From bully to victim to advocate
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every day thousands of teens experience bullying, whether they are being bullied or doing the bullying.
I have been on both sides of the bully world, and it is not fun on either side. I have hurt many friends and beat myself up for it. That is when I changed. I took action, stood up and reached out.
Becoming the bully
Starting middle school can be very scary, especially for a girl who wants to find her place. For me, all I ever wanted to do was to fit in.
I started hanging out with a group who I had thought were good kids, but it turns out they were not. I was desperate enough to find friends that I ended up hanging out with the wrong crowd.
The people who had been my friends before started turning their backs on me, and I could not figure out why. I had not done anything mean -- yet.
That changed, though. I never did bad things like drugs, but I was mean to people. I said mean things and did little nitpicky things that I knew got on people's nerves. I did not care.
At the time, I did not realize what I was doing or see the damage from it. I soon found myself in a downward spiral. The group I hung out with no longer wanted to hang out with me.
Once again, I was friendless. I had hit rock bottom and did not know if I was going to come up. I knew I had to do something, but what?
When November came around, so did basketball sign-ups. I thought if I wanted to change, now was the time to do so. So I signed up.
As time went by and practices seemed longer each day, I started building myself back up into society. It was not long, though, before I started bullying again.
I was not the greatest player, but I was good enough. However, there were a few girls who were awesome, and my jealousy got to me. I turned mean again. I put them below me. I shot them down. I made them think they were not good enough to be on the team.
Why was I doing it? Why could I not just accept the fact that they were better than me? All it did was backfire on me. Again.
Toward the end of the season, I played a lot less than what I had at the beginning. The anger I felt towards myself was getting in the way of my focus on the games.
The season ended as quickly as it had started, and school, too, seemed to end as quickly as it had started. I was determined to make a change the following year.
My eighth and ninth grade years flew by faster than I could blink. Something was totally different those two years, though. Instead of me being the bully, I was the one being bullied.
I tried to apologize to everyone I had hurt in the past, but a simple apology was not good enough to heal the damage I had done. Those two years were tough, but somehow I managed to get through them.
Instead of people turning their backs on me, they were facing me this time. They were also calling me names. Some people would even give me a little shove in the hallway.
I was really hurt, and I have not spoken of these incidents until now. At that point, I knew what the people who I had bullied felt like. It was devastating, and it had to stop.
No one seemed to listen to me as I tried to explain what was going on. But who could blame them? I had gotten what I deserved.
Making a change
When my sophomore year came, I was introduced to SADD -- Students Against Destructive Decisions. I learned in more depth about bullying, and what I found out was somewhat overwhelming. The things I saw during our Prevention Day workshops made want to break down and cry my eyes out.
Joining SADD changed my life from that moment on. I started helping people and helping solve conflicts between others. More importantly, I was bettering myself. I believe I eventually changed people's minds about me when I actually saved my best friend's life.
My friend was going through a really tough time, and she could not handle it all herself. She would come to school looking as though she had not slept for days. One day, she came to school with her arm wrapped in an ace bandage.
That is when I decided enough was enough and confronted her. We sat for a while, and I listened carefully as she spoke.
She explained the names she was called, the evil texts she was getting and more. With tears rolling down her face, makeup smeared on her cheeks and puffy eyes, she still managed to smile. Seeing how strong she was for being able to smile through all the pain made me smile as well, with tears in my own eyes.
Saving a life
It was a week before I saw or talked to her again.
She did not show up to school, which I found strange, so I called her. The phone rang and rang. I could not get in touch with her.
When she finally called me back, she asked me to come over, so I did. That is when she broke the news to me: she had considered suicide for a long time and almost gone through with it.
When I got to her house, I told her that we needed to talk. I said, ''I am saying this not only because you are my best friend, but because you are my cousin and I love you. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
"DO NOT take you life because of a stupid rumor someone started or because someone called you a name. Your life is not worth wasting. You need to stand up and take action.
"Now, that does not mean fight back, but go report it or something. You are too beautiful on the inside and out to sink to their level. You are strong. Show it.''
To make a long story short, she took my advice and is still here with us. She has many friends and is involved more in school now.
I learned my lesson on bullying and saw how it can affect people, especially people close to you. My grandmother once told me that whatever you say or do to others comes back on you twofold, so before you say or do something mean to someone, stop and think about the consequences you will have to face in the future.
Every day, teens are committing suicide due to bullying. Someone at your school is being bullied almost every day. Bullying can be physical, mental, emotional or verbal; it can be done in person or online.
If you see any of this being done to someone, put a stop to it. That does not mean you have to fight. You can report it to an authority figure, so he or she can stop it.
Do not just stand by and watch. It is not going to ruin your reputation if you tell someone about what's going on. Put aside your pride, and do something. It will make you a better person in life; I know because I have been there.
In fact, you have a chance to be someone's hero. So take action, stand up and reach out! You may end up saving someone's life.
Calling for help
All these numbers have someone available 24/7.
* If you have been bullied and need to talk, call the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000.
* If you are in emotional distress or feeling suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
* If you have been or have witnessed bullying at school, call the West Virginia Safe Schools Helpline at 1-866-SAFEWVA (723-3982).