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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Writer's Block: Everybody hurts

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Writer's Block: Everybody hurts

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lucy psychiatric help
Have you or a friend ever been bullied? How did you get through it?
I was going to flop on the couch and read for the next half-hour till Bobby and I head outside for a fire pit in this gorgeous autumn-like weather, but I couldn't resist this question. Because the answer is a big, fat YES; the first half of my school life was spent being routinely abused, emotionally, by many of my peers and one teacher.

I don't know what I did to deserve being treated the way that I was; when I was a kid, I was convinced that it was because I was ugly, but when I look at pictures of myself now, at that age, I was not ugly. I suppose it was because, even then, I marched to the beat of my own accordion: I wanted to be an entomologist, I practiced a weird sort of nature spirituality even then, and I was utterly naive of pop culture. I knew, of course, that I had different interests than my peers, but I had no notion of the chasm that actually separated how we perceived and interacted with the world. As a kid 7, 8 years old, physical ugliness was the way I could explain the way I was treated, since I was never anything but kind to other kids and my eccentricities, even, hurt no one.

I have several sharp memories from elementary school. I remember being in second grade and sitting next to W, and she turned to me suddenly one day and said, "I hate you because you cross your legs like you're an adult or something." There were nine girls in my elementary school class, counting me. Every birthday party or sleepover came with invitations for six: My best friend J and I were always excluded. One girl, D, did invite us to her parties; I remembering having such a good time. I was always chosen next-to-last for teams; J was chosen last.

The worst was being bullied by my phys ed teacher, Mr. D. For many years, I made straight A1's in all of my classes (the letter grade was for achievement; the number was for effort), save a C2 in gym. My sister made consistent straight A1's. I was so jealous of her; it seemed terribly unfair because I didn't know what I was doing wrong in gym. I was never given any feedback. The 2, I think, stung the most because I felt like I was making as much effort as I was allowed to make. I wasn't exactly encouraged and was downright discouraged and humiliated by Mr. D on a regular basis.

The class would play softball. I was bad at softball, I admit; I was chosen next-to-last for a reason. I still hate fucking softball. Anyway, my turn would come at bat, and I'd walk up to the plate. Mr. D always pitched. He'd come down off the pitcher's mound and say, "No, Dawn, you have to bat with the tee," and set up a tee and make me hit the ball off of that rather than pitching it to me. Of course, everyone made fun of me and scorned me for this. He set up remedial gym classes and would come out on the playground after lunch and round up J and me in front of everyone. I remember feeling so enraged and humiliated. The thing was that I was actually very good at some aspects of PE; I didn't get chosen as a soloist in my skating program in just four years for no reason. Never, never, never did that man make any effort to find out what I was good at or to point out anything but the bad. And always the bad in front of everyone.

I was always proud of my strength. I had a lot of upper-body strength for a girl when I was young. (I probably still would if I took more exercise.) The school participated in the President's Physical Fitness challenge every year. I sucked at all of it ... except the chin-ups. Average chin-ups for girls at all ages was 0, so even a half meant that I was in the excellent range. I could do 2, which was more than most the boys could do. I remember hopping up to the chin-up bar, thinking I'd show him at last that I was good at something and make him eat crow a little. Gods, I hated that man. I did my two chin-ups and dropped down. I was proud of myself and waiting to see his face as he tasted crow. "One-and-a-half," he said.

Of course, being picked on by a teacher encouraged the behavior in my peers, who were now not only being validated but having emotionally abusive behavior modeled to them by an adult in authority.

How did I deal with this? I remember sitting in the garage (my parents smoked out in the garage) and telling them my various woes, mostly about W and Mr. D, who picked on me the most of anyone. Everyone always preached how, if you had a problem, you should go to a grown-up and tell them about it. I did what I was supposed to do.

My parents were sympathetic, but their advice was always to "Just ignore them." The thing is, I tried that. Actually, I did little else, because I was so painfully shy at that age (small wonder!) that I couldn't have said anything back if I'd wanted to. I certainly couldn't retaliate using my own social currency; my social currency consisted of a few desperate friendships with other misfits like me.

I think back and no one ever really and truly defended me, across all of those years. Not my parents, not a single teacher, certainly never a peer. My mom tells me she spoke often to the school about Mr. D, but I didn't know that at the time, and what a world of a difference it would have made if I had! As it was, I was told to ignore everything and it would go away; when it didn't, no one cared, and no one did a thing. I believed, honestly and truly, that I was not worth the effort it would take to do anything. I believed that I deserved the way I was treated, and my parents only had sympathy for me because they were biased because I was their kid. But, deep down, they also knew that I deserved how I was treated, which is why they never did anything beyond telling me, "Just ignore it."

When I was in third grade, I also started wetting the bed every night. I suppose that was how I dealt with it too: pissing myself on a regular basis. It was nothing medical; it was psychological because I felt rejected and loathed and unworthy for most of every day. Of course, I felt incredibly ashamed of this too, which didn't help the whole social situation either.

