Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bullying: Bruised and Battered

Hey guys, Happy New Year! We're starting off 2012 celebrating four years of Another Drop in the Ocean (which was really three if you consider the year-long hiatus I took)! Thanks to my readers, however few and far in between, for staying with me and reading my rants and raves about various issues. Admittedly this post is a few days late of my anniversary, but I struggled with topics and you just can't force this stuff out. So here's my latest, inspired by the movie "Cyberbully".

Bullying has been an age-old pastime for children, teens, and even adults. But times have changed, the ante has been upped. The bullying of past decades starkly pales in comparison to the bullying of today. Older generations can recall schoolyard scuffles with a laugh and a shake of the head. Younger generations recall them with pain, trauma, and at times, lifelong impacts on their self-worth. Perhaps this is why so many people don’t take it seriously. Far removed from the reality and severity of the case, many parents, school administrations, and even law-makers tsk tsk the wounded and sweep the problem under the rug. And that is when it becomes deadly.

Back in the day, playground banter was better described as superficial childish name-calling. The classics are ones we’ve all heard: if you wore glasses, you were named four-eyes, if you were fat, they called you various derivatives of tubby, fatty, piggy, etc. If you wore braces you were metal mouth, acne: pizza face, and so on. These were names that would sometimes send kids home crying, only to face their antagonists again the next day. Now I won’t pretend that such names weren’t hurtful or somehow damaging to a child’s confidence, but most usually overcame the experiences and moved on to successful lives.

Nowadays, bullying has reached new levels of brutality that blaze through the barriers of harassment and teeter on the edges of assault. What was once simple teasing, usually on the basis of appearance has escalated to deeply damaging slurs, character defamation and public humiliation. In the golden days, bullying was usually an unfortunate chance encounter by the monkey bars or crossing the wrong street when walking home from school. Now they’ve turned into hunts, with bullies banking on growing intimidation; they scout the school grounds like packs of wolves for weaker prey, and the slaughter is horrific to watch.

My own experiences with bullying were extensive, to say the least. Resigned to wear glasses, in elementary school, I endured the superficial name calling, nothing that left a very deep impact. It wasn’t until I reached Jr. High that the bullying started. I was always heavy but gained much weight as I got older, and my peers took notice. Names like lardo, Free Willy, and fat ass were not in short supply from my classmates, but I was usually able to brush it off.

High school was where it became unbearable. I was heavier than ever, wore glasses, and hardly put any effort or thought into my appearance; I never wore make-up or styled my hair and my clothes were a fashion disaster. Bullying me was like shooting fish in a barrel, and it attracted new patrons all the time. Accustomed to my typical bullies who were in my classes, I was suddenly being attacked by people I’d never met, which caught me off guard. People I didn’t know would trip me in the hallways, one spit gum in my hair as I was walking by, and one day, for no reason at all, while walking down the hallway, a boy passed me and slammed me into the concrete wall before walking on, laughing with his friends. The people I knew were much worse. I endured name-calling and trash talking in class, usually as other students sat by and laughed as my tormentor rattled off painful insults. One episode sent me running out of the class crying. Another pushed me to the brink, and I rose from my desk, approached the student and slapped him across the face. He took a pen and attempted to stab me in the throat, but couldn’t break the skin.

But this was just one level of bullying. Many students began to go out of their way to make my life hell. Students who took issue with me, though for what reason I never knew, started a regimen of harassment. Figuring out my schedule, some would get hall passes, walk by my class, stand in the hallway out of the teacher’s view, and mouth insults and threats to me. At times, during passing periods they followed me to my next class, tormenting me for the three minute trip. Once I reached my room, they would stand outside the door, talk trash, and peek into the class to watch my reactions and laugh at me. I wasn’t safe after school either. There were times when I had to walk home, which left me wide open for attack. One day, two girls made it a point to follow me home to bully me. Never mind the fact that they lived in the opposite direction, they stayed five steps behind me for the twenty minute walk, calling me names like whore, fat ass, slut, bitch, dyke, and fag. When I reached my street, two cars pulled up and multiple students filed out. At first confused by their presence, I realized somehow word had spread that I was being harassed and some anticipated that a fight would ensue. They wanted front row seats. I entered my house and stole glances outside my bedroom window. The girls stood at the foot of my driveway, yelling obscenities and slurs at my house, threatening me before finally disappearing. Even the faculty had their moments. During one class, I tripped and fell back on the floor. The teacher, standing on the far side of the room, blurted out “wow, I felt that all the way over here!” and the class erupted in laughter. Another teacher who also had her assumptions about my sexuality overheard a piece of a conversation about me chasing down a girl and she remarked in front of my classmates “so you’re chasing girls?” with a smirk.

