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Bullied to death: one nerd’s tale.

October 9, 2010

In light of all the kids killing themselves due to bullying I am left thinking about my own high school experience. One school in Ohio has had four suicides in two years due to the horrible bullying, and the school district is being sued for their lack of interference and not making a safe place to learn.

Frankly, I’m not surprised. I know my own high school experience included one friend that killed himself for being bullied because he was gay; another who was just picked on that committed suicide before seeing 17.

My own experience with bullying began when at age ten I broke three bones in a four month period. I broke my leg in February, then my wrist in May, and my leg again at the end of May. It was the final break that started the hell of my life.  I was on a swing at school when at the top of my swinging arc, the S-hook holding the seat to the chain broke apart and fell out from under me.

Nevermind it was old equipment and not suited for 4th and 5th graders. Never mind the S-hook wasn’t welded together AS DEMANDED BY LAW for a playground with kids that big. For the last month of school I had an aide help me get from class to class, paid for by the school. I’m not sure which was worse: being in a wheelchair with a nurse pushing me around or the fact that MY FAT ASS BROKE THE SWING, as I was told over and over and over again for the next 6 years or so.

It got really bad the next year. I thought middle school would be so FUN. I was a smart kid and the smart kids got advanced tracking starting in the 6th grade — harder classes, smaller numbers — but all it did was create a group of the same 24 or so “popular” and smart kids that were together every class except gym and electives.

Oh yay.

I was tripped and accused of cheating so much that I was almost kicked out of the advanced classes. Luckily I DEMANDED they prove it. Their answer was a test on the subject in question. I aced it. I was grabbed. My name, if anyone even talked to me, was “beached whale,” even in front of teachers. I retreated into reading. At the time I looked for the biggest, longest sci-fi and fantasy novels I could find and chain read them (the “Dune” series in a week at age 11).  I barely understood some of it, but it kept my mind away from my shitty reality.

Then I started growing, getting boobs and my period AND GLASSES in what seemed like the same month. UGH. Add “slut” and “four eyes” to beached whale. I remember girls rubbing gum in my hair as a promised way to get those awesome windcatcher 80’s mall bangs. I had my glasses broken. Luckily I was a suck-up, so I never really got in trouble with the teachers after the first year.

I was 12 when I tried to kill myself.  I did it quietly — just a nick with a razor, really. Then my kid sister walked in and I gave up on that one and lied to cover it up.

It was shortly thereafter that I discovered the numbness of bulimia that went on for the next 20 years.

I’m not going to go into sordid detail about the hell I endured at the hands of the same freaking group of kids for the next 6 years, all the way through high school. We have all had similar stories. It got better sophomore year. I got involved with a church group, got friends outside of school, got a boyfriend in another district. The school offered time and again to let me switch to a different class, but then my family would be so disappointed. I was the SMART ONE, the one with perfect standardized testing, straight As without trying, adult books in 3rd grade. I wouldn’t even THINK about being forced into the “dumb” classes because of some bullies. I knew my folks were broke and my only way to college was scholarships.

So when I hear about kids killing themselves over idiots who think it’s funny to make others suffer, I just get so furious. I want to take those kids and do something fabulous for them: swoop in and give them a fabulous makeover in a limo on the way to a super-cool envy-producing event of some sort.

But I can’t.

All I can do is put it out there that there is AT LEAST one adult that gets it, that understands, that wants you to feel like the awesome person you are and will become.

And lord help the folks that bully my daughters. I will find every way to turn the tables to LEGALLY ruin their lives (though lord knows I actually want to somehow degrade them into nothingness). We already had one girl that was teasing my oldest, A****. She’s small for her age with a heart surgery scar and another from a hip replacement. It was bad enough that we switched churches, but when D**** started in on A*** at school too.

