Bullying and Mental Illness: What saved me from being a statistic

I realize I said the next article was going to follow the period of transition in my household; but, I was combing back through other things I’ve written on other social media sites and found a post that I would like to share.   I wrote it sometime in June, following a school shooting in nearby Oregon.   At the time I wrote it, I felt frustrated; but, empowered.   You see in the wake of school shootings most people focus on where to lay the blame after the fact.  They do not often focus on what you can do to help prevent something like this from happening – on how to make a difference by stepping in when they see bullying happening.  I felt by sharing it with my friends, perhaps they could share it with others and maybe make a difference.

It still very much applies so I thought I should share it here too.

The following was written June 12th:

So.

With the school shootings reported over the past week – I’ve been trying to find a way to focus on how to touch upon this topic. Tonight, I don’t even want to bring guns into the picture outside of a peripheral mention here and there. Tonight I want to focus on the portion of the students who are bullied to the point of breaking; but, who don’t go out in a blaze of glory. That doesn’t mean they don’t think about it, or have occasional fantasies; but, it does mean that they could have.

Keep in mind this is a very personal post, a note if you will, and I want to give you the opportunity to remove it from your feed. Some of you don’t know me outside of a larp or some other gaming oriented community and may feel uncomfortable by this. It isn’t to harp on who is right or who is wrong, but to focus on the things that kept me glued to the ground – the things that kept me from going unhinged and becoming a statistic. It is important to me.

I’m making this public because I want to raise awareness. A lot of people talk about mental health and parenting at home. A lot of people focus on gun control. I kind of think not enough is focused on the school environment itself and the stress and temperament that schools can breed.

You see. Once upon a time? One of those shooters? That could have been me. I was in the third grade when I started lashing out other people due to being bullied, becoming a bully by proxy in return. In the fourth grade during an ‘ad-lib’ Christmas story? I wrote about Santa showing up and shooting everyone in class with a machine gun. I was afraid at home, dealing with a household that was still feeling the effects of PTSD and the loss of a child years after the fact, and I was afraid to go to school when I was developing earlier than others in addition to having no real social skills of which to speak. (Physical maturity + emotional immaturity = niiiiiiiiightmare.)

I can point to exactly when I first felt bullied.

I can point to the first time when I realized how desperate I was that I was willing to participate in some kind of hazing to be ‘accepted’. (First grade. I had to be willing to pull down my pants and get spanked by other kids with a tree branch. A teacher saw, fortunately, and intervened. Thank you Mrs. Pollock.)

I can point to the year in which that level of continued bullying led me to become more angry. More frustrated. Because it was the same year in which a school counselor told me that little boys don’t do anything bad to little girls without reason (Mrs. O’Brien? Or was it Bryan?), the same year puberty hit, and the same year I thought in my own little messed up head that my father being on the school board would provide some shield behind which I would be safe, and could simultaneously lash out at the people who I felt hurt me. Which. At that time? Was everyone – teachers included. I’m pretty sure I was more than responsible for some of the first grey hairs on many a teacher’s head. The first half of elementary school, people physically pushed me around. But once third grade hit? The light switch hit, and I became the bully. I became the person pushing people around.

The fighting didn’t stop til 7th grade when I got my ass handed to me. It was a stupid fight. Didn’t need to happen. I was just so angry I wanted to draw the line. I failed at that. Miserably.

In middle school – you followed me around chanting calls of ‘Free Willy’. Sixth and Seventh Grades were the absolute worst.

In Louisiana, I can recall a conversation my mother had with my dad, because I came home in tears every single day. I do not exaggerate. Every. Single. Day. Bullied.

My personal belongings were often stolen or thrown out a bus window. When I started to feel attractive and mature, you made me feel like a bloated whale who was incapable of doing anything but crying in front of others or saying stupid shit in response to feeling like crying half the time.

You would follow me into the bathroom and make comments about the one thing I felt good about (singing). You would trip me, stick gum in my hair, and push me down. I would respond by being a narc on stupid shit, which just made it worse. (Don’t get me started on my painfully awkward dancing at the dances.  One of the vice principles in middle school, Mr. Joseph, tried so hard bless his heart. But at the time I was very much a, ‘Any kind of attention is good at this point,’ person because of how very small I felt.)

Throw a medication with a reputation for giving people wild and uncontrollable mood swings onto a teenage girl dealing with hormones and everything else? I was out of control. I felt out of control. And the only way anyone knew how to deal with that one way or another was to punish me. Not to help me. Not to talk to me. But to punish me. This was before I even touched high school.

By the time I hit ninth grade I was an absolute mess. I was an absolute mess and no one stepped in and said, ‘You need mental health help.’ Not to my face. My parents didn’t discuss it at home. I wish they had. There was one teacher however, no matter how horrible I behaved or lashed out, who was always there for me. Even after I did/said the unthinkable. He had my back.

What makes the difference between someone who has thought about it, even if in some weird fantasy, once upon a time as a little girl, and a person who acts on it and plans and carries it out?

Teachers.
Parents.
Counselors.

It was usually the music and/or history teachers – and occasional church folk (even when I had walked away from Christianity) who kept me grounded. Who seemed to understand me or try to a little more than most. Tracy Shirk. Mrs. Rabon. Mrs. Fort Mrs. Monaghan. Mr. Stotlar. (Mr. Stotlar fought for me even after I gave him every reason -not- to. I am grateful to him beyond measure.) Mr. Page. Jim Gummelt.

The guidance counselor I saw at KHS. (Her name escapes me now.)

My mother. My mother more than anything helped guide me to the places and paths where I felt I belonged. Meditation. Buddhism. Paganism. Tibetan book of the dead.

All of these people gave me outlets where I had none.

All of these people kept me grounded when I was ready to go off.

All of these people fought for me when I didn’t see anyone worth fighting for.

At any point in time, I could have accessed an antique musket-style pistol my father had or his saber or any other number of things. I could have. But I didn’t. Why? Because a few people noticed. A few people -helped-.

And I think that’s the crux of the matter. In a system where the focus is less on what you learn and carry with you and more on standardized testing and maintaining a status quo that fits to said testing, there is a lot of pressure put on kids. Kids who come from troubled homes. Kids who come from good homes. Kids who are put into a lot of stress and don’t have the skills to deal with it but to bully, but to hurt others, but to find safe haven in some kind of like minded clique where it is easier to be unnoticed and safer than it is to stick out.

Let me tell you right now? All of the gun policy and control in the world isn’t going to make a lick of a difference if there aren’t teachers like the ones I had who fought for me. If there aren’t people who notice mental health problems. Take one weapon away? People who go off the edge are determined and creative enough to find another. They can and will improvise. So I want you – all of you – to think about when you were a kid. About the things you engaged in. About the things you did and aren’t proud of. Now take that, and with the rate at which kids are growing up these days? Apply it times five for every generation that has passed.

That’s about the level of stress that is generated.

Notice a child struggling? Step up and say something.

Step up and fight for them. Even if it’s exhausting and leaves you in tears.

You won’t regret it. You will save at least one life if not more.

I know because I’m still here, and forever grateful to the people who stood up and fought for me. You saved me.

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