What I write about is not the worst that can befall a person, and compared to many of the tragedies in the world, is but a tempest in a teacup. But maybe it will give you some insights as to how a person can become convinced they are worth nothing, through a slow build-up over many years.
This is the story of why I became depressed, why it went on for so long, and why I almost chose to remove myself from the world. Everything you read is true.
To the Bullies of My Childhood
We were just kids together, girls growing up in the same school. Never once did you lay a hand on me, never did you push me, or beat me. Remember that childhood mantra, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me?” I remember it. I was told it by my parents when I said I was being made fun of at school. Yet though my parents were loving, kind, and supportive, in this thing they were wrong. Names and teasing did hurt me, and far worse than any stick or stone.
Why did you pick me as an object of your derision? My family was not as wealthy as yours, but neither were we poor. I never did listen to current music; when someone told me about Vanilla Ice, I honestly thought they were referring to some kind of ice cream treat. I knew some of the current trends, but not enough, and not in time. I never had more than three slap bracelets, and certainly by the time I’d gotten them the trend had passed.
Was the fact that I was out of touch a cause for alarm? Was it the fact that I stuttered and could not say my essess correctly? Was it because I was shy and withdrawn because of it? It wasn’t as if I were radically abnormal. I was only slightly off-base, and not even in the cute, rebellious way. Why did I become an object of your scorn?
I remember going to the same pool with one of you and playing games together one summer. During the school year, you were one of the more persistent bullies. Was I too clingy somehow? I never asked to be best friends. You even came over to my house for my birthday in the first grade, don’t you remember? But by third grade I was the object of ridicule. I remember crying into my scarf during that winter, so upset was I by your teasing. I cry easily; did that make me a target?
I remember extending a hand in friendship to a girl in another class. She was even more despised than I, because it was rumored that she, at one point, had had lice. The horror. You shunned her even more vigorously than I. When we waited in the vestibule before class to get out of the cold, she stood alone on one side, and the rest of you crowded together on the other. I stood next to her. She and I never became close friends, but I was raised to be polite, not to treat a fellow third-grader like a stinking pariah dog.
You think me arrogant now, puffing up how righteous I was, how all others just went along with the crowd. I did not feel righteous, then or now. I just was. I would not tease back, because I was told to ignore the bullies. I would not ignore this shunned classmate, because it was rude.
Remember in the lunchroom, how you bullies would all crowd on the end of our assigned table, away from that girl? I said I would sit on that end, and those of you that had been stuck next to her scrabbled to swap places. Why did you all hate me for that? My ability to socially interact with you wasn’t great; I had little experience because you would not interact with me.
When I spoke to my family that kids at school made fun of me, I was told to ignore them. I tried, but you persisted in your campaign of humiliation. Remember that time in the lunchroom when I asked one of you for a chip? I usually had the school hot lunch, rarely a bag lunch from home, and chips were never a frequent visitor to our house. Like all young children, I knew certain rules of public behavior could be used to my favor. Asking for a single chip could not be refused, even to an unpopular person like me.
You said I could have it, if I closed my eyes first. I did, and then after a minute you gave me the chip. It was wet- you had licked both sides of it. I ate it anyway, with great, probably overly dramatic expressions of enjoyment. You all went “ew” and pulled away. What should I have done? If I had spit it out, you would have laughed harder. Why did you feel the need to put so much effort into putting me down?
I answered your taunts with what I thought were logical responses, trying to dispel your baseless accusations of the “cooties” I had, but you found them laughable. I remember speaking too freely of personal things; did that amuse you terribly? You laughed at me constantly, and I would cry. But I think that when you went home, you never mentioned it around the dinner table, only perhaps to spin it as an amusing anecdote. Or perhaps you never thought about it at all. For you, perhaps it was only a passing diversion if I cried. But you did your best.
I recall a time when there was a contest in art class during Halloween, where all the students from one class would pick a single design, several would draw it, and then it would be voted upon to see which student would draw the design upon a pumpkin for the whole school to see. I had no pretensions of my artistic skill, then or now, but what little talent I have lies in the realm of cartoon figures. The design was Snoopy reclining on his doghouse. Through a fluke, mine looked particularly good, very Charles Shultz. Yet the teacher had the students vote on the winning design ignorant of the artists. I won, and when it was revealed that I was the artist, people were shocked. It was clear to me that if it had been an open vote, I never would have won.
