About two weeks ago at the time of this writing I ran across this article in the Huffington Post about Lynda Fredrick and her story of bullying. This tugged at my heartstrings because I, too, am a victim of bullying. From preschool all the way to my second job in the workplace I dealt with the issue. Even though I didn’t deal with some of the domestic issues like Fredrick (according what I draw from the poem) did, but I dealt with the bullying at school and the workplace just the same.
Bullying is a problem and it’s not a new one. It is making headlines since kids and teenagers are killing themselves or each other because of it. I know firsthand what it feels like. At least when I was growing up cyber bullying didn’t exist, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with. The loneliness brought by bullying can fell crushing. It can feel like an anaconda wrapped around your chest, and it will crush you if you let it.
Fredrick may be just a couple years older than I am, but it is in about the same time I was in school. As far as similarities the home life go, my parents were poor, but I was fortunate enough to have a few new clothes and parents who took the time to bathe me until I was old enough to do it myself. I had a loving family. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t.
The armored knights and Spartan hoplites are metaphors of how I view myself and how I dealt with my own bullying problems. I had to fight, defend, and train. I had to view these personal attacks like real attacks and that I was in a war to stay alive or die. Only the strong will survive. You must fight or die. Fight back or be crushed.
Preschool: Where It All Began
Unlike Fredrick, she doesn’t mention being a victim in preschool, this is probably my first intro to other kids besides one neighbor’s kid that I played with occasionally, and he was older than I was. Most of the time I played by myself since I was only child–I lived in isolation because no one in the community reached out to my parents other than family and the one neighbor. Since I wasn’t around people very much, I didn’t know how to approach people; I was shy and silent. Silence was my first language toward strangers. I was in introverted child, so this was natural, too.
When people came around, they didn’t ask if I would like to play with them. Instead, they would either call me names or take toys away from me. I didn’t know how to deal with that. My mom had to teach me to stand up for myself. This was my first encounter with other people my age, and they were rather unpleasant.
Also, at this particular preschool, the owner was very strict. She had a rule about mixing Play Doh among other things. I wanted to make something for my mom since she worked at the preschool. I was a creative child. I didn’t mix the colors, I just put different colors on a color like a collage and tried to make sure I didn’t press too hard so they didn’t mix. The lady found out about it. She spanked me (back when public spanking was allowed) and made me sit out of recess for the entire day. The only thing I thought about was how I didn’t like the lady and didn’t want to come back here rather than what I had done. I felt like I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t break something or get into a fight with another kid. I didn’t mix the colors together.
Elementary School and The Bus Until the Beginning of 5th Grade
I am now introduced to kindergarten, and this time my mother didn’t work here. Since this was a small town and all the schools were close together, the elementary, middle, and high schoolers rode the same bus. This became a nightmare. The trials and tribulations from preschool also happen here and are more severe. The high school and middle school kids would torment the elementary school kids. I was one of the targets when I was as young as kindergarten.
For me in kindergarten and first grade, those were the hardest times since I had to learn to combat these older kids along with relearning self defense. What made things worse was that I was picked on on the playground by peers after the morning bus hounding by the big kids and peers. I would get it in the afternoons, too. When I wasn’t being picked on, nobody wanted to play with me most of the time–only occasionally. Whenever I was invited in, the kids didn’t play fair with me. I didn’t really have fun like the other kids I observed as I wandered the playground alone. I felt like I was better off playing by myself. I watched people most of the time as I swung alone or whatever I felt like doing.
There were times I dealt with extreme loneliness; I had use my brilliant mind to create my own friends since I didn’t really have friends. Animals were the only friends I could see and touch, and they loved me unconditionally and didn’t judge me. I also created a world where I mattered, and I could leave my problems behind until I had to return to the bus and school tomorrow. The animals would follow along too. When an animal died, it was like my best friend had died. In fact, this is how it was. The deaths of animals were very hard for me since that’s how I felt. I felt the sting of loneliness again until I got another animal.
I also wanted mom and dad to have another baby so I could have somebody to play with. I didn’t have issues with sharing mom and dad. The loneliness was overwhelming and sometimes too much to bear. Very few times did I go to the woods alone and just cry. As I grew older though I stopped crying. Only wimps and babies cry became my motto when I felt the urge to cry. Suck it up or die because no one will give you a break even if you are wounded and bleeding.
