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
There are so many people who dream of a better life than the one left after years of trauma from bullying. The shame is that life didn’t have to go this way. But for many, it has. It is an unconscious pain and fear that most of us don’t know where it comes from years later, as Maria share’s in her story below. No one is ever alone in any of this and that is the most important aspect to remember. Try to take the daydream about how you want your life to be and make it the reality you want. Let your past go and live in the now, with great plans for the future. Sounds easy, doesn’t it. Well as most know it isn’t and you have to face your fears head on to conquer them. Don’t let them conquer you and make your life what you don’t want it to be. ~Alan Eisenberg
I’m 28 years old and recently started seeing a counselor while at grad school. I felt I could no longer deal with my paranoia, anxieties and low self-esteem alone. My last therapy session was the most intense since I started. We’d been making connections between my feelings of anger to feeling ignored and frustrated as a teenager.
However, I hadn’t experienced a session that felt quite as terrifying and overwhelming as the last one. I can’t quite remember how this came up but we began to talk about my school bully, Eleni. I couldn’t say her name at the time and I didn’t want to. Dredging up all those memories, as painful as it was suddenly put my life into perspective. My experience with her was the root cause for many of my worries, reactions and anxieties. It may sound like I’m blaming her but allow me to explain the connection.
She was present in my public school life and my private family life. She would bully and intimidate me in front of both groups for almost five years, from year 4 to year 9/10 (she stopped attending school in the latter years). Yes she did bully me and embarrass me until I felt I had no dignity but, and this is the embarrassing part, I still wanted her approval and I wanted to be her friend. Or at least I was too scared not to be her friend. She was nasty to my few friends and I was too scared to defend them. I became isolated from everyone else. She said nasty things about my family, everything about her life was better than mine. She would pick on everything I said, everything I wrote, the way that I looked. My presence just seemed to annoy her. My presence began to annoy myself in fact.
It felt that she picked me out to treat me the worst, like I deserved it on some innate and untouchable level of my being. I can say with definitive certainty that this led me to remove myself from many situations by daydreaming. In the car, at school, at home, and later at university and in social situations. I had a secret imaginary world where I was funny, social, people were attracted to my presence and I had the attention I lacked in the real world. Attention that I protected myself from and attention that I also desperately craved. In the real world, once I had the attention I was frozen, I didn’t know what to do with it and became anxious. In high school I worked in chaotic, frontline jobs that concreted my fear into assuming that people would always react to me in a hostile and unfriendly way.
This to me explains so much about myself that I find it frightening, that something that happened so long ago had remained with me on a purely unconscious level. The danger was gone but the feelings remained. My paranoid feelings that no one likes me, my body is horrific, that I’m so hairy and unable to keep friends. Desperately wanting more human contact but feeling irritated when I had it, afraid that I might say something to ruin it, to make them see just how boring I am.
Since primary school I was living with the fear of talking, of having opinions that might piss someone off or led myself to feel ashamed. I wanted people to treat me well on their own so I wouldn’t have to point it out and embarrass myself. Sometime I felt I was living in a world of unfriendly eyes, looking at me and seeing only the negative and I wanted its approval. I think that is the most frustrating thing about it.
In the counselling session I felt weak and felt I lacked control. How could such a big thing escape me? My negative thoughts begin with seeing the negative in everyone else and then they shift onto myself. Of course it comes from my time with Eleni, I see that now. But what happens now? I feel relieved that there really isn’t an innate and untouchable reason in my being that I really can’t understand. Although its painful to face the root of my fears, I also feel calmer by understanding this. Rather than dismissing it as something embarrassing, I have to admit to myself that it really was traumatic.
A “Guest Post” by Robyn Brilliant, sister of Alan Eisenberg.
My first experience at Summer camp was not a good one. The first two years I went to “overnight camp” I was bullied and teased by the other campers for various reasons. I was shy, small and skinny at 9 years old. The following year I had started “developing” in a somewhat lopsided way and got teased for that. I was uncoordinated and hated (I mean HATED) all team sports. I was not a good swimmer. At the camp I went to you had no choice you had to participate in everything – athletics, swim instruction, everything. The only activity I really enjoyed at camp was arts and crafts. As I got older we moved and I went to other camps where I was not bullied as much and I learned that summer camp could be OK. There were ways to avoid the things I didn’t like and there was more choice. Sometimes the ways I avoided sports and swimming instruction were against camp “rules” but I effectively got away with it and did not get into any trouble. When I was 17 and graduating High School, I decided to take my chances applying for a job working as a counselor at summer camp I had never been to as a camper. I was hired for the summer, without an interview. I arrived at camp eager to work with young girls and requested to work with 9 year olds. They assigned me to a bunk full of 11 year olds. 11 year old girls can be very cruel and there was a girl in our cabin who was overweight, teased relentlessly and did not want to stay at camp. Her parents had signed her up for the whole summer. She did everything she could to get sent home, including swearing and hitting adults. Her parents finally agreed to let her come home from camp after 4 weeks, but the damage had been done. Seeing what happened to her stirred up those horrible days of teasing, but that was nothing compared to what was done to me by the adults in charge.
