There is a lot of news going on about 13 Reasons Why. It tackles major issues such as mental health, bullying and suicide. It became highly controversial for many reasons.
The digital media has made it easy for everyone to voice out their opinion about an issue and be heard. Everyone makes a good point, which is the point of a discourse.
Personally, I think we have to understand that not all teenagers are capable of dealing with school bullies or pranks. Not that they are not raised to have a sense of humor or to be strong enough to handle such situations. During these years, we are trying to find our place, we’re trying to define who we are and, not everyone will admit it, but status quo is important. That’s why guidance is very important. Unfortunately, at least in my case, the advise that was given to me was to ignore my bullies.
However, not everyone is capable of just shrugging things off. I was one of them, I still am. At the age of 26 I still get affected by what other people think of me. Eventually I learned process things internally, ask myself if I should take their opinion to heart and then I will move on. A lesson you learn as you grow old, especially when you have dealt with a bully.
But for teenagers, they’re still learning. In fact, we never stop learning. As we grow older, we deal with more difficult problems and more are expected from us. People might think that as an adult, you should already know what to do. You should already know how to level your head.
So keep that in mind, in our teenage years, we were still learning not to care about everything. We were still learning how to filter the things that should bother us.
So let me tell you the story of one of the most damning bullying I’ve ever experienced.
A little background. I went to an all-girls catholic school run by Good Shepherd nuns. We were sheltered and we don’t get a lot of interactions with other schools and boys. Every year our class is shuffled. You meet new people and you make new friends.
I was thirteen at that time and an incoming sophomore. The friends I made the previous year weren’t in the same class. I just happen to live quite close to two of my classmates and this one girl who’s always with them. They’re quite popular. Pretty, cheerleaders, liked by a lot of people. So when they started hanging out with me, I am not going to lie, it made me feel quite good about myself.
I treasure my friends deeply. I tell them all my secrets, all my insecurities. So one day, I told them about this crush of mine who lives in our neighborhood. He had a girlfriend back then, a friend of my sister. It was a stupid crush. Again, I didn’t really see find myself attractive and had very low self-esteem so I never really entertained the idea. But they encouraged it, told me I had a shot and should just go for it. But I never acted on iy.
One day, I got a letter. It says open your Friendster (I know ritght?) and I’ll find a message there. And so I looked, and there was a message from an anonymous sender. In the letter, the sender pointed out how ugly I was. Every single thing I was insecure about was written there; my weight, my skin color—this person just went on and on listing everything that she found ugly about me—things I didn’t know I should even be insecure about.
By the end of the letter, she warned me about my intentions to make a move on my crush. This person implied that she was his girlfriend. If I do, she will post embarrassing things about me and my friends online.
From an adult’s point of view, the logical way of looking at it is to simply delete the message and ignore it. But for a teenager who lives in a world where your image is a big deal and self-esteem is as fragile as an eggshell, this is pure destruction.
I wrote a reply, I can’t even remember what it was. And this anonymous sender replied. It went on for a while, until one day, one of my so-called friends broke down and admitted that they were behind the letter.
My sister saw me crying the night I found out. She was furious and asked me how could I be friends with such horrible people. It didn’t make me feel any better. It made me feel stupid for not seeing it.
I became cynical towards everyone who tried to get close to me. I thought everyone was horrible, even the guidance counselor who had nothing better to say but “believe in yourself” and that I shouldn’t be affected by what other people are saying about me.
What a load of crap. It didn’t help me whatsoever.
And do you know what’s crappier than that? After their apology, I started hanging out with them again. I endured months of a toxic friendship before I finally gave up. Why? Well, I honestly can’t remember why.
I let go. When I finally embraced the true me, I found people who accepted me for who I am. I learned that it was okay for me not to be the dainty girl—it’s okay to do the things I love and to embrace the awkward brute side of me. Eleven years later and we are still the best of friends.
What am I trying to get across here? We were all young once. We were fragile and we were trying to discover ourselves. We all encountered bullies, and we had different reactions. Some are fortunate to have a good support and others have to find their own way. Not everyone is built to shrug things off and walk away. Some needs more support. So just because you were able to walk away fast, just because you are able to care less than others, doesn’t mean everyone can.
It is important to listen and to show genuine support. I think more than anything, at that time, I needed someone to tell me that what I was feeling was valid and it was okay that I was hurt and angry. I needed someone to listen. I needed someone to tell me that it wasn’t my fault that I was being bullied.
I didn’t get any of that. I had to stand up for myself and find a way to get over it. It wasn’t easy. That feeling of isolation and wanting to belong, yet too afraid to trust and open yourself to someone is not something I would wish on my worst enemy.
All I wanted was to get out. I wanted everything to stop, but I couldn’t. I know that the world will not stop just because I did—the people that surrounded me certainly showed me that.
In a way, I was lucky that there was a competitiveness in me. I wanted to show that I can get out of this hell hole and live my life the way I want to. I wanted to show that this will not get to me. In the midst of that struggle, I discovered the strength in me. This is something I hope I could help others with. Whenever someone comes to me with a problem, I take their every word seriously. I try to be there for them as much as I can and listen to what they are trying not to say.
Pay close attention to the unspoken words.
Because even for adults, it can get overwhelming. That feeling of isolation, of helplessness—and asking yourself what the hell is wrong with you that people treat you the way they do. Bullying can come in different forms. It’s a monster that keeps coming back in different bodies and situations.
I think even the strongest people need the right support in this situation. Not everyone knows what are the right things to say and that is fine. Just as long as you’re there for them, let them know that they are not alone in this fight.
So if you’re reading this, I hope you know that you are not alone. Even if we don’t know each other, I am here for you if you need someone to listen.