When bullying is more than just nasty

I have finally coaxed myself to finish Th1rteen R3asons Why (13 Reasons Why) and I am glad I did. It is horrifyingly close to the heart for anyone bullied in high school or who have experienced suicidal thoughts. I put off watching it due to the warnings about the graphic content including suicide and sexual assault (the PC way to say rape, just call it what it is for goodness sake). I tried to avoid it finishing the series by viewing a different film, and chose The Aviator randomly, with no idea that it was also intense in its depiction of mental illness. I adore Leonardo Di Caprio’s acting and he was stellar in this film. I don’t know if I was subconsciously drawn to these two audiovisual depictions due to my own battles with bipolar I disorder, or whether it was just the seeming popularity of them.

I was bullied throughout high school, the height of which was when a ‘friend’ dropped a letter at my desk in year 12 that outlined all the ways that I was a terrible human being, selfish, bitch, skinny, ugly and the like. He was supposed to be my closest friend at school, but he said in the letter that it felt like I was ‘using him’ by being friends with him only in between my regular fights with another friend. Whew. Even trying to explain it makes me feel upset. It really affected me. If nothing else, I was very open with my family about the bullying, and in this particularly disgusting case, my parents called his mum and read the letter out over the phone (he lived regionally and he was a weekday boarder at the school, returning home every weekend). His parents then had a chat with him and made him apologise and explain to me why he wrote the letter. I remember him crying over the phone saying how embarrassed and sorry he was for giving me the letter, when he knew that I was being ostracised by the other girls at school.

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Chat script from one of my tormentors

 

When we were going through some of dad’s things after he passed away a few years ago the letter resurfaced and without a thought I threw it in the rubbish because I really didn’t need to bring that baggage up at that time. But these instances of bullying arise when a film or show comes up on the topic. There have been some negative reviews of the series 13 Reasons Why, but as a victim of rumours, unkind correspondence, physical attacks and snowballing occasions of emotional violence it really did strike a chord. Like most graphic screenings, I would view it first before allowing my relatives or suggest that a teen class watch it. It is reality, and in societies as ‘elevated’ at the West we still have a disgustingly high rate of suicide in our young people, with it being the leading cause of death for young people in Australia. The most difficult thing about being a teacher was that I had to watch out for kids. I skilled up in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training while still studying at university and have used the strategies countless times to intervene when I suspected a students to be unwell or planning suicide. I have also completed the Lifeline Accidental Counsellor Training which informed me on how to converse with someone who was having a difficult time, about to hurt someone else or themselves, or to make a plan for if they have already done so. This training also helped me seek help using Lifeline when I needed it during my postpartum psychosis episode, which literally saved my life. Even though I had the training and knew the script that they were using  it helped because it was like hearing safety. I knew what was coming and that the conversation would could help.

Bullying leaves lifelong scars on young people, and for some can end in tragic consequences. Although difficult to view, 13 Reasons Why made me feel heard, like now it was time to start to openly talk about child to child abuse, threats and degrading actions and the implications of these for not only the present, but also the future of our young people. I still revert to paranoia of popularity and rumours during my hypomanic stages because of these experiences. Thinking about them and writing about them is still raw, and I can think of at least 13 reasons why I have was self-harming as a young person. I know those people are still friends with each other probably don’t even have any clue about the power of their actions, or inactions. And that is the problem; anyone can view this series and still not see what they are doing or have done to someone else. I think that is an illness in itself  bit we normalise it and let them off the hook by calling it self-centredness rather than what they are – tormentor, bully… criminal.


4 thoughts on “When bullying is more than just nasty

  1. Kudos to you for watching it. I haven’t gathered the courage to watch it yet. I’m afraid it will dredge up old feelings that I am not quite ready to re-live.

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      1. The school system here just sent out a letter bout 13 Reasons… I thought it was pretty good of them to reach out to the parents and shed some light on the situation and they also provided information links and rescource numbers in the event that children may be feeling suicidal. They wanted to stress that they did NOT want the children watching to think that suicide is a romantic thing and they wanted the letter to be a conversation starter for parents and their kids.

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      2. Definately. I don’t think the show depicts it as a romantic thing, but highlights how relationships can affect someone’s mental well-being. A great strategy. When I taught a film re hard drug use I had a parent info session cause it was close to some of their experiences with their own kids. It worked out well too.

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