A few weeks ago I watched the documentary Bully. I went alone and felt I needed to see it to process my own undigested emotional material of a past I buried.
For the longest time I dismissed my life as a youth as simply being the small kid or that the bigger kids were “just playing around.” It’s a strange masochistic circle in which quiet and socially uncomfortable kids like myself will take any amount of punishment just to be seen or known by another. Invisibility and feeling alone with everybody is a pretty horrific feeling.
There were a few experiences that stood out where I identified with the other kids in the film. The first is the school bus. Standing at the bus stop and not sure what to do with myself. The cliques would be standing there goofing off and I would stand to the side.
When I was in junior high school I tried to fit in with any group I could. The group that didn’t seem to care was a small group of wanna-be white supremacists who were also drummers which I started practicing. Of course I never fit in there, but I did what I could to get by.
I knew I wasn’t tough. Even if I thought could harm a hair on someone else’s head I would be too scared to do so. I wasn’t even into that “tough guy” image even though I would try to fake it. I tried to be part of the skater crowd because they were cool and nice guys who listened to cool music. The problem is that I didn’t have a skate board and was even too afraid to hop on one much less ride with them. The next option was to gain marginal acceptance with a BMX bike. There I couldn’t do any tricks or ride on a track. I was just too scared. I was tagged a “poser” and excommunicated. Three masks down.
In between all of these events I remember feeling totally in between all groups of kids. I sat and watched people interacting and goofing off on the bus. I tried to fit in. It was usually by bringing negative attention to myself. I sniffed White Out one day and acted high because it made people laugh. Really they thought I was stupid, but hey it worked. After a three-month stay at a Psychiatric Institute for youth in Washington D.C. I went into the special education system where I was slowly mainstreamed back into the “regular” school after a few years. At that time all of the special ed kids would be segregated in the same room away from everyone. Talk about negative attention. I was called “sped,” “tard,” “stupid,” “backward,” and probably other names that I have forgotten. All of this reinforced my feeling that I was different in a bad way.
When I tried out the jock route in high school I came to the locker room to change for gym one day and someone had urinated in my locker. My notebook and everything else were covered with the wet stench of someone else’s piss. I was embarrassed to tell my teacher and I did anyway. But that reinforced my ostracism and continued sense of dread at the social world around me. I heard them laughing.
When I was younger I was encouraged to get in fights with my sister while people would laugh. They would encourage me to get angry and lose control so I would break something. I would hit myself because I believed every word everyone said about me. I was an idiot no one liked and needed to be by myself just to feel safe.
In college I tried on religion. That too made me feel a part of something, but it eventually let me down as all emotional fixations are bound to do. I was never going to fit in the way I thought I was entitled to. It worked for a time. Then I found alcohol. That was the magic elixir that quieted the voices in my head and allowed me to become sociable and comfortable around others. Of course that didn’t work out either.
I always go back to the cafeteria. Looking out over the expanse of faces laughing and carrying on while knowing I didn’t really “belong” at any of the tables is nightmarish. I never knew where to sit. I had such a lack of confidence I could successfully pull off a role to fit. What I wanted was to be alone, but there was no where for that in school. So I would be alone with everybody just trying to make it through each day without anyone messing with me.
What saved me is that there was always enough grace and love in my family to cushion each time I fell. This was sometimes at the hands of others and often the consequence of my own actions. My family was my real social group. It took me a long time to be grateful for that since I wanted something else. Of course that’s very normal for any hormonal teenager. But my isolation and need to be isolated was a bit more psychotic than your average kid.
I didn’t go to prom or homecoming or have a girlfriend. Please don’t feel sadness or pity for me or these stories. I somehow managed to get a top-notch education and have had some tremendous jobs. I have two amazing kids who love me and a group of friends who wish my well-being every day. Those who need your pity and help are having these memories fused to their cerebral cortices as I write this. They need your help not me.
Even the desperately lonely who make massive mistakes can emerge from the bullies of our time healthy. I think that’s why I am here. To give a little piece of evidence that no matter how sick we become, we can all heal.
For more information on how to support kids who are being bullied and feel as I do, check out Stand for the Silent and The Bully Project which were featured in the film. Many of these kids have learning problems and mental/developmental disorders. I myself am bipolar and was severely depressed during my bullied years.
We can survive. We can thrive.