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.
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.