Monday, July 23, 2012

Get to them before they get to you! (Guest blog by Keyt Harrington)

In the past few years a lot of attention has been given to bullies, what they do, why they do it and how to "fix" them. Unfortunately, not much attention is given to those who are bullied at the time it's happening, only when time has passed and the victim has had to spend a big portion of their life in therapy.

I spent my teens and twenties in therapy, but for various reasons. The majority of my bullies were my own family members because I wasn't the perfect child they wanted. That or whenever I was sick they thought I was faking it or looking for attention. Sure, I'm going to go up to a neurosurgeon and say "Hey, would you shave off all my hair, cut open my head and put plastic parts in it just so I can get a little attention around here?". I don't think that would work.
One time while in family therapy the doctor asked my dad why he seemed so distant to me. I'll never forget his exact words: "Because I wanted a normal child, not one that would cost me thousands of dollars to keep alive. I have better things to do with my hard earned money than that!". Yup, that's what I lived with!

Don't get me wrong, I had my bullies in school too. Not many because there's one important lesson I learned early on by having a messed up family; act like they don't bother you. You hear it a lot in discussions about bullies but it really does work! I learned some tricks by watching comedians on tv (this was long before YouTube!) and practicing in the bathroom mirror.

Here are some real examples of things that have been said to me and what I said in return:

Bully: "You're stupid!"
Me:  "At least I know I have a brain, I have pictures of it. Do have any of yours?"

Bully: "Everyone is smarter than you!" (said to me by my 12th grade English teacher!)
Me: "Oh yeah? Not everyone has a pump in their brain making it bionic!"

Bully: "What happened to your hair, did it catch on fire like Michael Jackson's?"
Me: "What happened to your face (pointing to her zits) did you fall in a rose bush?

Dealing with bullies is all about taking them by surprise. Laughing at and teasing a bully in return isn't easy but in almost every case they stopped teasing me as much or quit altogether. Of course a shy person will have a difficult time standing up to a bully in this way so a little practice with someone they know might be in order.

Most bullies act the way they do for two reasons: one is lack of knowledge. They may not understand how much it hurts the person they are attacking or, if that person is disabled they may not know why. Like with me, I don't look sick except for the times I was missing hair or had seizures in class. The other reason is they may have been bullied themselves so they strike out.
In 5th grade my teacher set up an assembly where I got up in front of the whole school with my mom and my teacher. She asked me questions about my hydro and my shunt and I answered them while facing all of the students!! I even went there with an IV bag and an old shunt for props (most docs will give you your old one if you ask for it!). At recess that day my biggest bully, Greg came up to me crying and apologized for being mean to me!! In middle school I had a really great counselor who brought me and a bully into his office to have a chat. It gave me the opportunity to explain how much his words hurt and to tell him why I did the things I did.

Believe me, even at 43 years old words still hurt me. For example, even when I act silly on purpose and someone says "That's retarded!", I get the heebie jeebies! They may use it as a saying but that word shouldn't be used in any situation! Yes I'm slow, can't remember anything from one hour to the next and I stutter. However I am a functioning human being...with feelings...no different than those with less physical or psychological abilities than me! I have learned that those who want to act like children and bash and belittle me are not worth my time and I completely remove them from my life if I can. If I can't then they get the tried and true silent treatment and they don't hear from me unless it's absolutely necessary.

I'm sorry but the walking away from a bully thing that my parents always told me to do doesn't always work. Using a little comedy or explaining your situation does. In today's world it's a little easier with social media because it's easier to hide behind a computer and say what's on your mind that you couldn't say in person. Granted, it may not work if you see your bully every day like if you were in school. A few times I have been known to send emails to the people that were hurting me (as an adult because emails pretty much weren't in use when I was in school lol) and it did work. It might take a little help but there's almost always someone around you who is willing to help. If you can't ask anyone for help, go to a search engine and type in something like 'letters to send to bullies' and you will find some examples!

Now, all of that was speaking to those being bullied. Before I end, I have a couple of things to say to those who bully. Some day you may grow up and find out that person you are picking on is seriously sick, dying or God forbid, dead. Do you want that on your conscience? Do you really think picking on someone makes you a bigger person? Well I have news for you. It's rare that a bully doesn't say the wrong thing to the wrong person and not get hurt at some point. Just like some people who are bullied commit suicide, well some bullies are killed because of what they say. This goes for kids AND for parents!! Think of school shootings. Almost all of the people who did the shooting were bullied at some point. So, which would you rather have, a little temporary fun picking on someone or a bullet to your head? Frankly, I prefer keeping my mouth shut so I can live!
Oh, and you may think everyone likes you because you have a ton of friends? No, they're friends with you because they're scared of you and they feel like they don't have a choice. That's not friendship, dude, that's survival!!

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