Saturday, January 04, 2014

being bullied

I spent many years of my life being bullied. I have not recently dwelled upon it, but I have not forgotten. (I know I am not alone or special here.)

Listening to the TEDRadio Hour from January 3, 2014, I was caught up by the theme of “overcoming.” But I was especially struck by Shane Koyczan'stalk about being bullied as a child.

On any old day, I will remember that, yes, I was teased and criticized, felt pretty much a total outcast in elementary school. I don’t often use the word “bullied,” but, yes, I was. From 1st grade through 8th grade, I faced all sorts of bullying: having my baseball cap taken off my head and tossed around the school bus as the horde laughed in 1st grade; being called freckle faced and fat in 3rd grade by a boy who himself was freckled and actually chubby (I had not yet hit my chubby phase and was still lean); being challenged to a fight in 4th grade by a boy who thought I was not enough of a girl to be covered by the social prohibition against hitting girls; having my secret crush revealed to the boy by a popular girl I mistakenly trusted in 6th grade; being ridiculed by the “mean girls” in 8th grade for wearing a vintage 1950s pink satin ball gown with an Army surplus green pullover and grey slouchy boots. (“Did you make that dress?” *Sneer.*)

I was safe and even outgoing and social in nursery school and kindergarten. And I was fine and found my own way in high school. I was not always happy during these earlier and later phases, but I was not bullied. High school actually offered me relief, which is not true for many.

But eight years of all sorts of bullying left their mark. I, like Shane Koyczan, remember begging to stay home, crying about going to school, faking being sick to avoid school. Like him, I still always take the side of the underdog because I relate.

I have strengths and weaknesses influenced by my experiences: I embrace being myself, whether I fit in or not (which does not always mean I am confident, but I am myself); I am open minded and don’t tend to judge others (I have not been kind every moment of my life, but I have not bullied); I can react with unintended anger when teased by a loved one; I have some social anxiety and do better one on one or in small groups; I am sensitive to criticism.

I think being bullied has shaped me more that I have recognized. Yes, it seemed part of my past, but listening to this TED talk opened the memory gates up. I can see how I was shaped and damaged, but also how I recovered, for better and worse.

Bullying is clearly powerful and damaging. It is not "nothing," "only words" or "just how kids are."

PS: If you are interested in following Shane Koyczan on Twitter, here he is