Susan Coryell has been a good friend of my website and efforts for many years now. She had, a few years ago, written a wonderful novel on bullying called Eaglebait. Recently, Susan contacted me again and asked if she could share a blog on this site. I am honored to have her do so below. Ms. Coryell has a deep understanding of the complexity of the issue of bullying and the new diagnosis of C-PTSD that is now being defined by Psychiatric experts as what people who suffer for years afterward from the effects of bullying go through. ~Alan Eisenberg
Bullying is universal, affecting every age group, ethnicity, and workplace, and the emotional damage can last, I believe, forever. Since the publication of my anti-bullying young adult novel Eaglebait, I have listened to hundreds of stories of bully victims.
As I prepared to host a panel discussion on bullying at a local library, I received a phone call from an elderly lady whom I will call Sylvia. “I’m bed-ridden and can’t attend your discussion tonight,” she told me in a shaky voice, “but I wanted to let you know my experience with bullying.” I listened as Sylvia hailed back to her school days where she was bullied from first grade until graduation because of her short stature and poverty. “We was poor but we was clean,” she stated. Many years later Sylvia attended a wedding. At the reception she spied one of her former bullies from grade school. “He tried to make nice and talk with me, but I turned my shoulder and refused. That’s how bad he hurt me. I still remembered the humiliation over fifty years later.”
Part of me wanted to suggest Sylvia try to forgive and forget, but my experience told me that was not going to happen. For some, the devastation of victimization never, ever goes away. While I find that sad, I am not surprised. It is possible Sylvia suffers from C-PTSD—complex PTSD, which occurs from chronic, repetitive stress.
When I shared my publication of Eaglebait with my writers’ group, I was swamped with my colleagues’ stories. Now, these are all retired folks. True, some of their talk involved their children and grandchildren who had experienced bullying. But many of their stories concerned themselves— who bullied them—how and when. As to where, most involved school. The sixty-somethings had not forgotten, though some had figured out and accepted causative factors in their bullies’ motives. I was inspired to write Eaglebait while teaching middle school. Psychology tells us that bullying involves an imbalance of power; middle school provides the perfect storm: three years’ worth of adolescents maturing at different rates physically, emotionally, and educationally, roaming common halls every hour between classes and lumped together in cafeteria, gym and other common areas.
As a teacher, I found that some students managed to rise above the bullying and move on positively; others never seemed to escape the heavy weight of devastation. Is there a way, I wondered, to help teens and tweens manage their way around bullying? I concluded that it boils down to building and maintaining self-esteem. But how to do that? I decided to write a novel to give kids some insight. Eaglebait’s 14-year-old protagonist , Wardy Spinks, is gifted, especially in the sciences, but he has no friends and does not know how to connect with his peers. His troubling home life and anti-social tendencies do not help matters and he is ruthlessly bullied by a group of jocks who entice others to participate through Facebook and texting. Wardy does three things most bully victims can also do:
He tells a responsible adult about the bullying (his grandmother), he finds a science teacher mentor, and, perhaps most importantly, he uses his interest in science to build a laser in his basement, which eventually helps him find other students who are serious about science.
Most school kids have an interest they want to explore or are already good at doing. It can be anything—computers, music, art, math, movies, mechanics, kite-flying. I tell them: Work at what you know and love best to gather a like-minded group of friends. Do tell a responsible adult about the bullying and, if possible, search out a mentor. There is hardly a teacher alive who would reject a student’s request for mentoring, especially in the teacher’s subject area. I cannot count the number of students I mentored as budding writers.
I remember a middle school student whom I did not teach. Tall, awkward and nerdy, the kid was bullied relentlessly in 7th grade. But he was a genius with electronics. He built a big board with buzzers, like College Bowl, went to his teachers for contest questions, and solicited students to compete in an academic contest at a school assembly. The student body could not help but be impressed, and the boy who had been the goat of the school in 7th grade became the hero in the 8th. I’m thinking, this individual has relegated his bullying trauma to the trash pile.
Bullying is a serious situation which can cause lasting consequences. I hope all who touch the lives of youngsters will recognize the importance of self-esteem as an antidote to the poison of bullying and encourage positive steps to raise and maintain that awareness in kids. It might save a lifetime of misery and self-doubt. I encourage you to take a look at Young Adult anti-bullying literature like Eaglebait and consider using it for any type of discussion or study group on bullying. Wardy’s misery will resonate with bullied youngsters and give them some hope for their own recovery.
by Susan Coryell
To order Eaglebait, click the link here: Eaglebait: Can a smart kid survive school bullies?
About the Author
As a free-lance writer, Susan has written for magazines, newspapers, chambers of commerce and professional journals. She also writes for several organizations at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, where she and her husband live. She is a member of Authors Guild, Virginia Writers and Smith Mountain Lake Writers.
A career educator, Susan has taught students from 7th grade through college-level. She has a BA degree from Carson-Newman College and a Masters from George Mason University. She is listed in several volumes of Who’s Who in Education and Who’s Who in Teaching. One of her favorite activities is to talk with budding writers at schools, writers’ conferences and workshops.
She is the author of the award-winning, anti-bullying, young adult novel Eaglebait.
Susan has long been interested in Southern concerns about culture and society, as hard-felt, long-held feelings battle with modern ideas. She was able to explore these ideas in her cozy mystery/Southern Gothic A Red, Red Rose, whose fictional setting is based on Smith Mountain Lake in Southern Virginia.
When not writing, Susan enjoys boating, kayaking, golf and yoga. She and her husband love to travel, especially when grandchildren are involved.