I occasionally did try to reach out to other people only to be shrugged off or hurt. Anything I said or did brought torment. Sometimes the loneliness felt better than all the attacks. I became fluent in the language of silence. When I was silent, my tormentors didn’t have any ammo to aim back at me. I felt like I was constantly under attack. Almost daily. A good day was when I was left alone. I felt I was having to constantly defend, defend, defend. I began to not share anything with anyone since that also brought pain.
A girl pretended to be my friend and humiliated me in front of everyone on the bus. She deliberately wanted to hurt me. I don’t know why, and what did I ever do to her? Nothing. After that, I decided I wasn’t going to let that happen again. That is where my trust issues began. I had a very hard time trusting anyone after that. I kept everyone at arm’s length. They only seemed to want to get close to me so they could find some other gossip fodder. This happened to me when I was only in 2nd or 3rd grade, and the bully was a middle schooler. I wanted to beat her up, and I don’t know what held me back because I was blinded by rage after the shock and humiliation passed over.
So then I began to close myself off from others even more. I gave them the silent treatment most of the time. During this time I began to armor myself and plan defense strategies. No one stood up on my behalf. I was on my own. A lone warrior. All the painful lessons I have learned thus far was like emotional Spartan training. By the time I was in second and third grade I was taking on middle school and high school students. If the silent treatment didn’t work, I would unload some of my bottled up rage on them since it would come out after the fuse was lit. The attacks began to cause me great anger instead of pain after I had armored myself. Then I just wanted to be left alone if no one wanted to be my friend. Nothing ever got physical, but there were times I was ready for a physical battle if it ever came. Sometimes it was too close for comfort.
Later, the elderly gentleman retired, and we got a new bus driver. This woman was the mother of one of the most egregious bullies. One day, I was in active combat with her son because he started something with me, and she got onto me. I think I even ended up in the principal’s office for it. I was never there to the inner sanctum of the principals office before since I was one of the ‘good’ kids who hardly ever or never got in trouble. I wasn’t a regular visitor. I didn’t understand why I was here. I didn’t hit him even though I would have liked to. She tried to find every excuse she could to throw me off the bus after that. She threw me off one other time because I would moo at cows we passed by during the bus ride. I thought if I can’t talk to people then I would talk to the cows. They paid more attention to me more than people did. They at least looked at me when I talked to them without insulting me. She kicked me off for mooing at cows.
She threw me off the bus for mooing at cows? I DIDN’T THROW ANYTHING AT THE COWS! I think she had it in for me. After my sentence for not riding the bus was over, I begged my mother to not put me back on the bus. Sometimes she had to since she had to work. I just didn’t say anything or do anything at all to give her a reason to kick me off again. This was one of the few times I was bullied by a grownup. A grownup picking or a 3rd grader? Seriously? I tried my defense at the principals office since she actually fabricated the report a little. Of course, the principal would believe the grown-up over the 3rd grader. Naturally. Kids never tell the truth.
There were times I didn’t want to go to school. I didn’t want to ride the bus. I didn’t want to be around people. People suck. I actually began to become afraid of people since all they do is hurt me–I actually began to dislike them quite a bit. I wanted to avoid them. I wished I could be invisible so I could go to school and learn and no one would harass me. Learning was the only thing I found redeeming about school since I had a brilliant mind that craved knowledge.
I had even grim thoughts during this time. A young girl had gotten killed by getting ran over riding her bike on a dirt road. A moonwalk was erected in her honor. I thought if I died tomorrow no one would care other than my family. There would be no new piece of equipment on the playground if I got ran over on Highway 145 or if I drowned in the Broad River or if I had died from a cottonmouth bite. We lived near the river and it was full of cottonmouths, but I swam and fished here nonetheless. Frankly, the whole school would celebrate my demise with cake and confetti. I never thought of ending my life. I did, however, want to disappear. They’d never miss me anyway. I was more scared of people than the cottonmouths.
The Later Part of 5th Grade Till the Beginning of 8th Grade
The later part if 5th grade we moved from this little town across the state to Rome. This was very hard for me. I liked the land we lived on where my imaginary world was, and I was terrified that I was now going to have to start over with new people. How hostile were they going to be? I wasn’t going to know ‘friend’ (I had no concept was a real friend was since I didn’t have one) from foe.
