Bullying – it’s an ugly word. It’s an ugly memory.
All in all, high school (grades 8-12) was not a happy time in my life. I was a shy, smart, insecure young girl and didn’t have a lot of friends. My parents had a bit of a rocky relationship at the time, and I suffered emotionally with nobody to talk to about it. Communication was not a strong suit in my home and when things went wrong there was a lot of yelling and slamming of doors. Between troubles at school and home, I never felt like I had a completely safe place to be. I was bullied on and off at school during those years and never felt like I belonged. I wasn’t the only one this happened to by any means, but I became a target of nasty gossip and mean girls.
In Grade 8, a girl that I only knew from playing in the same softball league walked up to me one day and threatened to punch me in the face. I was shocked and I remember that I teared up. I didn’t know what to say. I was afraid and I didn’t know what to do. She told me to meet up with her after school for a fight. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t go. I didn’t tell anyone.
Another incident that sticks out in my mind is the time that I was verbally attacked by another girl in the locker room when we were getting changed after PE class. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember being threatened and called names – and again, it wasn’t like I had any other problems with her before but she sure didn’t like me. Not a single person stuck up for me – not my best friend, none of the girls in the class, not even me. I just wanted to disappear.
And I did for a while. I suffered from bulimia during my teenage years and into my early 20’s. I was using food as an escape from my problems and got caught up in this very self destructive and secret disease. I also began to suffer from anxiety and withdrew socially. I skipped school or showed up late often, but managed to complete high school with honours and happily left the small town I lived in behind me to go to university. I started counselling for my eating disorder and took some life skills courses including building self-esteem and assertiveness. I met some wonderful friends and gained confidence as I graduated with a degree in Commerce and began working. Eventually I was able to heal the hurts of the past and let them go.
When I heard that 15-year-old Amanda Todd, a high school student living in the neighbouring community of Port Coquitlam, killed herself after being bullied at school and stalked online for years, it just broke my heart. She posted her own story entitled “My Story: struggling, bullying, suicide and self-harm online on Youtube.
I didn’t know Amanda, but I wish she could have believed that life can get better. That those painful years can be left behind and that she could have become happy with her life with a wonderful circle of friends and a life she dreamed of. That those bullies were not worth her life or her tears. I wish that someone at that school where she was bullied and beat up had had the courage to stand up for her.
My son is starting kindergarten next year and my worst fear is that he may be bullied at school or online. I can tell you that I will do anything to stop that from happening. I will be following up with the school, teachers, parents, government and police if that is what it takes.
I know that there are existing anti-bullying programs in BC schools and that there is a new provincial program called ERASE (Expect Respect And a Safe Education) Bullying being rolled out in schools over the next 5 years. But I know that it’s going to take open communication with my child to know what is going on in his life and a willingness to get involved in finding solutions to difficult problems that will make a difference.
It is too late to help Amanda Todd. But it’s not too late to help other kids who are in trouble. Bullying has to stop.
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 or www.kidshelpphone.ca (Canada)
Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or www.stopbullying.gov (United States)<