I asked my mother to allow me to be home-schooled in order to get away from the daily torture, but given that I was in the midst of my depression and was becoming increasingly isolated from society, my mother was concerned that if I were home-schooled, I would never leave the house. She refused, and the hell continued, though it ultimately contributed to lasting damage to my self-esteem, and to my suicide attempt my sophomore year.

Today, risks of suicide have increased, creating a new trend called Bullycide, breeding electronically. The internet brings with it not only a new tool for bullies, but the anonymity of false names, faceless interaction, and little to no personal responsibility for your words. Text messages, stalking, degradation, insulting web pages, embarrassing photos, and impersonation are all new ways that bullies have begun to attack their victims. The harassment has reached a new level, where bullies and their minions go above and beyond name-calling and taunting and have actually told their victims that they should kill themselves; the victims obliged. Ryan Halligan told a “friend” he was going to kill himself, and the friend responded “it’s about time”. Another bully told Phoebe Prince she should hang herself. So she did. Ashlynn Conner was only ten years old when she hanged herself in her closet due to excessive bullying.

Sadly, bullying doesn’t stop after high school, as it seems more and more people are failing to grow up. The perpetrators continue on into adulthood intimidating, insulting, lying, back-stabbing, creating drama, and laughing at the pain of their victims, as if someone were filming a sequel to Mean Girls starring the Plastics: All Grown Up. Sitting in my Master’s Program class, I couldn’t believe the insulting and degrading comments I would hear from my cohort about other peers, bullies who were twenty years older than me, but acting like they were sixteen.

Now I’m not going to sit here with my pipe-cleaner halo and pretend I’ve been the innocent by-stander all these years. I have fought fire with fire; I’ve bullied those who bullied me. I remember in high school I was in the girls’ room with my friends and a rival came in. She called me fat ass. Noting her up-turned nose that from the proper angle resembled that of a pig’s snout, I retorted “who are you calling fat, Miss Piggy?” My friends and I laughed and began pressing our noses up with our fingers, snorting at her. A look of pain flashed across her face and she quickly exited the bathroom. My heart sank when I realized I’d lowered myself to her level and hurt her. But even today, I’ve made my comments about people and joined in on the laughter when comments were made by others, even when I knew I shouldn’t have been laughing. It’s a work in progress and I’m always trying to improve myself by taking the high road. Sometimes I fail, but try again the next day.

I hate to sound cliché and regurgitate the heavily spewed dicta regarding the breeding of bullies, but it all rings true. Most bullies suffer from an inferiority complex, they are insecure with low self-esteem, so they put others down not to raise themselves up, but simply to bring their victims down to their level; “if I feel lousy, why should you be so happy?” Misery loves company, yes? Other times they don’t even know they make people feel bad. Again, though I wouldn’t consider myself a bully, there have been times when I’ve unintentionally made people feel dumb while trying to showcase my own intelligence. Now I’m no Einstein, but I’m certainly no Gomer Pyle either. Thanks to all the bullying I endured, I draw most of my self-esteem from the one thing that I succeeded in: academics. But in trying to prove my worth, at times I’ve embarrassed others, moments I still look back on and cringe: “why must I always be right?” And yes, many bullies become such because they’ve been bullied themselves. My usual tormentors came from seemingly perfect families, but I later found their mothers were alcoholics, or their fathers were abusive. People like that just need empathy, love, and forgiveness. Chances are they don’t have many friends anyways; chances are they’ve been hurt by many more bullies. So don’t add insult to injury by becoming another one in their lives. Take the high road, you’ll feel better in the end.

If you're being bullied or see that someone else is, speak up! Visit: