“Bullying builds character,” they said.

Have you ever watched ‘The Duff’? How about ‘Mean Girls’ or ‘Easy A’? Well, if you eliminate the attractive cast and add a strong dose of hardcore reality, you’ll get a taste of my high school career. Except, everything wasn’t peachy keen after graduation, and I definitely didn’t get the guy (yes, there was a secret crush in my story too). In teen movies, the protagonist drives off into the sunset with her guy, as the credits roll.

In real life … well, I don’t have to tell you it doesn’t work out that way. What most people don’t know is that by the time we finish school, we’re so broken and socially awkward, pretending to be “normal” is a full-time job. Most of your smiles are forced, and you find yourself fantasising about being somebody else. Anybody else. Everyday activities such as taking public transportation, walking into the office, or passing everyone in the cafeteria, are as uncomfortable as lip-syncing to ‘Danke Schoen’ on a parade float … in your birthday suit! To an unsuspecting onlooker, you may seem unfriendly and stuck-up. Meanwhile, you’re giving yourself a good talking to, trying your best not to have another panic attack. “Just breathe. They’re only human. They’re not even looking at you; it’s all in your head.”

But you see, you’re haunted by memories. You remember how they humiliated you on the basketball court in front of all the juniors. You remember the labels they gave you, saying you’re ugly and worthless. You remember being ostrasised and having lunch in the girls’ toilet. There’s a part of you willing yourself to forget the past and move on, but running away from the horrid flashbacks are futile. At night, they trouble you in the form of recurring nightmares. So you evade sleep for a while, thinking you can beat this thing, but a lack of sleep fuels your depression. “You can’t beat a vicious cycle, dear,” the voice in your head may whisper scornfully. Day after day, night after night, you recall the harsh words of your tormentors. You wonder if you’ll ever be free, but you already know the answer to that.

Last week, I read an article on IOL news: “Effects of bullying haunt victims for life” (you can find the full article here). According to a study done at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, “Persistent bullying may erode the victim’s self-confidence, induce serious health problems, and even ruin the victim’s career.” Dr. Tienie Maritz, a psychologist based in Pretoria, said, “Being the repetitive target of bullying damages your ability to view yourself as a desirable, capable, and effective individual.”

Well, there you have it … bullying is NOT child’s play. Any form of harassment isn’t something you can dismiss with a wave of a hand. Tell me again how you believe bullying is just a part of growing up and builds character. When you find out that the quiet girl at school committed suicide after she came to you for help, and you dismissed her, are you going to say to her family, “girls will be girls?”

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