I was bullied in high school. I hear ya—who wasn’t? In my personal experience, I’ve learned that the tiny percentage of people who say they weren’t bullied in high school had either mastered the art of invisibly, were blessed by the divine hand of God or were such a big bully themselves that no one dared bully them back.
When I started high school, I tried to befriend the ‘cool’ girls and, as you can imagine, a Mean Girls style saga unfolded in which I was both bullied and a bully. I wrote in several versions of a ‘Burn Book.’ I threatened physical violence against girls who ganged against me. I tried my hardest to always be fighting back and I’d like to be ashamed of myself, and of all the girls who forced me to eat lunch alone or in a teacher’s office at recess because I was too afraid to be in the school yard alone, but it’s really hard to be ashamed of a thirteen-year-old girl. She’s a thirteen-year-old girl.
That doesn’t make the fact that I bullied girls and got bullied a good thing. It just makes it a thing. I stopped being a bully after only a few short years and started making new friends—girls I’d seen from afar who did drama after school or were in the debate team. And it crushed me to find out they were no different than the girls I desperately clung to. Their harmonious façade was just that, because backstage they were all clawing each other’s eyeballs out too.
Getting bullied didn’t stop for me through high school no matter what I did. The boys would call me “fat” and “hairy” and write “UGLY” on my locker. They’d put chewing gum in my hair on the school bus and throw eggs at me at the train station. I used to think “When I go to university, this will all be over,” and I’d put my head down, pull my hair over my face and cry quietly until the bus reached my stop.
But it didn’t stop. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about bullies, is that real bullies—awful, horrible people who are full of nothing but snails and fish guts and meanness—are a real thing. Yes, there are confused, hormonal teenagers that act out as a means of combating their own pubescent insecurities. But there are also just downright awful people. I continued to be bullied by old friends and new friends. By coworkers. By strangers in social settings or innocuous, everyday exchanges from the convenience store to the bakery. By people who were older than me and people who were younger than me.
And I learned that bullies will always exist. In a perfect world, bullying would be confined to high school, to that period where we’re not quite yet in tune with the world and recognize that everyone is perfectly entitled to live their lives in whatever way they please so long as they are not hurting anyone. Part of growing up, at least for me, is learning that you can’t control people. Sure, someone you know might have a habit you hate, or someone you see walking down the street might be wearing something you think is heinous—but none of this effects you, and as a young adult you being to realize WHAT OTHER PEOPLE DO DOES NOT MATTER.
That’s when the magic hits you—when you realize that the actions of bullies towards you are completely irrelevant. You’re not in high school any more. You can simply stop seeing a toxic friend. You can choose to see a bully’s actions as an indictment on their poor character instead of taking it personally. You can walk out of an environment in which you feel threatened. You can, and you do, simply ignore the bad attitudes of others. You’ll still be bullied, probably until you’re old and everyone just gets too tired to rouse the energy to bully, but now it doesn’t have to hurt you any more.