From J, who wants people to know what’s really going on:
I had been reflecting on your blog posts and thinking back to my own youth and bullying. I was actually quite lucky in not being subjected to bullying or at least standing up to any attempt at it, but I have witnessed the pain and suffering it caused my brother who had severe dyslexia at school. It affected his confidence in a major way for so long as well as enabling him to hold onto a lot of anger for many years, he had been such a lovely laughing kid before he went to high school. He never really told us and I never saw any of it happening in the playground, but we found out years later when he finally opened up. Opening up allowed him to let go of the burning hot coal he had carried around with him and that kept burning him so much. He quit the job he hated and went back to school to do what he really wanted, which was to work in childcare. He is now an inspiration to little kids, teaching them about respect, eating healthy (he was a chef) and how to be social.
The problem with bullying is never the immediate effect, it is what deep roots. My brother tells this great story to his kids that he in turn picked up from a New York teacher:
A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stamp on it and really mess it up but do not rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty it was. She then told them to tell it they’re sorry. Now even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind. And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it. That is what happens when a child bully’s another child, they may say they’re sorry but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.
So with this in mind, I was recently quite horrified when I stumbled across my cousin’s daughter on social media who is 14 and at a private school (I mention this only because people think somehow private schools have a better reputation, they don’t). What jumped out at me was the level of taunting and vitriol that was aimed at her through this app called Ask.fm. The app is not what is important, it is the way people are behaving; constant onslaughts, and I noticed numerous depressive musings from her about hating school etc. She was very adept at batting a lot of this away, I guess that may be the new skill for her generation. But it has me fearful for what is happening in our youth culture, the answer is not to ban or cover up the tools, but to really engage and explore what bullying is and how it has an effect.
Please shout loud and spread the word, because I don’t think people really understand what is going on in kids everyday lives.
From A, who found ways to cope with her own personal dilemma:
I started puberty early, about 8 years old. I started getting acne and my hair started getting wavy and curly instead of staying straight and it was always really frizzy. Kids would randomly say to me, “what’s wrong with your face?” and that’s when it hit me that I wasn’t like the other kids. I started to not look people in the face when I spoke to them and became very reclusive. As the years went on, I made some friends, but they were more like cliques that I got involved in. They pushed me out when they decided I wasn’t cool enough and made fun of me in class and on the playground. I sat alone at the lunch tables and the popular kids would call out from the other table “are you a loner?” “look at how alone she is!” And I would try to hide my tears as I ate my food.
Around age 11, I had basically no friends at school. All boys treated me horribly because I was taller than them and all girls hated me because I had acne and for other reasons that I don’t know. My dad gave me a set of VHS tapes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus for my 12th birthday and it changed my life. I would go home from school, and watch the show over and over until I collected all the episodes. I started collecting the movies, then I started reading about them in books. I read that John Cleese suffered from bullying as a teenager too, and he used comedy as a way to deal with it and so I decided to run with it. I became OBSESSED with Monty Python and made friends with the other ostracized children and taught them all the songs and invited them to my house just to watch the show. Terry Gilliam influenced me to draw and make silly images, so I decided to become an artist.
One day, I was on the playground with my friends and a group of girls that had been bullying me for years decided to make fun of us because they were bored. The meanest one came right up to my face and I clocked her right across the nose. All my friends gasped as she screamed and fell to the ground. Now, I’m not advocating any kind of violence towards people, but I really had the last straw. Do NOT ever let anyone push you around. I was sent to the principals office and they asked me why I did it and I told them the exact reason. “I’ve been getting bullied by them for years.” He sent me back to class. I told my mom if she remembered and she had no idea that I did that, they never told her!
Now, I’m 23, I graduated from art college, I’m planning on moving to London (I’m from America), and I learned that things get SO MUCH better after high school. The people that bully you are bored and judgmental people, why would you want to be associated with them? Your mind and your own interests are what should be important to you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your appearance, wear your interests proudly, be a good person, don’t let bad people drag you down. If bullying continues online, DISCONNECT. There are great keys like “blocking” and “reporting” people. Thankfully, I didn’t have the internet at age 12, but at a young age like that, you should be pursuing your interests and setting yourself up for your life, not worrying about what people think of you.
Fill your life up with things that make you feel good and remember that it’s okay to throw the bad people out of your life.
From S, who offers some personal advice:
I was a victim of my peers from the age of five until the age of eighteen. I was a bit different than the other girls I went to school with in my upper middle class town in New Jersey, but I couldn’t understand why – we’d moved from a working class community before I started kindergarten because my parents had worked incredibly hard to give my kid brother and I an opportunity to succeed, but we weren’t any different from the other people in our town.
As I got older, I realized why they were making fun of me – I was weird. I didn’t care about the things they did. I didn’t always know what was appropriate to do or say. I liked things that they considered “lame” or “nerdy.” (Being one of the smartest kids in the class didn’t help with that. It made it worse.) The attacks just kept coming, and I started talking to teachers about it, but things didn’t really stop.
In middle school, the tone changed. I was told I was “ugly” and “looked like a dog.” I was made to feel undesirable, hideous, and annoying. I was made to feel unworthy of the love of others. Most of the people bullying me were boys, not other girls, and to this day – I’m now a 24-year-old graduate student – I’m afraid to try dating because the fear of rejection is still in the back of my mind. What they said is still in the back of my mind. It hasn’t gone away.
But I haven’t gone away, either. I graduated from my high school in 2007 and went to Gettysburg College to get my degree in history (with a minor in Civil War Era Studies). I came home after graduating in 2011, took some time off to get my affairs in order, and began commuting into Manhattan for graduate school in 2013. By December 2014, I should have a Master’s degree in library science with a focus in archival studies (and hopefully a job!).
During my time at Gettysburg, a series of events led to a very belated diagnosis. In 2009, between my sophomore and junior years of college, I finally received a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. It explained my feelings of being somehow different from my peers, why I didn’t socially know what to do or fit in, and why I was bullied. A year or two later, I started blogging about it, and it helped me heal.
I’m always available to talk to anyone who’s going through a hard time, bullying included. You can shoot me an email at email@example.com (my public email address) if you want to vent or get some private advice. You’re stronger than you think, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it. We love you. ❤