Who loves a new school year?! Anyone? Hello? Is this thing on? Yeah, I hated the first day of school. Actually, I hated every day of school…but that’s normal, right? It was fourth grade. I still to this day, don’t know what happened. I went from being liked in school, to suddenly being hated and bullied. Literally, overnight. Suddenly, it went from having friends, to those same “friends” whispering behind my back, calling me names, telling me I’m a piece of trash and a loser. Lunch time was always gross for me. One day, I grabbed my lunch and went to sit in the same place I always sat, which was with my friends. Well, I wasn’t welcome there anymore. I was told to go sit at the other table on the other side of the room. I looked at it. It was empty. They said, “no one wants to be around you. So, just go sit by yourself.” When I started to walk away, confused, the entire lunch room erupted in laughter, whispers and stares. My self-esteem shot down so low that I didn’t even eat lunch for about a week, because I didn’t want to get laughed at. I didn’t want people to see me feeling sad and to give them pleasure in my pain. I eventually got written up because I wasn’t eating. Me. I got in trouble for what they were doing to me. They would throw food at me. Laugh. Spill milk on my chair so I couldn’t sit. And yet, I got in trouble for their actions. And (like I’ve said in other posts), I refused to let them see me cry.
After lunch came recess, which was even worse than lunch. At least at lunch, you don’t necessarily have to socialize (well, I just plain couldn’t). Recess, though, was different. I tried joining my little group that I had always joined. Instead, they were throwing kick balls at my head. Shoving my face in snow banks. Shoving me up against the gate by my throat and pinning me there. When we’d get in line to go back into school, they would spit in my hair. I remember one girl said behind me “why don’t you just go home and stay there forever and never come back.” When I didn’t turn around or answer, she got more aggressive saying “aren’t you going to answer? Are you too chicken? I hope you’re going to cry.” At that very moment, a teacher—A TEACHER—heard and saw everything, and stared at me with a look of disgust on her face, but smiled at the girl who was treating me like that. What message did that send to a child? That I should be ashamed of who I am. That I should blame myself for the actions of others. That I’m inadequate. I’m not good enough. Something’s wrong with me. I’m not normal. I can’t show emotion. I can’t speak up. I have to try harder to be better than who I am. I have to keep my mouth shut. I have to be someone other than who I am just to not get bullied. I have to just learn to deal with it. Get over it. And guess what? That all carried over into other areas of my life as a child, and even as an adult. It wasn’t just happening in fourth grade; it happened for many years after that. And it escalated. Big time.
People seem to think that what happens when your younger years, stays there. You move on, you get over it. For some people, yes, that is the case. For others, it’s not that easy. I still don’t like walking into places, especially places I’ve never been before, by myself for fear of being ridiculed if I don’t know where I’m going. I still get uneasy about being in a group of people, not knowing how to act because I’m scared that they will be nice to me one minute, and the next, turn on me. (Yep, good ole trust issues.) If I start to let my guard down and get hurt, I go back into my shell and retreat. That sends me all those messages again that I learned from childhood. When you go years listening to people tell you to “just get over it,” and “don’t say anything. You don’t want to cause problems,” you start to shut down in so many ways. I was basically told that standing up for myself was a bad thing, because that would make things worse for the other person and those around them. But, what about me? Who’s helping and taking care of me? No one. I wasn’t even allowed to take care of myself! I was the one who kept getting hurt, and why is that OK? It’s not. It’s never OK. You are allowed to speak up. Say how you feel. Get angry. Cry. Show emotion. Be strong. However you feel, feel it. Don’t let anyone tell you how you’re supposed to feel. Learn to trust yourself, and listen to that voice inside of you.
As you start this school year (many of you already have), just remember to be kind. If there is a new kid, include him or her. Make someone feel wanted, special, included. If you see bullying, be brave and say something. Tell someone. Take action. Bystanders are bullies, too. I say this all of the time, but I’ll say it again: your words and actions have the power to make or break someone. Which one do you want to take responsibility for?