For the past few days I’ve tossed around the idea of writing my thoughts on bullying and just doing something about it. Reading about recent events, such as Amanda Todd’s suicide convinced me to do this, because I felt I had to do something.
But, it’s not easy. After all, who wants to admit that they were bullied? It’s much easier to pretend that you weren’t. But the reality is that I was bullied constantly in grades 7 and 8 and throughout high school. My hope is that telling my story and offering my perspective will help someone.
My name is Nathan Cox and I live in Long Point, Ontario (which is an hour and a half south of Kitchener, on Lake Erie). I’m a videographer and journalist. I recently finished a six-year stint at Conestoga College. There was no bullying there. This all happened at Valley Heights Secondary School, which is located outside Walsingham, Ontario (ten minutes north of Long Point). Before that, it was the now-closed Walsingham Public School (also in Walsingham). From Kindergarten to Grade 7, I lived near London. At that school, I was generally fine. I wasn’t overwhelmingly popular and I was teased somewhat, but I was one of the group. I also displayed some bullying traits and I had a history of occasionally randomly hurting people and fighting.
Why did I do it? Looking back now, it all seems silly, but I probably did it to increase my standing with the others. As someone in the middle of the totem pole, I tried to make myself look better by going after others below me.
This all stopped in Grade 7, when the principal threatened to have me arrested. As young as I was, this scared the hell out of me, and I slowly stopped fighting. I still had a big mouth, and I did hurt a few people with it, which I regret sincerely.
Halfway through Grade 7 (in December 1998), my family moved to Long Point, where things started off badly, then got worse.
I’m not writing this to settle old scores. I’m writing this because I genuinely hope some good comes out of it. And I don’t want any good it might do to be negated by people who just see this as a revenge column. So the people in my story will go unidentified.
Why I got bullied
I find that most people often act as if they did nothing to deserve being bullied, and I’m sure it is often true. I, on the other hand, know exactly why I was targeted.
1) I was overweight.
2) I was weird. I liked things considered immature, like Pokemon. And I was very open about my nerdishness, often playing Game Boy during recess and drawing Pokemon in class. I liked other weird or “immature” things too, and it all counted against me.
3) I was the new kid at a school, which meant I didn’t have a lot of allies. If you’re part of a group of friends, you’re less likely to be bullied. After all, a bully wouldn’t want to risk retaliation from a group. Being a new kid at school means you don’t have a lot of friends and you’re under a microscope while others try to decide where you stand.
4) My last name is Cox. I remember the exact day when my classmates at my previous school understood the double entendre. On my first day at Walsingham, my name was called over the PA system and the entire school suddenly knew my name. I was a laughing stock. Now, I’m able to deal with that kind of thing, and I even make fun of my own name (favourite mis-spelling of it: Kawks). But for a vulnerable kid in Grade 7 at a new school, it was devastating. I had a target on my back, and it was one I could do nothing to change. It continued in high school when people I’d never met would make some kind of derogatory remark about my name.
5) I had a big mouth. I’d often say angry things that would get me in deeper trouble. Or I would say stupid things, and give the bullies fuel.
My history of bullying
Remember, all of these things were meant to be hurtful. Looking back, some comments are kind of funny and I now have a sense of humour about it. Other taunts hurt then and they still do.
Here’s the worst of incident of them all. Before moving to Long Point, I lost both of my grandparents within a very short time frame, and it really got to me. I’d been very close to both of them. When I was at Walsingham, I was once telling someone about how we made maple syrup in my grandpa’s bush, the forested portion of his farm. The next thing I knew, kids were making fun of me and often repeating the term “grandpa’s bush.” For those who lost track, I was a at a new school and I’d just lost my grandparents, and here are a bunch of kids essentially making fun of my dead grandfather. Thanks.
There were a number of popular insults that kids would repeat to me. One was that I was so big that I was my own “group”. Another was that I wore an “Indian dress” (one time an assignment was to make a list of things in our house from other countries. One of the items I found was a dress my sister had that was made in India). One day practically everyone in class was making fun of me over it. I was so overwhelmed that I left, sat in the hall and cried.
