Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I Didn't Know I Was Bullied

I promised this post yesterday, but it took me longer to write it than I thought it would. While this is a subject I've discussed with many, it is not one I've ever written about, especially not in public, and I can honestly say the idea scares me a little. But after that Lady Gaga concert and the things she said, I decided I should share my story. So here it is.

I was bullied as a kid.

But I didn't know it then.

I know that seems strange, right? How can you NOT KNOW you're being bullied? Well, when the bullies are the people you think are your best friends, it's not always easy to see the truth.

There is a lot more to bullying than stealing lunch money, shoving kids into lockers, and name calling. Sometimes bullying is slow and silent. Sometimes that is worse.

There was a girl I'd been friends with since pre-school. I don't think it would be fair to say her name here, so for the sake of privacy I'll only call her H. H and I had known each other for years. Her mother used to babysit me when we were small, even, but it wasn't until seventh grade that H and I became "best friends." As it turned out, we had a lot in common when it came to music and taste.

In the years that we were friends, we definitely had good times. There's a lot a owe to H. She got me into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, fan fiction, and Cruel Intentions - a movie that is now my favorite of all time. We had private jokes, critiqued each other's stories, had slumber parties, and shared some of the best years of middle and high school together. I thought H and I would be friends for the rest of our lives - like those friends you see in movies that have known each other forever.

But H was my bully.

I didn't know this for years, not until after our friendship dissolved, not until the hurt at having lost her as a friend faded and I suddenly woke up one day realizing that my life was happier without her in it. That's a strange thought to have about someone you considered a best friend, but it was true. I was a happier person once H and I stopped speaking, and this led me to look back over our friendship and ask myself just how good of a friend she'd really been.

I don't know when H began making me feel inferior. Sometime in middle school, I think. Just little things back then - comments about how my hair looked to poofy (I was a Hermione clone back in the day), or how the band I liked was just "okay." I looked up to H a lot, even though now I"m not sure why, and I really wanted her to like me, so I took her criticism as "advice" rather than insults.

It got worse as we got older though. So many times my comments or thoughts were met with eye rolling from H. Between the way she'd look at me and the things she'd say, it was made clear that she found me "annoying" a lot of the time.

"Annoying" was a word I heard a lot in high school. H told me I was annoying, H told our other friends that I was annoying, other friends told each other I was annoying behind my back. It all got back to me, of course, and I lived in constant fear of my own annoyingness. I second guessed every word out of my mouth, every move I made. There were days where I seriously considered never speaking again - not in front of my friends, anyway - so that I wouldn't be annoying them.

But that was the least of my worries. There were other comments, too. I remember one specifically. On many occasions H telling me that I looked terrible in the color red. She said it made me look like a tomato, convinced me I should never wear it. After a while, this had been drilled so deep into my head that I never wore red at all. I didn't buy red clothes and if someone bought them for me, I didn't wear them. It wasn't until last year, on a shopping trip with a friend, that this was remedied.

"Try this on," my friend said, tossing me a very, very pretty red top.

"I look terrible in red," I said.

She gave me an inquisitive look. "Really? Because you look great in pink, and those are similar tones. You should try it on. You never know."

So I did, just to humor her. When I walked out of the dressing room, my friend looked me up and down and said, "Who on earth told you that you look bad in red?"

"A girl I used to be friends with."

"Well, she lied. You look great in red!"

It wasn't until then that it hit me. Even after our friendship was over, I was still letting H get to me, still trusting her word. She was wrong, by the way. I don't look bad in red. I took me a long time, even after that day of shopping, to believe that fully, but its true. I now buy red clothing whenever I want. Even still, it takes a little effort. One comment like that, no matter how trivial, can really stick with a girl.

On top of all this, H had a way of making me feel like I was two steps behind everyone. If I discovered a new band I loved - she swore she'd been listening to them for years (a claim a later learned was rarely true). She constantly hinted that she was smarter than me and a better writer than me, knowing that academics and writing were the two most important things in my life.

I could go into a long list of all the other things that happened between H and I - it was all small, or seemed so, but small things build up over time. Instead of going through all of that, however, let me skip tot he end - to the reason H and I are no longer friends.

