Photo by zalouk webdesign on flickr
This past week, I've been reading and writing about the young people who were bullied so much they saw suicide as their only option. And over and over I keep seeing that they said the same thing...
You don't know what it's like...But I *do* know.
You don't know how it feels...
You don't know.
There's a picture of me on my first day of Kindergarten waiting at the school bus with the neighborhood kids. I am on the left side of the photo, smiling at my mom who was so happy & excited, and to the right are 4 or 5 of my so-called friends, and they look just like the girls in the background of that photo above. Giggling and whispering to each other. That was my life.
So yes, I do know what it's like.
The giggling and whispering not-quite-behind-my-back were daily occurrences. Girls would say they were my friend, ask to braid my hair, and instead tie it in knots. Kids broke into our house and threw dirt all over our kitchen. Kids told lies about me to adults and got me in trouble. I was pushed and tripped, and once both at the same time, which caused my leg so much pain I almost blacked out.
So yes, I do know how it feels.
Do you think it changed when my parents divorced and I moved to a new school? Nope. There's another photo of me at a school roller skating party. Kids are happily chatting and skating around in circles in the gym; but I was sitting on the stage, long face, full of self-pity. I was a bitch, a dog, a fat ass... I was even called a lesbo and I didn't even know what that was!
Yeah, I do know what it's like.
I was never invited to any of the birthday parties, unless their mother made them invite the whole class, and they made sure I knew it and was excluded at the party. When I had parties, only one or two people would show up, if anyone at all.
Yeah, I do know how it feels.
High school would be different though. I wouldn't be stuck in Catholic school with a bunch of rich snobs, I thought; I'd be in a public school with the rest of the kids in my neighborhood who weren't stuck up. But it was no different. Name calling, laughing at me, hateful comments... different people, same bullying.
Oh yes, I do know what it's like.
There was no one I felt I could talk to, no one I trusted. Then the older boy next door finagled me out of my virginity; it was positive attention in my opinion. I continued to seek that out. I slept with more boys than I can remember. But it didn't help, and didn't change how others treated me.
Oh yes, I do know how it feels
The bullying got worse. Physical violence was threatened regularly, and I got beat up on more than one occasion, sometimes by more than one person at a time. "Friends" spread lies about me, stole from my house, sent their friends to beat me up.
I *do* know what it's like.
That freshman winter on the way home from school, as the bullies followed along behind me, taunting me, I passed a pond in the park we cut through, and even though it was freezing out, and the edged were all iced over, the bullies told me to just jump in and kill myself. I didn't think the tormenting would ever stop; so I did. They laughed and laughed in the snow as I willed myself to sink. They laughed and told me to die as my body swam to the edge but my mind screamed at myself to just drown. They followed me, laughing, as I dripped and shivered the half mile to home. They said I was so stupid I couldn't even commit suicide right. They said they hoped I died from the cold. They hoped I got sick and died.
I *do* know how it feels.
I skipped school so much I was kicked out (wow schools are backwards!), but I hated going. I found my own friends, real ones, people I wasn't just forced to be with everyday. Eventually I got my GED, went to college, and now I'm a teacher. Why? Because I *do* know. I know how damaging words can be; I know how they echo in your head endlessly. (Yes, even now, decades away from all that, I still hear the name calling and hateful comments.)
Yes I know and I don't want anyone else to go through it.
I've seen it affect my students: an older student passing in the hall calls a younger kid "fagot" as they go by, and that child is crushed. How many years will he hear that in his head? A young girl overhears the not-so-subtle laughing from the other girls in class, and her shine dims. How long until she lets herself shine bright again?
Yes I know and I want to show all my students that the blinding brightness of their shine can drown out those dark voices in their heads.
Yes I know.
If you are being bullied and in need of help, there are many groups available to choose from:
- First, if you are in crisis or considering suicide, please call the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
or the Trevor Project at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).
- You can find more detailed steps on finding help at StopBullying.gov.
- You can find a list of helpful resources at GLSEN.org (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) .
- To find a local source of help, the Safe Schools Coalition has a list of Community Based GLBTQ Youth Support Groups and Safe Schools Coalitions.
If you are a teacher looking for resources, these are great places to look:
- StopBullying.gov has resources to help prevent and respond to bullying.
- GLSEN has lesson plans, curriculum, and teacher training programs.
- PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center has classroom & community toolkits, student activities, and information.
- Teaching Tolerance has classroom activities, teaching kits, and anti-bullying articles.
- Safe School Coalition has lots of resources organized by who would use them.