Tag Archives: bullying

Sometimes the Sweetest Dreams are the Scariest

**WARNING: Possibly triggering material.

I’m a published writer. I’m a successful Learning & Development professional. I’m a loving and protective mother. I’m a caring wife and partner. I suffer from depression and anxiety. And I’m a survivor of attempted suicide.

For those of you who have known me in school, work and social activities, you have often described me as independent, sometimes domineering, and often a bitch. One thing many have said to me is that I glow, I have a confidence that is sometimes intimidating, and above all, I work to accomplish my goals with success that exceeds expectations. This is the person that I want you to see. This is the person I aspire to be. But ultimately, it is very much a performance for me. A social act based on the hope that you will accept me, because something inside has always told me that if you knew the real me, you would walk away without looking back.

This is the burden of depression. Where it began, I can’t honestly tell you. It’s a darkness that seems to have always enveloped me. There was a time when I was seduced by that darkness, truly believing in my heart that the only entity in this world that would accept me unconditionally was death. And so I walked down that road, yearning for death’s arms, but failing miserably even in that.

Let’s start at what might be the beginning. Like many, I didn’t have a happy childhood. It’s not something that I ever told anyone because in the hills of Appalachia, you don’t talk about such things. Family business stays within the family, even when constant gossip pervades the neighborhoods. Still, no one would have guessed what pain I felt in my house.

I saw and experienced many things as a child. Fights in our home would sometimes turn violent. On one such occasion, I was taken by the police and put in a children’s home. I’m sure it seemed like the right thing to do at the time, to protect a child from the horrors of the home – a safe place to be while the adults worked out their issues. I was scared to be there because I didn’t know anyone. I just remember staring up at the ceiling from my cot, praying that it would all go away. The next day, most of the kids went to school, except me and a few others. In the struggle, confusion and fear, a teenage boy sexually assaulted me in this alleged home of safety. I was five years old at the time. It’s one of my earliest childhood memories.

Once I was returned to the home, I was happy to be back with the family I knew and loved. Unfortunately the fighting continued. My father had a sickness that affected those closest to him. Although many viewed him as one of the nicest men in the community, behind closed doors he could be the most cruel and emotionally abusive person I have ever met. In my staggered attempts to find my way, I never felt that he wanted me, and his self-medication was more important than his children. He always chose that over us.

Through the fighting and feeling of being all alone, even with people around, I began to think…and later believe…that no one could ever want me. Something about me was obviously defective if my own dad didn’t want me. And with what happened in the children’s home, I must only be good for one thing….

Adding to my mixed emotions, my dad would do things and finally realize the hurt, he would often say he was sorry by giving me ice cream or candy, because food makes it all right. I know now that this is one of many things that contributed to my binging to deal with emotions. It never works, and the guilt you often feel afterwards only contributes to the cycle of anxiety and depression.

I guess by the age of nine years old I started trying to emulate what I thought people wanted to see. I became a walking rendition of Cooley’s looking glass self, creating myself in the image that I thought others wanted, of their perceptions, or just to get their acceptance. And as children can be just as cruel, it didn’t stop the teasing and hurtful behaviors that kids can be so very good at displaying. At this point in life I was already overweight, and some kids would make sure I was reminded of that fact, as if I could forget. One schoolmate even gave me the nickname Shamu. I did the only thing I could think to do – I smiled and pretended that it was funny, even when I was dying a little on the inside.

This barrage of darkness that surrounded me and the hurricane of hormones that accompanies puberty made for a potentially deadly concoction of self-loathing and hopelessness. I began spending more time in my room. Sometimes I would write poetry and short stories. In an area where you don’t discuss family business, and talking about it with the offenders and survivors that surround you was not an option – writing about my feelings helped. My writing became very bleak, as if I were obsessed with death. From the teenage boy, to violent fights, to being made fun of because of my looks, I romanticized any figure that would accept me. And I intuitively knew that death would accept me, with open arms, without condition. To be wanted in that way…it’s all I could hope for myself.

The writing melded with fantasies. I would often lie in bed and think about dying, or think about an alternate reality where everyone loved me just the way I am, without pretense. I started sleeping more and more for the simple fact that being unconscious was better than being awake in a world that didn’t want me. When my thoughts almost continuously edged toward shrouding myself in death’s arms, I began thinking of how I would die, specifically, how I would kill myself. Overdose seemed like the most sensible, taking so many pain pills so that they would kill the pain and take me with it. But I also began liking the sight of my own blood, from a scrape or a self-inflicted wound. Seeing it made me feel alive, it stopped me from feeling like a walking shell, a puppet performing for everyone so that they would think everything was happiness and light, because no one wants to be around that darkness. It’s too inconvenient. And for some, it’s too scary because it’s like looking into a mirror. All of it was exhausting, and I just wanted it to stop.

