How Did You Recover from Bullying?

“How did you recover from the bullying you experienced as a youth?” she asked me.

What a great and difficult question this is for me to answer. I am 46 years old now. Bullying, for me, ended when I was 14. It is now 32 years later and I still am in recovery. When will I get better? That is a question that I can’t answer at this time, because the truth is, I don’t know. To understand what I mean, you have to understand that what is done cannot be undone. In fact there is a great teaching method to teach children about bullying called ‘The Crumpled Piece of Paper’ that makes this point very clear.

Bullying CloudI was bullied daily from age 7 to 13 and then just a little more when I was 14. I was lucky, because we moved when I was 13 and, for the most part, I left the bullies behind me. I could start anew. But the damage of what we call our growing years, from 5-18, was done. It would still take me a while to learn this though. By the time I was 13, bullying had made me angry, depressed, and my self-esteem was nearly gone. I hung out with the wrong crowd and am not proud of many of the things I did during this time so that this group of people would be ‘my friends’. But it wasn’t all bad in that I had a good family life and teachers that cared and mentored me.

When I finally moved away, I made a conscious decision at 14 to stay low and not make any waves at school or to ‘be myself’ with people. I was hardened by my experience. But luckily for me, I found a new teacher/mentor and group of friends in the High School Drama Department. By the time I graduated from High School, I thought that I had put those bullying years behind me. I had a great time in High School and then in College. These were great years and I had great friends and learned to be myself again.

But being myself had a price. Much like the crumpled piece of paper I mentioned earlier, there were repressed scars that were still there. The first time it manifested itself was at the end of college during one of my final exams. As I started to take it, I grew sweaty, my heart started racing, and my eyes wouldn’t focus. I was having a panic attack and I knew the feeling. It was the same feeling I had when the bullies would surround me. The fight or flight feeling that comes with feeling threatened. I didn’t know it at the time, but I ran from the room to the bathroom. It finally went away and the professor let me finish the test.

For the next several years I suffered from unexpected and unexplained panic attacks and anxiety at times of stress. I didn’t know at the time the major correlation between youth bullying and adult anxiety and depression issues like these. But I would soon learn more than I wanted to. I must admit that there was a string of very good years where my self-esteem was high and I had a wife and children to care for. During this time, I suffered little from anxiety and panic. But I did have some strange habits, like not liking crowded places, needing to sit on the aisle in theaters, and just some discomfort. I didn’t realize the claustrophobia that was closing in with depression as well. Then, seven years ago, I realized as a web writer that I wanted to make a difference and share my youth bullying stories with others on the web to try to help people realize they weren’t alone. I created a website called ‘Bullying Stories: Dealing with the Long-Term Effects of Bullying’.

I shared my stories and had other people share theirs as well. I did research and became an anti-bullying activist. I certainly don’t want to say this triggered something in me to start to relive my bullying years, but at a point in time a few years after I started the website, my panic attacks came back and my anxiety was through the roof. This put me in a tailspin that ended with me in a depression and I didn’t understand why. At the time, I didn’t understand ‘the crumpled piece of paper’ or the C-PTSD that I would soon learn can happen from childhood trauma. I was lucky, though, that I knew medical professionals from working as an anti-bullying activist. They helped me help myself. I read tons of books, articles, and learned all I could about my situation. I learned that, for me, there will be good periods of time and bad periods of time and that I could learn how to deal with the bad periods of time. I learned to change my life for the better by:

  • Eating a healthier diet that would feed both my body and brain better
  • Working out at a gym to de-stress and release energy that was building up in me
  • Journaling about my feelings and the way I was thinking to learn to turn negatives into positives
  • Talking to people about what I went through as a child and what I was going through now
  • Doing Yoga and Meditation to learn to be mindful and relax my brain
  • Reading positive affirmations to help my mind think more positively

I could go on, but we are all different and what works for one doesn’t always work for others. Some people choose medication and therapy. Some do not. It takes all my strength to motivate myself some days to keep doing the work I know helps me feel better. My new motto is to ‘never quit’ and that it does and will get better. But there will be peaks and valleys in my life and I always need to be conscious of the valleys and know I can climb back up.

I keep a reminder at my desk now to try to remember what I have learned. It is a framed saying attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt that says, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift.” I always like to add at the end that is why today is called the Present. Because it is a present given to me. You can’t change the past and can’t predict the future, so why not just live for today.

