I like documentaries, usually. I enjoy learning new things. I even watched a heartbreaking documentary that some of you might be familiar with about how elephants are treated in the circus. An elephant named Tyke had escaped and ran through the streets, desperate to get away from abuse before he was shot – I can’t even remember how many times. It profoundly affected me, and still does, so I try to stay away from the really difficult ones.
One day last week, though, I watched what I thought was a documentary about bullying. It actually was a movie. I’m not certain of the name now (don’tcha hate getting older?), but I think it was something like “Just a Girl.” Actually it was about two girls in two different states who had been bullied, both in school with verbal comments, cornering, shoves in the hallway and – something I never had to deal with – cyberbullying.
The first high school girl ended up committing suicide because it was all too much to handle for her. She had gone to a party and had too much to drink. She blacked out, and a male student took advantage of the blackout, posting all over social media that he had had sex with her, how hot she was, and how she “put out.” That morning, the morning after the party, she had frantically texted her friends, telling them she couldn’t remember the previous evening, and needed to know what happened.
This young girl had a wonderful reputation, ruined by one unfortunate evening. Some would say it was her fault because she was drinking. In fact, that opinion goes back years, just like “She was asking for it. Look how she dressed.”
Because of all the attention, the student couldn’t even make herself go back to school. The last text she left to a friend said, “My reputation is ruined. My life is over.” Then she killed herself.
Bullying doesn’t just happen in high schools. It happens in grade school, middle school, college, and on into supposedly “fully mature” adults. The thing about bullying that those who have never been bullied don’t know is that it sticks with you for life. Those words, once they’re out there, can never be taken back. Even apologizing, trying to make amends, doesn’t usually work. Sure, bullied people might appear perfectly fine on the outside. Someone who was told she had fat thighs in high school might be a colleague you work with. She doesn’t mention it aloud, but thinks of herself as ugly and alwayso tries to dress so that her thighs are less noticeable.
I’m known in my family for being sensitive, sometimes too much so. In fact, sensitivity involves many factors, and is now viewed to be as personality trait, even socio-biological. It’s evidenced in both animals and humans. For instance, my newest addition to our house, a rescue dog named Pookie, has what many of us have – selective memory. Although I pick him up and hold him for many reasons – to cuddle, to give him kisses, to carry him across to the backyard when the snow is too deep for him to walk in. But I also pick him up when I have to go somewhere, therefore putting him in his crate – for his safety as well as keeping him from destroying the house. Now, why do you think he often backs away from me when I go to pick him up? One would think he’d remember all the good reasons, the cuddling and so forth. But – just like you and me – he remembers going into the crate, which is still a highly stressful situation for him.
We’ve all been bullied at one time or another. Some of us manage to let it go. Others – us “overly” sensitive types – have memories like elephants. I have always suffered from severe anxiety, and developed a nervous habit of licking my lips in high school. One of my friends at the time said, “Why do you lick your lips like that all the time?” Here I was, thinking no one noticed me. I couldn’t say it was because I was anxious, so instead I said nothing, but still remember that comment. Another time, in college, a roommate said to me, “Open your eyes!” which was really innocuous and probably due to drinking too much the night before. But ever since then, when I see my eyes in the mirror, they look too small, the color is indefinable to me, and my lids seem droopy. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is how I interpreted what was said to me at my sensitivity level.
This is getting long. My apologies. And I’m sorry for any misspelled words or grammar errors; I didn’t take the time to proofread. It’s just that there are so many other ways to bully now, and others join in with “likes” or “comments” on social media, not to mention texting.
Try to remember to think before you speak. Once it’s been said, it can’t be unsaid. There are no do-overs.