Today, Caitie George from A Sainted Sinner talks about bullying. Not only in terms of what it does to kids, but how it can follow you into adulthood. Powerful stuff.
As I sit here writing this, I am currently 27 years old. Most of the events that take place in this happened when I was 11, 12, and 13. For the most part, I’ve managed to put it all behind me and move on from the bullying that I endured for three years. In 2010, when it was our ten year reunion from middle school, we met up for dinner. Silly me thought that maybe people would have changed in ten years. Instead, they laughed about how funny it was when they had teased and taunted me and when I told them that those things had actually hurt and had caused a huge fall out, they continued to laugh and tell me that I was being too serious.
There were two major reasons for my being bullied; my religion and the music band Hanson. Let’s start with religion. I was born and raised Roman Catholic. In the Catholic faith it is believe that when a baby is baptized, he or she is cleansed from original sin and can thus began their life washed anew. There are other sacraments, like first communion, confession, and confirmation that help to keep you free of sin as you journey through life. My classmates didn’t believe this. My classmates were mostly Baptist with a few Episcopalians and Presbyterians thrown in.
One girl asked me one day when I had been saved. I remember looking around, confused, because I had never heard that term before. I asked her what she meant and she asked me if I had gone to the principal and prayed with her and agreed to accept Jesus into my heart. I told her that no, I hadn’t, because I was Catholic and had been baptized and I already had Jesus in my heart. I was then told that I was wrong and when I went to hell, it would be fault and my fault only for not following the true teachings of Christ.
That’s where the issues first began. I was 11 years old and suddenly I’m being told that I have not in fact been saved and cleansed of sin and I’m going to hell unless I do it their way? I went home that night in tears. In fact, tears would be a common theme for those three years. There was rarely a night where I didn’t sob over my dinner because of how terrible school was. Even the teachers were in on it! They kept pushing me to accept Jesus and every time I told them that I had, I was told that I was a wrong and an infant cannot accept Jesus.
In addition to all of that which was going on, during my sixth grade year, I became a fan of Hanson. I just loved their music. As most fans do, I had the tshirts and the books and the whole shebang. I can remember one dress down day, there were whispers going everywhere. I didn’t pay attention, because at that point I was tired of the whispers, but before I knew it there was a parade of upperclassmen opening my classroom door to look at and laugh at my Hanson tshirt.
I was trying to hold it together, but it didn’t last very long. I excused myself to the bathroom where I had a good cry. In that moment, I decided that I wasn’t going to let them win. Why should I?
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t still cry about it at night. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t purposefully wearing things I knew they’d tease me about, but I wanted them to think that they couldn’t get to me. That they couldn’t hurt me. It wasn’t true, but at 11 what did I know, really? I remember one class, we a substitute and everyone else was being holy terrors. I had finished my assignment and was reading a book when the substitute came over and asked me to point out my name to him. I pointed it out and he thanked me.
At that school, we had a check system for the day. It’s been so long, I can’t remember how many checks it was but if you got more than two checks for bad behavior, you received detention. I was the only person in the classroom that day that didn’t get a check mark. Oh, you can imagine the insanity that happened. Someone tried to tell the teacher it wasn’t fair because I had spoken to him. I think that was the beginning of my true breaking point. They were willing to stoop that low? They wanted to hurt me that badly?
In seventh grade is when I began to cut. At first it was nothing more that little scratches because I was afraid my parents would find out and I didn’t want to hurt or upset them. In school, I would dig my fingers into the undersides of my arms with my arms crossed until I drew blood. It was the only way I knew how to keep myself under control. Seventh grade was also when I finally broke down and went to see the principal and accept Jesus into my heart. My thinking on that one was that I already believed he was in my heart, so what harm could it do?
Unfortunately, the principal announces to the school who has finally accepted Jesus and all I got were smug “I told you so” looks from the bullies. From that point on, I was a different person entirely. I was defiant, I didn’t care what they wanted me to do or who they wanted me to be. I purposefully did the exact opposite of what I was told to do simply because I was tired of trying. I had cried for so many nights and I had even gone to the principal about it and I was told that I just needed to conform and everything would be okay.
Once I left that school and entered high school, things were okay. I wasn’t bullied there, but the scars from the past remained with me. I made very little friends because I didn’t know who I could trust and who was going to hurt me all over again. I had people I was friendly with, but nothing that I would consider a true friendship. However in high school, the panic attacks started and for four years, I suffered silently because I was afraid there was something really wrong with me.
