Life on the Fringe
The other day, Mandy Roth and I were on Twitter, talking about Amanda Todd’s suicide. We got into a rant about bullies, and decided, we had to do something–anything. Since we’re authors, the best way to touch people is with our words. So we pulled together this blog hop. Within a couple of days, we had over forty authors involved…trying to make some dent–some sort of impact, some out-reach to those teens who might be considering taking their own lives, or to the parents of teens. We hope to help…and if we stop one teenager from killing her/himself, if we encourage one parent to find out what’s going on with their kids, then we’ll have succeeded.
I’m going to tell you my story…it’s a period in time I don’t like to revisit because there’s so much baggage attached to it…but for today, I’m giving you a glimpse into what my life as a young teen was. And why I snort whenever somebody tries to tell kids that their teen years are the ‘best years of their lives.’ Trust me, they generally aren’t.
I entered seventh grade–junior high–full of hope and excited, fresh out of elementary school where I had been popular, one of the smartest kids in the school, and nobody cared that I was the fat little girl with frumpy homemade clothes. But suddenly, within one summer vacation, everything had changed. Now, looks mattered, clothes mattered, and being a brain wasn’t an asset. The cheerleaders were the in-crowd and I was so far out of their league that I couldn’t hope to get there. The third day there, I was in shell-shock. Everybody was acting different. All the plans I’d had for junior high had vanished and I just hoped I could make it through the week. And then, on my third day there, I walked across the campus toward the entrance and a group of guys started barking at me and mooing. A couple of them were my old friends from elementary school. That’s when I realized: I was in a new world, and it wasn’t one I wanted any part of.
Oh, I tried to shake it off. I joined pep club, which lasted a week because I couldn’t bring myself to really care about raising school spirit at football games. I turned to my best friend, and found her pulling away. I tried to make new friends but it wasn’t working. Facing a cafeteria full of strangers became agony, so I hid in the library. The librarian wasn’t supposed to let kids in there during the lunch hour but he seemed to realize that I needed refuge, so he let me stay. The first couple months, I did what I could to maintain a low profile, to blend into the crowd and not be noticed.
But then, it got worse. My mother joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that meant I was automatically in the beyond-weird kid group. I was already the ‘fat, ugly, brainy’ girl, now I was in the ‘weird religious’ camp too—a group I most definitely did not want to belong to. The JW’s scared the hell out of me and I didn’t want any part of them. And, since the JW’s required that we stop celebrating birthdays and Christmas, and I had to stop saluting the flag, everybody knew.
By Christmas time in 7th grade, it was official—I was the freak of the school. I was the butt of jokes, the other kids avoided talking to me and only talked about me. My best friend dumped me and I had no one.
Around that time, I was diagnosed allergic to wheat, milk, and a few other things, and my stepfather decided that it was all in my mind and made me eat more bread, milk, etc., in order to make me “get over it”…And so I started getting sick. I had chronic respiratory diseases—tonsillitis, bronchitis, walking pneumonia, asthma…and started missing school. I missed 80 days in 7th grade, and that furthered my reputation as the freak of the school. However, I managed to pass with decent grades. Summer vacation was a blessing instead of being a curse.
But eighth grade started up where seventh left off. The days were one nightmare after another, kids making fun of me, kids harassing me, girls laughing at my clothes, boys barking and mooing at me as I walked through the hallways. (I was a size 14 by then). Every day was an experience in humiliation. By that point, Mom had left the JWs but there was no going back—my parents never did celebrate my birthday again, or much of anything except for Thanksgiving.
I missed 108 days of school that year, due to being sick—again, the allergies were causing severe problems and my stepfather was furious, accusing me of ‘faking’ it…except the doctor kept saying the illnesses were real, not in my head.
By that point, I believed that I was so horribly ugly, so fat, that nobody could ever like me. I was emotionally abused at home by my stepfather (and had been physically abused when I was 4), and by that point, the only thing keeping me going was my writing.
You see, I had always wanted to be a writer—ever since I was three—and I knew I could do it. So I wrote. I wrote my pain onto the page. I wrote my anger and fury at my stepfather, who was so emotionally abusive (and had been sexually abusive when I was very little), that I hated his guts. I wrote to keep myself going.
By ninth grade, life was a nightmare. I was beyond hope in finding friends—the entire school knew I was a basket case and they treated me like a pariah. I sat on my bed so many times, holding a bottle of aspirin, holding a razor blade, thinking, “I could just end this now.”
