Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bully for You

So here is where I finally talk about my latest "artistic hiatus." (That's my gentle and somewhat self-serving euphemism for writer's block.)

In the fall, I had finally begun to feel like I could work around the residual effects of my concussion syndrome.  I was blogging again and had made progress developing a story idea with some serious potential when the news of a complete stranger's death came and kicked my inspiration out from underneath me.

In October, I saw a news story about a young local girl named Amanda Todd.  Her picture was of a pretty, sweet looking young teen who looked like she could have grabbed the world by the tail but the story behind it was one of victimization, bullying, loneliness, desperation, and eventually suicide.  Hearing Amanda's story was a strangely intense moment for me.  I got nauseous.  I felt hot and prickly and I began to sweat like I had just run a marathon.

I was horrified.
I was sad.
I was angry.

I was really confused by my visceral reaction to Amanda's death. Obviously, I didn't think it strange to feel sad, horrified or angry when someone so young is driven to suicide but I couldn't figure out why I reacted as strongly as I had or why I suddenly couldn't write a single new creative word: not one. I wondered why the death, however tragic, of a complete stranger would have that effect on me. Then in late January I found myself struggling to write a short guest post for my friend Janet's website and it all came into focus.  I felt that way because, like Amanda, I had been bullied.

Wikipedia's entry about bullying is pretty damn dry:

          Bullying is the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate
          others blah blah blahdeblahblah. Yawn. zzzzz

That doesn't (and couldn't) give a reader an accurate picture of the intensely personal and utterly horrific experience of being bullied. How was I bullied? Practically everyone excluded me. They mocked me. They spoke about me and over me as though I wasn't there. They kicked, punched, tripped and threw things at me and on a daily basis I was told I was ugly, stupid, worthless and unlikeable so many times and in so many ways that I quickly (and mercifully) lost count.  Those that didn't overtly participate enabled by staying silent and it wasn't just kids who saw what was going on and did nothing - teachers did too. Not once did any of the adults at my school step up and say that what was being done right in front of them was wrong.

By the time it ended, I hated myself more than these kids ever apparently hated me.  Oh...and when I say "it ended" I don't mean these small town high school kids woke up one morning, looked at themselves in their mirrors and had life-altering epiphanies that resulted in a collective pledge never to bully again and a group hug. Nope. This ended when my parents actually sold their house (at a loss), packed us up and moved away.

I'm here to blog, to mash my face on my keyboard on a daily basis as I write my first novel, and to hug my daughter a thousand time a day because one amazing friend stuck by me during my tour of hell despite the risk of being sucked into that abyss herself (Janet!) and because my parents were willing do do whatever needed to be done to protect me.  Saying thank you to those three special people just doesn't cover it, you know?

Even if you weren't bullied yourself, chances are that you do know someone who was although they probably won't talk about it as honestly as I just have.  We are, all of us, potentially Amanda Todd.  I was bullied. What if it was you? Your sister or brother? Your partner? Your friend? Or, even worse, your child?

Bullying clearly killed Amanda but isolation and silence did too.  Step up, people, take that chance and speak up: for her, for you, and for us all.

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