When I was in fifth grade, my friends stopped talking to me. I still don't really know why. One girl decided she didn't like me, and the rest was history, I guess. That seems to be how it happens; bullying is pretty senseless.
I went from having a group of friends to eat lunch with and whisper things to by the lockers to being snapped at and avoided in the hallways.
A girl I previously considered my best friend leapt into a stairwell and made a loop around the school just to avoid telling me she didn’t want to sit with me at lunch anymore.
I was so young, and I didn’t understand.
I came home from school on those first few days of having no friends and just laid in my bed, staring at the ceiling, going over what I possibly could have done wrong. I felt like everyone hated me. I felt like no one would ever like me ever again.
I was only 10 — 10-year-olds shouldn’t have to feel this way.
Well, actually, no one should have to feel this way. This is bullying, and it shouldn’t have to happen.
I don’t hold grudges, though. We were all just kids. From the bullies to the bullied, none of us knew any better. Eventually, we will learn to teach tolerance in a way that works universally.
But, still. Bullying doesn't end with childhood. It’s still alive and well. We see it in the news and on the Internet every day.
Cyber bullying is a whole new beast than what we dealt with when we were younger.
I've heard stories about bullies sending horrible, embarrassing messages in the names of other kids to entire schools, and the bullied kids having to switch schools.
Bullying can be life-altering like that. Even if it wasn’t entirely life-altering when we were bullied, and even if the situation wasn’t so extreme, to little us, it felt like it.
What I’m saying is, it hasn’t gone away. There’s a whole generation of bullied kids who will grow up just as we did. The kids today who are bullied, they’ll be us someday.
I'm older now, and I'm okay. I know kids can be mean. Differences or just general weirdness are not as welcomed when you're younger.
With some people, it's never welcomed. I was a weird kid; I’m a pretty weird adult, too, I suppose. I made it out, though; I have friends. I'm loved. I made it out from the meanness okay.
When you're bullied, you'll always be a little bit affected. As time passes, as we grow up, as we move on, where does bullying leave us?
No matter how much you were bullied and on whatever the scale, there’s always a little damage left behind. A little scar. When someone chooses you as a target, in your eyes, he or she says you are worth being bullied.
You are worth outcasting. You are worth disliking.
"You are worth nothing," is what we hear, except being subject to meanness. That’s a lot for an adult to handle, let alone a kid.
Even when we grow up and learn people are cruel, but it's best to kill them with kindness, we never forget.
Bullying leaves us full of self-doubt. Even as confident, successful, young adults, we still, sometimes, feel like we need validation to ensure people like us. We worry people might talk about us behind our backs.
We worry that after all this time, after all of the learning to be okay with ourselves, it still might not be enough.
Bullying leaves us with social anxiety. What if we say the wrong thing and people hold it against us? One wrong phrase or action could turn people off forever, we convince ourselves.
Even if all evidence points to the contrary, that people won’t hold stupid mistakes against us, we can’t be sure – after all, it’s happened before.
Bullying leaves us always a little unsure. It’s been years, ages, since we were teased, ridiculed, or ignored. It’s not something that consciously affects us anymore. After all, it was literally decades ago. We’re fine. We’re okay.
We forget that our childhoods shape us into who we are today. The details of our childhood tormenting are fuzzy in our heads but clear in our hearts. We’ve taken these details with us, and we’ve let them shape who we are as adults.
The ways bullying shapes us are not all bad.
Bullies bully because they are threatened; their targets are different or weird. Often, a target is someone who is pretty okay with him or herself. When bullies tease us about certain details of ourselves, what they do is pinpoint the parts of ourselves that are the boldest.
The kid who says whatever is on his or her mind and wears anything, whether it blends into a middle school hallway or not, those are the kids who get picked on.
By trying to knock us down, bullies show us which parts of ourselves to be most proud of. They unknowingly teach us to never change.
Of course, maybe, we didn’t always see it that way (and, maybe, we still don’t), but subconsciously, we learn.
We fight for the parts of ourselves that they aimed to suppress. We keep them with us. We magnify them. We become unique individuals — even if that’s not what we always wanted to be. Even if back then, we thought all we wanted was to fit in.
They said, “You shouldn’t be like that, it’s weird.” Whether we realize it or not, we’ve spent our whole lives responding with, “Oh yeah? Watch me.”
Bullying hurts. Bullying can be life-altering. Bullying is devastating. We need to teach kids to accept each other so they can be unique individuals as a celebration, instead of as a result of being told not to be.
We think we’re over it. We think maybe it never really affected us. But, we’re wrong -- it did.
It made us rebel; it made us louder. In a way, being bullied made us who we are today.
My best friend since childhood was bullied extensively when he was in middle school. He wanted to be a pop star; he had big dreams and he didn’t care what anyone thought of him. He was called names no kid should ever have to hear — all for being himself.
Today, my best friend is a musician, just like he always said he would be.
He wears leopard-print leggings on the street, and sometimes, people still give him grief. People still say mean things. More often than not, though, they want to know where they can get their own pair of statement leggings.
More often than not, my best friend wins them over with his smile and his genuine love of life. He’s come a long way.
They made fun of him for wanting to be a musician, and so today, he aims to connect and unite people through his music.
He wrote a song called "Liberation" about being bullied and how it made him the strong, independent human being he is today.
I urge you to listen to "Liberation" to see how far we’ve all come from those days of feelings so trapped. You can check out the video here. It’s the kind of thing that makes everyone feel a little less alone and a little more liberated.
Along the way, from the bullying and the learning what it meant, we've all become a little liberated.
He will never forget where he came from. None of us will. When we have our own kids, we will hold our breath as they walk through those school doors, and when we imagine them walking through those locker lined hallways, we will remember. We will hope we won’t have to relive it with our babies.
If we do though, we will be there. We will know what to do.
To all of the bullies, I know you’re not bad people. I know you’re just scared. I know being mean is easy.
To all of the bullies, the bullied forgive you because not forgiving you is not the way to end it. The best thing to do is to love you as much as we love our weird, out-there selves. In the end, love and acceptance can be louder than anything else.
As my best friend says, “It’s your invitation to my liberation.”