I began sneaking around the house, gathering up as many pills as I could find. Usually this was limited to a bottle of Tylenol, but I would take whatever I could get. I would sit in my room with the door closed, listening for any footsteps coming down the hall, methodically counting the pills…twenty…thirty….more. Sometimes I didn’t even count, just chugged the bottle like a shot. More often than not, I just fell asleep for hours, as many as sixteen hours at a time. My mom did take me to the doctor trying to figure out why I was sleeping so much, doctors even suggesting that I had a sleeping disorder. I just nodded, knowing that I could never admit to them that I was in a dance with death, praying for that final dip where I would drop off the face of existence. The shame associated with it, and more importantly, having to explain why, was oppressive enough that I kept all of it locked inside, managing the weight of things as best I could.

One evening I took too many of whatever pills I had. I got to the point where I became so drowsy that I was fighting to keep my eyes open. Yes, fighting. A part of me was scared to die, wanted to survive, and I began panicking to take it all back. I stilled for a moment. It was the path I had chosen because I couldn’t deal with my life. I erroneously thought I needed to accept my choice because I would not have gone in that direction if there weren’t reasons. I lay in bed, covered myself and tried to accept the fact that I would never wake up again.

I did wake up. My face and shirt were covered in vomit. As I cleaned myself up as best as I could, I began wondering why I was still alive. I was so close to the end, yet something kept me here. Maybe it was a mistake, an act of God or the workings of simple biology, I was still alive. That had to mean something, right?

Although I had this new view to ponder, I could not escape the shadows of the past. I continued my daily performance, but struggled to keep it going. I began to withdraw from school activities, preferring my bedroom to being around other people. In hindsight, it’s interesting to me that no one noticed. The warning signs were there, but no one picked up on them. Maybe because they were too busy with their own lives, or maybe the truth was too ugly to comprehend, or maybe I was just that good of an actress. Still, I continued to try to make sense out of all of it on my own.

My high school boyfriend was one of the first people I told about these things, specifically the suicide attempts. I had told a school friend before, even after a botched attempt to cut my wrists. Her reaction was to scoff at me, accuse me of seeking attention, and distancing herself from me from that point on. My high school boyfriend was different. He accepted it, was genuinely concerned and even more so, made me promise – on my honor, with what little I had – that I would never try it again.

For whatever reason, that clicked with me. I’ll be honest, thoughts of death do still raise their ravenous heads to this day, but I always remind myself of the promise I made to him. There was at least one person who didn’t want me to die, and I believed him. It has been like an anchor for me.

Still, I go on. The darkness still surrounds me. To this day, even when I have reasons to celebrate accomplishments, a voice inside me says, “Don’t they even realize you’re faking it? What will happen when they wake up and realize you’re not who you say you are? That you really are unattractive and worthless, no use beyond a few minutes of physical gratification. What will they think of you then?”

Although thirty-three years have passed since that day in the children’s home, and multiple years since other traumatic events, I still deal with the fallout today. Even recently I had a panic attack in my office which was directly related to being triggered with a past event, the fleeing response had me scrambling to put distance between me and everyone else, for my own protection. This is the reality of anxiety – I went to the ER on this occasion to rule out a heart attack, and the ER doctor said it all: “You’re heart rate is elevated, your blood pressure is elevated and you have lowered oxygen levels in your heart…but there’s no medical reason for any of this.” That is the reality of anxiety. And worse, the feelings of worthlessness because of these events brings depression back to the forefront to the point where you can’t even get out of bed or leave your home because it’s just too much effort, and nothing seems to be worth it. Your bedroom is safer, although for me, when I was younger, the bedroom was just another way to embrace the darkness.

Part of the pain, like many people struggling with these issues, I logically know there is no reason for any of these reactions, feelings or thoughts. But yet they still come, and I have to wrestle with them in the best ways I know how, always reminding myself of the promise I made.

So, I continue the performance. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Remember this when dealing with others because we never know the struggles that others are shielding from the world.