So, she asked me, “How did you recover from the bullying you experienced as a youth?”

My answer is, I’ll let you know when I figure it out myself. But for now I know that life is what you make it and I am trying to make mine the best it can be. Every day is a new day and a good day to be alive…and that is how I have learned to cope, not necessarily recover from bullying.

~Alan Eisenberg

Bethany Mota Bully Story from Dancing With The Stars

Bethany Mota, a Nickelodion and YouTube celebrity, recently did a stirring performance on Dancing With The Stars and told her story of being bullied. It is not only an amazing performance, but is extremely honest about how bullying can damage you and what coping mechanisms she choose to overcome bullying, including this amazing performance.

Music Lyrics #19 – If I Die Young (The Band Perry)

I find so much importance for me in music, as I have explained in the past. Many people hear the music and like a song, but miss the lyrics. When I first heard The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young”, I was immediately struck by how many different levels it spoke to.

At first listen, I thought it a sad song about someone who died early and what was missed for them in their life. According to the lead singer, Kimberly Perry, in an interview in The Boot, the song has many meanings for them:

“That song works on so many levels and means different things to different people. It was just one of those songs that you felt like was meant to be on planet earth. We were just real humble to have the pen and paper in hand when it was ready to come, and for us it is a statement of contentment. We finished that song and just looked at each other and said, ‘How cool is this that we were able to put feet to our dreams?’ So many people work so hard for so long and for whatever reason are not able, or don’t have the opportunity to access their dreams. So for us it was a statement of you know what, if it all ends at this moment for whatever reason even at our young ages, we’ve gotten to live and love so well and so completely. And that’s what it means to us.”

But as we know, art is subjective. I would believe most of the idea of song is just a person leaving early until, to me, the most meaningful lyric of the song, when she sings “funny when your dead, how people start listenin'”. To me, it spoke of an unheard voice and the only way this young person would be heard is through their death. I find this same thing in those that commit bullycide. Many don’t believe they are heard or believed until the drastic day they take their own life. That is a tragedy that cannot be reversed, but is heard by everyone after they are gone.

So I share now with you, the song “If I Die Young” and the lyrics that speak to me of the importance of listening to our youth and not waiting until a tragic young death to hear what is being said.

“If I Die Young”

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in a river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song
Uh oh, uh oh
Lord make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother
She’ll know I’m safe with you when she stands under my colors, oh,
And life ain’t always what you think it ought to be, no
Ain’t even grey, but she buries her babyThe sharp knife of a short life, oh well
I’ve had just enough time

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

The sharp knife of a short life, oh well
I’ve had just enough time

And I’ll be wearing white, when I come into your kingdom
I’m as green as the ring on my little cold finger,
I’ve never known the lovin’ of a man
But it sure felt nice when he was holdin’ my hand,
There’s a boy here in town, says he’ll love me forever,
Who would have thought forever could be severed by…

…the sharp knife of a short life, oh well?
I’ve had just enough time

So put on your best, boys, and I’ll wear my pearls
What I never did is done

A penny for my thoughts, oh, no, I’ll sell ‘em for a dollar
They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’
Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin’

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

Uh oh (uh, oh)
The ballad of a dove (uh, oh)
Go with peace and love
Gather up your tears, keep ‘em in your pocket
Save ‘em for a time when you’re really gonna need ‘em, oh

The sharp knife of a short life, oh well
I’ve had just enough time

So put on your best, boys, and I’ll wear my pearls.

Am I Useless?

Sophie, the person who wrote the article “Why Are We So Hurtful To Others” here a little while ago, shares another article about how we treat each other. This is an area I am fascinated by, particularly in light of recent terrorist cruelty that is unspeakable in the acts done. How can we, as a society, learn to treat each other with respect and understand what it means to hurt someone to the point that they react in a way that is not their character? Thank you, Sophie for continuing to share your thoughts on bullying here. It is much appreciated. ~Alan Eisenberg


Bullying. That word stands alone. Alone like how a victim of bullying feels. I will never understand why some people feel they can gain power by bullying others and why being cruel makes them feel at the top of the pyramid. Why is it their priority in life to make others feel awful? Why does having a tough persona mean others have to suffer? I don’t understand and I probably never will.

I can’t help but compare two words: bullying and depression. Bullies become so
consumed in their power that they are oblivious to the serious effects their actions can have on another person. So many people of different ages have committed suicide after being bullied. So many young lives have ended and were taken away. How is this ok? It’s true others haven’t decided to take their own life but they do become seriously depressed, which can lead to the dangers of hurting one’s self.

