As a child, teen, and adult survivor of bullying, this is a word that literally makes my heart hurt. I know what it’s like to have someone make you feel like you are nothing. I know what it’s like to have someone make you feel like you are worthless. I know what it’s like to lose hope. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can cut you like a knife.
When I was younger, I was teased and bullied because I was different. I was the perfect target because I was really sensitive and would cry at the drop of a hat. Bullies like that. They would call me names, they would laugh at me, and they would taunt me. The words hurt, but it was nothing compared to what I would experience later on in college and even in my adult life.
My first semester of college was one I will never forget…and not in a good way. Due to some really poor choices I made during my first few weeks of college, a group of students decided to make it their mission to make my life a living hell. They posted notes about me along the stairwells of the dorm I was living in. They would snicker, glare, and spit at me as I passed them on my way to class. They would yell vulgar names at me. They would throw food at my friends and me in the cafeteria. And that wasn’t even the half of it…
I reached out to the residential life director at my school, who ended up being more concerned about the fact that I had been written up by an R.A. for drinking than he was with helping me. The group of bullies lived in my dorm. There were days when I would be so afraid of encountering them that I would make myself physically sick prior to leaving for class. There wasn’t a day that went by when I wasn’t checking the hallway to make sure no one was there before leaving my room. I developed such horrible anxiety over encountering the bullies that I stopped going to my classes. I ended up having to withdraw from all but one class. I didn’t talk to anyone about what was happening—not even my family. I had done what I was taught to do and reached out for help, only to have that person refuse to do anything about it. I was alone and I was depressed. It took everything I had just to get out of bed every other day for the one class I hadn’t dropped. I was literally living in fear, every minute of every day. At the time, I didn’t believe there was a light at the end of the tunnel for me. I was living in my own personal hell that I believed I would never escape. It felt like things would never get better, and I had hit my absolute rock bottom.
Fortunately, my light at the end of the tunnel was the man I now call my husband. He gave me something to live for. But, not everyone has that light. All too often, you hear about teenagers ending their lives because they were being bullied relentlessly and felt they had no other way out. When I was younger, bullying was something you encountered at school, but you could escape to the safety of your home. Now, in the age of social networking and texting, there is nowhere to run. Kids endure being emotionally and physically bullied within the confines of their school walls, and go home to experience all-out vicious and evil attacks via the web and text messaging. Kids say things to each other over the internet and via text that are so incredibly cruel and vile that reading the words they write make the hairs on my neck stand straight up. Kids are encouraging other kids to end their lives and laughing about it like they just told the greatest joke in the world. As a parent, it terrifies me to send my kids out into this world.
My 9-year-old son is one of the kindest and most wonderful kids you could ever meet. He has a 10,000-watt smile and a heart to match. He is the kid on the soccer field who, rather than going for the ball after seeing a player from the other team fall, checks to see if the other player is okay and helps him back on his feet. He is the one who offers his brother the cup with more milk and takes the half full cup for himself. At the beginning of the school year, his teacher assigned him a series of questions to answer so she could get to know him better. The last question on the assignment asked my son what most worried him about school. He answered that he was worried about being bullied.
As a parent, it is absolutely heartbreaking to have a son whose biggest worry about being in school is the possibility of being bullied. He should be enjoying life and focusing on being the wonderful little man he is. He shouldn’t have to worry about other kids making fun of him because he’s smaller than them, or because he has special needs, or because he isn’t as good at sports as they are. He has so much to offer the world, and the world needs to see his light shine, because he is all kinds of awesome.
There is a teenager whom I have known since she was a baby. I’m sure she doesn’t realize that I have known her this long, but I have. She is an absolutely beautiful girl with a huge heart and so much to offer this world. She recently shared her story and I have no words to express how strong and extraordinary she is. She shared about what it felt like to be bullied and the overwhelming depression she experienced as a result.
“How many people honestly know what it feels like to hate yourself so much that you want to die or cut yourself or burn yourself or just disappear? How many people know what it feels like to wake up wishing you didn’t, to be completely terrified to go to school or even in public? To feel like nobody would notice if you were gone, to have nobody there for you, to never feel good enough, to be completely hopeless.”
These are her powerful words, and she is so brave in allowing me to share them. She is a young teenager—not even old enough to drive. She has barely lived, and yet she has already experienced wanting to die. I am so grateful that she is still here today because she is so incredibly inspirational and amazing, and she is destined to do remarkable things in life. The world is a better place because she is in it.
The message I want to leave the children, teens, and adults who are being bullied is that I have been there, and it WILL get better. You may not be able to see it right now, but there IS hope. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel. Find the things that bring you joy and hope. Hold on tight, and don’t you dare let go. YOU matter to this world. YOU matter to your family. YOU matter to your friends. DON’T let the bullies win. Take the power back by SURVIVING, by OVERCOMING, by being the BEST PERSON YOU CAN BE. Ending your life is NOT the answer. LIVING your life IS.
It WILL get better.
Please take a few minutes to watch this video by Megan and Liz. They wrote an amazing song with a powerful message about bullying.