I remember elementary school with some fondness; not every moment was bad, but I do remember many times of profound sadness and humiliation. Though no one threw any sticks or stones, and my bones remained unbroken, I have scars I carry to this day. I was told, in no such words, that I was not popular and never would be. I was not allowed to even be near the favored ones. But I didn’t want to. All I wanted was to be left alone.
To the Bullies of my Early Teens
I only spent two years in middle school because they were shuffling the grades around, but you all were still there, in my grade, inexplicably despising me. My only real difference was my grades; I had good grades and I would throw off the curve. You hated that. I could not even count myself as kooky or outlandish, but whatever other differences I had, you seized upon.
Remember one of the trips we took to a choir competition? I was listening to my Walkman, eyes closed, hands and fingers moving to the music, like I was conducting. I was not touching anyone; it was harmless. I opened my eyes and many of you were staring at me. One of you demanded to know what I was doing, your expression saying I was a freak.
“Conducting,” I said, and you clearly thought I was insane. I did not touch anyone in my personal entertainments, nor did I make any noise, but I deviated and had to be corrected. Everyone else chattered like magpies on these trips, or watched whatever films had been brought along. I had no one to talk to, you had all seen to that, and I did not want to watch the films. All I wanted was to be left alone.
By then I was deeply into the joys of reading and tended to take a book everywhere, quietly reading during my free time. Did it bother you that I ignored you as much as I was able?
You all began to do something odd, you started poking me. Just a gentle prod with a finger, I suppose to see what I would do. I said nothing, did nothing, and I had no idea why you were doing this. My sum total angry response at that time was to write and hand one of you a note saying, “you are stupid” in French. You just laughed and looked at me weirdly.
The last time you touched me was just before I was leaving school one day. You and some others walked up to me and ran you hand down the sleeve of my coat in a caressing gesture. I told my parents about that and the poking. They were furious.
They called the principal and informed him you all were sexually harassing me. It was the first time I had ever struck back at you. Were you shocked? You must have been. I remember explaining what had been going on to the principal and asking why. Why did you all feel the need to get a reaction out of me?
You stopped mostly after that, but you wouldn’t stop looking down your noses at me with distain. I turned you in once again soon afterward for lesser things. There was less cause, and perhaps you thought me a tattle-tale, but I was sick of every single act of mine that was different being fodder for teasing and superior remarks.
My social skills were not fantastic, and sometimes I spoke too frankly or too strangely. I only every wanted to be left alone.
During one of those summers, I went on a trip through a summer camp I had attended for one or two weeks every year for the past nine years. Instead of staying in the camp for the usual activities of swimming, horseback riding, hiking, and other things, I went on one of the adventure trips to do some whitewater rafting. There were some fourteen of us, and we traveled by van many states away to get to good rafting rivers.
The camp was supposed to bring together people from all over its home state, all over the country, and even all over the world. But somehow this trip consisted mostly of kids not only all from the same state, but from the same city, the same high school, the same grade, and yes, all from the same clique. Only three of us were from outside this tight-knit group. I think, in retrospect, you new bullies must have tried to stuff that particular week with all your own people so as to not have to deal with outsiders.
I had traveled many hundreds of miles to be put into close contact, for a whole week, with the same times of socially-superior, pretty, preppy bullies I had dealt with for years. I was not part of your group, I did not do things precisely as you did, and I was ostracized for it. The weather did not help, constantly wet and miserable as it was. I got pink eye, and inadvertently forced you all out of your tent so I wouldn’t infect you. My illness was somehow an opening salvo upon your coolness. Any attempt to pluck up my own self-esteem with any kind of mild retaliation for your teasing was met with immediate and overwhelming counter-force.
One time we stopped in a touristy town and were given leave to go explore for a few hours and meet back at an appointed time and place. We were supposed to go in pairs. I quickly lost track of my partner, and really didn’t go looking for her. I went my own way for a few precious hours, unburdened by someone who didn’t want me around. When we met up later, you were all mad that I had broke protocol. I was apologetic, but not that chagrinned. You didn’t realized how out-of-character that was for me. I had always played by the rules, always, but for once I didn’t in an attempt to have some sort of fun by myself on that trip.
I adored going to this summer camp every other year I went. But for the first time, when I left, I cried half of the four-hour journey back home, and it wasn’t because I was leaving friends behind. It was because I had had a horribly miserable experience with people that didn’t want me there.
To the Bullies of my High School
By high school I had found my own niche. I became a student athletic trainer and worked with the sports teams, taping ankles and handing out water. I learned a lot about sports injuries, became good at it, and I was at every game. All of you seemed to of lost track of me for a period of time. I supposed you had better things to do.
I never became popular. I went to every school dance, but barring three (out of perhaps thirteen), always went stag. I was chosen as a candidate for Morp princess, but I swear that must have been a fluke. It made me happy though, even if Morp was a dance of extreme silliness and crazy costumes. I was even on student government my senior year, but was not elected president. I was nowhere near popular enough for such exalted office. I had a much better time at high school, but there were still ways that made I had accomplished seem for naught.
You were a new one, at least to me, not one of the bullies that had been with me since elementary school. You remember French class that day? We were on a block schedule, and our classes were ninety minutes long. In honor of a French holiday, we were having a party and had all brought some food. You said you had forgotten your contribution in your car. The teacher gave you leave to get it.
What should have been a ten minute errand turned into an over twenty minute vacation. You chose to have a smoke and maybe make a few calls before deigning to return to class. When you returned, the teacher put you in detention. She stepped out to get one of the hall aides you take you to detention, and you defiantly faced the class in her absence and said, “The teacher’s a bitch and you can tell her I said so.” Then the teacher returned and you were taken away.
After class, the teacher waited until the other students had cleared out and asked me what the student had said about her. That teacher was one of my favorites, a good instructor, very knowledgeable about her subject matter, and very kind and personable. You were lazy and snide, but pretty and popular, certain that looks and personality would get you places. You had never been actively unkind to me, until you insulted the teacher.
I had little else going for me but academics, and I always respected my teachers. So I told her what you had said, word for word. In the cafeteria the next day you walked right up to me and yelled at me in front of everyone, that I had told everyone what you had said and that you were in trouble now because of me. Then you flounced away. I don’t think I was able to get a word in edgewise to your rant, but I wish I had.
Since when had I signed a contract of silence to keep your derogatory remarks a secret? You had specifically said, “and you can tell her I said so.” Sounds like carte blanche to me. I had never been your friend, so why should I do you any favors? I always respected my teachers and my education, so I had no reason to keep quiet about someone who seemingly didn’t care for both. The reason the teacher asked me instead of the other students was because she knew I’d tell the truth. Thankfully you didn’t decide to pursue a vendetta against me.
The rest of the years passed smoothly with only a single other incident that sticks in my mind. Senior year, we were passing around our yearbooks, and you signed mine. You were one that had been in my classes since elementary school, and had apparently forgotten about me in high school. You wrote something harmless and generic in my book, and I did the same in yours.
I remember thinking that it was nice that you could write something civil. Then, upon further reflection, it made me mad. No apology for eight years of teasing and emotional abuse? Not even at attempt of admitting that what you had done was cruel? I wouldn’t have expected it from a twelve or thirteen-year-old, but at eighteen? I said nothing to you, and you said nothing to me. A fitting ending perhaps. At least you were leaving me alone now.
To the Bullies of College
Much of college was well and good. I made good friends, learned many things both academic and entertaining, and earned a degree.
College was also where I nearly killed myself.
During 2003, my second senior year (my fifth year in college, because I was attempting a double major), I had begun to slip in my classes. They were harder and harder, and the rote memorization that had served me for so long was no longer very effective for what I was attempting to learn. I didn’t understand, and felt ignorant and useless.
I would skip classes to do other things, delaying the inevitability of bad feelings by filling my hours with idle things, exerting control over the small portion of my life that still worked. I couldn’t stand going to classes and not understanding, so I went but rarely. I began to fail tests for the first time in my life. I had always been an honor-roll student, mostly As and a few Bs. Now I had Ds and Fs. I laughed it off, but as most of my none-too-durable self-esteem and sense of self-worth were based off academics, I faltered.