I got in her face (very quietly and naturally-looking) and told her “You know what? I hear you are picking on A****. That is going to stop right now or I will tell your mom, your teacher, your principal, your grandparents and your PASTOR what a mean little girl you are. If that doesn’t stop you, I’ll call the cops.  It’s not ok and I think you know it.”  Boy, that felt so good when I did it.  It was me standing up to a bully. Granted, she was 8, but I did it. And the bullying stopped dead in its tracks. In fact they are all (cautiously) friends.

The only way to stop bullying is to speak up and tell everyone (loudly if needed) that it’s not ok.  It will not be tolerated and if you do bully you are a mean, evil person, until you stop bullying. Period. No “he’s such a nice kid.”


9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2010 10:05 am

    Thank you for sharing. I’m sure most people have been bullied at some point, myself included, and it is still raw, and it really does help to hear from others. I agree that it does get better but like you I think the emphasis should not on that but that bullying itself will not be tolerated.

  2. October 9, 2010 11:41 am

    Excellent post and thank you for sharing. Bullying; it’s not a part of growing up, it’s not a ritual that every kid has to go through, it’s not ok. It’s not ‘just the way it is’. It’s encouraged and ignored and kids are DYING. It’s not ok. Thanks for this, Erylin.

  3. vesta44 permalink
    October 9, 2010 12:15 pm

    Amen to this. I didn’t get bullied a lot, not until jr high and high school, thanks to one nasty piece of work and Cheech and Chong (nasty little piece of work turned my name into MaryElephant from Mariellen and MaryElephant is what she called me from 8th grade until I graduated). Ignoring her didn’t work, confronting her didn’t work, going to teachers and principals didn’t work. I avoided her as best I could, and ignored her the rest of the time, once I figured out no one was going to stop her. Luckily, she was a year behind me so I didn’t have any classes with her and only had to contend with her in the halls between classes. I lived in town and she lived in the country and rode the bus home so I didn’t have to contend with her after school either (and I didn’t do extra-curricular activities, so didn’t see her at them). It’s funny, it’s been more than 40 years ago that all that happened, and I still dislike that person.

  4. October 9, 2010 1:35 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with bullies. Due to extensive bullying, I found myself in a similar situation of really almost harming myself when I was about 11. I went to a really small, rural school; it felt like I was the only fat girl. There was, actually, one other, but she had the protection of the same girls (and boys) that tortured me. She was their friend, and prettier, I think, and way more “normal.” Not that she or any child deserved what I got either, but I always wondered what she thought when she heard the things they would say to me. Even within the circle of friends I did have, I was mocked. It was very difficult. Anyway, I didn’t mean to go on and on, just to thank you for reflecting on your own situation. I have a son, now, and it’s good to hear about a parent really standing up for their child.

  5. Erin S. permalink
    October 9, 2010 5:28 pm

    I wish we could get more people to really understand how destructive bullying can get. Maybe if we called it what it is (psychological torture with a side of physical torment) instead of the relatively gentle term of bullying?

    I mean, many hear the term bullying and think of what you see on TV — some name calling, then all your friends rally around and it’s discovered the “bully” just had a bad home life and never learned how to make friends or some such garbage.

    They just don’t have any concept that it can get worse, that it can involve physical violence more than just a few bruises in a playground fight, or the kind of psychological damage that can result from being constantly called names and stuff. They’ve never experienced it, nobody they are close to has experienced it or told them if they have… they have absolutely no frame of reference.

    Course, it’s kind of hard to get people to believe you when they already think you’re either stupid, a liar, or both. Which is largely how fat people are viewed still.

  6. October 10, 2010 11:33 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this. And thank you for standing up for your daughter! That is awesome that things seem to be working out now.

    Schools really need to put some protocols into place when it comes to bullying. You’d think there could be some kind of federal mandate that requires schools to have a response plan in place. But the difficult thing is quantifying bullying. Kids call each other names all the time and we can’t put an end to that. But how do we distinguish between kids giving each other a hard time and psychological abuse?

    It’s a difficult situation and I don’t envy the administrators who will have to address these issues in the coming years. Something must be done, it’s just difficult to say exactly what.

