It is national pink shirt day – this day brings awareness about bullying and the impact that it has on kids and teens today. As someone who was bullied throughout school, I know how many kids and teens feel when they are being bullied.
When I was in school, I was an easy target for many bullies. I had a disability and this made me different. I was born with a form of Albinism that left me legally blind. I also had a nystagmus which causes the involuntary movement of your eyes. The constant movement in my eyes made me turn my head to the side because this was the place that my eyes shook the least, which in turn make it a little easier to see.
Because of my low vision, I needed many adaptions in school, like larger text books and work sheets. I needed to sit at the front of the room to get extra help because I could not see. When I got to high school the adaptions I used got to be more prominent and made me stick out even more to my classmates. I had to have very large text books and use paper that had thick black lines on it. I also had to have teachers read what they were putting on the board. In grade ten when the work got harder and my vision got worse, I needed to have a teacher’s aid to help me blow things up or explain the things that I was missing. Again, this was hard for me because it made me stick out even more than before.
I had a hard time with friends and desperately wants to fit in with my classmates and just be accepted. Every day I dreaded going to school. At night, I would lay awake hoping that I would be sick or there would be any reason for me not to have to go to school. I ended up pretending to be sick quite a bit in school just to avoid having to go.
I went through many years of depression during this time. I finally tried to reach out to a teacher and tell them how I was feeling and that I was considering suicide, I never go the help I needed. Because of the bullying, I had no self-esteem or confidence and was very, very depressed.
These along with many more incidents stand out in my head. Even today, as a 31-year old, the memories make me cringe.
People always think that bullying like this happens more in High School, but the truth is, that it can start very early in elementary school. I can recall instances in grade one and two. For example, I had to have eye surgery when I was seven to try to tighten the muscles in my eyes to help my nystagmus. This was a difficult time for me, because after the surgery, I could not see anything for about four weeks. After returning to school, my eyes were very red and as a result I was not allowed to go outside for recess. When I would sit in the hall playing a game for recess many kids walked by me and would kick the game all over the place and laugh and call me names such as freak, crazy eyes, vampire (because my eyes were red) and albino. This was when I began to pretend to be sick so that I did not have to endure this every day.
Things like this happened many, many times throughout my time in school and only escalated as I got older. Many kids would make fun of me not being able to see and would ask me how many fingers they were holding up while moving them and then laugh. Other times I would be walking down the hallways and they would stick their foot out and trip me or move something on my desk so I could not find it. This kind of torture went on day in and day out. The sad thing is this continued for the next 10 years until I finally graduated from high school.
The bullying I experienced affected me even after I graduated from high school. I decided once Ii was done school that no one would ever know that I had a disability and I hid it from many people. I never told employers I rarely told new friends. I did whatever it took to hide the fact that I could not see. I even went as far as to memorize the eye chart so that my eye doctor would think that my vision had improved. It took losing the rest of my vision to see that I had value, and I was a great person. I realized not only was I living a lie but, I was the only one suffering. I was also sending the message to my kids that it was okay to pretend to be something you are not. I decided that I needed to prove to myself and my kids that I was a stronger person and I had many things to offer to this world.
Once I decided to take back control of my life I was able to get some help with the depression. Talking about the struggles with my blindness helped me to truly accept and love myself despite my past bullying experiences and my disability. As well, I began to accept my vision loss because it was worse than it had ever been. I had lost the rest of my vision and was only able to see small amounts of light. This was a huge adjustment and there was no more hiding my vision loss.
The saying that we tell kids: “stick and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” This is the farthest from the truth. Words hurt. Words can kill. I want people to realize that words can push someone over the edge, that you are not any better than anyone else and you don’t know what anyone is going through at home so don’t judge or make fun of people.
Sometimes people bully others not realizing what they are doing or how they are making people feel. They do this by saying things like “you know the blind girl” or even “that cripple”, “the albino at the office”. These are all very hurtful things to say and it equivalent to racism. It should not be acceptable to talk about PEOPLE this way.
When anyone makes fun of someone, they are tearing that person down with every word. You could be the reason that they have no self-esteem or confidence. We as people need to learn from a very young age that building people up is what we should be doing, not tearing them down.
Treating everyone as an equal, with respect and compassion, will take us very far in our lives. If you bully someone for having a disability or being different, you are telling the world that it is not okay to be different. When in fact, if we were all the same it would be a very boring world. Our differences are what make us unique and amazing people.
If you are being bullied, I encourage you to reach out for the help you need and keep reaching out until someone will listen. You are worth it. You are an amazing person and you have so much to offer the world.
Whether you are a child or an adult, what you say and do is very important. We should each take a look at how we treat people on a daily basis and ensure that we think before we speak. Our words do “hurt” ! Treat other how you want to be treated.