This story was sent to me by Will and, at least for me, touches on many areas that I feel are the long-term effects of bullying. Will’s honest and straightforward story speaks of the damage to the internal psyche that I feel affects us as bullying continues in our early lives. It can and in many cases does take away a belief in self and creates anxiety and anger. It even makes you believe that you don’t deserve to have good friends or be happy, as you will read below. And for some reason, this may be the most damaging part of early bullying. ~Alan Eisenberg
The Hurt Soul
It was physical education class. All forty of us third-graders sat on the basketball gym floor and obediently waited for our next instructions. Silence. I yelled with all my strength, “Stop making fun of everything I do!” My booming voice shattered the stillness and ricocheted off the walls. More silence. The lesson resumed as if nothing had happened.
I was reacting to verbal abuse, the unremitting oppression that I faced nearly every day from the first grade through the tenth grade. Kids relentlessly imitated me, taunted me, and picked me apart using a massive arsenal of petty behaviors and attributes: my remarks and comments, how I said them, how I looked, how I moved. They even made fun of my name. There was nothing unusual about my name, but to them, I was so obviously bizarre that no explanation was ever necessary. In fact, just identifying me often sated them. Uncomfortable topics were another favorite stock of weapons. The tormenters fired generalized obscenities and adolescent discomforts to make me squirm, and then years later, ridiculed my resultant lasting aversion to dating, relationships, and sexuality.
The bullies also flaunted their ability to steal my belongings. For example, in the eighth grade, one kid who had discovered my locker combination called, “Hey, Will! 23-37-5!” whenever we had an audience. The numeric key corresponded to my locker door’s built-in security mechanism, so I had to convince the middle school administration to change my locker assignment. Also, for a few weeks in the tenth grade, two peers regularly stole my backpack during class. They did not stop until I began to lock it to my desk. As for high school lockers, I was one of the only three padlock users in a building of seven hundred students.
At home, I endured my older brother. He seldom hurt me physically, but he roughhoused to dominate. In fact, my earliest memory is an episode when he pinned me under a blanket as I tried to escape. In addition to manhandling, he tirelessly looked for opportunities to criticize. He played a never-ending soundtrack of “No, Will. What’s wrong with you?” and “Watch where you’re going.” I hated him as much as I hated myself. He backed off when I matched his size and strength, but I still think of him with mixed feelings.
My experiences left me anxious, defensive, angry, self-loathing, and ashamed from the age of six. By then, I was convinced that I deserved the abuse. Something was wrong with me. Why else would so many different kids pick on me so often? Acceptance, encouragement, warmth, support, and respect made me feel confused, nervous, embarrassed, unprepared, and unworthy. Being in a healthy situation felt like wearing mud-soaked jeans at a wedding.
I chose destructive friends. They snatched my food from the lunch table whenever my gaze or alertness faltered. If I walked away for a minute, they hid it. They played this game almost daily for four years. I was their only target. Also, nothing seemed to excite them more than a chance to humiliate me. The instant I said or did something stupid or embarrassing, they rushed to broadcast their news as far and as loudly as possible. They obsessed over my mistakes long after the jokes grew old, sometimes for years. Still, they were my friends. I tolerated them, and I even fueled their fun with intentional blunders. I finally cut them out of my life in college.
Yet, my childhood was not as difficult as many. It was stable. My parents were alive, happily married, and financially secure. No one assaulted me. No one at school even touched me. No single incident was egregious. I survived. My cohort was just part of the background noise that distracted me from my refuge of schoolwork. I plugged my ears and earned enough affection and respect from my teachers and parents to manage.
Real pain came after the kindest girl I knew interrupted my isolation. She approached me during my junior year of high school, and we shared a relationship for over a year and a half. I liked her, but my romance aversion and my lack of trust kept me secretly miserable. Also, my involvement contradicted my ostensible asceticism and attracted the prying attention of peers, teachers, and parents. A month before graduation, I finally left her. However, for the next three years, I resented her because she instantly moved on to other men while my anxiety and my reclusive patterns imprisoned me. It hurts to watch others form deep connections and to feel incapable of ever doing the same. It makes me want to die.
Later, I sought talk therapy and anti-anxiety medication. Treatment is a long and uncertain process, but I am improving. I want to be happy. My former significant other taught me that some people can be enjoyable and fulfilling, a message that my wonderful college friends confirmed.
Thank you for letting me share.