From 7th grade through 8th grade, I was bullied.
In 7th grade, I started at a new school and made friends quickly with a popular group of girls. With wonderful friends and good grades, I thought I had made it. But just as suddenly as we all became friends, it quickly shifted to “Mean Girls.” It was weeks before my Bat Mitzvah and each girl in our group stopped talking to me, wrote nasty notes to me and would hang up on me when I called. I was left feeling helpless and wondered what I did wrong to provoke such a response. This is where irrational thinking set in.
My grades began to go down and I started to dread going to school as I would hear their whispers and laughter, all directed at me. I felt betrayed. I also started to feel scared as I was left with only a few friends, which can feel deadly when you are in middle school. I never spoke of this at home as I was embarrassed and did not want my parents to know. This was the beginning of years of self-doubt.
I was shocked when I received the returns from my Bat Mitzvah invitation and many of these girls replied that they were going to attend. I immediately thought, “finally, they want to be friends with me again.” While they put on a good show at my Bat Mitzvah (I am sure due to their parents), they had no intention of being friends again.
My one “happy” place was at my overnight Jewish summer camp. There I could just be me and that person was markedly different than the person in middle school. I was strong, independent, a leader and I was truly happy and healthy. As each summer would end though, I would have this horrible feeling of dread. I was leaving my safety for a world of unknown and kids who were simply not nice.
It was a difficult enough time in middle school just dealing with hormones and other social issues, but this could have really destroyed me. I am quite sure that if I did not have summer camp and my camp friends, I would have developed major depression much earlier. I was lucky to have a place where I could shine and show my strengths.
High school was no piece of cake for me either and I am sure I was suffering from dysthymia, which is low-grade, ongoing depression. I allowed what happened in middle school to confine me to feeling hopeless and as if something was wrong with me. It was a horrible feeling and it wasn’t until college that I was able to start to break free from it.
We hear about bullying a lot and my heart breaks with each story, especially the teen suicides. There is a way to stop this: we need to talk more. Talk with our kids about bullying and start at a young age, with appropriate language. I do not want my daughter to be bullied and I also don’t want her to be a bully. I have to teach her to use her inner strength if she is “picked on” and ask for help from an adult; and to “be nice” to others, just as she is learning in her preschool.
You never know what another person is feeling or going through. You really can’t walk in someone else’s shoes, but you can reach out.