I’m exhausted with all of this. Be gentle. And for those of you who have read my book, I realize now that the main character of Emma was highly influenced by the thoughts I have about myself that I dare not speak for fear of what you would say. Her internal dialogue that has repelled some of you? That’s what I deal with on a daily basis, keeping it inside, protecting everyone from that discomfort, all out of fear. Not anymore.

No more shame.

Bullying is Bullying

This post has some content that may be triggering – bullying, abuse.

I had the fortune to read the recent blog on bullying by my favorite geek Wil Wheaton. I haven’t thought about the kid who bullied me in over twenty years.

It’s a very personal post and quite poignant. Many of us were bullied as children. Some suffer far worse bullying than others. However, the fact remains the same – an individual is so significantly and emotionally impacted by bullying that even after twenty years the memories can bring us to tears.

I was bullied. I was taunted for my weight issues and even called Shamu. My father approached my entering school by saying that if anyone ever hit me, if I didn’t beat the hell out of them (even if it was a guy), I would get my ass busted when I got home. Was it appropriate for him to say this to me? Maybe not. But I do remember holding my own when physically confronted – even by boys. Yes, I had a boy threaten to beat me in elementary school. When he got up in my face, I got right back up into his, standing nose-to-nose…all while I was trembling with fear. Thankfully it worked, and he walked away. Because I did things like this, I was fortunate to never be physically attacked. Many are not so lucky.

My torment was verbal and emotional. I remember so-called friends turning on me and saying they hated me for some silly misunderstanding. I remember being teased for the way that I looked, wearing glasses, having braces and being overweight. The person who was my best friend in middle school shunned me. It was during that time that I started having suicidal idealizations and even attempted a couple of times. When she found out about one of the attempts, she laughed at me and said I was just doing it for attention. Did I want attention? Hell, yes, because I was in pain and her response was to laugh.

The closest thing to the physical I got was when a girl on the bus put chewing gum in my hair. Still, flashbacks to those episodes are no less unnerving just because no blood was shed. Many times the worst scars are the ones that we can’t see.

In Wil’s post he describes the father of the bully. When I read his description, my first thought was, “No wonder the boy acted that way.” Although that helps me understand the behavior, it doesn’t excuse it.

Aside from being a writer, I’m also a learning and development professional (my day job). I see the challenge in teaching teenagers that bullying is wrong because the seeds of bullying were implanted LONG before they became teenagers. It’s always much easier to teach something as new then to attempt to change a behavior/beliefs that have been internalized for years.

As adults, but most specifically, as parents, we all have a duty to teach our children – starting early in their lives – that this behavior is wrong. I have regular conversations with my 5-year-old that saying and doing certain things can hurt others. I don’t just tell her they’re bad, although they most certainly are. I emphasize the impact it has on the other person in hopes that she will learn something that many people lack today – empathy.

I couple these talks with talking to her about how she should react if she’s confronted with bullying. We discuss some of the reasons why people bully – how the behavior is learned, many are acting out for various reasons and quite simply, the individual just doesn’t feel good enough about herself/himself to the point s/he has to attack others to have some sense of self-esteem.

Is my approach better than my dad’s? I don’t know. All I know is that I want my daughter to be able to think about these things, stand up for herself with confidence and view others with integrity rather than mocking them for their pain. I feel that this is the least I can do.

You Didn’t Have to Say It, I Felt It

I’ve written a little about bullying before, particularly in questioning what the answer is. This topic is getting a lot of press, as it should, because humans in general – and young people especially – treat each other like sh*t. Pardon the pseudo-vulgarity, but there’s just no other way to describe the morbidly creative ways we tear each other down.

One fact that cannot be denied, bullying is not a new phenomenon. What’s new is the amount of attention it is being given in social media. Unfortunately, it’s nothing new, and it’s something that many of us have experienced at one point in our lives.

I was bullied. I would never suggest that I was bullied to the vicious extent that some are, but it did have a significant impact on me, the person I am today and even the characters I create in my writing.

You see, I did a lot of processing over discussions of the main character in my series, Emma. Many do not like her, even hate her with an ill-conceived notion that she is somehow beyond redemption. Her “whiny monologues” are a glimpse inside the internal thoughts of someone with rather dark thoughts and an extremely poor self-image. It makes me wonder how people would react to others who have extremely negative self-talk that is never verbally expressed. Just because we don’t talk about it, just because you don’t know it…doesn’t mean that we don’t feel it.