I was occasionally able to show everyone up. My favourite story occurred in gym class. One day at Walsingham, we were doing high jump. When it was my turn, I wanted the bar raised. Everyone laughed, thinking I’d never clear it. What they failed to realize is that at my previous school I was semi-athletic. I ran cross country and I tried out for most of the teams. I wasn’t very good at any of it, but I still did it. I surprised everyone when I cleared the bar and earned some of their respect, if only for a short period.
While I was often targeted, I was also often left alone, and incidents weren’t so common that things became completely miserable. I had some friends, and I was able to get by. At that point, I was lucky in that I didn’t have one particular bully (or bullies) who would never leave me alone… Yet.
While Walsingham was an unpleasant (yet tolerable) experience, things got worse in high school. Once again there was the name issue, but the fact that I knew only a quarter of the people in my grade meant I should have gotten a fresh start. Of course, people I knew in public school would tell my new classmates about the things they had made fun of me for. Next thing I knew, I had people I met in Grade 9 making fun of me for stuff that happened in Grade 8.
When I arrived at high school, I knew I had to give up anything that would be remotely “mockable”. That meant no more Pokemon. In fact, I rarely even brought my game boy to school. While I retained my love of video games, I lost interest in pokemon. In retrospect, it was silly of me to think giving up on Pokemon would change anything. While I could now honestly say “I no longer play Pokemon,” it didn’t matter one bit. In fact, a teacher once joined in on it, which reduced me to tears.
I also caught flack for liking Star Trek, but that one I could handle. I’d rather be made fun of for something that makes me seem intelligent than for something that makes me seem immature. I even jokingly fueled the fires, telling people that I frequented Star Trek conventions (I’ve never been to a convention in my life.)
It was in Grade 9 that I met my first serial bully. I can’t recall how it happened, but this guy had a fierce desire to make fun of me. He even hit me in the face once (in retaliation for me pushing him off his desk, which was in retaliation for him making fun of me in class), which he would then bring up now and again for the next few years. I realized that the best way to stop him was to make peace with him, but there was always a cycle. Sometimes he would leave me be, sometimes he wouldn’t. One time, he and three others actually picked me up, in class - while the teacher was gone - and dropped me. None of the other students seemed to care about this, and ignored the situation. When I got sick of this, I told the teacher and she did nothing.
In fact, as I think often happens with the bullied, it didn’t help things that I was a smart ass in class, so a good number of my teachers hated me. I was lazy so I was passing but not getting good grades (I fall under the category of “smart but lazy”). So it wasn’t uncommon for teachers to make cutting remarks about me. In Grade 6, I was pushed into a wall by a teacher. In Grade 12, a teacher lost his temper with me and, in front of the entire class, said, “Do you have some kind of giant weight on your head?” I was able to take that one with good humour on the surface, but it shook me up inside.
Generally, the bullying was limited to verbal abuse, but there was some violence in there. One time, while on a skiing trip, a student kicked me in the back of the leg behind the knee. That hurt, and ruined my day. Occasionally students would hit me and I would respond by calling them weak and doing my best to show no pain. One time, in response, the student punched me in the head. I said nothing. Nor did I tell the teacher. That would make things worse. That class in particular was so bad (the serial bully was in it) that the teacher would occasionally put me in the back room to keep me away from everyone else.
My problem was that I was so unpopular that I had many different bullies. I can easily recall incidents with at least a dozen specifically, and there are many more. Just about anyone was likely to take some kind of verbal shot at me. But, that being said, there were some people that I hung out with, and there were many students that left me alone.
When it came time for lunch, I tried my best to stay away from others, which wasn’t easy. Later in life I was diagnosed with anxiety and ADHD. I always felt uncomfortable in crowds, and this isn’t helped when you’re in a crowd where someone could yell out an insult at any moment. So I tried to seek refuge in an out-of-the-way place. This was often the library (which unfortunately was not always open) or, later on, the communications room. When I was in Grade 12 and had a spare period, I would eat as early as possible, just so I could avoid the crowds. Walking by the pit where the preps and popular students hung out was always fun, because people would often yell at me. I adopted a policy: Walk as fast as you can, keep your eyes forward or cast downward, don’t acknowledge them.