A psychologist called Seligman did a series of experiments that demonstrated what he called "learned helplessness." The experiments are rather gruesome: He would put dogs into a chamber with an electrified floor. A low wall separated the dogs from a second room where the floor was not electrified. When he would shock their paws, the dogs would hop the little barrier into the room where they could escape the shocks. Who wouldn't? Next, Seligman blocked off that safe room. The dogs, of course, tried to hop over and were unsuccessful and took to jumping around on the electrified floor. After a while, though, the dogs stopped all that. He'd turn on the electrified floor, and they'd just stand there and let him shock their paws. Seligman's theory was that, after so many unsuccessful attempts to avoid an "averse stimulus," one accepts the painful situation and fails to exert the effort needed to escape.

I was a case study in learned helplessness. I got so used to being hated by everyone--and those few who didn't hate me didn't do much to defend me--that I just accepted it as my lot in life. The hurt changed. It didn't stop hurting, but it was a fleeting thing; I tucked it away and moved on. In eighth grade, a girl in my class found out that I liked a particular boy. She told that boy, and the two of them constructed an elaborate ruse to pretend that he liked me back. When I found out it was a ruse, I remember feeling a sting of hurt, then mostly just disappointment ... but certainly not surprise. Why would he ever like me?

For the record, the first person who ever did defend me I ended up marrying.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When I was in seventh grade, Baltimore County Public Schools started their magnet program. There was no doubt in my mind that I would not attend my home high school. I applied to and was accepted into the infamous Nerd Magnet Program. Although I'd always had an interest in science (less in math and computers, honestly), my main reason for wanting to go there was because it gave me a chance to start over, with peers who didn't know me. I actually made a lot of friends at my new school--and I met my future husband! An older boy was picking on me after lunch one day for being a vegetarian, and Bobby strode up and told him off for it. I remember wondering why he'd done that when I wasn't worth it.

It's hard to put into words the way that such chronic, ubiquitous loathing by most of the people in one's life at such a young age affects the person you become. Nearly every frequent behavior I can trace back in some way to those long years of bullying. My fascination with cruelty and my bleeding heart and commitment to justice. Why do you think I teach? Why do you think I've chosen to teach the kinds of kids I do? Every teacher like me means there's one less Mr. D who's allowed to poison the lives of young people.

Even now, when I have a healthy social life, I am not forthcoming. I never take a chance on asking anyone to be friends with me. (Even on LJ, I only friend people first very rarely!) I have to know someone very well before I'll start suggesting social activities to them. However, I'll snatch up any social activities that they propose to me. That's a major difference between Bobby and me. Bobby assumes that everyone is a potential friend. I assume that no one will want to spend time with me or be interested in me. Even though I love time with other people, usually the most psychological comfortable choice is being alone. I think that's why I give so much of myself to others too, because I don't assume that I'm enough on my own to warrant much in the way of regard.

I don't pour all of this out (and click POST before I regret it) to garner sorrow or sympathy. Please don't feel you must apologize to me for what you did not do. I say it because, even now, the emotional impacts of bullying are brushed off, mostly by adults (I suspect) who were always alphas socially. I want people to understand that the kinds of treatment I experienced from peers and adults impact a person's life forever. If your kid or a friend comes to you and says they're hurting, don't tell them to ignore it and it will go away. Speak up. It will mean so much, I promise.
  • I was bullied on and off throughout elementary school but moved to a new school district for junior high, enabling me to make some new friends (and also some new bullies - sigh). By the time I hit high school I just decided to gather my own clique around me instead and started collecting and befriending the odd kids - the brainy ones, the ones who weren't afraid of a book or of being with someone who never did toe the line. I was always a rebel (still am). But the beauty of it was that these were great people, and my BFF Sharon, who is coming to visit on her annual visit on Thursday, was one of those people. We've been friends now for more than 40 years. I guess we survived :-)

    - Erulisse (one L)
    • I'm glad you did. :) I just bought a bunch of bumperstickers from Northern Sun to convert to magnets to post around my classroom, and one I chose was "God Bless the Freaks!" Because so many of my students--like me--are freaks, and I want them to know they're in a safe space. ;)

      I think my modus operandus since having such success relocating myself to a new high school among my own kind (because every version of the nerd stereotype attended my high school; kids came near to fistfighting over whether Star Trek or Star Wars was superior) has been to stick with my own kind. My university was likewise for intense intellectual types; I loved it. I socialize in the Tolkien community and the SCA, both of which tend to attract the misfits. I find it very difficult to interact socially with "normal" people now because the chasm between our interests and beliefs feels insurmountable.
  • My guess of why you were given a C2 in gym was probably a misguided attempt to try harder.

    I personally knew of one young boy who had lots of assorted LDs; nothing severe, just enough to make his school life miserable. (Let's call him "J".) When he took biology, (at that time, I was a part-time tutor) I told J to work hard on his notes and everything, and it should be ok.

