October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time when we are encouraged to remember and end bullying in schools and on the Internet. People all over have been successfully building awareness concerning bullying with this campaign since 2006. But it is still all too often that you hear about another bullying incident at a school or on Facebook, or you learn of a child committing suicide, desperate for escape. Childhood should be fun. It should be easy although not helicopter parent easy. It should be challenging, but enjoyable. Bullying takes away childhood. Innocence is betrayed by the agony and sorrow suffered when a person feels hopeless or alone. No person, adult or child, deserves to feel that way.
Hearing about kids ending their lives due to bullying is always a heart-wrenching experience. Many people try to imagine the mental state of someone who feels backed so tightly into a corner that death seems like the only escape. They are baffled because these kids had their whole lives ahead of them, with so much possibility. They try to envision how “meaningless” childhood words beat another child down into nothingness. But unless you were the victim of teasing or bullying, you simply cannot relate.
Watching the stories on the news about these poor children/teens instantly transports me back to my middle school days. I was teased, though never bullied (the distinction is important), on a daily basis for practically anything you can think of. From my naturally curly hair to the words I spoke, it was all fodder for my tormentor. But the worst part of it was that everyone who I thought was my friend laughed when some mocking statement was made. No one defended me. No one said, “Hey that’s not nice.” Teachers would witness this and do nothing. And I even went to a fancy private school.
I remember going to school each day, dreading what the day could bring. And I remember going home at night and crying myself to sleep. I felt hopeless. I never told my parents what was going on. I didn’t want anyone to know. And because the teachers didn’t stop it, I believed my parents wouldn’t be able to end it.
I know that all of these things happened many years ago. I don’t even remember how long this went on anymore. But the words stay with you. It’s funny how they affect your life sometimes. Because I was teased about my curly hair, I am extremely finicky about it. If it doesn’t look just so when I dry it, I put it up and hide it from the world, even 16 years later. But when I wear it down, people often approach me and ask me if it’s real or a perm. I know that I should be proud of my curls. But my middle school self still fears.
Fitting in has also been a real point of contention for me, even as an adult. It wasn’t until now, in my late 20s, that I finally feel like I have people around me who understand and appreciate the way I look at the world. They don’t think I’m different or call me a nerd. And even better, those people are interested enough to have a real dialogue with me about any number of topics. I have friends who make me feel “normal” and this is something that I cherish greatly.
It took a long time, but I have learned that things really do get better. It doesn’t feel like it initially, but in retrospect, things have changed so much in my life, even during just the past couple of years. If right now is the best that my life gets, I am truly okay with it.
Programs like the “It Gets Better Project” and “I Choose” make me smile because they offer hope to those who may have none. I wish these programs had existed when I was a child. I have watched a number of those videos and appreciate the messages they offer to anyone who feels lost.
On October 12, 2012, a news story was posted about a high school girl in Canada who committed suicide the previous day due to bullying. An anti-bullying video she made ends with this message: “I have nobody. I need someone,” (http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2012/10/12/teen-who-posted-anti-bullying-video-kills-herself/). Her words are absolutely heart-breaking. People out there are working very hard to resolve the issue of bullying, but we need to do more. This epidemic must be brought to an end.