I consider myself to be some form of the "ugly duckling" story. I haven't quite grown to become a model or actress, and I doubt I'll ever be in People Magazine for that sort of thing. But I've grown and matured, physically and emotionally.
Going along with that "duck" metaphor, I was cute when I hatched, then slowly degraded into ugly pre-adolescence. Curly hair, glasses in second grade, braces. I was born in New Jersey, moved south, and moved back north for 1st grade, so I returned with a southern accent. But worse yet, I moved in with no friends, in a small town where everyone had known each other since they were toddlers.
At first, I thought I had friends. I joined Girl Scouts. Soon, I realized that since the beginning, I was out of their circles. And not just that - I was awkward. I wore old clothes, was (and still am, though with much more awareness and much less self-pity) fat, and didn't know how to socialize properly.
I tell most people the bullying started in fourth or fifth grade, but in retrospect, I started seeing signs easily in second grade.
It starts with something small and silly and seemingly unimportant. They always tag you. They make you last in line, or cut in line, for the slide, or for kickball, or the swings. And it slowly becomes worse as time goes on. You can't approach your friends, or they ignore you in conversation.
And at that point that I mentioned, in fourth grade, was when "Germs" started happening. It was like cooties, except specifically for myself. And I literally couldn't do anything without some sort of outcry. And being socially awkward, I had to prove myself to be better, and that caused more teasing.
In that year, I would say my depression began to root itself.
I couldn't sleep at nights. I almost missed Field Day because I hated school. I missed homework. I would spend hours upon hours online, playing video games, just anything. I had a grand total of one friend, and otherwise, I could only get along with the boys, playing their games.
It took a psychologist to figure out I was bullied. It took months after it was reported, and it took my father coming in and yelling at the administrators for something to be done about it.
And it's still taking me years to heal. Forget scars, because that would imply the wounds have closed. I'm clinically depressed now because of the experience. The loneliness, being outcast, having nobody to turn to... all of that changed who I am as a person. I still have very few friends, very little trust, an ego but very little confidence.
Worst yet was that they don't think these sorts of things hurt kids. My depression went under the radar because, heck, a kid in fifth grade can't be that heavily traumatized by such petty things. Right?
It built up over the years, taking form as addiction to Internet-only socialization, which affected my schoolwork. I did artwork for a while, and today I still look at my work and am impressed, but the pressures of growing that suddenly brought that to a halt. I let my health go as I became more aware of my conditions, because I didn't mind fading away.
And here I am today. I'm undergoing therapy I should have gone through years ago, but am glad I'm doing before things got worse. I dropped college for the semester in order to heal. Before that, had I not had my one companion I met in college, I would probably be dead.
I shouldn't have to rebuild my life like this. I told myself I was fine for years. I really wasn't. I was scared of asking for help, scared that adults wouldn't understand why I was hurt, when I knew all the students in my class had been talked to, and my family had moved, and I had this new life in a new town.
What people don't understand is that these things affect children more than they think. We're so young, so pliable, so vulnerable, and to go in and ruin childhood is to truly ruin the mind. Plus, there are people who have gone through what I have, except at a later age, and the consequences are much more dire. My favorite metaphor is the crumpled paper: no matter how much you try to straighten things out, the damage is still there.
Bullying is a lot more serious than people make it out to be. When you're bullied, your self-view changes. Your view of others changes. Your friends change, your moods change, where you sit at lunch and what sports you enjoy change.
Everything changes when you're bullied.
And it's not simply enough to tell the kids to back off. They need to understand the pain of being excluded and teased, ignored and mocked.
And the victims need to understand that they're not alone. There are others, and there are people willing to help. And they need to know that it's okay to feel pain, but not to ignore it. We need to help these people as well.
Anyone who understands this pain needs to speak out. Anyone who knows what it's like to have someone lost in their pain, or to lose someone from their pain, needs to speak out.
Bullying never truly ends when the teasing stops.
By writing some words below, you are showing your support and letting everyone know they're not alone.