    So J kept a perfect notebook, worked as hard as he could and everything -- and his final grade should have been a D; with luck, a very low C. At the first 9 wks. conference, J got an F. Why? To quote the teacher, "I could have given him a D, but I thought he would try harder if he got an F."


    That was J's best effort, and I told the teacher so. He was all "Well... well... uh..." He was in the wrong and he f'n knew it, but he was the teacher and therefore god, and nothing could be done.

    So I told J to close his books and notebooks and treat the class as a study hall. Just show up on time, do not talk back, do not make noise, do not do anything to annoy the teacher.

    He did, and he pulled solid C's in biology for the rest of the year.
    • My guess of why you were given a C2 in gym was probably a misguided attempt to try harder.

      I think you're right. That and my body language--standing in the outfield with my arms hanging at my sides and a look of misery on my face--were being misinterpreted as not caring. In reality, I didn't feel comfortable or welcome, in a large part because of the teacher's treatment of me. And, at that point in life, I hadn't had enough normal social interactions to know how to fake it.

      Your story about J is ... maddening. The teacher had it all backwards. J should have been given accommodations because of his LD; working as hard as he could and doing his best shouldn't earn him a lower grade than a kid who simply shows up to class to absorb enough to get an A, just because the latter kid wasn't unfortunate enough to be born with LD. The notion that a person can be talked or taught out of something that is neurological makes me want to pound my head into a wall. No one tells anyone to snap out of cancer; I don't understand why psychological conditions are thought to be any different.
  • I was another who was picked on and bullied by many of my peers, but I also had one abusive teacher myself.

    It was in sixth grade. She was a big woman, the sort for whom the term "battleaxe" was invented, and she bullied the whole class, but most especially those she perceived as vulnerable. We lived at that time in a rural area, which in the early '60s meant a lot of the kids were poor, and couldn't attend school on a regular basis, because helping your parents with the planting or the harvest was considered an excused absence. And I was an odd one out, only having come there the year before after spending the first ten years of my life as an Air Force brat.

    Some examples of things that she did that year: in the lunchroom, if we talked in line, she would pull the girls' skirts up (this was in the days when all girls wore skirts or dresses every day), saying "If you embarrass me, I will embarrass you." She would bring out the paddle at the least excuse, and I got it more than once for protesting: "Not fair? Then do you want to take the paddling for her?" I did, defiantly. One poor girl had a problem with B.O. and Mrs. S. delighted in picking on her about it. And one day she decided that another girl needed to come up to the front row. When she didn't move right away the teacher came back and grabbed her by the arm and began dragging her. The desk caught on her leg, and she was dragged desk and all to the front row.

    I too was lousy in sports and was always last to be picked for teams unless one of my very few friends had a turn to be captain. (As that was done by going down the alphabet on the class roll, even *I* got a turn at captain once in a while.) But we didn't have PE, we simply had two recesses. One day when the class was playing softball, I was sitting on a low concrete wall that ran in front of the playing field waiting for my turn at bat-- which was not for a good long while. She came up behind me and shoved me off! I skint my knees and the palms of my hands.

    Believe it or not, we kids let her get away with all this because when she would do something clearly off the wall, she'd say "And if you run home and tell mommy about that, I will flunk you!" As incredible as you may think this, we believed her. This was back in the day when the normal reaction of a parent on finding his or her child had been punished in school was to back that up with an equally severe punishment at home. It never dawned on us that there was no way she could actually flunk and entire class.

    I even tried writing a letter to "Dear Abby" about my mean teacher, and that was what brought everything to a head. She saw me writing it, and snatched it off my desk, and then ranted and raved and tore it up and threw it away.

    When I got home, I was visibly upset, and it only took one "What's wrong?" from my mom to send me into hysterics, screaming "I don't care if she flunks me!" I proceeded to spill everything that had gone on all year long.

    My mom and dad looked at each other, took me out to the car, and we drove straight back to the school where I once more had to spill everything to the principal. When I finished I was sent out while my parents talked to him.

    Mrs. S. was gone for about a week, and when she came back, she was sickeningly sweet as sugar pie to everyone. The rumors were flying, and the upshot was she'd basically been forced to take early retirement. There was scarcely a month left of school, so she was allowed to finish up the year. Other teachers and the principal would pop unexpectedly into the classroom at any time. And the next year, she was most certainly gone.

    None of that could have happened nowadays, but in 1963, I am sure it was not an isolated thing. Corporal punishment was normal in most schools and teachers had a lot more autonomy and less accountability than now.

    There IS such a thing as progress...if I doubt that, I just remember Mrs. S.
  • I can so empathize. I was ostracize because I was chubby, religious and played the piano. At least, that's all I can think of... I wasn't even that chubby. I was made to feel that way but the photos from my childhood do not support that.

    I befriended the other "underdogs" and we are still good friends to this day.

    • I befriended the other "underdogs" and we are still good friends to this day.

