“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.”
I used to hate hearing that phrase from my parents when I would tearfully tell them of the latest verbal attack from schoolmates.
I remember actually shouting that phrase at my tormenters only to have them pick up sticks and stones to throw at me, chasing me all the way home.
When I moved from my hometown in New York to Massachusetts, I remember thinking I could have a new slate, a fresh beginning. No one would know about the missteps I made in grade school. No one could call me crybaby, some slur on my last name or worse things.
I had no idea how wrong I could be.
These kids from a small New England town had all grown up together and didn’t seem to like outsiders.
The same people, who dropped their Rs when saying ‘park’ or ‘yard’, said I was the one who spoke funny. Seven or eight girls would surround me and tell me I was ugly and stupid, completely smashing my self-esteem into tiny pieces.
A month into my new school, I hid in the girls’ bathroom and wouldn’t come out until a teacher coaxed me out. My grades started to fall.
I don’t remember speaking at all during seventh grade. I cringed when teachers would call my name and I would have to speak in front of my class, knowing they would somehow take that and twist it into something else they could tease me with.
I would make myself sick thinking of school and end up staying home with a headache or stomach ache. I even thought of falling down the stairs so I could injure myself badly enough so I wouldn’t have to go to school.
Why am I telling you this sad story of my childhood?
Because it gets better.
When you are teased and tormented in school, you think you’re the only one.
There are many children who have endured this relentless torture of their psyche by others. Many go on to become successful people. They learned how to deflect and diffuse the name-calling and verbal abuse.
How did I finally learn to combat the ambush of name-calling and esteem crushing by my classmates? My way was humor. It deflated their name calling into empty words, like dead leaves.
“You’re stupid,” one would say.
“You’ve used that one quite a bit lately. Can’t you come up with something better than that? You’re just not creative, are you?” I would reply.
I also ignored them when they would butcher my last name and only answer my classmates when I heard it said correctly.
Eventually, the words that were once so heavy and full of pain became lifeless. They didn’t stick to me like glue anymore and weighed me down.
I didn’t become the “popular kid” but I made good, lifetime friends. I really didn’t want to be the popular kid because it seemed so superficial.
My message is for all the children out there who are enduring the same pain I did many years ago. It gets better but it’s important to get help. Find someone to talk to. Write it down; get it out of your system.
Find a way to distance yourself from the pain. I used to draw cartoon characters to cope with the mental anguish. They helped me escape for a little while. Books helped too, letting me visit another place and time.
Being bullied is not something anyone should take lightly. The feelings are real, they’re neither right or wrong, they just are. But they don’t have to rule you.
Just remember, it gets better.