In thinking about her characteristics and why she is the way that she is, I realized that much of her personality is a mirror image of the issues I dealt with growing up. I’ve always had issues with my weight. I experienced the cliched criticisms of “You have such a pretty face, if only you would lose some weight” to being called “Shamu” in school, having bubble gum put in my hair and having boys regularly scoff at my awkward advances, not wanting to date the fat girl. Add to this feelings of not being wanted by my own father, and you have the ripe concoction for a young girl who would always be suspicious of a male’s intentions.

My attempts to fit in caused somewhat of a split in how I viewed myself. Part of the reason why I tried to excel in my studies and sports was so that I could get some sort of positive attention. This focus led me to be an honor student and celebrated softball player…all while hating myself for the way that I looked. I was just as sure of my intellect as I was internalizing Shamu as a part of my self-image.

I made it through adolescence, but hearing the fat jokes and being treated as “definitely not girlfriend material” on a regular basis left an undeniable imprint on my psyche. I cannot even fathom the missed possibilities because I just couldn’t grasp the idea that anyone could find me attractive. If a guy showed interest, there must be an ulterior motive – maybe another joke? – because he couldn’t really think I’m attractive. I mean, so many had told me I wasn’t by calling me names, and my dad didn’t even want me…so surely they jest. Right?

I’m glad to say that over the years and through much mental processing, I’m no longer as suspicious as I used to be. And for those who say, “But surely you must realize this isn’t true?” I appreciate the sentiment, but with someone like me – it just isn’t helpful. I can understand something logically, it doesn’t mean that my heart and soul believe it.

Still to this day, I walk in the shadow of Shamu. Unlike Emma, I’m not saying my whiny monologue out loud. That doesn’t mean I’m not waging an internal battle as those similar thoughts bubble to the surface every so often.

Even with the most hateful of personalities – you may never realize the darkness that created it. Sometimes the children who are bullied grow up to become adults who are scarred, struggling to break through the deadened emotional tissue that tried – in vain – to strangle us in our youth.

We would do well to remember that sometimes behind those scars is a legacy of being treated like sh*t. Don’t add to it. Instead do what the playground and high school kids didn’t – be compassionate.

Teachers are an Inspiration


We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for teachers. They help shape us, mold our world views and develop us into the people we become as adults. Behind the family, the most significant vehicle for socialization are schools. Teachers and peers are added to the social roadmap of a child’s life. Teachers have a hard job in this because the influence of peers has proven to be a greater impact on behavior – something that teachers and administrators have the painstaking task to mitigate on top of being responsible for the educational development of ALL of their students. This has to be one of the most difficult jobs in our country while being one of the the most thankless and least paid. The current structure of schools systems speaks volumes of how we view teachers. A foreign observer with a 30,000 foot view of the state of education could only assume that learning just isn’t that important to us. Add to this perspective the fact that many other countries have better educational success than the U.S. and we shouldn’t be surprised at the scientific, mathematical and business advances of other countries. In the most recent OECD data, the U.S. ranks below the top ten in many categories in addition to being below the OECD average in many instances. One thing that many have said – and I agree along with some critical asterisks – is that we need to invest in education and increase funding. If you look at the data, expenditures on education in the U.S. tend to be more than the countries that are outperforming us. This begs the question, and would require further analysis, of what we’re actually investing in and where the money is going.

We know that teachers and education are of great importance to the future of our children. Acceptance of this fact does not absolve us from critically assessing how our children are treated within the school system. It also doesn’t absolve parents from being directly involved in their children’s educations. If anything, teachers and parents should be partnering together for the betterment of the child. Unfortunately in a world where both parents – or the only parent – has to work excessive hours just to make ends meet, many parents are not as involved as would be ideal. There are parents who have no involvement although they are capable. It’s sad to see a lack of interest in the development of a child and it’s beyond me how a parent could be so deliberately irresponsible – and it’s no wonder that a teacher’s job is even that more difficult!

Teachers on a whole provide inspiration to the students they teach. Just like there are some parents who are unwilling to be involved in the process, there are some teachers who, for all intents and purposes, shouldn’t be part of the process. Thankfully, teachers like this are few and far between. Anyone who commits his/her life to teaching and perseveres after experiencing the struggles has within him/her the type of passion for learning that we should all hope for in the lives of our children. But when you are confronted with a so-called educator who has an agenda that is not in line with the best interest of your child, you would be remiss for just accepting it and explaining it away with the morally weak excuse of “life isn’t fair.” Just another reason why a parent’s involvement in the education of the child is of the utmost importance. It would be wonderful to live in a world where I can send my child to school and blindly accept that all is well, which statistically, it is. But teachers are human – which means they’re fallible, not perfect, and some are downright deplorable. Again, you would never know unless you’re involved.