The attacks were random, but they all had the same common theme : death. I was so afraid of what comes after that I would end up hyperventilating, unable to breathe, crying, shaking, and sweating. If the Baptists are telling the Catholic they have it wrong, and the Muslims are telling the world that they have it wrong (I was a sophomore when 9/11 happened), then who was right?! I couldn’t handle the stress of not knowing. I tried researching and I realized that there were common themes in all religions but I still couldn’t find the answer that would calm my panic attacks.
The self mutilation got worse in high school. Or rather, maybe I should say it became more frequent. I was honestly afraid that I was downright mentally insane and I was going to be put in a mental hospital if I spoke a word of it to anyone. So I hid it and didn’t say a word. Every time I had a panic attack, I would bite my hands or my arms almost to the point of blood and then I would stop. For some reason, the pain centered me and brought my mind out of it’s panicky fog.
I remember one attack. I was sitting in religion class and I suddenly felt like … like I wasn’t in my own body. That feeling where your skin is all pins and needles and prickly and you can’t tell if this is real life or if you’re dreaming. Only my mind interpreted it as “HA! You’re not alive! You’re dead. This is death and you are trapped in this school forever!” I remember running from the classroom with permission to the nearest bathroom. I was so panicked and so shaken up that I began to vomit and couldn’t stop.
Once again, I turned to self mutilation to calm my brain down and when the shivers and shakes had finished, I washed my face, rinsed my mouth out and returned to class. My teacher looked horrified. My eyes were red from crying, my hair was matted down from being so sweaty. I gave her my best smile and told her that I wasn’t feeling well and since it was last period of the day, she told me to lay my head on my desk and rest.
From 2003-2008 I dealt with a lot of death. I lost a beloved aunt to ALS. We lost a wonderful family friend due to old age. I lost my grandfather in 2006 and the hardest one of all, my gran in 2008. She died of a massive and sudden heart attack. No one was expecting it and to this day, I go to pick up the phone to call her or send her an email. Luckily for me, in the summer of 2004, I had a panic attack so bad (I know that doesn’t sound lucky, but it really was) that my mom finally clued into the fact that something just wasn’t right.
I had been napping on the couch and had gotten overheated in the humid summer air. For some reason, heat is a huge trigger for me. If I get overheated and can’t cool down, a panic attack is guaranteed. That afternoon I had a dream that I was headed off to college (which I was. I went to RIC in the fall of 04) and while I was in my dorm, someone broke into my house and killed my family and when the cops came to tell me, the first thing they said was “The man came for you. If you had been there, your family would still be alive.”
That panic attack was so bad that I ended up in the ER two days later. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t sleep, I felt like there was a rock lodged in my stomach. I lost 9 pounds in almost three days because of how horrible I felt. I remember, the day of the attack, my mom sitting with me on the couch and it finally all came pouring out. The six years of attacks, the reasons why, why I didn’t want to tell anyone, all of the reasons why I was so scared to be me. She called my pediatrician that day and we set up an appointment for three days later but ended up in the ER due to dehydration because I couldn’t keep anything down.
The doctor I was referred to was amazing. He was patient and kind and he listened to everything I said, everything I babbled out. Both of my parents were there at the appointment as support and he asked them questions as well as me. Both of my parents were surprised at the symptoms they had noticed but had assumed was normal adolescence. When we came out of the appointment, I had a sample box of Paxil to try and a slew of diagnosis.
I currently (as of the writing of this article in 2013) have been diagnosed with bipolar II, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Now, as a medical person myself, I do know that most of these are caused by imbalances in the brain chemistry. But what I also know is that the bullying that lead the onset of my panic attacks didn’t help. Would I have developed panic disorder anyway? Maybe. It’s certainly a possibility.
But I also know that when therapists and doctors ask me when all of this began, I can pinpoint it. I can say to them “It started in middle school and got worse through the years”. This isn’t a piece on who is right and who is wrong when it comes to religious beliefs. I consider myself agnostic now as I try and find the pieces of who I am and what I believe. This is a piece that I hope even just ONE person reads and realizes how serious and traumatizing bullying can be.
People take their lives because of bullying. I’m a lucky one. My parents are my rocks and without them, I don’t know what I would do. I know I’m lucky but there is one child out there, right now, who won’t be so lucky. I write you this story, this piece about my life, in the hopes that maybe someone won’t have to turn to suicide to feel better about who they are. We’re all amazing. We all have potential. We just need someone to believe in us.