Sunday, January 27, 2013

A bullied past

Better late than never I suppose. But bullying has finally became an issue that is getting some actual attention. Some schools are starting to crack down on bullies, and I'm glad to see that. However, there are those who trivialize this very real problem. They may say that 'kids will be kids', or 'that's what kids do'. Worse yet they may blame to victim by saying that the bullied just needs to 'get over it' or 'grow thicker skin'. Those types of responses are simply unacceptable and should be called out as such. To me it stinks of the same BS of blaming a rape victim for the way they were dressed. The sad truth is that sometimes bullying ends tragically. Yet in these cases, some will try and pin the outcome on the one subjected to endless bullying  from his or her peers. Inexcusable!

Some say that it's an imagined problem, or only a problem for the weak. As a past victim of bullying, I can tell you that the problem is very real, and that 'weakness' has nothing to do with it. If anything, my strength is a good part of why my story isn't a tragic one. But more on that later. No, I was never stuffed into a locker, beat up, or robbed of my lunch money (of which I had none). My experience was mostly non-physical, but was none the less hurtful. My history of bullying had a very unlikely start. I was a victim of racism... in elementary school... from a teacher! Yeah, how screwed up is that? First, you must know that I was the only white student in an otherwise African-American class. You guessed it, the teacher was black as well. That in itself obviously wasn't a problem. At that school, all my other classes were a very similar mix of students, and I had more black teachers than otherwise. However, this class would be very different than the others. Well, not completely different anyway. One thing that was the same is that I excelled. Unfortunately, that wasn't something this teacher was happy about. When asking who knew the answer to the question, there would be several times I would be the only one with their hand up. Rather than call on me, she would call on other students that were sitting back showing no sign of knowing the answer. In fact, I can't remember ever being called on when I had my hand raised. Yet, if I didn't have my hand raised I would be called on, and sometimes berated for not answering correctly. You could argue that was simply her teaching style. Calling on those with hands down to try and spur them into being more involved. But when You consider that she did call on people with their hand raised when they weren't me, and that argument falls apart. Luckily tests mattered more, but her bias showed there as well. A (black) friend of mine in the class and I would often share out test results when we got our papers back. That's when an odd fact came to light. He would get a lower grade than I, yet his paper would be marked with kind comments. Meanwhile, I would hardly miss any answers, yet would still receive negative messages on my paper that would make you think I was the worst student ever. There would also be times when I would have to use the restroom, so I would raise my hand and ask to go. Each and every time, she would disallow me to go. Being young, and taught to listen to the teachers, I didn't question (even though other students were allowed to go). This often lead to me holding it until class was over. At that time I would rush to the restroom and make it (as it would seem) in the nick of time. Embarrassingly enough there was one time I didn't make it in time. Yes, it was very embarrassing, but it also worked out for the best. I was young and didn't understand what was going on, but thankfully my parents did. This was the final straw, and my mother came to have another talk with the principal. They had talked before about her singling me out, and they in turn had talked to her. Things would improve for a short while, but always return to normal. This time the principal agreed that this had gone too far and immediately moved me to a new class and all was well after that. I don't know what happened with that teacher after that, but I can tell you that that experience did drive me to be a bit more shy. Something that would plague me for years.

Luckily, my family moved in time for the start of middle school. This school was the absolute opposite of elementary school, student wise. It was a sea of white with a token minority thrown in here and there. But there were three distinct groups... the athletes, the country boy/farmer types, and those with rich parents. I didn't fit any of those groups however, and middle school would be the closest I would come to physical torment. This is where I was 'pantsed' in front of the entire gym class. I had a couple kids break into my locker and scoop toilet water into the travel cup in my lunch (luckily they got a guilty conscience). Gym class struck again when we were playing dodge ball. I was still in play, but was all of a sudden struck square in the face with a ball with quite some force. I went down and a lens came out of my glasses. Luckily my nose was okay, the glasses didn't cause any damage to my face and after resetting the lens and bending the nose pads back into place, my glasses survived as well. You may be asking, "So what? You were hit by a ball while playing dodge ball. That's the game". Usually I would agree. however the ball was thrown very deliberately at my face from a distance of four or five yards by a member of my own team! That's no accident, and his joyous cackling showed that he was proud of blindsiding an unsuspecting lightweight. I obviously reported this event and ended up talking with the principal about it. He said that he'd talk to the other boy and see what he had to say and get back to me later. After a week or so of no word I asked him how the matter was progressing. That's when he said that he thought I had said that it could have been an accident (a lie) and filed it as such, and that there was nothing he could do about it now. He then tried to bribe me to stay quiet by offering me some of the leftover (cheesy) prizes they gave out for character counts and honor roll. It wasn't until later that he knew the family of the offending child. As for physical, those events were the full of what I experienced. However, the verbal bullying is what I mainly experienced. I am, and have always been very skinny. I just have a very fast metabolism, so gaining weight is a challenge to say the least. When we moved, I was already shy, and going into someplace new didn't help that any. I mostly kept to myself because of this. Unfortunately, being new and staying to myself drew attention. Noticing how skinny I was, students started rumors that I had an eating disorder. Then they noticed that I didn't buy lunches (because packing was cheaper), and that my packed lunches weren't as large as my classmates with more wealthy parents. Some would claim my lunches are small because I starve myself to stay skinny, and others argued that I didn't eat big lunches because I was just going to trow it up latter. These accusations and fairly often teasing due to my shyness only further cemented me into a pattern of isolation.

