Today the #1000Speak for Compassion Blogging Movement is posting about building from bullying.
I announced my intention to tell you about Megan – and what that experience taught me – here.
I first met Megan when I was 4.
Our moms had daughters the same age and so decided to be friends!
What could go wrong?
I use to look back on pictures from that party and think how harmless she looked.
We then went to different elementary schools and didn’t really interact again until we both ended up on the same swim team at age 10 and our parents decided it would be functional to carpool.
Megan had already been on the team for a year. A third girl, a friend from her school, also joined the carpool.
And that’s where it started.
For reason’s I’ll probably never know, Megan just decided she didn’t like me.
She convinced the other girl in the carpool to also not like me.
They convinced others.
There was no big large moment, but rather countless tiny ones that added up over the next five years.
I referenced my diary in my intro post. The pages below expressed my early confusion with the situation. Two girls huddled in the back-seat, while I sat in the front, giggling over their roles as fairies in the school play, practicing songs I didn’t know, ignoring any effort I made to enter the conversation, and making cruel remarks about me pretending I couldn’t hear.
While the parents drove. Seemingly oblivious.
When I was spoken to, I mainly remember being put down. Megan, with a year of competitive swimming already under her belt “knew the ropes”. When I went under 1:30 for the 100m Freestyle, I was told anyone who couldn’t go under 1:20 sucked. When I went under 1:20, it was 1:15, then 1:10 etc….
I remember no one wanting to sit beside me on the bus for swim meets.
I remember not being invited for outings.
I remember feeling horribly and purposefully excluded.
I remember persistently trying to win Megan over for the next five years that we swam and carpooled together.
Six to eight times a week. Two ways in a car.
Plus locker room.
Plus swim meets.
Plus training camp.
Whether she actually was or wasn’t, I came to see her as the gatekeeper to acceptance.
There were moments – weeks even – where I’d think it was over and I’d magically done something to finally earn that acceptance.
People were nicer for a bit.
Then something would happen to remind me that – no – I was still the girl that no one really wanted to hang around with.
I remember rooming with Megan and three other girls at 15 at a rather big deal meet out east.
We’d driven down with some of the older swimmers who had licences. There’d been laughs and bonding and I’d felt (almost? maybe?) included.
Possibly like the older swimmers who were driving hadn’t gotten the memo from the junior team to treat me like I had the plague?
It was my birthday and the team had gotten me a card that everyone had signed.
I thought yes! We’re past this!
Then we got to the room, and it was the same as always. I remember trying to sleep and hearing Megan and the other two girls talk while sitting on the next bed…
About how much it sucked to be stuck in a room with me. Because I was such a loser. And so weird.
When I think about bullying, I remember what it felt like huddled in that bed, so very hurt, and pretending to be asleep.
But when I think back on those years I also remember all the little ways I started to stand up for myself.
And while it didn’t make it stop – and might have possibly exacerbated the situation – I sleep a little better now thinking on all the little moments where I didn’t just “take it”.
Getting back to the competitive aspect of swimming, I didn’t just break 1:30, then 1:20, then 1:10 in the 100 Freestyle. By thirteen I consistently beat Megan.
Which is when she told me the 200 Freestyle was the real measure of an athlete.
Until, at 14, I beat her at that.
At which point we stopped trash talking me on athletic ability.
I remember that race to this day. We were in neighbouring lanes. And everyone saw.
I even remember one of the girls on the team shyly approaching me to ask what I thought would happen now that I’d beaten her. She seemed … sorta gleeful.
It was my first inkling that Megan wasn’t as loved and all powerful as I’d thought.
At about the same age, I’d also worked out she was self-conscious about her hair, worn short because it wouldn’t grow out properly. It had been a matter for much … constructive discussion in the change room.
This naturally didn’t stop her from slagging on my hair and offering “constructive tips”.
Until one day, in the change room with an audience, I finally plucked up the courage to tell her:
“Thanks, but I’ll take my hair tips from someone who HAS hair.”
Today I’d like to tell you that I’ll never encourage my kids to counteract ugly with ugly. But at 14? It felt awesome to (even momentarily) SMACK. THAT. BITCH. DOWN.
It never stopped it. I never really made friends. But when I left the team at 15 for reasons unrelated to Megan (it had dawned on me by then I wasn’t going to be the next Olympian and so there were better uses of my time), I was okay with myself.
So here’s what I took from all this:
1. My child is a child
I mentioned in my introductory post my anger at my mom for not “helping” more and that we’d talked about it.
She told me that she tried to give me tips to stand up for myself and to point out Megan’s “weak spots” so I could fight back.
I started figuring that out by about 13. Before then, I think my mom gave me a bit too much credit, projecting adult abilities to understand an issue on me when I was too young to “get it”.
I will try to remember this with my child. And regardless of whether it’s my kid or not, I won’t be the oblivious driver in the carpool who figures at some stage they’ll just start “playing nice”.
2. Megan wasn’t the devil
Even as the bullied, I’d figured this out by the end. I suspect she desperately wanted to be liked, was insecure, and took it out on me.
We met again for the first time since high school during our last mat leave. We spent about 6 months together weekly at the same music class. Our kids bonded. She has two boys. I have two girls. Both of same age. So we also hung out in parks following music class as they played.
While my stomach lurched the first time I walked in and saw her, we talked. Avoided any discussion of the above.
It was positively normal.
She seems positively normal.
With no backstory, I’d have liked her.
I figure maybe we’ve both grown out of the insecurities that made her predator and me prey in that stage of our lives.
I live in mild fear we’ll end up as in-laws.
3. Megan forever taught me to be kind to those new or awkward
From late high school onward, I have tried to do what I can to help make people not feel the way Megan made me feel.
There are times where I have felt very much the powerless bystander.
But, in those times I hope I at least offered solace and let the target know they weren’t alone.
When I could say something, I (mostly) tried.
4. Megan taught me to (try really hard to) not care what the “Megans” of the world thought
No matter how hard you try, everyone ain’t gonna love you.
Megan taught me to stop trying to win everyone over.
Because it’s exhausting. And while bullies do exist in grown up world, they are generally fewer, and easier to avoid or deal with.
5. Megan taught me to stand up for myself
She taught me that when people lash out at me – while I’m certainly not perfect, it’s usually about them.
My experiences also push me, when warranted, to call that shit out when I see bullying happening around me or when someone tries to bully me.
Because I remember Megan and how powerless and awful she made me feel.
I’m going to leave you with a video I would have loved to have seen at 14.
As a bullied – and in high school as a proud band geek – I loved it the moment I saw it.
Sure it’s simplistic. But it drives home the message to those in the thick of the yuck of the Wonder Years, that it really is finite. It doesn’t feel like it at the time. But it really will end. And if you are bullied and don’t currently have the strength to stand up to it, know you aren’t alone.
I sincerely hope those struggling find someone to help them – and know that they are better than – and more than – where they stand in their current situation.