Some may disagree and think that the abuse and behavior of a single person cannot lead to someone taking his or her life. To those people I ask, have you yourself ever experienced bullying? If you have not experienced any form of bullying than you cannot understand what victims are going through. Put yourself in their shoes, would you be upset if someone called you names or told you that you were worthless? How would you react to someone telling you that you weren’t good for anything and were useless on this earth? I can only assume that you would feel terrible and question yourself and wonder “Am I really useless?” No one wants to feel that way. Everyone wants something worth living for, something that makes him or her want to take on life challenges and say, “You hear me God? I am a human being and I’m going to kick some ass!”

It’s important to understand the effects of bullying and to understand that it is not ok. Bullying has become a word that sickens me because of how often it happens, and that it happened to me, and how many blameless people lose their life because of someone tormenting them. IT NEEDS TO END NOW.

~Sophie

A View on Depression and Suicide

I am blessed and lucky to have a religious leader such as Rabbi Bruce Aft that is so in tune with the issue of bullying and the long-term effects, that we talk frequently about it. He is not only a mentor to me, but a trusted friend and he shared recently his thoughts on Robin Williams suicide and depression in an article to his congregation. I asked him if I could share his thoughts here, as I think them relevant to the whole view of the long-term effects of bullying. Of course, he said yes. So I hope you get as much from his thoughts below as I do. ~Alan Eisenberg


Robin WilliamsAs I contemplate how to respond to the suicide of Robin Williams, I want to share a personal discussion which my wife and I had after we watched the movie Dead Poets Society many years ago.  (I think the movie actually was released 25 years ago).

I hope that all of you will watch this movie and perhaps we can have an evening where we discuss it. In case you haven’t seen it, I will briefly share the subject of our discussion while trying not to give away the ending of the movie.

As I recall the movie, Robin Williams is a teacher who spends a lot of time encouraging one of his students to pursue his dreams. The student has a difficult relationship with his father as he and his father have different views on what the student should be doing.

As things evolve, the student relies on Robin Williams for guidance and inspiration. Our personal discussion revolved around the issue of how much a teacher is required to do in order to help a student. We disagreed (and probably still disagree) about the limits of our abilities to help. One of our positions was that the teacher had done all he could to help and that at some point there is a limit to what we can do to provide support to someone. The other position was that the teacher could have done more to help. I hope you see this movie and sometime in the fall, we can discuss this with those who have seen the movie so that we can be more specific. Stay tuned for details!

As we deal with depression in our society, how much are we expected to reach out to those who are depressed? As many of you know, one of my favorite parts of the rabbinate is teaching teenagers. As I watch the faces of the students, I often wonder what they are thinking and what struggles they are facing. I try my hardest to reach out to them if I suspect that they are facing a challenge and try to provide support. However, I am sure there are times when I just don’t pick up on cues and have not effectively helped them. How does one decide when one has done enough to help someone? And this is not just an issue which teenagers face as we have seen people of all ages can be fighting depression.

I hope that each of us will try to be more sensitive to the behavior of others and if we suspect that someone is dealing with depression, that we don’t just walk away or minimize it. I have heard individuals tell others who are dealing with depression that they should “just deal with it” or “snap out of it.” “It” is not just that easy to wish away. “It” is a very real illness and if we are honest, many people we know, and even some of us, are dealing with it.

Please know that if you are feeling depressed or know of someone who is, that you should not just let it go. In the same way you would treat heart disease or cancer or other physical illnesses, we need to be vigilant in recognizing and treating depression. There are people who can help you deal with powerful feelings that can seem overwhelming.

Some of us feel that if we acknowledge that we are depressed, we will be stigmatized and others will think less of us. Please try NOT to feel this way. SEEK help and don’t hesitate to contact me or another helping professional.

We are taught in Mishnah Sanhedrin, one of our sacred rabbinic teachings, that if one saves one life, one saves an entire world. Please do whatever it takes to seek or provide help for those in need (including ourselves) and recognize that a true community of friends reaches out and supports others in all kinds of situations.