As a counselor, I also had to provide some leadership/support for camp activities. I asked to have my hour off during Athletics, but was not granted that wish. I explained that I was really not fond of or good at sports, but nobody listened. I accepted that I would have to do some kind of athletics with the girls, and at least I had a choice, so I chose “New Games”. That meant leading about 30 girls in games like Red Light, Green Light or silly races. I could handle that. Plus I had 2 other counselors to help – or so I thought. Turns out the other two counselors had their day off on the same day and I was left alone with 30 girls one day a week. The girls were coming from various activities including horseback riding, some of which were halfway across camp. So two weeks into my first experience as a camp counselor, on my first day alone with New Games, I was patiently waiting for all the girls to arrive before I started a game. The athletic director of girls camp saw me with a bunch of girls standing around. She did not ask me for any explanation of why we hadn’t started, instead she screamed at me in front of the girls, called me “Incompetent” in front of them and said they all could go to the gym for aerobics. Everything from my time at camp, my lack of coordination at sports, being teased and picked last welled up inside me. In front of the girls I yelled back at her “You BITCH”, at the top of my lungs. And it seemed time had stopped. I believe that was the first time in my young life that I stood up for myself. It felt good.
What happened next was, of course, I got in trouble. The unit leader of 9-11 year old girls added to the accusations that I told all the girls in the unit to call her “Jabba the Hut” (yes it was the summer that Return of the Jedi came out at the movies). I told her that the girls came up with that themselves, which was true. She was mean and yes, overweight, but I would never have told 9-11 year olds to tease or bully an adult. I was brought to the director’s office with the intent to fire me. I stood up for myself, threatened to have my mom withdraw her money for my brother to attend second session as a camper, and in the end they decided well, maybe they were wrong. They found me another job at camp where I didn’t have to be a counselor. In fact, I ended up having a great summer working at the camp store. All the kids loved me because I was the one who handed out candy and popsicles. I was not invited back to work there again.
You would think after that I would not send my kids to overnight camp. But I do. Both of them have had much better experiences than I did. Maybe it’s the particular camps I sent them too or maybe its a different time. What made me want to share this story, though, is that yesterday at my daughter’s camp they did something amazing. Every girl painted their pinky fingernails blue and took a pledge against bullying, “I blue pinky promise to stand up against bullying, No matter where I am, No matter what I do, I will always be there for you!” I finally have some hope for Summer Camp.
Nick’s story so parallels my own battle with the long-term effects of bullying. The “get over it” syndrome has got to end. It is not so easy and for some, as I have written recently, “getting over it” is suicide or bullycide if you prefer. It has to stop…we have to find ways to make it stop. As adults, that pain does haunt our thoughts and we have to work so hard to recover. Some aren’t willing and I certainly hope Nick’s words help him lead to further recovery. ~Alan Eisenberg
My name is Nick. I recently read this story on the National Public Radio (NPR) website, “Mental And Physical Toll Of Bullying Persists For Decades”. I can verify that everything in the story is very true since I was a victim of bullying. I am now 55 years old and the effects of it are still with me. Like Angela I suffer from a constant state of fear, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
My bullying experience is different from the usual scenario of being bullied at school only. My bully was my next store neighbor, supposedly my best friend. He was about the same age as me around six months older. He started abusing me at around six years old and it continued until I joined the military at 18. The abuse was physical and mental, no sexual abuse occurred. I was very afraid of him and he knew it. He knew he had power over me and that gave him satisfaction. I had to endure abuse during school and after school. I remember summer breaks as being a time of terror, since he always came by and I was too sacred to do anything. My mother who was a homemaker was oblivious to what was going on. She knew he was hurting me but kept calling me when he knocked on the door. I don’t know how she couldn’t sense the fear I was in. If she seen me getting beat up by him she would call me to the house and beat me again, yelling at me, calling me a fool, weak and others things. She never talked to me about anything, so I was never able to tell her or anyone else what was going on. My father was always at work, he would leave the house at 6:00 am and not return until around 7:00 pm or later. Then while at home he rarely spoke to me or my brother or even my mother. My brother two years younger than me stayed to himself and we hardly spoke or did anything together. He knew I was being abused and I believe he sided with my mother that I was weak and a fool. To this day we are not close and do not speak much.