      That's what I've learned to do too: to keep to my own kind. Starting when I took myself to a high school with people like me. I no longer want to be around the kinds of people who, as kids, were my tormenters. Nerds rock! :)
  • I feel like I could rant forever on "Just ignore them." No disrespect meant to your parents (or mine, who told me the same thing when I was being bullied) because it's an obnoxiously common piece of advice and I can see why people would repeat it, but it is just so wrong on so many levels.

    I ignored my bullies when they loudly made rude comments about me behind my back. They got bored (and saw no one else was doing anything about it) so then they started shouting the comments directly at me. They got nothing then, so they started stealing my stuff and tossing it over my head. After no reaction there, they started throwing things at me, and then invading my personal space and physically pushing me around. They only got stopped and punished when I did something (even though that was just crying) and the teacher and vice principal stepped in, and that was after they'd gotten bold enough to nearly tip me head first out of my chair while trying to steal something of mine right out of my hands. Funny--the bullying stopped and I felt better about future issues when it was no longer just my responsibility to put up with it.

    (I'll grant that part of the lack of action from teachers was due to their not seeing and my thinking I couldn't just run to them like a little baby to tell them. I can't imagine what it'd be like to know teachers are blatantly ignoring a bad situation or encouraging it.)

    Aside from the fact that "just ignore them" not only doesn't work but often makes things worse, I say it's not right to expect a kid (or adult) to take bullying behavior and not react. I wasn't super human and couldn't make myself not hear the bullies if I expected to be able to listen to my teacher talking. I couldn't walk right through them when they were standing right in front of me, and it didn't not hurt when they threw things at me just because I told myself they'd like a reaction from me. And it sure as heck isn't fair to let somebody worry about what might be next after a bully has already gotten away with a lot.

    (And then there was the other messed thing I often heard about bullies: Maybe they just like you. But I'd better not get into that right now!)

    Anyway... thank you for your post. I keep telling myself I want to be somebody who speaks up and stands up for others, but I'm a timid human and reminders help.

    Edited at 2011-08-30 07:18 am (UTC)
    • What I can't believe more adults didn't "get" was that my reaction didn't matter to my tormentors if there were other kids there. I could ignore them all I wanted, but they wouldn't relent if there was an audience. (Incidentally, a major reason why schoolkids today are being taught how to react as a bystander when they witness bullying: because so many bullies act for social attention/approval.)

      Part of why I think "ignore them" became the bullying meme for our generation was that we were still in the time when mistreatment by one's peers was thought to be "just kids being kids." So it was an easy piece of advice to give while allowing the playground jungle to take its natural course. It was perhaps deemed inadvisable to meddle too much in kids' affairs because there wasn't much harm seen in the kinds of things we put up with. After all, we weren't being terribly injured. When I took a course in child maltreatment as an undergrad, peer abuse and emotional abuse were just starting to be studied in a serious way, and the harm of both of those was just beginning to become apparent. (The rash of school shootings when we were in high school helped that, I'm sure and sad to say.) It never felt acceptable, when I was young, to acknowledge that I was hurt by the way that others treated me. It was always this elaborate ruse: ignore them, assume a stiff upper lip, pretend it doesn't matter.

      I think I'm less bothered by having been ostracized--even hurt--because those things ultimately made me a person capable of independence and questioning the lemming mindset most people are so comfortable to assume. I'm more bothered by the fact that no one seemed to care much beyond putting the responsibility on my shoulders to ignore behavior that was wrong and for which I should have borne no responsibility.

      I'm a timid human and reminders help.

      It is difficult. I hope that when my turn comes to stand up for someone, I will be able to.
  • Kids are cruel still, it doesn't matter much how many social programmes one start at school, outside it's still a pecking order. You can probably tell or explain better why the brains work that way, but for me it is an utter mystery.

    I have nothing to add to your personal story besides that I agree 100%, but even if you had someone who would stand up for you, they are not always around all the time. Later in life, when I settled down with the good things in life, I learnt that my bullies ended up quite miserably: they ended up in broken homes, never were able to live up to expectations and talents, hardships in relationships, handicapped by drugs overdose or car accidents. Or to hear from them personally that they wouldn't recognise me that I grew so strong and confident and so on. I count my blessings still. Like you moving away and out of a school situation, later on moving to the big city offered a clean slate, to discover who I am, what I wanted in life helped.

    Yet I do fear for my eldest, having no antenna to gauge social situations other than learnt behaviour. Folks could bully, steal stuff and he would never harm them (my youngest would give such folks hell, that's for sure) having such a golden heart. There is no malice in his heart. Then again he doesn't care at all for social picking order.. we will see. I'll try to cross that bridge when we get there.
    • I learnt that my bullies ended up quite miserably

      I've never tried to find anyone from my life before high school. I am friends on FB with one person from elementary school, who was a friend of mine in kindergarten before she was moved to a different class. She friended me, and I saw no reason not to friend her back. I am sometimes curious about how the other girls in my class, how their lives turned out.

