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Last Friday when I was perusing internet news, I came across this article about Amanda Todd. She was only fifteen when she killed herself, and in video form, she described how bullying led her to that horrible tragedy. I Tweeted that her story made me want to cry and that I wished I could let other bullied teens know that people DO care.
An hour later, I opened my inbox to see an email from authors Yasmine Galenorn and Mandy Roth, asking me if I wanted to participate in a mass blog event to speak out about bullying. My answer was yes, of course. Before I say anything else, let me thank these two ladies for putting this together. I believe breaking the silence on this topic is so important.
And now, to the second most personal blog post I’ll probably ever write. If you’re wondering what the first one was, it’s here. As mentioned above, I didn’t hesitate to say yes when Yasmine and Mandy asked me to participate in this. I intended to create a generalized anti-bullyingpost, but during the last several days, I spent a lot of time thinking about my teen and pre-teen years. The emotions it brought up surprised me. The scars from those years have healed, but it seems they’re still there. I went back and forth about opening up in a personal way on this topic, but as with the other post, in the end I decided I couldn’t talk about it without showing how I was affected by it. It’s always frightening to open up to strangers (and people you know) about things that have hurt you in the past, but believe me when I tell you, silence is worse. Bad things happen and at one time or another – or in some cases, many times – we all get knocked down and wonder if we’re going to get back up. My story isn’t nearly as bad as some, but at the time, it felt insurmountable because it seemed like I was going through it alone. That’s the lie bullies want you to believe. I wasn’t alone and if you’re going through it now, neither are you.
Allow me to rewind the clock back to when I was ten years old. Due to a job change, my parents moved us from a tiny rural town in Ohio to a city in Florida that seemed like Beverly Hills. To say it was a culture shock is to put it mildly. I was used to playing where getting dirty was a sign of time well spent, and I never thought about my appearance beyond the concern that I’d get scolded if the grass stains on my clothes didn’t come out. Most of the girls in my new school “played” by going to the mall, the beach, and the movies, all while dolled up in cosmetics I wasn’t allowed to wear yet.
I didn’t fit in, and it took no time for them to let me know it.
In the interest of space, I’m not going to list specific instances of the bullying that took place. Suffice it to say that I know what it’s like to feel as though you’re the most despised person in school. I know that sick feeling in your stomach when you wake up and wonder how bad it’s going to be today, and the secret shame of being relieved if someone else gets picked on instead. I know what it’s like to fake sick when you don’t think you can take it anymore, or to skip class to avoid a confrontation that others have gleefully told you is coming. I know what it’s like to be punched while a crowd of your schoolmates cheer, to scrub hateful things off your locker, to look away when insults are hurled at you, and to pretend not to care when you’re emotionally hemorrhaging inside. I know the feeling of hopelessness because it’s the same thing day after day, and the frustration of well-meaning adults saying you don’t know what “real” stress is. I also know what it’s like to stare at a razor without thinking of shaving.
By age twelve, I’d become bulimic, mostly because one of the most common insults directed at me was a variation of “fat.” The other reason was that the popular girls in my school were thin and pretty, so I surmised that the key to being accepted was to be thin and pretty, too. I hid my bulimia from my family and even got so proficient at it that I could purge in public restrooms without anyone noticing. But though I lost weight and began spending an hour each morning on my hair and makeup, things didn’t change. I’d like to say that faith got me through, yet I didn’t believe in anything back then. I’d pray for things to get better while being more than half convinced that no one was listening.
Then, at age fourteen, I started high school. To my delight, most of my tormentors had been zoned into a different school. The ones who did go to mine seemed to have lost interest in me and I started making friends. Then boys started taking notice of me in a way that was flattering instead of scornful. Soon, I was going to parties and hanging out with the “cool” kids. At last, I thought I had what I’d longed for – acceptance.