    My coping mechanism for bullying was to completely withdraw and avoid all situations that would put me in a vulnerable position. The problem came in eighth grade when it was MY TEACHER who was the bully (she’d pull me out of class to tell me that if I had two brain cells to rub together I’d be dangerous or that I wouldn’t last a week at the private high school I was going to attend). In high school, I just kept to myself, never went to lunch (I didn’t want to put people in the position of asking me to NOT sit at their table) and basically “survived.” It was hard, but it made me a stronger person.

    As a parent, I’m definitely going to follow your lead and put the fear of God into anybody who torments my kids.


  7. Lisa permalink
    October 12, 2010 8:48 am

    I was teased incessantly from kindergarten til high school everyday by multiple cliques, I didn’t fit in anywhere and then having a thin pretty mom, made it worse. I had a face even my own mother didn’t love so there was no respite ever about hearing how fat and ugly I was. Then online, when I got a computer (I was 26, I am almost 40 now) first for being fat, then when I lost weight and got thin I wasn’t anymore popular. Then when it got around about my nervous breakdown and weight gain in 2008, people who I used to chat with for years in a chatroom got satisfaction that my life disengrated plus even horror of horrors I got fat again because while I was offline for a year, I made a mistake of telling 2 people what happened to me and it got around everywhere (I used to frequent a certain chatroom for years on aol that had on and offline gatherings)
    I didn’t join FB until 11/2009. I didn’t start using it though regularly until Feb of this year. When I went off all the psychotropic drugs in great quantity and strength at the first of this year, it made me less food obsessed and less self destructive about eating and without dieting was able to lose 2/3rds of the weight I gained. Not recommending that people go off their meds, they just weren’t working for me anymore, most of them I had transitioned off with psychiatric supervision at the end of last year. If they were working I would much rather be on them, be heavier and not have the dark depressive episodes that bipolar and manic depression bring( I don’t have the mania, believe it or not)
    My oldest friend who ditched me in junior high and was extremely popular never teased me but hanged around other people who did incessantly. It’s amazing because I am FB buds with her now and she struggles emotionally with weight. She is FB buds with the guy who used to tease me for being fat and ugly(they dated) and he is a bald fat dude. I have thought about messaging him to tell him how much he hurt my feelings but figured it would be moot. My original roommate when I moved out when I was 19 who I worked with, who used to give me a hard time for being fat and what I ate, well guess what she is fat, too,now.
    I don’t think of being fat as a punishment or a bad state of being. But for the aforementioned they made my life miserable, and now they are in the same state of what they found so repulsive and are struggling with it. I don’t struggle with my weight or what I eat anymore. It’s a miracle I have lost weight without trying because I will never diet again, but for everything I have done, restrictive and starvation diets as a child, bulemia for 10 years and a gastric bypass it’s amazing I haven’t killed my metabolism. If I would have to put any effort into it, I wouldn’t, it isn’t falling off me, just losing weight in a strange way without trying.
    My son who is almost 18 has grown up with a computer. He loves social networking. There was a kid who lived near us, who used to tease him, Zak would ignore him. One day though when he was 10 and at cub scouts he was teasing Zak within earshot of me. I went up to him and quietly said “You really think you are so smart. Let me tell you something it’s not smart to tease a kid within earshot of his mother, DO NOT let me EVER hearing you say anything about anyone ever again, as he used to tease others too. My son called me a month ago, saying he found this kid and another one who used to tease him on FB. Zachary having a mother like me is very socially concious, knows my history of being teased and knows never to do that to someone else, especially because he had problems with it. It’s made us though kind of both smart asses. He called me about a month ago to say guess who he found on Facebook. ” Karma is a bitch, Mom, I found those kids who teased me for being fat, and guess what, they aren’t gonna be on the cover of GQ, anytime soon”….Like I said I don’t of course and neither does he think its wrong to be fat. But do I get some satisfaction out of those who made my life miserable for being fat, who get fat themselves and struggle with it. Yeah… Not Sorry either that I feel that way and that goes beyond what I weigh personally cause I am not torturing myself anymore about anything in that regard.