H and I were the part of a larger circle of friends, and H made it clear that she preferred their company to mine after a while. I lived in constant fear that they'd all ditch me, that they'd see I was just as annoying as H claimed. In the end, I did lose a lot of them, but not in the way I'd feared.

In the middle of senior year, without warning, H began to shut me out. She would ditch me to be with other people or lie to me about her plans. One New Years, she told me she couldn't come to my party because she "had family plans." Later, I learned she'd lied about this. Instead, she invited all of our friends to her house to hang out, knowing they'd pick her place over mine. She started having get together's at her house on weekends she knew I'd be out of town, just so that I couldn't come.

A few people in that group remained my friend after and told me the things H proceeded to say about me behind my back. She told them I "didn't want" to come, that I was lame. She made fun of me in front of them.

None of what I learned came as a surprise. The surprising part, really, was that after so many years as friends, she'd waited until then to finally push me out.

I know some of you are shaking your heads. "This isn't bullying," you might be thinking. "This is normal girl behavior. This is just childhood silliness. This is petty. This is nothing to worry about."

But it is bullying. I didn't consider bullying at the time, but now, two years later, I do. And here is why:

The things H did/said to me still affect me.

To this day, friendship is difficult for me. I am very frequently paranoid about how "annoying" I am, and I constantly get nervous whenever a friend doesn't talk to me for an extended time that he or she is pushing me out the way H did. Some of my relationships with friends and roommates in college have suffered because of the insecurities H left me with, and I'd be lying if I said that there aren't times when I think that no one wants to be my friend, and that if they do, they are doing it out of charity - because that's the way H always made me feel.

I'm writing this post for two reasons, and I hope my little story has achieved both.

First, I hope that this has some of you thinking about how you treat your friends. I'm sure H didn't realize she was bullying, either. To this day, she probably sees the way she treated me as just "normal" teenage girl drama. But even that, even the little things, can leave scars. Like I said, bullying can be less obvious, and it is easy to be a bully without realizing it. I know I have. It's something I will regret for the rest of my life, but I have. Not in the way H was, but in less frequent amounts to people I did not consider "friends." Nothing makes it okay, and had I known the way it could hurt a person I would have never said some of the things I did back then. So, all I ask, is that after reading this, ask yourself, "Am I/Have I been a bully?" If so, maybe there is time to fix it.

But the big reason I'm writing this post is because of how Lady Gaga inspired me on Saturday. She made me think about how the tables have turned. In her case, she went from being bullied for her "freakiness" to being one of the most famous women on the planet, and her "freakiness" is something people love about her. My story isn't so dramatic, but I have a similar note to add.

Remember what I said earlier about H making me feel like I wasn't as good of a writer? ;-)

It doesn't erase the wounds she left, but it does help to sometimes stop and realize, "Hey, you know, she made me feel so inferior. But I AM a good writer. I have a career writing books that people love, and she can't say that." And hey, some of the things H and I went through may make good material for a book one day, so there's that upside.

So I guess what I want to say is - to all of you who've felt bullied or put down or inferior by a classmate, relative, or even a "best friend" - know that, even if you don't forget, it does end. I've not been bullied by anyone sense. I now have friends who love me for me, who don't see me as "annoying," who WANT to spend time with me. I have friends who treat me as an equal, and despite the fact that sometimesI get scared or worried because of the things H said to me, I am usually a very happy person now. A very happy person who knows that I don't need friends who treat me that way.

And you? You don't need them either.

No one deserves friends who make them feel badly about themselves. No one deserves to feel ashamed of the person they are or want to be. Not to sound cliche or sappy, but just remember that one day, you will shine brighter than any of your bullies ever will.


Linda said...

Kody, thank you for this post. I too was bullied when I was younger and it helps to know I'm not alone. Things are better now that I'm older, but I had some really rough years back in elementary and middle school. The sad thing is that I was actually fairly well liked at that age and there were soo many kids at my school that got it ten times worse than I did.

I'm glad you've moved on. You are a great writer and while I haven't met you in person, I don't find your online persona to be annoying at all. And I'm sure you look fabulous in red. :)

Kody Keplinger said...

