Emily s Story
“Raise your hand if you consider yourself to be a bully.’
It’s a statement I start most of my middle and high school speeches with. A statement that has silence to follow (minus a few whispers). After a few quiet moments, I continue with some other questions.
‘Raise your hand if you have ever heard a rumor or gossiped about a friend.’
‘How about if you have intentionally left someone out of your plans?'
'How many of you have seen someone treat another badly?’
By the end of those questions, usually every single hand in the room is raised- teachers and parents included. I begin with these questions to show that we may not always realize when we are acting as a bully. We could have no idea that we are contributing to the destruction of another human being’s self-esteem. Telling someone a rumor we heard about them or not stepping in when we see someone treated badly could seem like no big deal to us, but this one small action may be piled onto their already secret broken self-esteem and could be the final straw…
I never go into detail about my bullying experience- or the reason behind my invisible illnesses. Being bullied is a topic I usually skim over out of fear. Fear? Yes, you read that correctly.
I am 23 years old, but, as much as I hate to admit this, I still get uncomfortable with the thought of those who bullied me. I refuse to go to the mall or public places in my hometown during popular times to avoid seeing any of them. I told some of my best friends at home that I couldn’t go to the bars with them on a Friday night because I was scared of running into them. Why? Because any time I am reminded of those people and my experiences, I reverse back into my 15-year-old self and feel so little inside.
This is what it is like to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short. It can make me relive memories as if they are occurring for the first time. They can come in flashbacks that take me right into the past or in my nightmares that make me wake me up, screaming and crying. And the worst part of all, they are just as painful and as raw as they were to live through the first time…
Last week, I was Christmas shopping in the mall and overheard a group of girls talking badly about another girl who was also shopping in another section of the same store. After a few minutes of listening, I realized the girl was ‘friends’ with this group. She was searching for a shirt and, once she found it, she returned to them. They immediately stopped talking about her and continued as a group into the next shop.
I drove back to my house replaying the conversation I heard by those girls over and over again in my head. That girl reminded me of someone I once knew. She reminded me of myself. I was that girl.
I was that girl who was an easy-target...
I was that girl who had 'friends' turn against her after hearing rumors…
I was that girl who was the brunt of all the jokes…
I was that girl who became hated by people that had never met her…
I was that girl who 'deserved' what she was getting…
I was that girl who would cry behind her computer screen…
I was that girl that ‘friends’ felt she not worth sticking up for…
I was that girl who became numb to people and life in general…
I was that girl who feared going to her basketball games when she knew one of the them was going to be on the opposing team, but also feared missing the game, in case that would translate to the bullies that she was scared of them.
I was that girl who invited the bullies to her birthday party, in hopes that maybe it could get them to like her. Maybe if they got to know her they’d see she wasn’t as weird or as bad as they made her feel.
I was that girl who shut out her family and treated them poorly. The only ones who actually loved her.
I was that girl who got laughed at and pushed at a classmate’s sweet sixteen party, told that she had 'lost' and was a 'tattletale' for the school finding out she tried to commit suicide over the profile.
I was that girl who was told by strangers over the phone that it would be better if she were dead.
I was that girl.
And thousands of kids every single day are 'that girl' or 'that boy'. Getting treated the same way I did by thousands of kids who are 'that bully' or 'that bystander.'
I am tired of reading stories about kids taking their own lives all because they feel so ostracized and hated by classmates. I am sick of hearing girls talk badly about their ‘friends’ in department stores when I am Christmas shopping. I am so done with human beings treating other human beings like dirt for their pure sick enjoyment or to make themselves feel superior.
Don’t get me wrong- I am not saying I am perfect by any means or that I have never been on the other side of things. I have definitely made dumb jokes, stupid mistakes, and at times, I definitely haven’t been the nicest person that I can and should be.
But, under no circumstances does anyone deserve to be bullied. Let me repeat that in case you missed it- Absolutely no one deserves to be bullied. No one deserves to be told that they are worthless. No one deserves to feel ashamed when they look in the mirror at their reflection. No one deserves to hate themselves as much as they are told they are hated by others. No one deserves to feel like they have to fake sick to their parents, so they can miss school. No one deserves to feel embarrassed or feel like they have nowhere to go for help. No one deserves to feel like this world would be a better place without them in it.
I know because I felt that way…
'You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything.'
So, maybe that one little statement you said to me wasn’t a huge deal. Maybe that one little comment you wrote about me wasn’t awful. Maybe you saw me being treated badly by others, but hey, at least you’re not getting involved, right? Wrong.
Because you had absolutely no clue how many others were saying the exact same things to me every day. You had absolutely no idea how many times I was told the same rumors. You had no clue others were leaving voicemails like the ones that you left me. What may start out as a joke to you is not funny to the one receiving it every day. And, let me tell you, from my own personal experience, it starts to add up.
When I receive messages from old middle school and high school classmates, apologizing for either getting involved or not helping me when they knew it was going on, I really don’t blame them. How could they have known I was receiving so many anonymous messages and calls? How could they know I was crying myself to sleep most nights? How could they know I was sitting in class feeling self-conscious and hating myself?
They only knew their small contribution. But, all those small contributions led to my overdose, in order to try and take my own life. Those small contributions paved a way for my very own invisible illnesses.
The isolated comments that we make can sting, but they don’t kill. What can kill is the layering of those comments made by multiple people on multiple occasions. What can kill is the sitting there and doing nothing to stop it. And, as the words layer, they simultaneously are shattering someone’s self-esteem, like they shattered mine.
But, I am rebuilding my confidence every day. I may have these invisible illnesses, but the illnesses certainly do not define me. What defines me are my morals. What defines me is the love I give and receive to my family and friends. What defines me are the messages and comments I receive from kids every day saying they can relate to my story and won’t give up hope on their lives. What defines me is my strength. What defines me is my perseverance. The opinions of the bullies used to define me, but unfortunately for them, they do not anymore. They did not win and will never win.
And to the kids who are being bullied each day: 'Not to spoil the ending, but everything is going to be ok.”