February 24, 2012

Not exactly Fun Friday...but IMPORTANT!

Watching Glee this was a very interesting experience this week. While I had an inkling two of the major events were going to happen, one of the actual incidents struck me hard. Seeing the transition of David Karofsky’s character (which I totally saw coming from season 1) really made me feel for the kid. It wasn’t right or fair of him to do what he did to Kurt, but after learning his whole story, you had to feel a little bad for him, after all, he is still a kid in High School. And good on the writers for having Kurt forgive. Forgiveness is powerful.

So yeah, I have first hand experiences with bullies.

I was bullied in school for a very, very long time. I remember the majority of it came from Middle & High School after leaving the safety of the friends I grew up with in Elementary School…though I will say I did get into a hair-pulling fight or two in the 5th grade. (You know who you are...lol)

Anyway, as some of you may or may not know, I’ve always been a chubby girl. I wasn’t overly fat in Middle School, but when you are “different” even with a bit of extra weight, you are a target for bullies. So, I was picked on, called names by both boys and girls for years. However two incidents stayed with me after all these years and probably changed me forever at the time.

The first happened in Middle School. I wore a Rabbit Fur Coat to school one day. I don’t remember much about where I got the coat, I think from my Grandmother, but it was a treat for me to wear it. It was a very pretty coat, and to a 12-13 year old girl, it can almost make you feel like a movie star. Well, my bullies were full on awful that day. We got into a heated argument, back and forth, probably over something they said to me. I tried to stand up for myself. I tried to be the bigger person. It didn’t work. When homeroom ended, one of the bullies followed me out into the hall. I was walking fast. She ran up behind me and pushed me so hard that me and my coat when sliding down the hallway and crashed into the wall. I must have traveled 15 feet or so! Humiliated, with everyone laughing at me, I got up, ran away and went to class.

I honestly don’t remember the immediate days after that…it was twenty five years ago (OMG!), but I’m sure it wasn’t fun for me. I can laugh at it now, because it was kinda funny, but not when it happens to you.

I didn’t tell my parents about the bullies. Not sure why, maybe because I thought I was tough enough to take care of myself. And I was, but not until four years later.

Sadly in most school systems, you are stuck with the same people for years due to homerooms and alphabetical seating. So yes, in High School, those same bullies were always there. HS was worse than MS by leaps and bounds. More boys to crush on who pick on you because you’re “fat”, more pretty girls to laugh at you in the locker room during gym. More teachers to notice and not do anything about it.

During the 11th grade something changed in me. I wish for the life of me I could remember how it happened because I would pass it onto every kid in every school in every country. I’d bottle it and give it out for free. What was this trick? I stopped caring what people thought about me. I didn’t stop trying to “fit in”, if you will, but I stopped trying to dress like everyone else, act like everyone else, or “be” like anyone else. I stopped wearing make up like all the girls. I stopped trying to be friends with the popular kids. I hung out with friends that liked me for me, and a lot of teachers that did care, and didn’t give two shits about anyone else.

Sometime after adopting this “I don’t care what you think about me anymore” mantra, the second incident happened, once again in homeroom. One of the bullies started on me. Again, I have no clue what it was about, but after several minutes of her going on and on, I stood up, stared her in the face and said something to the effect of: “You know what? Go ahead, hit me. That’s what you want right? Go…do it. Right here, right now. If not, leave me the hell alone!”

The poor homeroom teacher had no idea what was going on. Most of the classroom didn’t even notice, but the bully did. She didn’t hit me. I think she was shocked that I called her out in front of everyone and didn’t say anything afterwards that I recall.

Did the constant bullying stop? Yep, for the most part it did. The name calling continued here and there, but from that point on it didn’t bother me as much as it used to because I started using this line: “Yeah, I may be fat but you are ____ (insert term like ‘mean’, ‘ugly’, ‘have a big nose’—hey I was still a kid and needed a comeback) and at least I can lose weight!”

And you know what? I was right. I eventually lost weight. Okay, not all of it yet, but it’s hard! (LOL) Now I don’t know if those bullies are still mean and/or ugly, well okay, yes I do, some of them are on Facebook and some are probably are still mean. But I will be honest. I don’t care. I’m not friends with them. I probably wouldn’t even bring it up if I saw them again in person, which I may because my 20th reunion is coming up soon. Though I am curious if any of them will come up to me and remember what they did and apologize. That would be really interesting. I'm not the type to hold a grudge, so I guess you can say I've forgiven, but like most major events in my life, I won't forget. It's a lesson learned.

So here I am, 20 years later, with a good head on my shoulders, a kind heart, a tough skin, and most importantly, not a bully or being bullied anymore. It’s quite possible I could have been a bully due to my home life, but I chose not to inflict my anger and pain on other people and I was very aware that if I was going through crap at home, other kids were too. Bullies usually have issues of their own but it’s very hard for kids to make that connection. Sometimes bullies don’t know where that anger and pain stems from, some have little if any support at home, and take it out on the closest and easiest targets they can find, and for many, that’s classmates and neighborhood kids. I will not go on a rant about how parents need to be involved, because while they do and should, eventually the responsibility to know the difference between right and wrong falls on your own shoulders.

This week there has been a lot of “It Gets Better” talk and to some extent it is true, but life is hard and full of challenges and obstacles. Don't expect it to just get better when you leave school. You have to take control and make yourself better to make “things” better around you. The message I would rather people get is that no matter what you look like, what your personality is, where you came from, what color, religion, or sexual orientation you are, it has nothing to do with the kind of person you can be. You don’t have to be a bigot like your parents. You don’t have to be a bully like your teammates. You don’t need to make people feel small to make yourself feel better like your coworkers. You don’t have to be ignorant of the world anymore and hurt people who are different.

You have to change how you view people, how you react to situations, and most importantly learn when to stand up for yourself or walk away. It can be tricky but it can be done. There is a place in this world for everyone, but sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone and seek them out. When you do, you’ll realize that the small fraction of people who may not accept you for who you or feel the need to hurt you may have some very deep seeded issues of their own and the truth is, they don’t make you who you are anyway, you do.


Anonymous said...

Now that you have made me cry...I just want you to know how very proud I am of you. I am blessed to have such a smart, loving, wonderful woman as my daughter! You are remarkable and 'adorkable!!!! I LOVE YOU!!

Jenn Nixon said...

Thanks Mom, I love you too!!

Irene said...

I am more than twenty years older than you, Jenn, but I know bullying too. Maybe they weren't as physical with me, but the names hurt like hell. Still do if I think about it too long.
Go to your reunion. Please. You'll find that the popular kids are bald and frumpy and still mean, but you can look them in the eye and smile. Popular ends after high school A good, decent person will be the same forever.

Unknown said...

I think more people than want to admit were bullied. I went, for a short time to school here in Va. My parents were already in NY. Therefore, I got clothes, shoes, and many other things from NY. That said, I got called names, and had very fwe friends, b/c of jealousy. But, then I moved to the city and went way beyond anything they could ever imagine. Yes, thickened skin and all. Like Irene, I am also older than you, but children are very mean. The unfortunate thing is that I don't think that will ever change, and that it b/c change begins at home. There are so many people with ghosts of their own, that I don't think this issue will ever change.