It took months until I was finally able to find a friend. A real friend. While we stayed here in Rome, I had a real human friend–at last. In 7th and 8th grades I was seperated from her during the day because the school separated the grades into teams. So during the day I was back to being alone again and sometimes picked on. I just had to hang with her on weekends or call her on the phone during the week after an afternoon of adventures.
For the most part this place wasn’t so bad, but I still had issues here like on the bus and sometimes at school. The bus driver was nice and didn’t do anything mean to me like the other woman did.
The Remaining of 8th Grade and Beyond
This is when we moved to the suburbs. These where the worst and hardest years of my bullying saga. It first started when I had to leave my friend behind from the move. It took so long to find her so now I was going to have to start all over again. Now this place was a whole new meaning of the word hostile. I didn’t ride the bus here long. I got my mother to take me to school until I learned how to drive. People I didn’t even know or just met were attacking me. Bullying was almost ‘normal’ for me since I’ve dealt with it practically my whole life. Emotionally, I had become a Spartan like I said earlier. I felt like I had gone through the brutal training regimen that Spartans went through physically, but in my case, emotionally. It didn’t take me very long to feel the hostility and figure out that this was going to be a long, hard, and lonely road–I prepared for it even though I didn’t look forward to it. They said things much worse than ‘you’re stupid’, ‘you’re weird’, and ‘you’re ugly’. Girls hated me and boys picked on me. Some would ask to go with me (8th grade version of ‘date in the ’90s), but I would push back with my shield. It was just another insult. They didn’t really want that especially when they verbally assaulted me a day or two earlier. When they didn’t get their way they assaulted me again, but I had my spear at the ready. I knew their true colors would show.
I knew I had to forge my armor into something harder to survive here. I had to armor every inch of my body. My Spartan armor wasn’t good here. I had to upgrade to titanium full plate mail for my body and legs (such armor didn’t really exist). My Spartan shield and Corinthian helmet were good, but they need to be titanium instead of bronze.
No one was going to hurt me. I’m not letting anyone in unless they are the least bit friendly, but I can’t trust them completely. There is that chance they will betray me. When they did, I shut them out, and they didn’t get too close to me again.
The entire time I was at school from 8th to my graduation day the arrows and stones rained upon me, but now they just bounced off my tough armor. I lost my capacity to feel pain or really feel anything. When someone attacked, I attacked back viciously. A couple times someone was able to find a weak spot. After throwing them off, I would bandage the wound, patch my armor back stronger than it was, and they wouldn’t get so close again. That part of my being wouldn’t be hurt again. I didn’t show pain even if it hurt. If they see pain, they’ll know you’re weak.
Very seldom would someone stick up on my behalf. Sometimes it felt nice to be able to lower the shield and spear for a second. If someone approached it would go up, and I would ask in body language, “What are your intentions?” I didn’t actively engage people. I only came when I was invited, but I knew I couldn’t get too comfortable. I may not exist tomorrow to this person. If there was a group sitting somewhere I didn’t sit with them unless I was invited since I have been turned away before. I found a place that was off to itself and sat by myself in silence. I spoke only when spoken to. I didn’t share anything about myself or else pay the consequences. I knew not to touch that red-hot eye ever again. I guarded my most intimate secrets like a rattlesnake–I began to rattle when they were getting too close, and if they didn’t leave me alone they get bitten. My treasures only were worth anything to me, not to anyone else. I knew they would just step on them like they were trash since that’s what my treasures were to them. No one would ever rip out my heart and step on it. Sometimes people would press me for my treasures and I would push them back harder than they pushed me. I knew their intentions were hurtful since I had watched them from the shadows. Shield front and center.
I didn’t find a true friend here. I didn’t date. I never went to a dance or to the prom. No one was really interested in me in either case. If anyone asked me out they were only desperate or wanted something from me, and I knew that. I only wanted someone who was truthfully interested and like me for me–such a person didn’t exist. There were a couple times I nearly went on a casual date, but I had my heart shielded, but the boys played games. We didn’t even get to the asking part before pulling a trick. I sort of expected it. It didn’t hurt me. There was no second chance. I knew they weren’t genuinely interested anyway. Why would they even come back?
Some girls tried to get me to ask boys out. “I don’t do that,” I would say. The whole idea was madness to me. A sign of desperation and weakness. I was neither of those. I would probably look the fool. Nobody wants to date me anyway so why should I care? Why would I put myself before the firing squad? It made as much sense as putting my head underwater and taking a deep breath.
