Yesterday, I spent the morning doing a workshop on bullying and how it affects youth. We covered exclusion, physical and verbal abuse, how media/school/parents/society handles or treats bullying, the shift in victimization and online bullying. Yet again, I was reminded that life doesn’t necessarily change or get better when we become adults. We don’t just turn 18 or 21 and suddenly are gifted with a non-douchey (cos that’s a word) personality. Bullying happens at ALL ages – which is why I love doing youth work; hopefully I can prevent asshole adults. Ha.
One thing that really resonated with me was the concept that targets (of bullying) are easily manipulated due to their need to fit in / please others. While I’m a huge advocate these days for “letting your freak flag fly” and celebrating individuality / differences / diversity, I realized that the “target” (not victim) described me personally. Growing up in a country school – population 30 when I started there – I was one of the only brown kids. Furthermore, I wasn’t exactly fit / skinny / sporty, so was teased a lot for being “big-boned”. I was geeky (nicknamed the Human Dictionary), louder and deeper voiced than all the girls (so I had to sing with the boys), I was strange because I wrote songs, and I was CERTAINLY the only one who’d had brain surgery. I was awkward, precocious and the only places I really felt at home were whilst reading a book, or on stage.
Moving to the city when I was 9, I decided to “transform” my personality, and create a whole new identity for myself – someone who’s confident, happy and didn’t REALLY care what others thought. Obviously I did, hence my developing depression at age 12 – which lasted seven painful and incredibly difficult years. There were many contributing factors to why it happened – depression and anxiety runs in the family, and I experienced a lot of not-so-cool events as a young person. The drug taking and alcohol abuse that came hand in hand with these events probably wasn’t the smartest decision either, but we live and learn. I actually visited a psychiatrist in 2008 while I was still living in Hamilton who completely changed and saved my life – I can’t remember his name for the life of me, but I want to thank him for helping me overcome my depression and give myself permission to forgive myself and heal.
Anyway, I digress. As I grew up and carried on with music and my various jobs, I was always very conscious of my interactions with people – how they were doing, their mental health, their happiness and their wellbeing, as I wanted to ensure that they didn’t go through what I went through, but I forgot to check in with myself.
At the workshop yesterday, we watched this awesome spoken word by Shane Koyczan which talks about how detrimental this mindset can be – which potentially explains how it is that I’ve so often found myself in relationships with… well, the very wrong types of men. Ha. It’s not even a subconscious need for pleasing – fuck knows that’s never been my style – but more a case of wanting to ensure that no one gets to the stage of unhappiness / depression / need that I’ve experienced in the past that I just seem to put most everyone’s needs before mine.
I’m well aware that to be influential, or a good leader, we need to lead by example, so I’m learning (slowly) that there is a huge difference between selfishness and self care. So my mission henceforth is to start looking after myself more – and ACTIVELY celebrate my freak flag – brain surgeries and all (I actually used to be ashamed of my scars; I’m slowly learning that they’re not war wounds to hide, but badges of honour to celebrate).
Overcoming bullying as a society isn’t about punishing anyone; but about embracing everyone. Celebrating the freaks, the geeks, the powerful and those who are still finding their voice. Maybe then we’ll stop needing to seek approval – and stop punishing eachother (and ourselves) for not fitting into the boxes that we kid ourselves into believing that we need.
We all have scars – but that doesn’t mean we should keep slashing.