So I got picked on.
This piece is my personal story.
It was bad. There was a girl who beat me up at recess and a different girl who waited for me each day after school to beat me up. I was terrified to go to school and I was terrified to come home.
Because of the bullies.
Growing up, I played sick a lot. And the truth is, I wasn’t playing. There was this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every morning of the week that was a school day. I was sick to my stomach and sick at heart.
Because of the bullies.
I remembered this when years later, during a parent teacher meeting, the teacher asked me, “Does he have a smile on his face when he leaves the house for school each morning?
“Because that’s the most important thing. More important than his school work. More important than anything.”
She was right. I was so afraid to go to school. School was the monster in the closet. School was the scariest thing in my life at that time.
Because of the bullies
Getting beaten up was bad, but not as bad as my hurt feelings, somehow. The pain of not fitting in. The pain of being made fun of, of being called ugly nicknames instead of my real name. Bucky Beaver, because of my teeth; BM, because these were my initials at that time; Miss Encyclopedia, because I used big words; and some other names I hesitate to mention here for fear of offending my readers.
One day, it hit me. Batman, a new concept at that time, had my very same initials. I was all ready for the name callers the next day. “BM stands for BATMAN,” I told those bullies proudly. “You better treat me good or he’s gonna beat you up!”
But they, the bullies, just laughed. Which took all the air out of my most temporary sails.
The name calling and how it shaped me is the reason this clip by Shane Koyczan resonated with me so deeply:
But back then, I didn’t think of the future. I could only think of my miserable now. My mom tried to help. She came to the school. Talked with my teacher. Named names. And the abuse continued. There was nothing anyone could do about it—could do about the bullies. I had to live with it, had to live with the bullying.
So I struggled and got poor grades and developed a complete aversion toward all schools, all classrooms. Never went to college.
Some schools weren’t so bad. And occasionally I’d do something brave like that Batman stunt, intended to change my lot and make me popular. It never worked. It would always be more fodder for their teasing.
Like the time I did some sleight of hand with a snack at camp, and made it appear as if I was eating a worm along with my graham cracker. I was convincing.
And so on top of everything else, I became the girl who ate a worm, for the entire rest of camp.
Yeah. School pretty much sucked for me. So did camp. Bullies know no seasons.
That teacher who said that my son leaving for school with a smile on his face was so right. Because those experiences I had colored everything for me. I made life choices to escape having to go on to get a higher education. I turned into a recluse.
Today, I am still mostly a recluse. When I do come out for some reason or other, I am always shocked at being warmly received. I expect to be disliked. I’m surprise when anyone laughs at my jokes.
The funny thing is, today I am actually popular, if social media is any indication (which it may not be at all, actually). I can’t keep up with friend requests. Today, the number of friends I have on Facebook stands at 1750 and I am constantly receiving new requests (many of which I reject because it’s just too overwhelming).
Sometimes I wonder if it would be different today. Are bullies dealt with more effectively today? I really don’t know. I only know that our awareness of bullying is much greater than in the past. Is there really anything anyone can do about bullies?
I remain unconvinced.
Bullies Don’t Care About Your Advice
Take for instance, this advice on What to Do if You’re Bullied section from the government website stopbullying.gov:
- Look at the kid bullying you and tell him or her to stop in a calm, clear voice. You can also try to laugh it off. This works best if joking is easy for you. It could catch the kid bullying you off guard.
- If speaking up seems too hard or not safe, walk away and stay away. Don’t fight back. Find an adult to stop the bullying on the spot.
These are all things I tried to do when I was bullied. None of these tactics worked for me.
Tell them to stop in a clear voice? They, the bullies, would say, “Who’s gonna stop me? You and who else?”
Laugh it off? The bullies would say, “You think it’s funny? How about this? Is this funny?” and they’d punch me. “How about that? Is that funny?” and they’d punch me somewhere else.
Walk away? The bullies would chase me down and trap me somewhere and beat me up. They, the bullies, were always faster and stronger than I.
As for enlisting the help of an adult, well, bullies don’t bully when adults are around. They make sure of that. Should an adult appear, all bullying stops right then and there. To be resumed later. When the coast is clear.
Now I like to think that we grow from our experiences, even bad ones. Our experiences shape us in all sorts of ways, some of them bad, like my aversion to school, but some of them good, like the way I developed empathy for new kids, immigrant kids, and took them under my wing. Like my writing, which developed as a way for me to express pent up emotion, and fit in well with my addiction to reading, which fit in well with me being a recluse and hiding away from life (and bullies).
I thought of all this last night when I watched this amazing TED clip of Monica Lewinsky who received a standing ovation for detailing her public humiliation and emphasizing the need to have online compassion to prevent cyberbullying:
The bullying I suffered made me a more compassionate person, for sure. But it cut deeply into my soul. It hurt.
I think there must be a better way for children to learn compassion. And maybe it does indeed begin with our online behavior.