As with any lone warrior, I was very lonely. And, just like any lone warrior, you crave human interaction, but it comes at great risk. Who can you trust? Practically nobody. I wished I had friends and people liked me, but they didn’t. It wasn’t my fault they hated me–I never believed I did anything to deserve it. I had to accept that fact and move on. What also made things worse that I was growing up and society forced me to put my toys away and my imaginary friends had to fade. There was no woods to create a world here. There was no escape from the crushing loneliness I felt. My family wasn’t enough. My friend from Rome would come down during the summer for a week and it would go by so quickly. When she would leave it seem like just a drop of cool water to my hot, parched throat.
It was then at age 16, I wrote my first book: Neiko’s Five Land Adventure. I had found the key to return to my world in this new phase of life. I took up writing to deal with the loneliness. A younger cousin also provided me with a means to reconjure my world since she wanted to come in when she was young. I had another human being come along on glorious adventures. Other books were written during this dark time. I didn’t care if I fit in or not again after that. I found another gem to put into my vault and keep to myself until later on until my family talked me into sharing.
My long war with bullying has left me with social problems, trust issues, and an overall fear of people. I looked at my first job with fear. I was afraid to talk to coworkers and customers. I had to force myself to say hello. I was even afraid to ask someone for something from the back if I needed it. I didn’t like giving people eye contact. When someone would come up to me I would tense up and clench my fists like I was holding an imaginary sword and shield like I was a warrior bracing for attack. It was automatic–like a reflex. When attack came, I was ready. This was normal for me and easily dealt with. I dealt with bullying in the workplace. Coworkers and those customers. Oh, I wished I could give the bullying customer a good thrust from my spear and sword. But, I just had to hold up my shield and turn off my capacity to care which I could do like a light switch. Now, the coworkers were fair game. My first two jobs had bullies. My last public job didn’t.
That old adage, “They’re just people” was not so harmless to me. That was the problem: people. I was more afraid of people than I was of venomous snakes, alligators, tarantulas, scorpions, or snarling grizzly bears. No wild animal on the planet frightened me more than people. Can you blame me? Wild animals don’t deliberately attack people unless they have a reason (defense, food) which is rare, people do and not have a reason for the attack.
Another social implication was that after receiving years upon years of negative and attacks, I didn’t know how to respond to positive feedback–real, genuine positive feedback. The only positive stuff I ever received was from family for many years; I only thought my family were the only people in the world who cared about me. I would feel confused, embarrassed, or is this really real?, or are you talking to me? if it was someone outside of family. Sometimes I wondered if they had an angle or a ulterior motive since I had examples of this in the past, and the most memorable was the girl from the small town who pretended to be my friend and she used to say nice things to me before she did the unthinkable. I always waited for the ambush, but when it never came I was both relieved and confused.
Approaching people I don’t know almost feels like I am approaching an edge of a cliff with the anticipation of jumping off. It’s hard enough for an introvert to do so anyway, but factor in the years upon years of bullying to the mix and you have genuine fear of people when you first interactions with people from coming out of isolation were bad when being a small child as young as 4 or 5.
When I met my husband, I had a lot of issues with trust. It took me a long time to trust him and to learn he was genuine and that he wouldn’t betray me. I was petrified for my first date. I was a young adult and I needed my dad there for support. That was how scared I was of him. I had learned to fear men at the romantic end since they all played games with me or betrayed me. I was okay with them being ‘friends’ (not true friends), but more than that–no way. My trust can’t take it that far. If it ended badly I wanted my dad to see it and for my ticket out. Also, we had to travel 70 miles to his house from where we lived. Also, my dad was responsible for the set-up so he was going to take me there. At first, I was a little mad at my parents for doing this to me, but later I thank them.
It has taken a lot of personal growth and counseling to begin to lower the shield and spear and rebuild my ability to trust. I still have a hard time with betrayal and approaching people. I am a WIP. I am beginning to allow people in until they give me a reason not to trust them. Now, I don’t hate people, but I do have some trepidation approaching and starting a conversation.
The good things that may have come of it are extreme personal strength, self reliance, self discipline, and the ability to write novels.
If you survive bullying it can make you stronger but the journey is hard. Some suffer through it longer than others and some have more extreme than others. It would be nice if it was gone.