The abuse consisted of him finding a reason to get mad at me and then having to “punish” me. Sometimes he would grab me by my hair and drag me in his backyard to a shed where he would punch and slap me. I would be crying asking what I did wrong and to leave me alone. Other times he would blow up in front of other kids and punch me and humiliate me in front of them. If I tried to make friends with other kids he would harass them until they didn’t come around anymore. One time when I was around 10 years old I made a friend in school. After school we were going to go to his house. While walking from school the bully comes flying up in a rage and starts punching me in the face. He punched the books out of my hand that I was using to shield myself. All this with other kids and my new friend looking on and of course doing nothing. Then he just walks away. We continued to walk to my friend’s house. On the way he asks me why I didn’t fight back, and all I could say was I didn’t know. I was so humiliated and embarrassed. This new friend didn’t last long. He came to my house one day and the bully comes flying out of nowhere and starts attacking him. He left and never returned. The bully succeeded in isolating me from others. I felt like I was trapped. He was always after me so I would be stuck in my house most of the time, anxious and alone. I couldn’t walk to school like the other kids. I had to cut through backyards, jumping fences hoping he wouldn’t catch me. After school I would stay around the back school yard waiting for the kids and him to clear out while I made a run for it to my house, again cutting through yards and jumping fences. During school I would be so worried I would go to the nurses office complaining of chest pains hoping they would send me home, which they always did. My mother would come and pick me up, and no one questioned why I was having these pains. I was so nervous and worried that I developed severe tics, shaking my head and blinking my eyes. I would get severe migraine headaches that sometimes caused me to vomit. I also had skin problems on my hands and feet where the skin would break out with an ooze and become very itchy and I would scratch it raw. My mother took me to a couple of doctors who gave me creams and ointments which did no good. Years later I would realize these conditions were from the stress I was dealing with. The tics have stayed with me but not as bad.
The abuse continued into my teenage years. The bully would humiliate and assault me in front of others and I was too frightened to do anything. I had no friends and was always trying to get away from him but he was always there looking for me. He got me to start smoking, drinking and doing drugs which made matters worse. People in the neighborhood would not speak to me looking at me like they knew I was being abused but didn’t want to get involved. My parents continued seeing the abuse and did nothing. So I had no help whatsoever, I suffered alone.
Why my Mother could never figure out how much pain I was in baffles me. I have been angry with her ever since, up until she passed away last year. There was never any closure to this. She knew what was going on but refused to act, instead she blamed me. In a phone call around six or seven years ago she said that “he ruined you”. I didn’t respond since she was up in age and I would have gotten very emotional. The rage I have built up in me would have exploded and I would have said among other things, “no you ruined me by not doing anything”. I should have told her and my father that years ago but I decided to let it be then.
Now at 55 years of age I have suffered with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, over eating with excessive weight gain, social isolation and PTSD. I’m married and have no children and I have begun to worry who will help me as I age. I have never told my wife or anyone else about this because I feel they would not understand. This letter is the first time I’m getting this out. I’m a subscriber to the Bullying Stories web site, and I have seen stories like mine, especially from people my age. They make me feel like I’m not so alone and I feel justified in how I’m feeling so many years later. I won’t have to hear I should have gotten over it.
Haven’t heard of Shane Koyczan? I think you will hear more from this amazing person. He is a slam poet that has created one of the most beautiful and honest portrayals of the life of a bullying victim and how it affected him. He does it with the grace and beautiful words that only a modern day poet can do.
I think he is brilliant at conveying the message through his slam poetry. If you don’t know him, I give you Shane Koyczan’s To This Day project.
Amy Kaufman Burk contacted me through our twitter accounts as mutual fellow anti-bullying advocates. Dr. Burk has a Doctorate of Mental Health from the University of California and has vast experience as a Psychotherapist and is also an author. Her first book is “Hollywood High: Achieve the Honorable“. I am truly thankful to share her inspirational story below and her site with you. ~Alan Eisenberg
I was born in 1958, to heterosexual parents. I grew up in a home where gay and straight folks sat side by side at dinner parties. Friendships formed around personal and intellectual connections. There was no Great Divide between homosexuals and heterosexuals.
I never gave it a thought, until third grade.
