For some people, there's just no way out. That was the case for Amanda Todd, who took her life this week after years of torment at school. The abuse seemed to follow her wherever she went... and death, it seems, was her only way of escaping.
I went to bed last night unable to shake her from my mind. Her story brought back painful memories of my own experience with bullying, years of misery that nag at me even today.
While the bullying I went through wasn't close to what Amanda faced, I hope that relaying how I dealt with it provides victims with some ideas on how to combat it themselves.
I was an angry, depressed kid from Grades 3 through 7. It was Vancouver in the 1990s, a bad time to be an East Side kid attending a French immersion school on the West Side. I was buck-toothed, unathletic and lazy-eyed, the latter the result of unsuccessful surgery when I was four years old.
With few exceptions, the bullying was more psychological than physical. Kids knew they could get a rise out of me without even hitting me.
There was the time an entire class of kids were coaxed into chanting "Jesse sucks" by classmates unimpressed at my soccer abilities.
There were the nicknames that people made up; "cross-eyed freak" is the one I remember most.
I didn't have any friends at school, so I got manipulated easily. Kids would pretend to be my friends, gain my trust, then relay embarrassing facts about my personal life to the rest of the school.
My mistake was responding. I would yell, I would cry, I would hit people when they insulted me. I would fall right into their traps and sometimes I'd get in trouble right alongside them.
I hit my breaking point in Grade 7, when one particular bully started a rumour that I was molesting a girl. Out of ideas, I went to the principal and relayed what happened.
The bully was suspended for a few days... and then his father, a lawyer, sued the school for allegedly libelling his son.
The lawsuit made front page news. The principal soon resigned. She wasn't a popular principal... and my classmates cheered and applauded my bully on the day he came back from his suspension.
That was the last straw. My family moved to Richmond, where my years at McMath Secondary were safe, stimulating, and bully-free.
But the bullying wasn't finished for me. In university I joined a fraternity, where a senior member loved to pick on me for not being as handsome, witty or popular as he was.
I tried a new approach. I stopped responding, I started listening. I learned he had borrowed hundreds of dollars from members and never paid them back; I learned he had told his girlfriend that a member's car was his. I learned that I wasn't the only one he had treated with contempt in his years there.
TWISTED SENSE OF KINSHIP
When the time came, I threw this at him. He responded by saying it wasn't true, but other members came to my defence and confirmed everything I said. I won. He lost. And he never bothered me again.
What hurt me most from bullying was that it took away a sense of belonging. Bullies tend to move in packs, giving themselves their own twisted sense of kinship by taking it away from others.
Parents are the solution here. They need to love their children. Hug them, kiss them, read them bedtime stories until they're too old. Let them know that they belong with you, that they always have a place they can go.
I would not have ended up in the happy place I am today if I weren't raised in the caring, supportive environment that my parents provided for me. Even in my darkest moments, I know to this day I can always turn to them.
I can't say for sure whether this will save every victim of bullying. All I know is that bullies thrive on belittling others and elevating themselves.
They can take your pride, they can take your dignity, they can turn your schoolmates against you. But when you have a family that loves you, that's one thing they can never take away.
Are you in crisis? Need help? In Canada, find links and numbers to 24-hour suicide crisis lines in your province here.