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.