Reliving memories of middle school bullying allows for self-reflection

Evan Richter

Julia Jacobs, asst. opinions editor

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“What was the worst time in your life?” I asked senior Danielle Finnegan. Without hesitation she answered, “middle school”, as I expected she would.  If I could, I too would stuff middle school into a shoebox, jump up and down on it for a while and then bury it deep in the backyard beside my dead pets. Whether it’s the surge of hormones, the seemingly arbitrary array of rules or the constant reminders that you’re really not a person yet, there must be something about middle school that makes it the darkest time before our mid-life crises.

For Finnegan, the trauma can be resurrected with a couple clicks of the mouse. The teasing about her weight began in sixth grade and escalated into what felt like a battle between her and the entire school. The ringleaders of this effort succeeded in not only creating a toxic school environment for Finnegan but one at home as well through the near-obsolete social media phenomenon called MySpace. They created a page specifically designed to host gossip about Finnegan, encouraging outsiders to instant message the AIM screen name with questions or new information about her.

In this biting, spiteful excerpt written five years ago, Finnegan’s classmate compares her to Cinderella, referring to her as “Danerella”:

“In this story though the prince doesnt pick her but picks the princess. Which danerella wish she was. But no she never will be. Shell never be as pretty, or as thin, or as nice or even as rich. She cant even get friends. So how does this story end? Well exactly how it started. Danerella is still the loner, loser, fata** b*tch who no one likes.”

 

Not only does this excerpt show that our kindergarten teachers need to do more to ensure we accurately understand the message of fairytales, it encapsulates the cruelty Finnegan endured amidst the most emotionally vulnerable years of her childhood.

Although the majority of information has been deleted and the hundreds of “friends” have dwindled to only a few, the site remains alive, buried in the vast sea of the web.  But despite this site, along with prank calls containing nothing but a slew of expletives and a social atmosphere that ultimately led her to eat lunch in a bathroom stall, Finnegan forgives her tormentors. Finnegan suffered from years of depression, yet she still forgives the people who did nothing to deserve it.

This floored me. Forgiveness happens when people tell you that they’re sorry, that they regret their words and actions, not when they torture you for years and then push the “eject” button while you hurtle into the psychological unknown. Yet when I observe Finnegan now, preparing to graduate in less than two months, here’s what I notice: she exudes color and smiles a lot. She is unabashedly positive and complimentary.

She is so full of life because forgiveness allowed her to transition healthily into a new high school identity. For all victims of bullying, holding lifelong grudges will not relieve you of your past but will become a continuously negative impact on your life.  You are the only one who has the power to filter out the bad parts of a memory and take full advantage of the good.

This requires not disposing of the memory that seems like unwanted baggage but carrying it with you wherever you go to remind you that you are in a remarkably better place now. When you tuck that unhappy identity away so that its only remnant becomes the oldest photo in your sequence of Facebook profile pictures, the wisdom gained from that experience is lost.

Because this idea is a bit abstract, allow senior Victoria Sampson’s* story to bring it to life. In seventh grade, when Sampson reached 165 lbs, the mockery she received reached a similar peak that prompted her to do anything she could to shed the weight. This meant limiting her caloric intake to 400 calories a day, which according to Medical News Today, is less than 25 percent of the number of calories she should have been eating.

During the summer after her freshman year, Sampson had plummeted to 110 lbs and would frantically exercise each day the number on the scale was too high. It is without question  that the bullying Sampson endured had a profoundly negative impact on her relationship with food, but without it, it may have taken decades for her to seek a healthier lifestyle. After years of hidden eating followed by years of secret starvation, Sampson believes she has finally found a middle ground.

“Although it was a struggle to get there, I got there,” Sampson said.

After years of teasing and friendlessness due to Tourette syndrome, Jane Packer, a 2011 GBS graduate, also got there. Her middle school peers’ taunting ranged from calling her a “nerd” for showing interest during classroom discussions to accusing her of dramatizing her tics for attention.

The part of Packer’s story that had the most impact on her though, was the resounding lack of a support system throughout her three years in middle school. Though her parents were actively trying to improve her situation, within the walls of the school, she felt that she was truly going at it alone.

Instead of withdrawing into a corner of inevitable loneliness, Packer entered high school with a desire to make connections with a newly- matured student body, even fostering a friendship with a girl who used to throw things at her in the locker room. Now, Packer holds substantive, meaningful relationships that trample the memories of her one-woman army that had to face a barrage of senseless mockery alone.

In my own story of redemption, I am not the victim, but the bully. Though the memory feels removed, as if this fourth grade self existed only in a dream, I definitely recall teasing one boy in particular. For what? I don’t remember. The teasing may have not had a life-changing effect on him, but because I don’t know if that’s true, I decided to act.

The particular person I teased ended up becoming a friend of mine, which made it that much easier to say, “I’m sorry.” He forgave me, then joked about the fact that if I tried to abuse him now, he could probably take me (he is now more than a foot taller than me). Although when I think about it, it sickens me to think that I may have caused others pain, I am not sorry it happened. Those memories from seven years ago have bred in me a hypersensitivity to the feelings of others and an innate desire to be a source of comfort rather than a source of grief.

Like Finnegan, Sampson and Packer, the wisdom I gained from this dark period of my life was transformative. Whether we admit it or not, our present identities are forever linked to our past, so the least we can do is take away lessons that propel us into better future selves.

 

*Name changed to protect identity.


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