  8. October 12, 2010 1:57 pm

    This comment has been started and re-started, written and re-written for two days now. On the one hand, I feel as though I really shouldn’t speak up. I guess I’ve been what’s referred to as “conventionally pretty” all my life- only neither stylish, nor “in”, or anything popular.

    I’m still trying to get over some of the things done to me in the name of bullying. The broken hand I got when those idiots thought it might be funny to smash a fire safety door closed on a pianist’s hand (then wait until she’s not in a cast anymore but just wearing bandages and just do it again) hurts like something when it gets cold like now. The names they called me, the pranks they played on me, the laughter and the sheer icy emptiness of utter isolation still cling to me in every thoughtless moment. The urge to be perfect, the drive to never offend, to be the one everyone goes to, to be as slick as possible so nothing sticks to you is overwhelming.

    I didn’t have too many physical differences from my popular classmates. Frizzy curly hair, but that was it. I was smart enough to be offered scholarships in droves, first for schools then for colleges. Maybe that was it? Or me wearing comfortable used clothes, sometimes my younger brothers’ outfits (they both grew way earlier than I did)? Or me speaking the clear, east-coast English my parents and grandparents used?

    Anyway, school was and is the most miserable experience of my life. I lived for my after-school activities and my books (why do so many of us turn to books? Maybe because they’re friends who won’t betray you!). I found… acquaintances doing sports, people who wouldn’t physically hurt me and didn’t tease me as long as I did what was expected of me. I found enemies playing music, but at least they were honest about being competition. A few of them I even struck a tentative friendship with outside the competition circus.

    I can’t stand the thought of anyone being harassed or bullied. It’s no different in business than it is at school, at least people now usually stab you in the back right away. I try my best to befriend the shyer ones, the ones who tend to have lunch in their office rather than go out to that chic bistro around the corner. I want to offer them a friendly face, a smile, an open ear. Still, both they and I are way too socially awkward and afraid to really reach out to each other.

    The fear of social contact, terror at the thought of having to let another person get close to you, close enough to touch and hurt, is one of the effects of bullying the ones doing the deed will never understand.

    I am a confident woman in my business. I am confident in my skills and my professionalism. When it comes to making friends, or even just any social gathering involving smalltalk I’m a gibbering wreck inside. I hate having to enter a room with more than ten people inside when I don’t have a desk or lectern to hide behind. It’s been hard work getting to the point where I can hide my fears behind a mask of friendliness.

    I had my family to fall back onto. One of my brothers faced the same bullies I did after his knee was crushed in a football game. The other was smarter than both of us, keeping his head down and making friends, showing just how intelligent he really was only when he got into pre-med and med-school. We were our own tight-knit circle of friends at home. Without them, I think I would have ended up like those victims we mourn- it was that bad. My family and my music didn’t allow me to fall too far. One day, I hope to be able to help catch someone like they caught me.

    I haven’t set foot in any of my schools ever since leaving them. I’m not ready to go back there yet, and I have broken off any and all contact to anyone I knew back then or who knew me. I wish I could say I have the courage to make suggestions to the schools about preventing, or at least alleviating, bullying but I don’t. Everything still feels too raw.

    Should I ever have a family, I’ll do what my mom couldn’t because she wanted to offer us the best education we could get: I’m going to get my kid, speak frankly to the teachers and the bullies, get them out of there and run.

    Nobody I love will ever go through what I went through. That’s perhaps the most important lesson I learned.

  9. October 15, 2010 5:21 am

    As someone who also knows the pain of bullying, I feel your anger and pain over your own situation.

    I am committed to doing more than telling kids to just ride it out because “it gets better”. I believe firmly that we have an obligation as adults to MAKE it better by speaking out against it at every possible opportunity, as you have done here. Well done.

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