If you’ve ever been bullied, I’m sure some well-meaning adult taught you to repeat, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But they are wrong. They are so very wrong.
Don’t believe me? Did your parent or grandparent ever say something to you that to this day still has some sting to it? Childhood bullies can have that same effect, and it can stay with you for a lifetime. All words matter, and they are long-lasting scars that never truly heal. We carry the baggage for the rest of our lives. The load certainly feels lighter with time, but it never goes away.
To My Childhood Bullies :: Your Words Do Hurt
I’m sharing my story here for the first time in any public forum in hopes that a new generation of parents, teachers and coaches will pay attention and take action when necessary.
When I was bullied as a child, I didn’t feel like I could tell my teachers or my mom. Since I was a rising athlete, the only person I felt might hear me or care was my coach. Sadly, she didn’t see what I was experiencing, and she ignored what I was trying to share with her. And things continued to get worse for me.
Why was I bullied? I went to a very small Catholic school, about 30 kids per grade split up into two classes. The bullying started when I tried out to become a song leader in third grade, and I was one of only two kids in my grade selected. It put me front and center … an easy target. I was labeled a “teacher’s pet” because most subjects came easily for me and my teachers kept wanting to move me up a grade. Since I tested gifted (yet another label) they decided to plug me into those opportunities so that socially I wouldn’t suffer. Sadly, that was not the case or an easy fix. Now consider that I was a rising star athlete. This made me even less popular with the girls a grade older than me who were threatened by my “taking their place” on the team.
I know it sounds like I’m looking for sympathy here because I was good at sports and excelled in school – please keep reading because this isn’t what you think it is.
As a young girl in seventh grade, when the bullying was the absolute worst, I started to believe the things I heard every single day. When the other girls told me I was ugly, I believed them. I was picked on because I didn’t wear new clothes and was too tall for pants my size. When my skin broke out horribly, even the other picked-on kids made fun of me. And at this tender age, my parents were having horrible arguments, some of which I was the center, and so in turn, I was certain I was the reason they were fighting. All of that is a lot for a seventh grader to carry.
Suicidal in Seventh Grade
I knew I had family members who loved me, but still I thought I was the source of my parents’ difficult relationship. I had no hope. I began to try to take my own life.
I thought about slashing my wrists. I knew it would be bloody. I didn’t want my family to have to clean up a scary scene so I thought about doing it in the shower. But I was afraid when the first wrist was cut, I wouldn’t be able to follow through with a second because it would be painful.
Then I thought about hanging myself. But I didn’t really have a great place to do this or time to set it up when I would be alone since I helped take care of my sister after school. I thought I had found a good place at school backstage from where we had band practice, but I didn’t want to be found days and days later and worry my family like that. I just couldn’t piece it all together.
So I landed at suffocation. It had to be quiet, where my family could find me in a peaceful position. I didn’t want to put a plastic bag over my head and give them nightmares forever, so the plan was my pillow. I would suffocate myself with my pillow. I tried on two separate occasions. I had no idea that it would be so hard to do this to myself. I tried holding my breath at the same time and pressing down hard enough so that I couldn’t breathe. Maybe I didn’t watch enough TV to know that this wouldn’t work, but I did try to accomplish this two different times and obviously I failed because here I am writing about it. I was a smart kid, just not smart enough to figure out how to take my own life in a way that wasn’t messy.
Take the Warning Signs Seriously, Moms!
So I beg you parents, teachers and coaches: do not take any form of bullying lightly. You don’t know how many layers of emotionally heavy things the child is dealing with. If you know about it at all, consider that it is probably MUCH WORSE than they have shared. You don’t know ALL of the things that are going on at once. Each kid handles things differently, and each kid can handle different weights of certain pressures. You never know what will finally trigger an attempt at suicide. And they don’t either, so it’s important for them to be able to talk to someone, immediately. Professionally, if possible.
I am here to tell you that all those things I suffered from during my years of bullying (that went on even through high school) stuck with me. It took me until my thirties to really accept a genuine compliment about my looks – because for years it was ingrained into my brain that I was ugly. It took years of bad relationships to understand that I truly had value as a friend, a person, a human being. It took many years to find my own self-worth and confidence.
There will always be this deep-rooted seed of self-doubt, wondering if I should believe any lies told about me, any negative comments directed at me over jealousy, any questioning of my moral character; it can all still shake me to my very core today. Fear and self-doubt will sometimes win momentary small battles that still chip away at my self-confidence and self-worth. I have to work very hard to overcome these moments that shake my new foundation.
If you have ever been bullied, experienced those moments of self-doubt, or let negative commentary bring you down, let me encourage you. You ARE worthy. You ARE enough. You DO have value. Don’t let the fears of others projected on you “stick” to you. In the wise words of the fun dance song, just “Shake It Off.”