Wednesday, I became aware of a movement among my fellow writers- Authors Against Bullying (link takes you to my Page Tab here on the blog with the list of Authors participating or you can click the AAB button at the bottom of this post to go to Mandy M. Roth's site) and decided to share my own story of bullying today, as well as go around and visit and comment on all the other author blogs where they will be sharing their thoughts and experiences as well.
Often when we think of our adolescence, we're forced to put a mirror in front of ourselves to see who we once were. We're also reminded that things aren't always what they appear to be on the surface. In fact, most the time it's what you don't see, what's on the inside- those tiny cracks in the reflections of ourselves, the hidden scars and memories of the angst of being a teenager are still there, even if we've Windexed the hell out of it and tried to "spit shine" the pain away so that it doesn't look so bad looking back.
The cracks I have to look at, the ones that distort my view of my younger self? It is knowing that I was harassed and bullied by a group of boys in 7th grade. Every day, the same class, the same group of boys who took turns getting in my face and teasing me, taunting me, harassing me. And always the same knot of fear tightened in my stomach as that time of day rolled around and I had to enter that classroom. Sometimes I would drag my feet and wait as close to the tardy bell as I could, just so I would be able to get to my seat and hope they'd leave me alone as the teacher called the class to order. I hated being me because for some reason, I had attracted their attention and I didn't know how to shake them, I didn't know how to get them to back off and stop invading my personal space.
I always worried- Would they bother me today? What nasty remarks would it be this time? What stupid pick-up lines or lies would they feed me? Not that I was lapping up the attention by any means. I was disgusted, embarrassed and just wanted to be left alone so I could become invisible again. I wanted a boyfriend at that age, I wanted attention, but not the way I was receiving it, being ganged up on and teased and taunted before class. This was not the type of attention I had hoped a boy would show me.
Most of it was simply vulgar references that my 13-year-old self didn't quite understand, although I had a notion I understood well enough because the things they said made my skin do the creepy crawly dance. I'd already started placing bricks in the walls around my heart and mind to protect myself. Even when the one I had a crush on joined in with the others, I still huddled inside my skin, wishing things were different, that I could trust him to be kind, but I knew better than to believe a word that crossed his lips because he was just as guilty as the rest of them for being a class-A jerk. As my mom would have said, they were just "boys being boys" but when you're faced with that sort of thing on a daily basis, over weeks and months, it takes its toll.
Everyday I was filled with angst, fear and self-loathing, wishing they'd pick on someone else, wishing I could fade into the concrete walls and disappear. I was left wondering why I was the girl they singled out. I was a goody-two shoes, as I was reminded on numerous occasions later in life. I wasn't developed yet. I was a plain-Jane in glasses, hiding behind books and wishing I was someone else. Either someone they wouldn't pick on or someone who knew the right comebacks, the right zings, the proper burns, but instead I was myself, innocent, quiet, unassuming and shy and maybe that was the draw. I was too well behaved which made me a target. Let's see how much we can make this girl blush.
So often, the question that plagued me most was-
How would I make it until the final bell rang for the day so I could dart out of class safely, slip away to my bus, then go home and cry in the privacy of my own room?
I went home quite often and cried, or I'd have busting headaches and nervous stomach issues. I sort of talked to my mom about it, but it was embarrassing, so the majority of what I dealt with, I kept to myself. I cried myself to sleep, I shut myself up in my bedroom and I became even more of an introvert, burrowing further into books, into writing and wrapping the blanket of my depression around me.
Yes, I thought about suicide, that I didn't know if I could take one more day of it. It was emotionally draining. As if being a hormonally awkward teenager wasn't hard enough, having others draw attention to the fact that you're stuck between being a child and a woman was like death anyway. They might as well have shone a spotlight on me and thrust me up onto a stage cause that's the LAST place I wanted to be. I didn't want to draw attention to myself. All I wanted to do was try to grow into my adult skin with the least amount of embarrassment, learn to be comfortable in that new suit that was changing all the time, emotionally, mentally, physically and then be seen as a beautiful young woman deserving of respect. The situation I found myself in couldn't have been further from what I imagined.
I'm not sure what pulled me through. Maybe it was that 7th grade finally came to an end and for those couple of months of summer, my bullies were nowhere to be seen. I didn't have to deal with them and I was able to breath again and enjoy life. 8th grade year brought back all those worries and fears, but lucky for me, most of the boys who were part of my troubles had been broken up into different classes, so the couple who were in my class seemed to have moved on to pestering other girls and left me alone.
I was still plagued by those fears though and always felt I was looking over my shoulder, waiting for one of them to sneak up on me and start the teasing and tormenting all over again. Even though the bullying happened in 7th grade, it left it's mark for several years to come. I wore baggier clothing and went through a slouchy phase and at one point I gained so much weight, I was barely recognizable- but then, the less noticeable I was, the better. I withdrew more into myself and I stayed the quiet shy violet. That's probably the reason my eighth grade yearbook is full of "To a really sweet, quiet girl who I don't know very well" comments.
I didn't open myself up to others anymore, always scared to trust people, afraid that their friendship or kindness wasn't genuine. That took time to get over and eventually being able to talk about what happened with my mom and with friends. Being young sometimes makes it hard to see how much support we truly have from our loved ones. It's not just "me against the world."
Being a teenager stinks and it's probably the hardest part of growing up. I don't ever wish I was 13 or 15, or 17 again. Those weren't great years for me, but I survived. If you're having problems with someone bullying you, reach out and talk to a friend, a parent, a teacher or a trusted adult. If you see someone else being bullied, reach out to them and let them know they're not alone. Don't stand by and allow a bully to get the upper-hand. Tell someone if you see it happening. Don't enable the behavior by keeping silent. Silence is what leads young adults into the darkness where they feel alone and helpless to change it. Where they contemplate hurting themselves, where they grow larger-than-life gardens of self-doubt and allow that to choke out their self-esteem and their self-worth. There's so much more good ahead of them after adolescence, we can't let them wither in their youth.
Find your light and douse the darkness, cut back those choking doubts and help others when they have no light to lead the way. Now is the time. Not later, for later may be too late.
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