Come high school I was an introvert plain and simple. I mostly kept to myself, and again drew teasing because of this. My surname was worked into taunts and became the butt of many a joke. I was teased because I rode the bus my entire high school career. I simply couldn't afford to buy a car yet (I was saving up), and didn't have the luxury of having rich  mommy and daddy buying me the brand new car of my choosing. The regular verbal bullying actually played a part in me turning down an offer from the track coach for me to join the team (twice). I was far too self conscious and even though I was very fast, turned down the offer because I was sure I would be giving my taunters more ammunition. Dating was another thing that got me in trouble. Or rather, the fact that I didn't. It's not that I didn't have my options. For a while I was regularly approached by girls who would ask me out. I was young and didn't understand that 'would you like to go out with me' meant be a couple, rather than go on serious dates. I simply wasn't ready for a relationship of that sort since I've barely had friends let alone anything more than that. So I would always politely turn those offers down. I even had the same girl ask me a few times in some occasions, always garnering the same answer form me. Surprisingly enough, some of these girls were actually the popular girls in school! I didn't know what to think at first, but the fact that popular guy tended to be the ones that made fun of me the most, I concluded (probably falsely) that they were trying to trick me into some sort of embarrassing trap. Sadly, after I turned all these girls down, things got worse. The conclusion that many came to was that if I wouldn't go out with any of those girls (especially the popular ones) that I must be gay. I wasn't. But despite my denials, the accusations and taunting continued. The day I graduated was a wonderful day because that's the day the taunters were gone and the bullying stopped... although some effects remained for a little while. More on that latter...

So, why didn't my story end in tears? Why did I not end up with inescapable depression? Why didn't I end up taking my own life like many that are the victims of endless bullying do? Why didn't I snap and take revenge on those that were tormenting me? Part of it could be that, while my bullying was pretty regular, it wasn't non-stop. It did effect me, but many have gone through much worse. Maybe it was the few friends I did have. In a way, I actually feel bad about those friends. They granted me the greatest kindness, yet we never really became close friends. I had seen people picked on before, and someone come to their aid only for them to be included in the abuse from that date forward. Because of this I didn't want them to go through what I was going through and rather treated them like acquaintances. To them, I'd like to say I'm sorry, but also offer so many thanks. But the biggest thing that helped me through it all was my parents. I truly have the best parents I could ever ask for. They have been and still are always there for me. Always there to support me and to offer advice and help. I will never be able to properly thank them for all that they've done for me, even without the financial advantages that others may have. They helped me deal with my problems (when I didn't try and keep them to myself) and helped me realize ways to cope with my school days. Sadly, may kids that have to go through what I did, and even worse do not have that same support and safety net that I had. So I call for everyone to raise awareness, call for kids to stand up for classmates, and for schools to offer counseling that I can tell you is needed.

But back to me dealing with these bullies. I realized that the skinny, pale, kid who is always quiet was an easy target. So that fact that they were gunning for the easy victim told me that they may be compensating for their own shortcomings. Thy were laughing at me now, but if I could stay strong and not give in, I would be the one that 'wins'. So I focused on my school work and, as always, excelled. I did so well that I graduated Valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 GPA. That was all well and good, but I would not be free of the effects of my taunting quite yet. That came when I joined the workforce. I got a real job, met new coworkers and got to know one another. I was still shy at first, but before I knew it, I was shedding that shell. Now I am far more open then I once once. I'm no extrovert by any stretch of the imagination, but I am no longer the painfully introverted person I once was. So to those going through similar torments, I ask you to stay strong, get help where you can, and that if you can stay the course or get help that it does get better. As for the old saying that 'sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you', I say BS! Words can be very hurtful. Especially if the same disparaging remarks are peppered on you regularly. When you are verbally bullied like I was, there are psychological effects. When you walk by a group of people and then hear them laughing, you instantly believe they are laughing at you. You are afraid to do things or go places for fear of more taunting. I didn't go to my own homecoming or prom in order to avoid those that jeered at me... so on and so forth.

Now , I am not writing this for sympathy, rewards, or to be congratulated for persevering as I did. To me, that things ultimately turned out okay is it's own reward. Plus, as I said before, others go through far worse that I went through. My aim here was to show that bullying is a problem, that verbal bullying is as equally serious and physical, and to hopefully inspire people to help or even show those going through this themselves that they can get through this, they are not alone and that it can get better. So please, stand up for those that feel alone and powerless. They are unfairly targeted, and deserve the same chance as everyone else.


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