Posts Tagged ‘life’

A few weeks ago, while we were having our Valentine’s Day dinner, my husband asked me what I would do with my money if I was extremely wealthy. I said, after buying a modest house and modest car and setting enough aside that I could live comfortably off the interest for the rest of my life (so I could write fiction full time), I’d participate heavily in charitable actions. But not by actually giving money to charities, instead I’d keep my eye out for news stories like this one, where society has either let someone down or a family has stumbled upon a patch of insurmountable bad luck and I would anonymously give them the money that would once again improve their quality of life. As I explained, that would be a million times more meaningful to me than some stupid $10,000 handbag or a lot of the other dumb things the tremendously rich waste their money on.


I wrote this post three days ago, and I’ve been sitting on it ever since, wondering if I should release it. I’ve ultimately decided to, but with this little introduction attached.

Before you read on, I want you to know that I did not write this looking for pity or sympathy, I have spent years coming to terms with these experiences and have long moved past them. I did not write this to make my family feel bad for what they didn’t/couldn’t do to help me back then. And I certainly didn’t write this to gain attention for myself. I wrote it to discuss the very personal matter of bullying and how tragedy and childhood struggles do not negate its effects, but if anything make them that much worse. I wrote it to add my voice to a recent controversy surrounding the documentary Bully. To share my side, as someone’s who had been there and somehow survived it. I wrote this to explain that how no matter what a child is dealing with, being bullied makes those things ten million times harder to overcome.

Now, onto the post…

* * *

Just because something is true doesn’t mean it’s valid.

In this bit of Bully controversy, a reviewer calls out the filmmakers for not disclosing a teen’s mental health in the documentary, nor a couple other potential mitigating factors in his suicide. Factually, this is one hundred percent correct (they didn’t, though they’ve discussed it at film fests and in the media, so it’s not a big secret either), but the problem is, that “truth” doesn’t change the validity or the horrificness of his bullying one bit. If anything it makes it that much more callous, and this reviewer’s between-the-lines suggestion that this victim’s mental health or personal struggles in any way negate or lessen the effects of being bullied is absolutely beyond recourse.

I know this. Intimately. Because once upon a time that was my life.

A lot of people I know look back on their childhoods fondly, wish they could go back to relive them. I do not and never have. My childhood was the single most hellish thing I have ever lived through. And if I hadn’t survived it, you could have blamed it on any number of things: my social awkwardness, my mother’s death, my own depression, but that stuff was just damned hard, it was the constant bullying and ostracization that made it nearly unbearable.

I was one of those children who never fit in. Right from the first day of kindergarten. I didn’t hang out with kids my age much before starting school, so I hadn’t properly learned how relate to my peers. It wasn’t a far fall from exclusion to “torment the misfit.”

Then my mom got sick with depression. I stopped being allowed to go to birthday parties because we could not reciprocate. I stuck out even more. I had no friends. My home life was weird and confusing, and my school life was a daily misery. I started acting out in class. I know now, I was silently screaming for help that I didn’t even know existed. But I wasn’t brave enough to say the words, so I just got sent to the hallway for time-outs a lot.

When I was seven, my mother killed herself. Let me tell you how long sympathy lasts among second graders: one week. Then the bullying had a brand new soul-destroying flavour, and it was one that would stick around for next six years: crazy dead mother.

Okay, here’s something that most people will never have to go through, and I honest to god wish it on none of you. Grieving the loss of a parent while being forced to endure a daily barrage of ridicule about his/her illness and subsequent death, and at yourself, for being the offspring of “the crazy” and thus also crazy (you gotta love playground logic). Grown-ups aren’t emotionally prepared to deal with that, let alone seven year olds. I’m not sure I properly mourned my mother’s passing until I was in my twenties as a result, and I can’t even begin to tell you the profound effect that bullying had on my childhood. It changes you. It changes your whole life.

There is no way that something like that doesn’t.

And that’s the point of this little story. It doesn’t matter if this Tyler kid had ADD or Asperger’s or was bi-polar or anything else, he was still being bullied. And unless you’re suggesting that it is okay to bully someone because they are sick (in the head or body) then it’s a non-starter.

In fact, chances are there was some cause and effect going on there. His medical issues likely gave the bullies a soft spot to pick at – I know this, because this is exactly how they work, they find the weakness and then exploit it endlessly. (My best friend, who came into my life like a ray of light eleven months after my mother’s death, told me many years later that the kids on our school bus used to swap tips on exactly what to say to me to make me cry.)

It’s impossible to heal, to move on, to love yourself, to nurture any self-esteem, to overcome medical/personal obstacles when everyday is a battleground, when everyday you are beaten back down, and kicked where you are already bruised.

So yes, reviewer, you are right, there were omissions in the film, but at the end of the day, they only add to Tyler’s story (and perhaps make it that much more poignant and powerful). They certainly don’t change the facts or its tragic outcome.

I could have been Tyler. And that’s why I defend him, because there’s no way to understand or really conceive of how bad it can be, until you’ve lived through years of it yourself.

Watch Bully, get informed about the issue and then fight to be the change you want.

No childhood should be hell. We can do better.


When 2011 began my best friend and I felt as if we were about to share a magnificent adventure together. By my birthday at the beginning of March those plans were in ruins, and we found ourselves on different and arguably much more difficult personal journeys than I think either of us had expected.

 For me, the incredibly gut-wrenching months that kicked off 2011 led to more soul-searching than I have done in years. I realized that it was high time to reassess my wants, needs, dreams and failures, and make a positive plan for the future. A plan that included me.

 And, surprisingly, the most important thing that came out of being forced to focus on myself was the realization of how little I did that in my day-to-day life. For years now, all my other responsibilities have come before my responsibility to myself. My personal priorities have always ranked last on the to-do list. And, believe it or not, I never stopped to think what effect that might be having on my emotional well-being. As it turns out, it was making me unhappy and much more prone to burnout.

 Something needed to be done. Something that would actually work.

 So once I got my clean bill of health, I set upon changing my life. Of course, I’ve tried these sorts of overhauls in the past with only limited success. This time I needed to take a different approach. To try to change everything at once would ultimately change nothing. New habits needed to be broken in one at a time. Hence, my thirty-day plan. (Popular wisdom suggests it takes thirty days for a new habit to become rote.)

 But where to begin? That choice ended up being remarkably easy. My biggest regret has always been not having enough time to write creatively. I’d get on a good tear with the YA novel, then production would hit at Rue Morgue or a Burning Effigy release date would approach and I’d drop my own writing entirely just to facilitate getting that other stuff done. Then afterwards it would be hard to go back to the novel because by then all momentum had been lost.

 So I began with making a commitment to myself. One hour each weekday (either from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., or 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.) would be “me” time to work on the novel. During that time, I’d write whether I felt like it or not, until the thing was done. And my beta reader would hold me accountable for delivering new pages each day. I’m proud to say, it’s worked like a charm. I needn’t even have worried about what I would do if I suffered writer’s block because I don’t. That one hour has quickly become the most anticipated and sacred part of my day. I also challenged myself to work chronologically on the book for as long as possible, and even that’s turning out better than expected. Just over two weeks into my new habit, I have nearly 40 solid pages of first draft to show for my efforts. And my story is evolving and solidifying faster than I can churn out the words.

 The best change, however, has been the return of my personal happiness. I love my job and my press, but somewhere along the way I forgot to love myself. And while I wouldn’t wish what I went through at the beginning of this year on anyone, I’m very thankful now for every horrible moment of it, because if none of that had happened I doubt I would have found the courage or the commitment to embark on changing my life, even just one hour at a time.


Stuff I Wrote