I hated my life. I hated my stepfather. I hated the kids at school. But most of all, I hated myself. In November of that year, I had an emotional breakdown. The school gave my mother the name of a counselor and he made it possible for me to stay home the rest of the year, doing my work there. Oh, home was still a nightmare. My stepfather was still a nightmare. But at least I didn’t have to face the kids at school. I disappeared into my school work and into the books that kept me going. I read like a fiend.
Still…one thing kept me going—the writing. That, I knew I could do. I knew that I’d never make it as a writer if I killed myself. I knew that I had to get away, get a college education, get out of that town and re-invent myself. And when my ninth grade teacher sent me home a note after I’d sent in one creative writing assignment, telling me how amazed she was by my talent and offering me extra credit for writing more assignments, I jumped on it. That was a lifeline—somebody besides me recognized my talent. Ninth grade passed in a blur.
By the next year, when I was supposed to start high school (10th grade), my counselor talked to the junior college, they took a look at my SAT scores, and they allowed me to skip high school and go straight into college at age 15. That was the best thing to ever happen to me.
I blossomed—at least, for me, I blossomed. The kids were no longer part of the high school clique scene. I got involved with theatre and made friends. For the first time in three years, I met people who liked me. My grades soared. And I realized maybe I was going to make it. Maybe I was going to make it to my 18th birthday and freedom.
College was a life line for me, I loved the work, I felt challenged. I started writing more prolifically—mostly short stories and poetry. I was thoroughly immersed in the drama group. And I realized I had something to live for—thoughts of suicide vanished. I knew that could hold out long enough to get away from home.
By the time I was 17, I had my Associates of Arts degree, and I left my home and my hometown to finish college elsewhere and never looked back.
I was beyond the danger of suicide. I never revisited those thoughts.
But, I will admit, it took years to learn to like myself. To see myself as more than a “brain”…it took a long time for me to believe that anybody could ever love me and I ended up in an abusive relationship for nine years, but that’s another chapter of my life.
What matters is, I made it through. I held on. And even though, yes, I ended up in an abusive situation, I got out of that, and now—well, I’m in a wonderful marriage, I’m a successful author, and I am happy. I have a good life. Yes, there will always be problems, but I wouldn’t have everything that I do if I’d given in, if I’d let the bastards beat me down.
Why am I telling you this?
Because too many kids kill themselves because life is too bleak. Because they’re bullied. They’re ostracized and called names and made fun of, they’re beaten up, they’re picked on. It’s complex issue—sometimes the parents of the bullies won’t believe their precious gems would ever do anything wrong. Sometimes the parents of the kids who are bullied won’t listen or help. Sometimes the school ignores it.
If you are one of those kids being bullied, I say this to you: hold on. Don’t give up. Find something to hang onto, something you care about, and keep it close to your heart. There are so many years ahead of you where you won’t be in school with the bullies, so much potential to become anything you want to be.
I wanted to be a writer—now I’m a New York Times bestselling author who gets to do what she loves for a living. It took a long time to get here, but it is so worth the journey. I love my life now. And I am loved—by my husband, my friends, my cats.
Life can get better…but you have to grit your teeth and push through the rough spots. And you know what? All those kids who made fun of me, who ignored me, who whispered about me, who laughed to my face…they mean nothing now. They mean nothing in my life. They have no power over me now. Please, if you are considering suicide, just hold on, and remember that you are unique—no one can replace you, and the world will feel your loss. If you need help, if you need to talk to someone, tell your parents, your teachers, your family. And if they won’t listen, try calling one of the following help lines:
If you are depressed and have been sexually abused, RAINN is a wonderful resource to help you work through this.
And, if you are a parent, please, pay attention to your kids. If they’re depressed, find out why and take whatever action you can. My childhood was a nightmare, I needed support and didn’t have it. The only help I had was from my counselor who got me out of a bad situation, but it didn’t solve the problem or deal with my inner demons. Don’t trust that kids can handle the pressure they get at school. Talk to them, let them know they can talk to you, even if they’re in trouble.
And please, don’t be one of those parents who thinks your precious gem would never, ever become a bully. Kids need support, and they also need boundaries. The schools are not a stand-in for what they learn at home. The schools can’t do their jobs without parental support. If you are approached about your child being a bully, find out the truth—and, if it is true, don’t make excuses for them. Hold them accountable. And remember: kids learn from example.
Bright blessings. And…today…do something nice for someone. Set an example by action. While there will always be bullies, we can counter them with our refusal to let them win, our refusal to let them stop us from doing what is the right thing to do.
Please, join our other authors and spread the word–we’re telling our stories. And, if you want, feel free to tell me your story here, in the comments. It helps to talk.
AUTHORS AGAINST BULLYING BLOG HOP