The problem was that I was still the same despairing, self-destructive girl inside. My bulimia increased and when I’d occasionally gain weight,* I’d punish myself by not eating for days. I hated the beach, but I went every weekend so I’d have the same tanned look everyone else had (as you can guess, bouts of binging/purging plus starving plus long hours in the sun meant on more than one occasion, I’d also pass out). I wasn’t allowed to date, but to get around that rule, I either lied or snuck out my window at night. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t allowed to drink, but I did that, too. I smoked for the same reason and the list goes on. In short, I did just about anything to be accepted, and in doing so, I lost something critical. Myself.
You see, not only was my self-worth based entirely on other people’s opinions (as it had been when I was being bullied), so was my innate sense of what made me happy. If other kids told me I was supposed to enjoy something, I pretended that I did. With enough repetition, I even began to believe it. I’ve said to friends that it took all of my twenties to get over my teens, but that’s jumping forward. By age sixteen, as should shock no one, my grades were dismal. I was good at lying and/or rationalizing a lot of things to get out of trouble, so when I brought home a report card that I knew would result in severe punishment, I thought of a way to cloud the issue. I handed my mother the report card, waited through the expected explosion and then announced that I’d been bulimic for years, blaming my bad grades on that. I thought it would make her pity me enough to lay off the groundings. Instead, my parents checked me into an eating disorder rehabilitation facility within the week.
I hadn’t seen that coming.
My biggest concern at the time, of course, was what my friends would think. Then there was denial. Since I’d only told my parents about my bulimia to get out of trouble, I really didn’t think I had a problem with it. I had also shoved the pain from those years of bullying so far down that I didn’t think I had any issues with that, either. To summarize, the inpatient treatment lasted sixty three days and I needed every second to confront the real reason behind my patterns of self-destructiveness. Deep down, I had believed every terrible thing those kids had said to me and I punished myself by forced vomiting, intermittent starvation, and a deliberate dismantling of my personality. I also realized that I harbored an abundance of bitterness. That was the hardest thing to get rid of. Long after I stopped throwing up and started re-discovering who I was and what I liked, that secret inner bitterness kept holding me back. It poisoned friendships, relationships, and even stunted my new-found faith. In the end, I couldn’t truly heal inside until I let it go. MLK Jr. said it best: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Forgiving my childhood bullies set me free in a way that nothing else could.
For people suffering from bullying right now, forgiveness may seem impossible and at this stage, it probably is. You shouldn’t even worry about that. The first step is to get help. I couldn’t have done anything until I got help, and in my case I didn’t want it, let alone think I needed it. You may think you can handle this, but I urge you to seek help. You may also feel alone but you are not and you may feel hopeless but countless others have overcome this and you can, too. It may not seem that way now, but it’s the truest thing I’ve ever written. Please, if you’re going through this, don’t wait. Ask for help today. If for whatever reason you don’t think you can tell your parents and/or report what’s happening to your school, here are some other places that may be able to help:
(if anyone knows of more helpful links, please include them in the comments)
*This is what happens with bulimia. Your metabolism shuts down because it can’t distinguish between dieting and a famine, so it starts converting what it does digest into fat as a survival mechanism. It also does horrible things to your heath, like stripping your teeth of enamel from repeated exposure to stomach acid; causing ulcers, ruptures, and varicose veins in your esophagus that can burst and cause you to choke on your own blood, and intestinal complications.
Below are the links to the other authors participating in this event. All of us may have different stories and experiences but we are all united in our care and concern. Again I say you are not alone and you can get through this. Perhaps one day, your story of overcoming can encourage someone else.
Mandy M. Roth
Michelle M. Pillow
Jackie Morse Kessler
Jesse L. Cairns
Ruth Frances Long
Linda P says
Wow, what a powerful story. I appreciate you sharing your story. My sister was the one bullied and whenever I found out about it I did my best to stick up for her. She has successfully lived through it, the most surprising thing when confronting the bullies years later was their perception of her and my family. My mother held my family toghther, my father was an alcoholic and emotionally abusing on occasion. After years my sister asked why? The answer was you had everything. My mom made sure we had food and clean clothes, violin lessons or dance lessons as well. She was a very respected member of the community and no one could see the days we woke up with no heat, or hot water, holes in the roof. To any that read this, I agree with these fine writers, share your story, know there is someone, a teacher, peer or adult somewhere in your life that will listen and try to help. Thank you again for sharing your story.