      I wouldn't be surprised to find that they had dull lives, at the best. If one good thing comes from being ostracized, I think it is that you learn to think for yourself. Most people, I'm sorry to say, have absolutely nothing interesting about them. They've put their all into that social currency without ever developing a personality for themselves. Or that is my humble theory. ;)

      Yet I do fear for my eldest, having no antenna to gauge social situations other than learnt behaviour.

      I can see why you'd worry. I hope that there is enough knowledge now about peer abuse and especially about students with special needs that the staff of his school will keep a close eye on him.
  • Just ignore them... Fat lot of good that does when they don't leave you alone no matter what!!

    Even today, I can vividly recall the game of tag in the latchkey program in which no one would chase anyone but me. They basically took turns being "it", but each "it" would only chase me. I was quick, so it must have been more than ten minutes before I was caught. It was quite awful, and I had tears spilling down my cheeks, gasping for breath, by the time a girl finally caught up to me and tagged me. I kept to myself so much that the book might have had my name on it.

    Wow, I really have more to say on this, but I have to get ready for work now. I'll have to come back tonight and make my own post on the subject.
  • my social currency consisted of a few desperate friendships with other misfits like me.

    This is me, exactly.

    Aww, Dawn. And you are such a lovely and brilliant person!

    I completely admire you for teaching. I had a couple of bully-teachers, but most were okay, it was generally the kids made my life a misery, because I was by inclination, very very quiet, and preferred to read. The more I was scorned and picked on, the more insular I became.

    My fascination with cruelty and my bleeding heart and commitment to justice.

    I think this is why I write the themes I do too. (Even child abuse) In some sense it is a way of tackling past experiences.

    Yay for your husband! He's my hero!
    • In some sense it is a way of tackling past experiences.

      Yes. For me, it has been a way to explain how we humans are so damned cruel to each other all of the time. It has taken me from a place where I hate people like Mr. D (which is an emotion beneath the person I want to be) and can instead pity a grown man so committed to upholding the social pecking order of a bunch of elementary kids.

      Yay for your husband! He's my hero!

      Mine too! :) Although I have had to remind him on occasion how the world looks from the point of view of someone who isn't immediately loved by everyone he meets, Bobby doesn't have a mean bone in his body. I believe he's incapable of being a bully, and he shares my ideal of standing up for the weak.
  • Bobby assumes that everyone is a potential friend. I assume that no one will want to spend time with me or be interested in me

    I'm astonished by how much you and I area alike. I wonder if Tolkien's world isn't a haven for misfits all around. But it's also sort of beautiful that so many of us have grown up well-adjusted and aware, if that makes sense.

    My kids are as awkward as I was, little nerds in training. It's tough to see them not fit in sometimes, to not be invited to the parties (already! at five!), but I certainly don't want to squash their nerd behaviours. I love it that they are totally into Star Wars, that they make up elaborate tales using my painted fantasy miniatures, that their sense of humour is unsophisticated at best (though I do hope they grow out of finding poop jokes funny someday). At least, being twins, they'll always have each other. And they will always have me. I know what all that feels like.
    • Whenever I make posts like this, I am amazed by the similarities of experiences reported by other creative/nerdy-types. I wonder: Do our inclinations and interests make us outcasts? Or does our being pushed to the margins of social groups enhance the inward-looking thought processes needed for intellectual and creative pursuits?

      I've always credited my talents as a writer and artist to the way I was treated as a kid. While other little girls were cooing over teen idols and going to sleepovers and obsessing over clothes and makeup, I was writing and drawing. And because I didn't have much company, I learned to keep company with myself. (I had my sister, but she and I have always been more than willing to enter into the other's imaginative worlds and become part of them, so her friendship enhanced that, if anything.) That most people have the imaginative depth of a dried mud puddle probably comes from never using their imaginations.

      Your children sound amazing. :) Although I'm sad to hear that they're being excluded already from parties. I wonder what goes through parents' heads when they make those kinds of decisions to include some kids and leave others out.
  • If there is one thing I learned from being bullied (and seeing my cousin going through similar things now - to the point of his already-present physical problems like asthma and neurodermatitis worsening from the sheer mental strain), is that children pick up on differences and use those as justification to start bullying, and dynamics from that point garner independent momentum and their "reasons" are based on any possible social stigma the bullies can imagine to denigrate their victims further. Or, if they can't think of anything, a simple "I hate you" will also do.

    I remember feeling a sting of hurt, then mostly just disappointment ... but certainly not surprise. Why would he ever like me?
    Yes, this especially reads familiar. And even though it's been years since I went on to High School and the bullying stopped, I find that's still the standard outlook I apply to most things I'm in any way emotionally invested in. Maths teacher didn't intercept when "friends" threw messages at me that told me to go away and die? Why would he? Party wasn't invited to, go figure. Someone I was carrying a torch for gets together with someone else? Of course, I was stupid for ever considering the possibility, after all it's me. Fic ends up with no reviews? Well, stupid, I wrote it. Conversely, like with Bobby defending you, I'm still surprised if my efforts get valued or I am liked, or am told I look pretty, and certainly can't open up until I'm certain that no, these people are not trying to screw me over.

