The Effects are Forever, but It Does Get Better
My name is Lindsey, and today I’m an educator. But between the ages of 12 and 16, I was a victim of relentless bullying. It started in junior high. My family moved to a new house and I ended up going to a different junior high than the friends I had gone to elementary school with, so I was basically the “new kid” at my junior high. As if that weren’t enough to make me stand out, I was also academically gifted, talented with music, and pretty decent at sports. The rich, popular girls noticed me right away. I was the target of their bullying for the next four years.
To be honest, I’ve always hated the word “bullying.” It’s not nearly strong enough to capture what happened to me. I was the victim of straight-up abuse. In fact, today I am diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. I see a therapist every other week and take anti-depressant medication every day. My current therapist says what I went through was more extreme than most cases she’s seen, in part because it went on for so long. And, she understands that the past isn’t in the past for me. It’s as vivid as if it happened just a moment ago.
It’s important to name our abusers and what they did to us. Mine were Katie, Hallie, Candice, Peggy, Darcy, and Emily. They all had some shade of bottled blonde hair and came from families more well-off than my own. Now, they didn’t just come up and punch me in the face once in a while. Sure, sometimes they kicked me in basketball practice, but the vast majority of their abuse was far more insidious than that. It was psychological and malicious–they destroyed my mind.
If someone tells you you’re stupid, ugly, annoying, and useless every day for years, you start to believe it. If they say terrible things about you to all of your classmates and make those classmates turn away from you, you start to think you don’t deserve friends. If they invent a new way to mock you each day, you start to question every move you make in a desperate attempt to avoid giving them ammo. After it goes on for long enough, it becomes a part of you, and there’s really no coming back. I’ve been seeing therapists for over 20 years, and no matter what, there is always this dark black hole in my gut that tells me I don’t deserve to be in this world.
You may be wondering if I told anyone about what was happening. I did. There were many days that first year of junior high that I came home and cried to my mom. With the best of intentions, she gave me the usual advice: ignore them, don’t show them how much they’re hurting you, and they’ll stop. But the more I ignored them, the worse the psychological abuse got. See, it’s usually about power for abusers. The more I refused to acknowledge the power they had over me, the more they tried to exert even more power. After that first year, I stopped talking to my mom about it. It had nothing to do with my mom – she’s my best friend to this day. I stopped talking about it because I had accepted my fate. I was worthless and there was no use trying to convince anyone otherwise.
Between 8th and 9th grade, I went to a summer camp where no one knew me, and I made some friends from another school. We hung out all the time during our freshman and sophomore years, and they had no idea about what those girls were doing to me at my own school. I eventually applied for a boundary exception to go to the same school as my summer camp friends, and I got accepted. I started there my junior year, and I was finally able to breathe. It was a big school, and I honestly didn’t even know who the popular kids were – they weren’t in choir, jazz band, or my AP classes. And I liked it that way. Unfortunately, though, the damage had already been done. I struggled with self-harm until I was 28 years old.
However, now at the age of 36, I’m proud to say that I haven’t self-harmed in years. It has been a long road to get where I am today, and the dark black hole is always there in my gut, but I have things in my life now that makes me happy. I have a good job, and my own home. I still don’t really trust people, but I have special needs rescue pets that I love with all my heart. Someone asked me once why I’m drawn to special needs rescues. I told them that no one helped me with the abuse I went through when I was a teenager, but today I have the ability to help my pets and make sure they know I love them unconditionally, so I do. Those girls sure destroyed my mind, but I managed to hang on to my soul. To anyone reading this who is a victim of peer abuse, my advice is this: name your abusers. Tell anyone and everyone who will listen what they’ve done to you. If the first person you go to doesn’t get it, don’t give up. You may be tired, but you have more strength than you know. Keep going to more and more people until someone gets it. Someone will get it. Your abusers are power-hungry, and they want to control you. They want to make you feel worthless, but you are not worthless. There is power within you, and you can use that power to take back control of your own life. And when it feels like you can’t, I hope you remember the time you read this post, because I truly do believe in you.