Rivka Spicer says
Searingly painful and honest post. *hugs*. I didn’t join the official list of authors but I did post up my author’s contribution on my WordPress account a couple of days ago. I hope it helps xx
All of you authors are amazing. I heard about Amanda Todd’s story and shared it with my 13 year old daughter. I want her to always know that we are here for her and she is not alone no matter what. I’ve also raised her to not be judgemental of others, and I think I’ve done pretty well. Her teachers compliment me on what a sweet girl she is and always willing to help anybody. Parents need to pay attention to not only what their children are going through, but be honest with yourselves and also pay attention to who your child is. Are they a bully? If so find out why, from what I’ve seen they’re usually hurting too!
Thank you for bringing attention to bullying. As a parent I worry about the things my daughter will go through and I know it can be better!
I was too tall, too skinny, to smart, too whatever. Haters are going to hate. I was never one of the cool kids so I was bullied on occasion at school but it was nothing compared to the bullying I got at home.
I think my kids had it worse at school as some of the social filters we had as kids have eroded to the point of non-existence. In some ways it is better. There is more information out there and role models are speaking up and out against bullies. More needs to be done at home, in schools and in the media.
My daughter is Jewish and a lesbian living in the bible-belt. How she has grown into the incredible woman she has despite all the negativity is one of life’s great mysteries and one of my greatest blessings.
I think blogging about this is a good thing. Thank you for sharing your story.
Personally, I go with my gut feeling, awyals. In this situation, or any other where you have been threatened, verbally abused, intimidated or harassed in any way, I would definitely consider contacting the authorities. It’s a good idea to report all incidences of threats. At the very least it might give you peace of mind that he will be watched out for, and or, investigated.
You are a very brave woman to share your story with so many! I even teared up a little reading your post. I’m not brave enough to share my story, but I wanted to comment on how myself and my community are helping my son and others in our district to be “Bucket Fillers” A local woman published a series of children/YA books to teach them that their actions/words effect others, whether good or bad. It shows them how to recognize “Bucket Dippers” (bullies) and actions they can take to help them deal with “Bucket Dippers” This concept has helped my son so far, he’s only 6, and already has had issued with bullies. It was even enlightening to me when one day he came up to me and told me I was being a “bucket dipper” because I hurt his feelings. It opened my eyes that I didn’t have to just worry about the other children being bullies, but myself as well. So instead of yelling when I get mad now, we talk about it and compromise. If any other parents are interested you can find these lovely books at http://www.bucketfillers101.com I think educating children about bullying is the first step to stop bullying.
again thank you for giving voice to so many in sharing your story!
Thank you for sharing your story with us, it helped so much to hear other people who went through this, i was bullied at school by people i thought were my friends and years later we no longer talk as much as i would like to say i am dissapointed that they never answered why they bullied me i feel relieved that their bad influence is no longer in my life, reading your story made tears come to my eyes with how truthful it is. and hopefully together we can get this stopped so no one in future will have to go through this type of pain anymore.
Teenagers need more fearless/compassionate people like you Ms.Frost to speak out on such matters. A lot of people can relate to what you just said but in a different scenario, and the most important thing as you said, to voice it out. Thank you for sharing your story and letting all your teen readers know that its okay to admit to being bullied or suffering from a depression or disorder.
Michelle M. Pillow (@MichellePillow) says
That’s a really powerful story, considering how bullying led to a destructive cycle in your life, and you’re brave for sharing it so publicly with the world.
I’m very proud to be a part of this important event, and empowered by all the stories of hope and encouragement I’m reading today. It’s wonderful that people can get together and promote the positive.