    So yes, in retrospect I do wish I'd spoken up. My mother would have reacted - reacted quite strongly, even (instead of talking to teachers or parents I'm fairly sure she would have marched right to the police), but at that point I'd already been so thoroughly subdued that felt a) I wasn't worth the trouble and b) it wouldn't change anything for the better.

    It does, though.
    • children pick up on differences and use those as justification to start bullying, and dynamics from that point garner independent momentum and their "reasons" are based on any possible social stigma the bullies can imagine to denigrate their victims further

      Yes. Like sitting with my legs crossed or not having pierced ears, two reasons W gave for hating me and making my life hell.

      I wonder if it's something innate that makes kids pick up on these differences, or if it's something they pick up from their environment. Or maybe a bit of both. I do think we humans have an innate tendency to pick up on differences as possible threats, but I also think kids (especially girls) are socialized to view certain types of behavior as unacceptable. I didn't stand a chance with my classmates from the moment I mentioned that I liked insects. ;)

      I'm still surprised if my efforts get valued or I am liked

      Which breaks my heart, as you are one of the most talented people I know, both as an artist and a writer--but I do understand, having felt the same myself. I am still waiting to awaken from the dream where my writing in this fandom has been so well-liked. I'm still waiting to be told that I'm a terrible writer and a fraud.

      I used to be extremely defensive with people. This came, I think, from the belief that kindness was never meant sincerely. It was better to be sarcastic and defensive and deflect the inevitable reality that there was some ulterior motive to a person's being nice to me.

      I wasn't worth the trouble

      That was it for me. I believed things would have gotten better if someone had stuck up for me. I wanted someone to stick up for me (hence, I did report the nasty behavior of my classmates and teacher). But it was too much a bother to do so; hence, the responsibility for ignoring other's bad behavior was plunked onto my shoulders and I was sent on my way.
  • I believe that many of us have suffered some sort of mockery, or feeling ignored by at least one our parents. I was lucky that being my school catholic, that behavior was rare. I married the only person I felt understood me, and defended me, and in my case it was a mistake. After years of happy marriage he used all my weaknesses to make me feel bad with myself, while he was happily stealing my money and cheating on me. So, I don't believe in love that saves people anymore. I can't even write about people who can't live without the other's love. I did learn that nobody is supposed to defend me now, and that being an adult I have to defend myself. Whatever happened that marked me in one way or the other, is now in the past. Leaving it in the past (I've heard of people wiser than me) is the only way to start to heal.
    • I believe that many of us have suffered some sort of mockery

      It does seem a common experience among "nerdy" (i.e., creative and intellectual) people. I remember I was helping a woman into a Tudor gown at an SCA practice one night, and we were talking about our childhoods, and I remarked how similar her experiences were to mine. She turned and smiled at me and said, "If you ask most the people here right now, they will have had experiences like yours and mine." Like fandom, SCA accepts all sorts of people who don't fit in anywhere else.

      I don't know what I would do if Bobby turned out to take advantage of me. I've always believed I could not survive losing him to death, but I could survive being left because hurt always turns to anger for me. (Hence I found my mood after writing this post was one of rage, not sorrow.) I do agree with you that people have to learn, ultimately, to defend themselves.
  • My first experience with bullying was my first grade teacher. The thing I remember best is that she locked me in the coat closet with the light off for an offense I can no longer recall. Mom has said that I refused to read for her and I claimed I couldn't. The only reason my sister and I remained in her class was because we were moving to another city in a few weeks. Surprise, surprise, I read perfectly well for the new teacher. I firmly believe this is when I realized I can't trust authority figures.

    We moved back to the city a couple of years later, and my parents enrolled in the same school. Most of the kids we knew, and they no longer talked to us. One girl was a daughter of a couple my parents knew, and when they arranged "play-dates", she was perfectly friendly. In school, she'd ignore us. All the kids made fun of us because we had the "old" PE uniforms-- the school had redesigned its logo and my parents refused to buy us new uniforms because the old ones still fit. (Beyond the teasing, I was constantly worried about getting in trouble for it because they weren't 100% correct.)

    Fourth grade rolled around. My sister ended up sitting with the girls at lunch, just to have people to hang out with (we weren't exactly what you'd call friends at that point). I sat with two ostracized boys. Rather than try and fail to get to the interesting playground equipment at recess, we collected everyone's lunchboxes so they could get outside faster. (The teachers were concerned about us collecting them, but I'm not sure they saw the deeper issue.) Someone stole a couple of fiction books from my desk. I was on the basketball team, and was treated no different. It turned me off sports for life. (Even now, Dad still doesn't get it when I say I don't like sports. "But you used to play basketball!")

    My fourth grade teacher was a subtler bully. That's when we learned cursive. She declared that we could only use pencil until she said our cursive was good enough. Mine never was. I felt odd and a bit guilty the next year when no one stopped me from using pens.