Aww. Thanks Linda! <3

yeah, there were kids who got it so much worse than me, but that's another reason I wanted to post this. To show that even the kids who don't get it THAT bad are still dealing with bullying. I think so many people convince themselves its not bullying because so and so has it worse, but those kids are suffering, too. I was.

Bullying has os many forms. Bullies don't always know they are bullies and the bullied don't always know that they are being bullied. But the aftermath is still the same.

teeny104 said...

I really loved this blog post. I thought it was very brave of you, and totally inspiring. I too had a 'friend' like H - we knew each other since we were five and she was awful to me. We both lived in the same remote village, away from all our other school friends. During school time she would be horrible to the point of completely ignoring me, to suddenly liking me again nearer school holidays when the others wouldn't be around.

It is true what you say about the lasting effects, and how damaging they can be. I don't regret being bullied (and I got a lot worse from other people) as I know it has made me stronger and the person I am today. And also, thicker skin for when I get published (as I am determined to do lol.

Thanks for sharing your story. :)

Pamela x

Brent from The Naughty Book Kitties said...

Thanks for sharing your bullying story, Kody! I like how you mention that bullying isn't just black and white -- it can come from a friend, relative, etc., and can be as simple as telling someone they're not good enough.


Matthew MacNish said...

The saddest part about this is that people often don't even realize they're doing it. Some people are taught to lift themselves up by tearing others down from a very young age.

It's just not necessary, and I'm glad to hear that you moved on, and are happier now.

Lindsay said...

Thank you for this post. It's so important to remember that bullying has more than one form. I was bullied this way too and I still fight the insecurities it left me with. I know some kids had it much worse than me. And maybe some people think it doesn't count because it's just words, but it scars just like the physical.

Ginger @ GReads! said...

Thank you for sharing this story with all of us, Kody. My first thought was that H was probably jealous of you. And being the age y'all were, this is the immature & WRONG way to show it. I'm sorry you have bad memories from such an important time of your life. I hope you have good ones too, that outshine these. You're a better person for realizing the toxic relationship that it was & not playing the victim because of it.

There's a lot of people out there who suck. Just so you know - I think you're awesome! :-)

Ashley said...

This was a very brave post Kody, and I completely agree with you. Bullying doesn't have to be physical or blatant. It can come up in a million ways. And to all the people who say, 'Well that's not bullying, that's just basic teenage girl drama' HELLO!!! How do you think girls bully?! Sheesh... Girls are usually not the ones stuffing you in lockers and taking lunch money, they are the ones telling you how worthless you are, and personally, I'd much rather have you steal my lunch money, because not eating until 3 sucks, but it doesn't do the same kind of damage.

Kody, you are not a horrible writer.

Amy Lukavics said...

Kody, I love you so so much. I totally resonated with the part where you can't believe that you're actually HAPPIER without someone that you once considered a 'best friend.' So true.

You rock, girl, and you'd look BITCHIN in red. :D

Tere Kirkland said...

Aw, Kody! (HUGS) You're right, it IS bullying.

But you should be so proud that you've moved on emotionally, and H is probably still picking friends she thinks she can bully. I feel sorry for her.

I'm glad you didn't let her or anyone else get in the way of your writing. You rock!

Kody Keplinger said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! And for the love. Its very sweet, but not necessary. I've moved on, but I know there are others out there going through this exact experience you need to hear it from someone else. Hopefully some teenagers in this tough place will find this post.

Suzanne Young said...

Wow, this is a really great post! I had a similar friendship in high school, but I really didn't consider it bullying at the time either. Thanks for posting this, Kody.

Ronni said...

Thank you for your openness. I want to give you ALL THE HUGS.

It hurts when you have a realization like that, doesn't it? It's like a punch in the gut. But now, it's surfaced. And you can start healing.

Elizabeth said...

I'm sorry you had such a crappy friend, Kody, but I'm so so glad it finally dawned on you that those things she used to make you feel bad about yourself were all lies. To say that kind of behavior isn't bullying is to say the only abuse that matters is physical, which isn't the case at all. There are a lot of people doing worse to themselves than anyone could physically do to them, because of how the people around them make them feel--worthless, stupid, ugly, etc.