I felt as if I had no purpose or function in life. I couldn’t make myself care. I told myself, several times a day, “I’m going to kill myself tomorrow.” That was how I coped. I intended to do it, most sincerely, with a bullet to the brain. In my mind, my family, my boyfriend, and my friends would despise me for being a failure, so I could not speak to any of them. I absolutely could not stand kindness. I avoided all possible communication with my family except when it was absolutely necessary. It did not matter that intellectually I knew that thinking of my family and friends this way was absolutely wrong; it did not stop it from being real to me as gravity.
During this time most other things suffered too. I was in the student athletic trainer program, which, in this fairly large university, had maybe less than fifty student trainers at a time. You were the program head. You taught several of the classes. You met with us all individually. You became more of a colleague than a teacher. But when my grades began to fall, you said nothing. I had few duties my last year of college, but when I showed up late or not at all, no one said anything. I felt as if you didn’t care, that if didn’t matter if my grades were horrible and I never showed up, that my presence in the world wouldn’t be missed.
Was I beneath your notice because I never went to the social events? I knew you played favorites, but I didn’t realized how much. Do you know why I never went? There was always alcohol. We were always supposed to meet at a bowling alley or something similar, and then everyone would drink. I don’t drink. I don’t like the taste, the cost, the stupid behavior or the loss of brain cells. If I had been one of your favorites, would you have noticed when I began to implode? I guess I’ll never know.
If it hadn’t been for a sibling noticing the same symptoms in me that had been a struggle for them recently, I would have chosen death over what I perceived to be a hopeless, helpless, worthless existence. My sibling convinced me to see someone, who eventually got me to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed as having major recurrent depression on New Year’s Eve, 2003, was given medication, and started counseling.
Then I had to go around to the teachers whose classes I was failing and explain to them what had happened, and to beg a way to make up the work. Most were kind and helpful. But one teacher, clearly you had no experience with clinical depression patients. At that point in my life, I cried at everything, and had great difficulty speaking of it. It was humiliating for me, who had always been a teacher’s pet for much of my schooling years, to have to beg for work to pass.
I completely broke down in your office, trying to explain. You yelled at me, “Just stop crying and tell me!” I wanted to scream. Never, ever tell a person who’s just told you she’s been diagnosed as depressed to stop crying. Often they can’t. You only made me feel worse.
I got what treatment I could for the rest of that school year, and took summer classes to make up for what I’d failed, dropping what classes I didn’t need. Through such grace, I graduated in the summer of 2004 with my degree.
To the Bullies of my First Job
When I graduated, I finally found a job in my field not more than a month after I’d moved back home. It was two states away, offering a combination of work at a physical therapy clinic and being a trainer at a high school. It seemed ideal, precisely what I wanted. You, my future employer, called me for an interview, and I went out there to talk. You needed me desperately; your last trainer who had held that position for three years, had quit without notice for another better job.
When you wanted me to start next week, I was so happy to have landed myself a good job right in my field that I didn’t consider anything else. I got an apartment and moved out there right away. You promised to help me with studying for my certification exam, and everything seemed ideal.
I went right to work, and soon realized you wanted someone far different than me. And I was not anywhere near ready to be away from my support system so soon after my diagnosis. I didn’t tell you I was depressed, of course. You don’t tell someone that before you get hired, because they might not hire you. And if you tell them afterwards it sounds like you’re making up excuses.
I floundered about at the clinic for over a week before someone told me what I was supposed to be doing. I have never been very aggressive; I prefer to be a good follower rather than a leader unless I am completely confident in what I am doing. With lack of direction, I was afraid to do anything independent for fear of doing something wrong.
At the school, with the former trainer not there to give my any advice on her usual routine or procedure, I did the best I could, which was far less than I was capable of in top form. I had little real self-motivation, and was too terrified to take steps to help myself.