    Fifth grade: one of the boys moved away and the other boy began sitting with the rest of the boys in the class. That didn't matter, though, because I actually had a friend. She showed up first day of school with walking casts on both her legs, and everyone was staring and laughing. My response when we got in the classroom was to smile at her. We were inseparable for two years. (I later found out that she went home to her parents and told her mom, "Someone smiled at me.")

    Sixth grade: a concerted effort by both the guys and the girls in the class caused us to get caller ID. The boys would call my sister and I and pretend to be the new boy, and the girls would call him and pretend to be us. On both sides, it was to ask us out on dates or something. It was annoying but then his parents called ours to complain about "our" behavior, and that's when the truth came out-- that we were both victims. We never found out who it was. (By that point, my sister was sitting with us.)

    Things got better after we moved to Virginia-- we befriended geeks, and even the popular girls were nice. High school, even though we moved back to Pensacola for the third time, was decent. Our group of friends were left alone.

    Looking back, I'm not sure how much my parents realize how all those experiences affected me. I'm introverted to the point where I'm a happy hermit. I don't trust authority and am cynical of people's motives. I learned not to care what people thought of me because they'd just make fun of me no matter what. So I'm an out and proud geek, and in some ways it's a shell for the scared woman who just wants to be left alone.

    Their advice was always, "Be nice and someone will want to be friends with you." Yeah, sure. It just took moving and finding other readers/geeks. Dad (an extravert) will never get that it takes serious effort for me to reach out to someone, including on LJ. (Last year's situation made that worse.) I'm also convinced that people don't want to talk to me, or just put up with me to avoid hurting me. I'm also terrified of being wrong-- in the "I'm talking to someone who knows more than I do, and I don't want them to think less of me" sense.
    • I firmly believe this is when I realized I can't trust authority figures.

      Yes. I think this is true of me as well. Being so spectacularly failed by people who are supposed to protect you (in exchange for the respect you give their so-called "authority") took any respect I might have had for such people. My inclination remains to distrust anyone "in charge."

      My fourth grade teacher was a subtler bully.

      I wonder what goes through teachers' heads when they do stuff like this. It unfortunately lends credence to my theory that many K-12 teachers have little interest in teaching and even less liking for their students but primarily want to wield power over people weaker than they are. It's similar to how Mr. D constantly singled me out; surely, he saw how I was rejected by my peers and could put two and two together about how giving them more reasons to mock me would turn out. So why did he do it? I can't help but make malicious attributions.

      (Last I checked, he still teaches at my old elementary school. I am, sometimes, sorely tempted to write to him.)

      Looking back, I'm not sure how much my parents realize how all those experiences affected me.

      Me too. Unless they've been through it themselves, I don't think they can. I mean, how stupid does it sound to become upset because a kid said she hated me because I cross my legs when I sit? Unless someone's been through it, I don't see how they could understand how hard it is to go through life where the most mundane details are subject of constant mockery and scorn.

      When I was student teaching, my students would sometimes angst about seemingly silly trifles. It's easy to forget that, at that age, they aren't trifles, and it's worth listening with a sincere ear, if nothing else.

      Their advice was always, "Be nice and someone will want to be friends with you."

      Eru. Are you sure we didn't have the same parents? I remember being told that too. As with "ignore them," this unfairly puts the responsibility for other people's bad behavior on your shoulders. If they don't like you, clearly you're not being nice enough. If they're being abusive, you just need to be nicer (whilst also ignoring it).

      So I'm an out and proud geek, and in some ways it's a shell for the scared woman who just wants to be left alone.

      I understand that. I cling to the social groups where I feel safe--fandom, SCA--and turn up my nose at "mainstream" society. I've embraced my identity as a creative/intellectual person. It lets me set myself apart from those who might hurt me.
  • This was painful to read for many reasons, primarily because of the stark reminder of juvenile social hierarchies and just how cruel children can be to one another and for what happened to Thuringwethil II (referred to hereafter in this response as DD).

    Speaking for myself, I was picked on at times in grade school, the school bus notably, by a couple of dorked-out boys. Just verbal stupidity. Fortunately, because I had other friends, I was able to endure the sting. Same with another asshole kid. It hurt, but it was nothing like what you describe. I think in part this was because I was not ostracized as a whole, and also because I developed a cutting sense of humor that I turned back on said assholes. When I was a freshman in high school, a couple of girls were mildly mean to me. Oddly enough, the next year we all became good friends and remained so through high school. Nonetheless, the unpleasant teasing from those boys colored my self-image of my appearance something fierce. So I can relate to what others are saying here.

    I floated among the geeks, freaks and "popular" kids in high school. None of my teachers bullied me. OMG. I can't imagine. I went to a small town school system, and my father had been the school district treasurer for quite some time. Had he discovered a teacher was bullying me, he would have been all over him or her like the wrath of Jehovah, and I suspect the staff knew this.