I have recently enjoyed your books, so was looking for a little more information on you, the author of my secret little literary diversion. Boy, am I shocked. Instead, I find a heartfelt post that requires me to reflect as a mother and make a deliberate choice in parenting. My daughter is considered a “geek” – she loves to read more than spend time with her peers, staunchly refuses makeup and clothes with the latest trends. She has been bulled at her school many times for her dark looks and different behavior/choices. Often, I encourage her to just put her head down and not get noticed. She doesn’t listen. She strikes back – chastises them FOR wearing make up and mistreating others. After reading your post, I will now encourage her to be true to herself, despite what repercussions mean high school girls may have in store for her. It really is more important that she be her kind, odd, true self, rather than anyone else in the world. Thank you, Jeaniene. From not-so-rural Powell, Ohio. 🙂
Kudos to your daughter for being who she is despite the backlash! And I know right where Powell is. My grandmother lived there back when I was a child and we visited her often.
Thank you for opening up to everyone, although I am a stranger, I consider myself a friend you just haven’t met, yet. My heart goes out to all the kids who are bullied, but my frustration is targeted at the adults- school officials and in a lot of cases police, who do nothing to stop the bullying. Education is a great step to making kids aware of how their actions affects others, but where is the adult intervention? So many kids tell their parents, teachers and police but nothing happens. A possible “talking to” or “suspension” doesn’t stop the bullying and in some instances, it just causes the problem to escalate. Changes need to be made, and it is the adults, that have to put the policies in place and the appropriate punishment (expulsion if necessary) to stop these bullies when education fails.
Our kids need protection. The adults who are responsible for ensuring safety in the schools and in the community need to step up. I have heard heartbreaking stories from parents whose children are bullied who have complained to the principal and to the police but nothing gets done to stop the bullying. These children continue to be ostracized in school. We need to make a stand, as adults, to protect our children and put an end to bullying..
Julia Broadbooks says
Good for you for learning to let go of the bitterness. Even though those kids earned your hard feelings, that kind of anger really is a weight dragging you down in life. Wishing you every happiness.
Jaycee Clark says
The things we do to be accepted. I dealt with anorexia during HS, but I did my own post, so I won’t repeat it here. You are right, these bullying posts were so…personal. I don’t do personal stuff well. I like my privacy. All these posts, are wonderfully liberating, heart breaking and soul reflecting. Empowering. HUGS. Your post is so powerful, so powerful. I find your battle, your accomplishments amazing!
Mandy M. Roth says
Thank you so much for sharing and for being part of the blog event.
A powerful and moving post. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I know it cannot have been easy to write.
Michelle Hughes says
This is something that I will support with every fiber of my being. As the mother of a child who is currently being pulled out of public school because of bullying, I can completely relate. I have my own story from my childhood that still haunts me to this day. I think it’s a situation that we need as many people to get behind as possible. Until the day that people stop seeing this as a normal childhood thing, it will never change. When our children’s teachers and counselors say they want to stop bullying, but continue to allow it to happen, how can our children feel safe? They can’t! I will help in any way I can!
Michelle Hughes – Romance Author
Lisa Wray says
Hi Jeanie! Would love to get in touch with you more about this as we have a great book about bullying as well (SPEECHLESS by Hannah Harrington). Could you mail me when you have a chance? Would like to see if we can add her to your great list! 🙂
I asked for link to help sites for bullying in this post. I’m glad there are books about the topic, but that’s not what I’m listing here. Thanks!
Ali L says
It never ceases to amaze me that when there are great tradegies there are great people who take a step forward to help, bring light to these tragedies, and use their own resources to do as much as they are able. To all the authors and everyone else who has engaged in this cause that does, has or will affect most of us, thank you. It takes great courage to face your own past, pain and then use this to help others and encourage them to speak out and emphasize that they are not alone!
One of my children was also bullied at school as well as online. I also remember those great days of school where myself and some of my friends also had instances of bullying.
Help is out there! so please if you are a target of bullying PLEASE ask for help now, don`t wait.
Jeanine you are an inspiration to all. You have overcome so much and your story shows how everyone can heal and do great things! Bless you and everyone involved! The world indeed is a a better place to be when everyone comes together for such a worthy cause.