Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bullying


Bullying is definitely closely related to suicide, especially in kids and adolescents. According to bullyingstatistics.org, about 1 in 4 kids in the US are bullied regularly. The same website says that bullied kids are up to 9% more likely to attempt suicide than other kids. 



I think anyone who had been bullied can tell you that the old rhyme "Sticks and Stones..." isn't true. Words can hurt. Words can even kill. And that doesn't even touch on the physicality of some bullying. Kids landing in hospitals because a bully thought they were [insert derogatory term here]. Many people look back at a time in their lives and can be brought to tears instantly from words or actions even decades ago.



I was a victim of bullying when I was entering the eighth grade. I was a part of a youth soccer team where many of us had been playing together for years. The coach's daughter, our team captain, who I considered my best friend, stopped speaking to me without an explanation, without so much as a word. I was becoming a much quieter person and I had already started self-harming and sinking into depression. But soccer was my life. It was where my energy went to and I don't think I changed much in that environment. But I lost my best friend and I never knew what I did wrong. At first, it was awkward because Coach drove me to every practice and some games. I lived in a house a few yards away. Our lives were so entangled. But after a while, I became closer to her younger sister and life went on as usual. But apparently, not talking to me and not being my friend was not enough for this girl I had formerly been so close to. One by one each team mate began to ignore me during practice and warm ups. For a girl who already had anxiety issues and depression, I felt like my heart was going to explode as each girl turned away from me without a word. It went farther than even my team mates. Parents began to ostracize me as well. When I made the mistake of suggesting that the girl playing goal keeper (who wore a goalie jersey over her regular jersey) lend her regular jersey to a girl who accidentally left hers at home, a parent grabbed me and said something along the lines of 
"I know what you're doing and I'm not gonna let it happen on my watch. You can't manipulate me". 
I stared at her, truly blindsided and I told her I didn't know what she was talking about. She just rolled her eyes and waited for me to walk away. I remember the feeling of those warm tears filling my eyes and trying to hide them. I was shaking. How did it get to the point that no one would warm up with me before a game and I got yelled at? At one practice I laid on the ground during water break, resting. The other kids got the biggest person to sit on my back so I couldn't get up while they poured Gatorade all over me and kicked me with their cleats. I could only cover my face. This wasn't the first of last at of violence against me. What was this rumor going around? I never found out and I never will. After breaking down and going into a psychosis, I finally left the team and my family moved not too long later. 



I survived that but it did lead to strengthen my self-hatred and self-harm. And bullying didn't end there. I was bullied as a young adult because I was a strong female character and some men [read:boys] can't handle that. Bullying is everywhere. It doesn't stop when you turn 13 or 18 or 21 or even when you're 26. 



But I'm not proud to say that I was a bully too. Years before my excommunication from that soccer group, back when I was more outspoken and even popular, I was a part of the "Captain's Clique". We didn't call it that back than, but we probably should have. At the time, I didn't realize what was going on. It just felt like me and my best friend hanging out with our other best friends. I didn't see the way we spoke to the other girls or walked around like we owned it. As I've looked back on all these years, working on my forgiveness for things I don't even understand, I've discovered memories that I'm not proud of. 



When I joined this hodgepodge group of soccer players I was 8 years old. Some of them had already been playing together for years. But my totally awesome personality (ha ha ha) made it easy for me to make friends. I was kind of a natural soccer player and the coach liked me so I think that helped. Memories are always fuzzy for me these days, but even though these memories are a bit blurry, I can feel the awkward and uncomfortable feelings I had about them at first. There was another girl who I suspect was a part of the inner circle before I came around but seemed to drift towards the outside as time went on. So often my best friend would make disparaging remarks about this girl. The rude comments didn't stop at soccer skills but continued to include physical looks, her intelligence, and even her family. I laughed along with her and the others, I'm sure I made my own jokes too. 




Throughout the torment that preteen girls can commit, our victim held her head high and you could hardly ever find her without a smile on her face. I don't know if it's because she wasn't aware of our cruelty (I doubt it), but I think she just had such wonderful confidence in herself. I would be lying if I said that her strength didn't make me feel better about the pain I may have caused. This girl is beautiful, smart, and talented. I've been lucky to watch her continued journey through life and I couldn't be happier for her and the wonderful life she's made for herself. I hope everyday that what I did or said did not leave a lasting mark. I hope she knows I'm truly sorry for allowing myself to act so lowly and treat her so horribly. 



Like I said in the beginning, bullying is linked to suicide. I know that every time I experienced bullying it was like someone was driving a knife that much deeper towards my heart. Bullying is unnecessary. It usually comes from the insecurities of the bully and has nothing to do with the victim. This month is Suicide Prevention Month and one of the ways we can prevent suicide, especially in our youth, is to do everything we can to eliminate bullying. The world has expanded with the internet so bullying can take place anywhere and at anytime. We need to prepare our kids for bullying. Not just that it might happen but that they don't need to let it under our skin. Like the girl I bullied, we need to raise our children to have the confidence and the self-esteem to face anything. Nothing breaks and changes a bully like someone who they can't hurt. And of course, always be there for your children whether it is to listen and strengthen them or set them right and teach them humility. Bullying is NOT "kids will be kids". It doesn't teach kids to be tough. Bullying kills. Bullying is known to cause anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and suicidal behavior in adolescents. Bullying is not limited to any particular group of people. Children and adults can be bullied. Black or white. Rich or poor. No one is inherently safe and our goal should be to protect everyone. Through strengthening our children and teaching good values. Bullying leads to suicide and we can't let this continue. 





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