    However, in DD's case, her 4th grade teacher humiliated her in front of the class. And when did DD tell me about this? Years after the fact. In retrospect, I should have guessed something was wrong, but I dismissed a lot of what was going on as "a phase" on DD's part. I was dead wrong, and believe me, the parental guilt sometimes threatens to consume me. For whatever reason, DD did not tell me, and I beat myself up over that, too.
    • When I started my teaching certification program, one of our discussion questions one week prompted my classmates and I to start talking about how many of us had been humiliated or otherwise bullied by teachers in K-12. Every single person in the class had a story to tell. For a lot of us, it influenced why we decided to teach (I know it has for me). It's really beyond my comprehension how an adult can find any satisfaction in "besting" a child not even a decade old. Or not even two decades old, for that matter. I sometimes suspect some of these people get into teaching because they like to boss around people weaker than they are. A more generous possibility is that, because they spend their time primarily with children, they get caught up in those students' dramas. (Mr. D, for example, rigorously enforced the elementary-school pecking order in how he treated students in his class, like popularity in a 4th-grade class somehow meant something significant to his purported adult sensibilities.)

      I know Mr. D used to do things that were clearly out of line, and I didn't tell anyone because he was an adult and, therefore, it must be my failing that I didn't understand the fairness or rightness of what he'd done. I remember a girl started at the school in 4th grade who managed to be even less popular than my friend J and me. This new girl, not surprisingly, was also culled for remedial PE class. One day, she showed up very late. Mr. D stopped the class and, in front of all of us, asked her where she'd been.

      "I had to go to the nurse."

      "Why did you have to go to the nurse?"

      "I had an accident."

      Now, anyone who teaches 4th graders knows that the word accident is loaded with double-entendre! The tone of the girl's voice said what kind of accident it had been. Nonetheless, Mr. D asked, "What kind of accident?" forcing the poor girl to say in front of all us, "A bathroom accident."

      It was only us misfits there--no one else was pulled out for remedial gym--but nonetheless, it had to have been awful for her, and it didn't take long for word to get around to everyone that the new girl had been late for remedial gym because she'd peed her pants.

      As out of line as that was, I never told anyone ... he was a grown-up and must be right, even if my nine-year-old brain couldn't "get" why. Perhaps something along those lines is why DD took so long to say something to you.
  • Reading your post and many of the subsequent comments, I noticed I could relate to a lot of it too. I did seem to have some cloak of invisibility that rendered the bullying mainly infrequent and mild, but the stuff that did occur stuck with me. It still makes me cringe inside to think about and I'm sure it, along with my family situation, contributed to anxiety I still struggle with today.

    The memories that stand out are of a student in 7th grade Spanish class calling me an ugly crocodile (not funny when one is an adolescent with bad acne), someone in gym that same year pushing me down a flight of stairs from behind (never knew who or why), and someone else in a class hitting me hard across the face with a rolled-up poster and bolting out of the room (again, never knew why and I remember that's what bothered me most).

    Starting from age 12, I cloistered myself in my room to write fiction instead of hanging out with other kids. I also distrusted authority from as far back as I can remember.

    I have to agree with the idea floating around here that our experiences seem to contribute to our general intellectualism, introspection, wish to do no harm, et c. Sometimes only experience really can lend empathy.

    Thanks for posting this. I'm glad you found someone like Bobby and that your experience influenced your career choice and your attitude toward your students. And I much enjoy your writings, I've read several of your stories now including the Lovecraft-inspired one (that was brilliant and I did find it very much in his vein).
    • I have to agree with the idea floating around here that our experiences seem to contribute to our general intellectualism, introspection, wish to do no harm, et c.

      A constant ongoing conflict for me is vacillating between extreme anger towards the peers and adults who tormented me and gratitude that I was pushed to the edge--however painfully--to learn true independence and creativity. I wonder if those things would have happened if I spent my weekends oooing and ahhing over the New Kids on the Block with classmates rather than writing stories and inhabiting my own imaginary worlds. Of course, much pain could be saved if being smart and imaginative were seen as good things for a girl to be.

      On the "ugly crocodile" comment ... I remember kids in middle school having plastic surgery to rid themselves of large facial moles or too-big noses. I've no doubt they were teased about them. It's a sad day when kids have to have plastic surgery in order to have comfortable experiences at school. (Once again, the responsibility is put on them to "fix" something about themselves. How utterly maddening.)

      Thanks for reading my stories and for your comment! :) "Hastaina" came in a fit of inspiration after reading waaaay too many Lovecraft stories late at night. I'm glad it worked! :)
  • Apart from the pack mentality, which is the major factor, of course, the main perpetrators are often very unhappy people. At least, in my case, it was a boy who had major problems at home, apparently. I didn't know that at the time--and I rather doubt whether it would have helped any, then.
    When I met him again, some years later, I realized that he was an outsider, too, and keen to prove that he was just that little bit farther in.
    I wish I had been braver about standing up for others. We were supposed to be the nerds' class already--and things like that still went on.
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