If you are involved and are confronted with a situation where your child is mistreated, bullied, abused, discarded, passed over, ignored, bored, ostracized, humiliated, discriminated against, rights are violated or learning is impeded, rage against it, y’all. Don’t be quiet. As I’ve said in other instances, silence + complacency = permission.

I would like to close this post with a shout-out to the inspirational educators I’ve had in my lifetime that have had a huge impact on who I became as a person – first and foremost, always and forever, Mr. Wheeler, in addition to Mrs. Collins, Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Wheeler, Mrs. Martin, Mrs. Thompson, Mrs. Keatley, Mr. Maddox, Mrs. Cooke, Mr. Cooke, Mr. Nuckols and Mr. Sherman. I’m sure there are others, but these individuals are the first that come to mind for the positive impact that they had not only on me, but on other students as well.

Bullying – What’s the Answer?

There is a lot in the news about bullying. A whole social movement has developed that is anti-bullying. This is a good thing. The emotional immaturity that goes with degrading another person just to make your own life seem less pathetic is an evil in the harm it can do to both the victims and the survivors. I say this because many are bullied and don’t go down the dark path of suicide. They’re the lucky ones. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the human mind is a miraculous thing in its ability to cope – but in its strength is also its weakness. I firmly believe that much of what we deem mental illness is nothing more that the conscious mind’s way of dealing with unconsciounable circumstances. Because of this, there is a VERY thin line between coping and breaking.

As bullying got more and more press, I began to think – is it really an epidemic? Or is this another way that the media is taking something that has been going on forever and is only now giving it attention to sell advertising space with the buzz word of the day? This is in no way meant to belittle the pain of the stories we see on the news and Bullyville. What I’m saying is that as I listen to these stories I think to myself – “I remember having that happen to myself” and “that happened to someone in middle school.”

For whatever reason, and maybe a subconscious push on my part, I’ve talked to people that I went to high school with about some of these things. I was shocked to learn that every one of them could remember a time of being bullied – and more than one admitted to attempting suicide. Actually attempting  – not just thinking about it.

Because of the media focus, it makes one thing that bullying is so much worse now that there is a higher rate of suicide. Is that true? Were my classmates just lucky in that their attempts weren’t successful? Did we cope differently then? Are kids – who by definition are emotionally immature – not taught appropriate ways to deal with things?

One difference I’ve noticed with my daughter’s play school. They teach that you don’t “exclude your friends” and if exclusion happens, they “talk” about their feelings and tell the “excluder” that it’s not nice and they don’t like it. This is definitely a different way than what I was taught by my father. I remember my father telling me that if anyone ever pushed me around, if I didn’t defend myself – to the point of beating their ass – then I would get my ass beaten when I got home. Still, even with this lesson, I was picked on to the point of delving into chronic depression as a teenager.

So where did things get worse? Is today’s approach better than what my father taught me? The media reports would suggest that, well, maybe not. But I know enough about the money-making goals of the media to know that they sensationalize things and focus on stories that more often than not, do not represent the majority of human experience. Again, this is not to belittle the trauma of those who are bullied. These are thoughts that have given me pause from saying “we need to go back to a time when we were willing to fight to stand up for ourselves rather than talk about our ‘feelings.'”

I don’t know what the answer is. I know it’s not suicide. Actually, suicide is not even the root issue – it’s what leads up to a child wanting to end his/her life that we need to focus on. My gut tells me it’s at least three things – the bullying behavior itself, teaching our children effective ways to cope and respond and a question that plagues every parent – if something horrific like this were to happen to my child, how could I have prevented it and why didn’t I know what was going on?

I guess one of the main questions is where did bullies learn the behavior and what is lacking in their own lives that bullying has become a way for them to create a false sense of self-esteem? I don’t know if I’ll ever know the answer to that question – and there may actually be more than one answer. I just hope that I can teach my daughter the respect that she needs – for herself and those around her so that she grows up into a strong young woman who defends herself, others and doesn’t need to bully people because she is comfortable and proud of who she is, the way she is.

All parents want this for their kids. It’s time parent actually start talking to each other on how to get this deadly social disease to stop spreading…before we have to buy more burial plots for our nation’s children.