In a kickball game, a girl I’ll call “Susannah” crushed the ball and drove in three runs. “Cory,” admired even by the fifth graders for his spectacular use of profanity, shouted a new insult. I asked my mother what it meant; “It’s a rude, ignorant word for a gay man.” I looked up, puzzled; “What’s gay?” My parents never categorized people by sexuality, but that day, my vocabulary expanded to include “gay,” “straight,” “lesbian,” “homosexual” and “heterosexual.”
High school was an eye-opener. The atmosphere radiated an edgy tension, with gang violence always ready to erupt. The gay boys were targeted continuously. One day, a girl nudged me as a tall, thin boy walked by, frothy blond hair down his back. “The jocks beat him up last week,” she whispered. “He was in the hospital for three days.” She skipped off to class. A month later, she again took my elbow. “Remember the blond guy? I heard he died. Beaten to death. The jocks.” She smiled sweetly, and shrugged. “Who cares, one less—“ and she used the word I learned in third grade.
I cried that night. I had no words to explain my tears for a boy I never knew, the possible victim of a piece of gossip that might not be true. I promised myself that some day, I would write a book about that boy. I would not allow my readers to be indifferent. I would name the book after my high school, and its motto.
Years later, my husband and I were raising our children in Mill Valley, CA, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and I began to write. I created gay and lesbian characters. I surrounded them with supporters who rallied for them, shoulder to shoulder, triumphing over a judgmental world.
I completed the final edits in 2008, and prepared to publish.
A few months later, I voted on the losing side of Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage. My reaction to the election was odd: I stopped publication of my book. Something was wrong, and I was still figuring it out three years later, when my family moved to Chapel Hill, NC. I was pleased to live in a beautiful area, with such respect for education. Then with a nauseating sense of déjà vu, I found myself voting on the losing side of Amendment 1, which prohibited gay marriages and civil unions.
The next morning, I knew how to fix my novel. I had portrayed the road to full acceptance for the LGBTQ characters as much too smooth. I rewrote the story, rebuilt the road, offered avenues for people of differing mindsets to become Allies. As I promised myself back in 1973, I wrote about that blond boy, whose name I never knew. I called my novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable.
I hope my book will be read by people who feel ready to question their own beliefs, who want to become more accepting but don’t know how. There’s a path for everyone to become an Ally.
All you have to do is take the first step. You’ll find me waiting for you.
~Amy Kaufman Burk
“Everyone Can Be An Ally” was first published in September, 2013, by the Chapel Hill News. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, a novel by Amy Kaufman Burk Follow Amy on her website at http://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/ and her twitter feed at @AmyKaufmanBurk
Sleep Sleep tonight
And may your dreams Be realized
If the thunder cloud Passes rain
So let it rain
Rain down on him
Mmm, mmm, mmm
So let it be
Mmm, mmm, mmm
So let it be
“MLK” – lyrics and song by U2
My life has moved in many ways I never predicted since I decided seven years ago to start writing and dedicate my free time to try to help solve the problem of bullying in our country and now (as I find who reads this and where they are from) around the world. If you have been along for the ride with me for these years, know that I am much appreciative. If you are new, welcome and I hope you find help in the stories and writings on this site.
I have shared quite freely on the site what it has taken for me to get past the long-term effects that youth bullying had on me. In fact I was never more surprised than I have been over the last year to discover the anxiety, phobias, and of course depression that comes as part of the PTSD process or now as I have discovered C-PTSD (Complex post-traumatic stress disorder) that is the new term for those that deal with the psychological injury from social and/or interpersonal trauma.
I like that the word injury is part of the definition, because as we come to realize that these are injuries of the mind, much like injuries that are more obvious, like a broken bone, then we can focus on how to mend and fix these so life can return to normal. In the seven years since I started this site, the bullying issue has exploded to front page news every single day. It is now an issue that we all want to solve and that is great. The recovery from the injury of bullying and other mental illness needs to be the next item to fix. That is my new dedication that I am calling “Bully Recovery”. More on that later. But studies have already started and psychologists and social workers are both working toward solutions.
Having recently decided last year that, even with my awareness, I needed the mending help of professionals, I can honestly say that, from my vantage point, you can’t go it alone. Just like a broken bone needs to be set by a professional doctor, so does a broken mind. We can’t ignore this issue.
But that is not what I am writing about today. Today is yet another day to share a new story of my bullying life with you. Although, I must say that it is not an unhappy story, but one of continued recovery and that is why I shared that in the first part. A few months ago, as part of my own recovery, I decided to look up and contact Bob, the first bully I had so many years ago that haunted my mind. If you read my stories on my site here, he plays a prominent role in three of them. He was easy to find on Facebook, the magic tool to find everyone now. I sent him a message, but did not reveal why I wanted to call him, and he wrote back. I asked for his phone number and he gave it to me. Now the hard part. Pick up the phone and tell him why I wanted to talk to him. He was still the scary monster from my youth who was so cruel in my mind, so I thought maybe he would be that scary monster. But I want to get better, face my demons and defeat them, so now would be the time. And that monster is now from 36 years ago. Talk about C-PTSD!
