Bullied: The Silenced

Russian_silencedI have been putting off writing this blog post. The idea for it, I recognized that it was a valid one, has sat on my list of possible topics for months now while I write about everything around it and carefully skirt around this one. As much as I’ve tried to forget or just not deal with what happened to me, it’s still there and it still hurts. Being bullied as a child is sometimes dismissed as a rite of passage that all children go through. But bullying shapes the way you see the world and the way you see yourself. And it doesn’t leave you with a healthy outlook on either.

I was bullied when I was in school. I don’t remember exactly when it started or who started it. But soon it was so bad that I had only a handful of people that I could talk to without facing insults or scorn for things that I hadn’t done. It’s difficult to put my experiences into any time of cohesive timeline because so much of it all blurs together and there are large chunks of time that I just don’t remember at all.

But I remember when I was in gym class and not paying attention and a ball, for whatever game we were playing, went right past me, and the other team scored a goal. My teammates called me a whore, a bitch, an idiot, among other insults, and told me to sit the rest of the game out because I was so worthless. In 7th grade one of the popular girls decided that I smelled badly. Soon, a running joke between all of the popular girls and the rest of the school was that I smelled badly.

A boy in my neighborhood made up a rumor that one of my friends and I were lesbians, so I had to deal with homophobic bullying. The idea that I was a lesbian had become so ingrained in my classmate’s minds that some people just simply thought that I was gay and had no idea that I was actually straight. One of the reason why I never dated a guy at the school was because they either bullied me themselves or didn’t want to attract bullying by associating with me.

The other kids would insult me and some of my friends in front of teachers, authority figures, anyone and no one ever told them to stop. I went to the teachers, the guidance counselor, the principal, my parents, and they once had a meeting where they sat down with me and told me what I could do differently to avoid being bullied. One teacher, I can’t remember who, told me that today I smelled wonderful, so I didn’t deserve to be bullied. I didn’t tell her that people that day had already informed me that I needed deodorant.

I had to ride the bus to school each morning and a lot of the people who freely bullied me rode my bus. Everyone would sit one to a seat and since we were the last stop, I had to sit with one of them. I’d try to find the nicest looking person on the bus but it rarely ever mattered. They would still call me names, one girl stole pencils out of my backpack one day, and generally do whatever they wanted. I always sat as close as I could do the front, well within the earshot of the bus driver, and she never stepped in to tell any of the other children to leave me alone.

After being fed up with the stress and anxiety of riding the bus, I decided to take my bike to school. The school was only a few blocks from my house. So I set off in the mornings, rain or shine, unphased by doing all of the extra work simply because no one was harassing me when I was on my bike. This, however, would have been a liability for the school, should anything have happened to me during my ride, so I was no longer allowed to do that. The principal, Dr. Penn, told me that she couldn’t get the other kids to like me. As if that was what I was asking for. I was asking to be able to go to school without being bullied.

But even without the bus ride, the majority of the bullying took place in the school. Everything I did was cause for bullying. I was once mocked for wearing purple socks. A girl made fun of me for not having name-brand sneakers. People would constantly remark on what I was wearing, whether or not it matched, how my body looked in what I was wearing, and how my body looked in general. They made fun of my long hair that I always wore up. As soon as one person made a comment about something I wore, no matter if the comment was good or bad, I stopped wearing it.

By the time I reached 8th grade, I realized that the only way I could avoid the bullying was to become invisible. All throughout high school, I became excellent at disappearing. I never wore clothes that drew attention, I rarely talked in class, I never disagreed with anyone who was more popular than I was, which was basically everyone. I learned how to be silent and I succeeded in almost disappearing completely.

In my senior year of high school I experienced a prolonged episode of depression and attempted suicide in January 2003. I went inpatient to a psych ward, thinking that that would help, and was gone for 4 school days. No one noticed. No one asked me where I was.  No one remarked that I had been missing for four entire days.

That same year a child going to a private school committed suicide. I didn’t know him personally. One of the speakers at an informal discussion about his death, who knew him personally, said that he had become so invisible that he could be absent on any given day and no one would have noticed. That was me. I just didn’t take enough pills.

But the bullying itself was one thing. It’s not even the bullying that is the real issue here. My peers were kids who were trying to find their place in the world just like I was. The people who should have stopped this were the adults at the school and they didn’t. No one ever told the other kids to leave me alone. No one ever told them that this is no wait to treat another human being. No one ever told them that they would be punished if they didn’t leave me alone. No one ever talked to any of them about the bullying.

I rarely ever talk about being bullied, but on one occasion I opened up to someone who immediately asked why I didn’t go to an adult. But I did. I went to all of the adults. Most of the insults were hurled well within adult earshot. No one cared and no one helped me. The adults at school all failed to let me attend classes without being harassed, degraded and insulted on a daily basis.

For years I thought that this was just the way the world worked. Someone had to be bullied and it just happened to be me. But it’s not. Treating people this way is not acceptable and children need to be taught that it’s not alright to talk to or about people like they did to me. Being a child is confusing and difficult enough. No other kid has the right to verbally abuse you all in the guise of growing up.

I also know this lesson from being on the other side. In high school there was a girl that was unpopular enough to be in my group of friends, but even we didn’t like her. Eventually, our behavior in attempts to get rid of her turned into female-friendly passive-aggressive bullying. At that time it was Dog Eat Dog and I finally wasn’t the dog being eaten. I didn’t feel bad about it, I just felt relieved that it wasn’t me.

After one lunch period where the girl walked off crying to the guidance counselor, nothing happened to us. No one talked to us, no one reprimanded us, no one cared that we had callously and deliberately hurt someone. I looked back on these incidents in later years and realized what I had become exactly what I had hated.

I felt deeply ashamed that I had no only lived through bullying put perpetrated it myself. Almost ten years after the fact, I saw the girl in question was on Facebook and sent her a short message apologizing for my actions. She was gracious enough to offer forgiveness, which I was happy to accept. I was still a child myself at that time and the school had taught me that cruelty was a natural occurrence and it was just best to be on the giving end.

I had a dream last night that I was back in gym class, back in middle school, back to being insulted and reviled by my peers. At first I thought that I would just have to deal with this all over again. I would just have to take the abuse and never fight back. But then I realized that this is wrong. I have the right to exist without being harassed for it. I already decided that I would go to whomever I needed to until someone listened to me and this stopped. I refused to be bullied into silence a second time.

A lot of adults fail to realize what a serious problem bullying is and how it can affect someone for a lifetime. Going through these experiences, didn’t make me stronger. It didn’t build my character. It didn’t make me better. It gave me self-worth issues, a lifetime of low self-esteem and the nagging feeling that I’m not a person worthy of love and friendship. The only thing that has helped me overcome some of these issue is the affection and respect of family and friends. Positivity is what builds people up and makes them stronger, not negativity.