Whoever said ‘that which does not kill you makes you stronger’ was never bullied in school. My middle and high school years were in the 80s, so technology didn’t play a role in bullying the way it does now. Of course, no one was trying to kill me; the bullies had no problem pummeling my self-esteem for being bespectacled, smart, tall, and skinny, killing any bud of confidence I might have had. As a grown woman, I certainly don’t feel stronger having endured those six years. Though I was never beaten up, the verbal abuse – it was called being picked on back then – caused invisible bruises that I carried into adulthood. I couldn’t walk into a room without looking down. I didn’t want to make eye contact for fear of accidentally connecting with someone who might see it as an opportunity to be cruel. My childhood escape was writing and drawing. I wrote stories where I defeated my bullies or drawings where they were no longer in power. It enabled me to control a situation that, in real life, I had no way to regulate. My safe space was the newspaper office and my drama class – especially my drama class. My drama teacher knew I was bullied and always had something nice to say. He was the first person to allow me to have something I wrote produced on stage.
I found comfort in theatre and playing characters unlike myself. I truly feel that theatre brings together people with these similar experiences. I was planning a degree in journalism and playwriting, but life interrupted and changed my course. I rediscovered my passion for theatre and playwriting in my late 40s. Because of being someone else on stage, I’ve finally learned to walk into a room of strangers without an overwhelming sense of panic, feeling like I needed to shrink into myself. Instead, I become a character who’s brave and confident, and that helps me ‘fake it, till you make it.’ As crazy as it sounds, when I was a teacher a decade ago, the hardest thing in the world was walking into a classroom with teenagers without feeling like I was still a teenager and waiting for the bullying to begin. It ended up being one of the best experiences in my life because, as the teacher, I got to stop bullying. It felt somehow like redemption. I couldn’t protect myself – that girl who desperately wanted to fit in, but I could protect my students from bullies. I could not fathom being a bullied child in 2021, where there is no escape from the brutality of words and videos on social media. The worst I got was taunts down the hallway – ‘if I were as ugly as you, I’d shave my *** and walk backward,’ not ‘kill yourself.’ Something needs to be done before another bullied child decides he’s had enough and becomes one of two horrible possibilities: a suicide statistic or another school shooter.