I had a friend like that when I was in middle school. What's worse, before she turned on me, she convinced me to turn on a friend of mine she didn't like. That was years ago, and I'm still ashamed that I could do something so heinous to gain the approval of such a horrible person. But I did, and the following year, she and her new friends did the same to me.

I think a betrayal like that really messes with your mind, especially because you don't even know what to call it at first. I mean, if someone hates you and threatens you with physical violence every time you see them, you know where you stand with them, and you know what they're doing is wrong. But when it comes from a friend (or a family member--my mother is so bad at this) who claims to like you, it can be hard pinpoint why you feel so rotten all the time. You tell yourself you're being too sensitive, or that they're only trying to help--if you weren't so [insert complaint here], things would be better.

No one has the right to make anyone else feel bad about themselves. And if someone does make you feel that way, you have the right to call them on it. If they're really your friends, they'll apologize, whether you're being "too sensitive" or not. Because friends--real friends--love you for who you are, not for how your insecurities make them feel about themselves or how you look in red.

This is a brave post, and I appreciate you sharing.

Vickie Motter said...

This is such a beautiful post Kody! Thank you! Reading this made me realize that I too was bullied, in almost the same way you were. Though I managed to get out of the friendship by high school, it too has left me with scars and insecurities. I never considered it bullying. Bullying was the boy in fifth grade who made it his mission to torture me.

Thanks for being so open and honest with us. You have such a great success story. Not only do you have a fabulous career, but you achieved it when you were so young!

And I really hope to see the bullying story in print one day ;) I'll definitely read it.

Marsha Sigman said...

Great post and this is exactly how most girl bullying happens. It's more insidious and sneaky than punching you in the face but it can hurt just as much.

If you don't recognize it, then your adult relationships can be pretty much the same.

Teresa Duty said...

Thank you so much for this post! I've told my 14yr old daughter that I think her best friend is a bully and she should seek another. I will show her this blog and hope that she opens her eyes after reading it. Thank you again. Best blog ever!!!!

Rosita said...

Great post, it made me think back to my middle school days. I think most girls experience the same thing but none of us thought it as bullying.
I remember the most hurtful thing my "bff" did to me was get mad at me for no reason and convince all the girls in our class to ignore me. I'm sure she only did it to test how much control she had over all of us.
I just hope the same never happens to my sister or niece. All I can do is be a genuine friend and hope she catches on that certain friendships don't have to be forever and you have control over who you share your life with.

Thanks again

Jordyn said...

Kody, thank you so much for this post. I've actually had two "best friends" who treated me bad in different-but-similar ways. Both of the friendships came to a nasty head at around the same time (one girl had been my best friend for 10 years and the other had been a very close friend for the past 3 years) and even though it was years ago I'm still dealing with the after-effects and probably will be for a long time to come. I have very (very) few friends now and even less close friends, and though I know this probably isn't the best way to be there's a big part of me that's just glad I'm out of those friendships. Being alone is better than dealing with certain relationships or behaviors IMO.

sheep said...

Kody, thak you for sharing and.. Wow, so many people were bullied! that's just wrong! but, then again, I was bullied too, and here in Argentina it's not that common to be bullied.. but there was this one girl (girl 1)who hated my guts (probably still does, I bet she makes voodoo dolls of me) and tried to drive me crazy.

Not that I was SUPER GIRL or anything, but, since I have a fair bit of irish blood in me, I didn't REALLY cared about the bulling and just told them off..

You said this H girl had parties when she knew you were out of town? this girl 1 Im talking about didn't have that delicacy, she organized parties with the boys I was friends with and when these boys asked where I was, she said (and made the other girls, including my life long childhood friend say) that I was out of town; when, in fact, I was in my house watching a movie about 100 meters away.. and that is just one example of the years long worth of torment..

my point with this is not to create pity or anything of the sort, but the fact is, I had a strong enough personality to fight back, yell at them and walk away, but I know that this same stupid cow did the something of the sort to another girl (just because the boy she liked liked her) and she tried to commit suicide.

So, girl bulling doesn't just leave emotional scars, it can get pretty messy if not stopped on time.

Anonymous said...

Rachel Simmons's ODD GIRL OUT is what made me look at my friends and realize that they were bullies. It wasn't until then that I realized I wasn't alone.

Aisyah Putri Setiawan said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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