~Rabbi Bruce D. Aft
http://rabbi.adatreyim.org/

My Journey Through Hell (A Personal Story)

I often hear myself saying that the stories sent to me are so much more tragic then the ones I shared here. But there is much commonality between them, such as the sensitivity of the victims of bullying and how that is exploited by the bullies. Last week’s news about the death of Robin Williams affected me deeply due to learning of his battle with depression. Now that the proof is coming to light that bullying leads to anxiety which can lead to depression and then what can be the end of that for some breaks my heart. For Lisa below to start by saying she doesn’t have the happily ever after story continues to show that we must share and connect through these stories. We are not alone and I, for one, understand what Lisa talks about here. As usual, thank you, Lisa, for sharing it here. ~Alan Eisenberg


My bullying story doesn’t end with a clichéd happily ever after. I drown in the depths of despair each and every day as a result of my experiences, and I share this story in the hope of schools stepping up to their call of duty and combating this pressing issue.
 
I was an intelligent child and started school a year earlier than everyone in my class. Although I was smarter than most of them, my emotional maturity was not at par with them and they picked up at this from my third year in school. Isolation was the first ingredient in, what was to be, the crucial cocktail that would shape my life forever. My whole class refused to speak to me for about a year. Coming from a country school with around 100 pupils in total, this meant that I spent each and every school day with no human interaction, maybe a few words with a teacher. To this day I have social anxiety as I never learned how to socialize properly and make friends.
 
Summer came and went, and it was back to mental anguish for me. This time they spoke to me, but maliciously. I was referred to as a “fat lesbian” and a “diseased creature”. The latter one certainly hurt more, as some of the girls made up rumors stating that I had a disease and that it was contagious. This illness made a person morbidly obese and hideous looking, transformed them into a depressed loaner and made them a general failure in life. At  eight years old these crude, low comments made me try to make myself sick on numerous occasions. Luckily I sucked at that and could never really get much up.  Nobody would sit with me in class. At lunch I was but a solitary enzyme, willing each painstaking millisecond to conclude. This year our PE class, for 10 weeks, were brought swimming. I loved it as it offered an escape and wasn’t exactly a team sport, I was no longer the last to be chosen for a team. I enjoyed the relief of the cool water and the release of negative energy that this sport offered.
Social Anxiety Chart
 
Towards the end of the term, a boy deliberately held my head under water with the cruel intention of drowning me. I spluttered, struggled and inhaled water. No lifeguard came to my rescue, no knight in shining armor saved me. Like I said, this is not a fairytale. Time no longer matters when one is in excruciating pain, but for arguments sake I was under water for a full minute. My consciousness began to slip, but somehow I mustered every joule of energy within my battered being and pushed him away. The sweet oxygen filled my lungs when I returned to the surface. This memory makes me appreciate life each day. I am so glad to still be alive.
 
Another incident that particularly opened my eyes to the beauty of life and living occurred a year later. The emotional bullying was still happening each and every day, and it was mixed with this facade of physical bullying; I was beaten up regularly, punched, stoned and kicked. Bruises painted my skin in splatters of terribly beautiful black and blue on a permanent basis. I still have my battle scars which decorate my knees and shins, earned in the warzone that the teachers named the playground. This was, admittedly, somewhat tolerable. I know this is an insane declaration but I had become somewhat accustomed to torture and the feelings linked with it.
 
However, the day two boys brought a ten inch butcher knife to school with the intention of using it on me was the day I knew change was required. And fast. I was standing against a wall, the two pathetic excuses of human beings directly in front of me, one holding the handle of the shimmering blade, the object that would shape my destiny. I ducked down low, he swiped, and I ran so quickly that those who watched were a blur. I told the teacher, and, you guessed it, all he did was confiscate the weapon that had the potential to conclude my existence. Neither a punishment nor a repercussion was mentioned. Those boys got away with their harrowing actions, as it was just as easy for the staff to conceal the incident and hope I’d forget about it.
I should probably mention that I informed many teachers of the torment that I faced each day. Nothing was ever done in an attempt to combat the actions of these cruel individuals. Infact, on numerous occasions, I was called a “stupid child” by the staff for reporting incidents.
 
The anxiety attacks didn’t stop by the time I got home, so I decided to tell my parents about the days events. They knew I was facing trouble in school, but they didn’t know the extent of my misery and just how much danger I was in. They decided to meet with the school principal, which shouldn’t have been a problem but our class had our annual school tour the very next day. I was keen on going so my mother arranged a meeting with the principal immediately after the school trip. Unsurprisingly, it was the outing from hell. The name calling got worse that day and I was left alone on the bus. One girl was asked to sit with me and she cried hysterically as she believed she would catch the disease I spoke not so fondly of earlier. Predictably enough, I spent the day alone. The principal and my teacher seemed to enjoy the fun of inflicting emotional damage on me, they watched and laughed as the days activities of humiliating me unfolded. I laughed and joked with them, because it was that or sit in silence. And that was far too awkward for my persona.
 