You didn’t offer me the help you’d promised for my trainer certification exam, and I didn’t ask. I was constantly late for work and no one said anything to me. I thought you didn’t care. You wanted a self-starter, a go-getter, a contained and motivated person. I was a depressed hire with my first job right out of college in a new city and state. You let me run off enough rope to hang myself and then fired me after eight months, two days after I’d finally taken my trainer’s test and failed it.
I was devastated. I’d been a student trainer for close to ten years, four in high school, five in college, and eight months at your clinic. I had failed at the exact job I’d hope to get. It crushed me, and I spent the next four months futilely looking for a job, being supported by my fiancé and family, having to go on food stamps just to get by.
I could no longer afford what little psychiatric care I had been getting, and when I hysterically told them I’d have to leave treatment because I couldn’t pay, the psychiatrist asked me if I had plans to kill myself. English wasn’t your first language, and I misunderstood you. I had plans dating back from college, but you meant right at that moment. I said yes, and you forced me into seventy-two hours of observation in a psychiatric ward.
My mother came, as she’d wanted to for months, the rest of my family came, and I finally moved back to my hometown. I got two jobs, a house, and better care. Eventually I got a single good job in the fall of 2006, and soon afterward by mutual decision of my psychiatrist and me, I was deemed well enough to stop treatments for my condition.
Depression could have killed me, and it still could if I’m not careful. I consider it similar to living with a long-term illness like diabetes. I have to monitor my thoughts to look for negative patterns, treating myself as if I were still sick, to make sure things never get that bad again.
All of you bullies were but one part of my life, but you had a huge impact. There are many people in this world that were hurt far worse than I. Those that have been sexually or physically abused, those whose parents gave them no support or heaped on abuse, those badly damaged by false friends and poisonous strangers. That is not I. I did not suffer such extreme abuses.
Yet each derogatory taunt, every time you shunned me, every time you laughed at me and made me cry, convinced me that I had little self-worth. I wanted my peers to like me and respect me, which is why I gave your words such weight. I could never count my social skills or attractiveness as important parts of my persona, because you made it clear in school that I had nothing in that department. I had nothing but my scholastic achievements, and when I could not use old techniques to excel at them everything came apart.
My depression was not obvious, because I did everything possible to conceal it. I did not sleep for eighteen hours a day, being unable to get up the motivation to rise. I did not write dark poetry of despair. I would not have taken pills or slit my wrists in the bathroom. I was so convinced of my own worthlessness, thinking that I had done everything in my life wrong, that I would not mess up my own suicide with the uncertainty of drugs or bloodletting. I would be certain with bullets.
Later, at my first job, I could not be what you wanted or what I wanted. Neither of us could communicate, and I felt as if you simply didn’t care. Though I wasn’t doing well in the job I had been assigned to do, being fired has left me with huge issues of failure. I have never returned to my former profession in any capacity. I may never do so.
To the bullies of my childhood and schooling years, I want to let you know that your words and names hurt me more deeply than any stick or stone. You may not even remember what you did, it may have been but a passing diversion to you, but you let me know I had little worth to the world.
To the bullies of college, those that wounded me more with their neglect than their acts, you let me know that I could conceal suicidal depression, and no one close who could see the signs would act.
To the bullies of my first job, who hired a fragile psyche when they should have let me know they needed a bulldog: Never give someone enough rope to hang herself. She will. Tell me I’m doing a bad job, but don’t let it come to a head. I will rarely be able to bear job criticism now without breaking into tears, assuming the worst.
To all those reading, I was not an ostentatious candidate for depression. I would have killed myself to the great surprise of all who knew me. Were it not for my sibling’s care, a trip to the hospital, two years of therapy and medication, and the unstinting support of family and friends, I would have likely removed myself from the world.
Remember, every act of kindness, no matter how small, is appreciated. And no amount of bullying, no matter the age, is ever appropriate. I do not subscribe to the idea that everyone should be coddled, that everyone deserves a medal for everything they do, but no one deserves to go through the day on the knife-edge of tears. No one should think that no one cares if they do well or poorly. No one should have to feel ashamed of asking for help.
Communicate. Ask. Notice. When someone’s grades go down, find out why. When someone can’t get to work on time, ask her why instead of letting it slide. When someone stands alone from the crowd, never speaking, always watching, engage her! Sometimes all you have to do is ask. All you have to do is try.