Monday, November 7, 2011

It should come as no surprise that I was bullied as a kid. I mean, no one as obsessed with stationery supplies and spelling could be spared by the neighbourhood bad seed, could he?  

I'll say, straight away, that my experience wasn't extreme. Or maybe it was. Looking back, from present-day social comforts, it's hard to say for sure.  My memories have become like a sitcom blooper reel, in a way, the pulp of the feelings diluted, though their effects deep-seated. If I spend even ten seconds recalling a walk home from school, it comes back quite easily. And though I made it through relatively unscathed, I do feel like I can tell you something about it.  About the fear and loneliness. The shame.  

Here's what: If you're bullied, you cope.  It becomes part of your experience. Sadly, it becomes normal and you develop ways of swallowing it. But the tough part?  You don't want people to know it's happening. So rather than pay attention to the barbs being thrown at the bus stop, the bullied are more-often looking around, hoping nobody else saw it happen. Something like a tree falling in the forest.

I could handle it.  I was used to it.  But not if someone else saw it happen. That was too much. Too embarrassing.

Many days I'd come home from school after a particularly tormented walk home. My route took me past the Catholic school, where the "skaters" would hang out after class.  Looking back, they were a slew of gawky teens, but at the time they were the most intimidating people in the world. My pace would quicken and I'd stare at the sidewalk, hoping they wouldn't shout something or, worse, suddenly appear behind me, taunting for a half-block.  Maybe one would poke me in the shoulder or call me a fag.  And, again, more than hearing the words or feeling the thrust of their impact, I'd be scanning the houses on either side of the street hoping nobody from school was nearby, seeing it all happen from their living room window.

I'd push through the door, finally home, where I'd shake it off and make sure my parents didn't think I'd had any trouble.  "How was your day?" they might ask.  "Fine!" Always fine.  And we'd proceed to ignore what was, likely, written all over my troubled face.

There were days, though, when I couldn't hide it, bursting into the house in tears making it plainly obvious my day, this day, hadn't gone so well.  But, again, more than the insults, I was crying because I was embarrassed I wasn't able to hide it, and now my Mom knew.  And she'd see that she'd managed to have a kid so incapable of a good day.

Compound shame.

And so, with this in mind, fast-forward 25 years and imagine that even after the door closes behind you at home, you'd find more, worse, and instantly-public abuse on your computer screen, maybe popping up on your phone, too.  A barrage of shame from the very moment you woke up until you put your head down at night.  The torment no longer relegated to an anonymous walk home or the boys' room at school.  In one moment, everyone knew.  And there's no hiding from it.  And there's nowhere in the world to go.

Looking back (and forward) if I'd grown up with Facebook and an unstoppable torrent of humiliation, I might not have made it out either.  I cannot say for sure that suicide would have been so far-fetched.  Because as I sit here writing this, a pit in my stomach forms at the thought of a childhood lived through the lens of social media.  Can you imagine it?

But I can't offer a solution.  Few things are as confounding as the cruelty of children, and nothing is harder to climb out from under than shame.  All these years later it rears its ugly head from time to time.

(It gets better.)

Rick Mercer (Canada's answer to Jon Stewart) has been talking about this for years. Take a moment to watch his videos on the subject.  Here.  And here. And take a peak at Canada's contribution to last year's It Gets Better Campaign, assembled by design superstars Tommy Smythe and Arren Williams.


  1. Your post made my heart ache. We need people to talk about bullying but also, we need to figure out how to make it ok for kids to talk about it. Sharing stories likely is, one way.

    Now having a son, when I hear of bullying stories, I panick about what lies ahead in the school yard, walks home - and yet, I hadn't thought about the social media aspect. Part of me wonders if children are capable of handling the momentous weight of responsibility that things like Facebook have. I tend to think they don't, and, likely would be that Mom that restricts sites like that until I can be sure they can handle how to treat others - in person, and online.

  2. I am forever thankful I didn't grow up in the age of social media... poor kids. I'm so glad you're putting your story out there, Jason. Thank you.

    p.s. you were a cute kid :)

  3. Cyber bullying scares the bejeezus out of me especially because I have a beautiful son with a sensitive soul.

    Yes, kids can be cruel - they pick it up so well from the adults that are cruel to them.

    My heart aches for the kids that are bullied but it also aches for the bullies who are (I believe) crying out for help in their own way.
    No idea how we go about fixing something like this.

    Love you.

  4. You're a superstar dear friend. nice post. xx

  5. I didn't really know how to comment on this post except to say that it makes me sad. And scared for our kids. It's a different time.

    Hugs to you.

  6. wow. i am always left speechless by your honesty and eloquence in these very personal posts. i have 4 younger brothers - all of them know nothing but social media - they, i imagine, can't imagine how i grew up without it. it's a scary scary thing indeed. like you said, when we were growing up we could close the door and, at least for the evening or weekend, be 'rid' of it. but now? its 24/7 non-stop. yikes.....

    thank you for sharing.

  7. I honestly don't know how I stumbled on this blog of yours...probably cruising aimlessly click by click through cyber space...and I am so very glad I did. Your work is stunning, insightful, revealing and a gift to your audience...truly!
    On another note, I cannot imagine how kids cope today, and I too am left helpless. I have no idea how to fix it...definitely makes you think!

  8. I don't know how you do it - always finding the right words.
    Bullying is scary, I know.
    It's scaring to think how this generations children have to cope with it.

  9. You continue to impress me in how you successfully capture an experience through the written word. I too was bullied and can remember viewing it as normal...and like yourself home was where I found peace...can't imagine having to deal with bullying through social media.

  10. I haven't said it in a while and no better time than the present. I LOVE YOU!

  11. Great post Jason - thank you for sharing something quite personal. I too was bullied relentlessly and you have expressed just how it was - the pain and the shame.

    I totally understand you saying that years later, it rears its ugly head. I'm now 45 but experience the same thing from time to time. I popped myself on facebook a few years ago and about 6 months later started receiving friend requests from people in my year at school. All those awful things from school that were buried deep suddenly crawled their way back to the surface - uuugh! Luckily, like yourself I have a wonderful man who supports me.

    This also made me wonder how on earth kids of today cope with bullying when it can be so prolific. I wish I had an answer. I know that as my friends kids have been old enough to understand bullying, their parents and I have talked openly to them about what it is and that they should never feel ashamed, and also should never be a perpetrator. Those kids also know that they have another adult they can talk to if they aren't comfortable talking to their parents.

    Anyway, thanks again for another heartfelt post.