Tears wouldn’t caress my soft blushing cheeks as I had become so numb to life and it’s ups and downs. Nothing really mattered to me anymore. Broken heartstrings bled the blues to a dark tune that I had grown far too familiar with. I was no longer upset, I was destroyed.
 
The day ended and it was time for my mothers scheduled meeting. I departed the bus and stood beside my her. I no longer even possessed the ability to speak. I hadn’t found the power and bravery to enunciate one single syllable before we were approached by the third teacher who was on that wretched automobile. I couldn’t even look at her, she stopped nothing. She informed my mom that she had witnessed a horror unfold in front of her guilty eyes. She had heard stories before but seeing was truly believing. She apologized, and explained that she didn’t have the authority to intervene during the school tour as her boss, the principal, was present. She advised us to tell every single detail at the meeting and to sugar coat nothing. My life needed to be transformed, and she knew it.
 
The first thing the old witch said at our meeting was that there was no bullying in her school, and that I was lying. She tried her best to convince my mother that I was a lying child who craved nothing more than drama and attention. I recalled my version of events, the mental and physical torment of the years before this particular moment in time. I was still lying in her eyes. My mom left the room and came back with the teacher who was on our side of this battle. She agreed to act as a witness and backed up my statement. It was getting late and it was agreed that the talks would continue in the morning whilst I was at class.
 
Both parents attended this meeting, and another teacher decided that she was to give an account of what she saw over the past couple of agonizing years. Incidentally, her story also matched mine. The principal could no longer accuse me of lying and the truth was slowly to come to light. She told my parents that this would come to an end, not that she formulated a plan or anything. My parents then informed her that they knew about her efforts to hide a knife attack and various other serious incidents, and that they had the power to report her if nothing was done about my case. Both teachers nodded in agreement and in that second she was forced to put an end to my long and painful journey through the deepest pits of hell.
 
I repeated that particular year in school so as to escape the morally corrosive class. I made some good friends and I began to enjoy life. I still do lead quite an exciting and fulfilling life.  However, it’s not a completely happy ever after conclusion to this series of unfortunate events. I still have self image issues and question my worth to those around me. I’m a slight perfectionist in school and am unhappy with anything less than a B (sometimes that’s not enough) in my exams. The memories still linger deep in the tissues of my sometimes tormented psyche and manifest in nightmares late in the darkness of night. The only escape is writing. I believe in karma to some extent, most of them aren’t planning on going to university and don’t lead very productive lives. I’m going to be a biomedical scientist, and I fully intend on benefiting this world in a positive way and working in cancer research. Unlike some, my footprint will hopefully be a positive one that I stamp on this precious planet.
 
I’ve decided to share this story with the intention of giving hope to victims across the world. I’ve told nobody except my parents and the staff who ran the school about these incidents, so this is a huge step for me. Persevere, demand help consistently and stay strong. You will be rewarded, and life gets so much better.
 
~Lisa

An Inspirational Way to Find an Outlet From Bullying

This is an amazing video segment from Britain’s Got Talent. These two young kids who call themselves Bars & Melody find a way to take their experience with bullying and channel it into a positive way to deal with and hopefully defeat their demons.

Part of any recovery from bullying damage is to find a way to express how you feel and release the pain you hold in your heart and your head. For me it has been a journey of writing, speaking,  journaling, and presenting to others. I also dream of one day making the documentary film that I want to do on the subject.

These two boys surprise everyone on the Britan’s Got Talent show and even themselves as they use their talent to help both themselves and many others watching, I’m sure. Also, the positive reactions from the audience and judges had to boost their self-worth and self-esteem, the two areas most damaged by bullying. It is an amazing TV moment and I hope you agree that it speaks to the good in our souls, even during trying times.

In addition, they were invited to The Ellen Degeneres Show. Ellen has been a big anti-bullying proponent and has done great work in bringing anti-bullying messages to her show so a wide audience can see it. Here’s the clip from their appearance on her show.

I hope we continue to see more of this way to work through bullying and have the community support required for recovery. Find the outlet that works for you, as Ellen suggests as well. It is the most cathartic way to work through your past bullying damage.