I called the number.
“Hello This Is Bob”, my old bully replied. I recognized the voice with the heavy Massachusetts accent right away.
“Hi Bob, this is Alan. Do you remember me from our days at Franklin Elementary?” I said, shaking and trying to figure out how to say what needed to be said.
Bob replied, “You know I don’t have much memory of my youth, but your name is familiar. I just don’t remember that much from when I was young. But it’s good to reconnect.”
“This is why I wanted to call you.” I said. Now was the time to reveal why I wanted to call him. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. “I am calling you and wanted to talk to you, because you were my bully.”
A moment of silence and then Bob just said the words as I find many I confront later do.
“Oh, I am so sorry. Oh G-d, I am sorry about that. I don’t remember it, but I am sorry.”
It is amazing when those words release after so many years. Why can’t we say them when we are young. Because we don’t understand yet, that’s why. He was just flowing with remorse. I stopped him somewhere along the way and explained that I just wanted to contact him for me to release the memory of him I had when I was a youth. Then, the other thing that often happens in these re-connections, Bob started sharing with me the why from his end.
The Bob I was talking to now was remorseful, honest, and dealing with his own set of demons that he had in his life. We shared about ourselves openly and honestly. He came from an abusive home. His young life was not easy either and he dealt with his own self-esteem issues. It was a textbook case of what makes someone a youth bully. I listened, learning more than I expected as he shared more with me.
He shared that he has been dealing with his own demons in life and that he is working to overcome the ones he had. Drinking, drugs, tough teen and adult years, and finally that he also looks to find the positives in life now to overcome what he has been through. We were kindred spirits from different sides of the bully spectrum. The studies are right, the bully and victim are more similar than different.
Bob and I talked for probably an hour that day. I told him about my work on trying to solve the bullying issue. He was so supportive and also said that he councils prisoners at a jail to help them and help himself. He has not had the “easy” life as much as I have and has had to deal with many things that I could tell he tries to still suppress in his mind to this day. I could tell as the conversation continued that he was getting his ability to release his demons to me as well. It was truly amazing to me to have this closure with the person I had demonized all these years. Bob is an adult, with adult struggles and now an understanding of where he comes from and why that is. We are both working toward recovery of the same things.
After about an hour of pouring our hearts out to each other (remember that we hadn’t even seen each other in 33 years or so), we had to end the conversation. Bob closed out his end by shocking me again. He said, “I can’t wait to share this conversation with the men at the prison that I meet with. This has been something I needed and am so glad we talked. Can I call you again tomorrow?”
Bob needed me more than I needed him. I am now not the victim, not the bully, but the helper and listener. I can’t begin to explain how that made me feel.
“Of course,” I replied. “You can call me anytime and let’s friend each other on Facebook if you want”.
He did and now I had a bigger view of his life and he mine. He posts lots of positive thoughts on FB as I do. We always put a like on those for each other. We’ve talked many times on the phone as well and he has offered to do anything to help with my cause. I have asked him to write his own article here from his perspective. I hope and believe he will, because he gets it. He gets that we all feel alone, but no one is alone. He gets that the demons we have to live with within our mind can be undone through help and sharing like this. He has suffered as I have, and we are both looking to help ourselves by taking action, like my calling him.
Bob had no recollection of the bullying that he did to me in the end. But he was going home and dealing with the demons he had in his home life. Bob is slowly sharing more and more with me, but I get the feeling that there is a darkness in his past that he still hasn’t told me about. He may never share that. Or one day, he may decide to pick up the phone and release his demons to me as I did to him.
For now, the damage of the Bob demon is repaired for me and I now move on. It can get better. It’s never too late to decide to stop fighting and put your demons in your mind behind you. I never thought that so many years later, I would be. But I am feeling 100%, no make that 1000% better these days. Something must be working and I think it’s my decision to stop running or hiding from my demons, but confronting them and letting them go. I have been blessed with the ability and strength to continue to fight these long-term effects. I now sleep better at night with dreams of the future instead of nightmares about the past (had to tie to the song lyrics somehow, right)? We can all do the same.
In many cases, help is but a phone call away and you will find that sometimes…just sometimes, the demon is an angel in disguise.