The worst of the bunch first made his presence known to me in Grade 11 (he was in the grade above me). At first, it was him and a friend of his. I considered him to be the nicer of the two, but it didn’t stay that way for long. I’d known the friend since grade 7, and he was a typical jock bully. I once told the two of them that I was going to go to a teacher if they didn’t leave me alone. The bully said maybe they should leave me be. The friend said “What will they say, ‘Stop picking on the fat kid?’” Eventually, the friend started taking different classes than me. And I had at least three classes with the bully, who eventually became much worse. He would constantly make cutting remarks, and he was right out in the open with them. He’d often do it in class in front of teachers. He was so bad that others took note and years later, people would ask about my issues with him.
I suppose he could have been worse. I can only recall one incident in which he touched me, and that was when we had a shoving match. But making fun of my faults was a daily regiman.
How it affected me
Some people who are bullied are able to forgive their bullies. They’re able to move on. I wish I could be that strong and say I forgive everyone, particularly the worst of the bunch. But the reality is that I don’t forgive him. I’ve even had dreams where I kick the crap out of him, and that scares the hell out of me. These people, he in particular, seemed to make it their goal in life to make my life hell. And it affected me in many ways. For years after high school, I was a very intense person, very hostile, very defensive, very guarded and prone to over-reacting. I’d come from an environment where I had to act like that to get people to leave me alone. And it affected me socially for years before I was able to shake off those traits.
Thankfully, the bullying largely ended in high school. It’s been years since I have been called fat, and a lot longer than that since it was done in a mean-spirited way. Thankfully, my experiences in university and college have been positive and I’ve usually been treated with respect. There must be a reason most bullying ends in adulthood; something about “maturity.”
I’ve often wondered what I would do if I encountered some of the individuals who bullied me. Would I talk to them? Would I ignore them? Would I confront them? I don’t have an answer. I’d rather not have to come up with one.
I should note that despite my almost daily issues I only missed eight days in my first four years of high school. There were people I got along with. I actually went back for a fifth year, and it was much more enjoyable without a lot of the old bullies. My situation could have been worse. I never switched schools, I never contemplated suicide and I never considered going a darker route.
Two of the worst bullies apparently did undergo some kind of reform. I found out that one is now a devout Christian and the other (the worst of the bunch) is a cop. It scares the hell out of me that someone like that could join the police force.
I wish I could say that some of my old bullies have since reached out to me, that I’ve gotten a lot of apologies in the eight years since high school. The truth is that I haven’t. Not even one. Nor do I expect one. The majority of the people who said hurtful things to me probably don’t even remember doing so. To them, it was just another comment to another student on another day. I, however, remember a painful number of them. I’m able to remember the people who bullied me a lot better than the people who didn’t, and that scares the hell out of me. That’s not the way it should be.
The purpose of all this
So that’s my story. My hope is that by sharing my experiences, I can help those who are being bullied by showing they aren’t alone.
I wish there was a formula or cure-all approach; something I could say that would be a quick end to it. I wish I could say “Do this and all your problems will go away.” Sadly, it’s not that easy and every situation is different.
But here is some advice: Don’t listen to bullies. When they point out your faults and tell you you’re worthless, they aren’t right. They don’t know a thing about you other than what is on the surface. Their intent is to hurt you in order to elevate themselves in the eyes of others. It’s not easy, but remember: What they say is not the truth. And, most importantly, as bad as things seem, things will change. Once you get past high school, you essentially start a new life. After a few years, you’re rarely going to see anyone you knew in high school except for your friends, the people you choose to stay in touch with.
And, thankfully, most people will forget about what happened to you if you were bullied. I recently had a conversation with someone, and asked if they remembered the time I got hit in the face. He did not. As the years go by, your former classmates start to forget about you. They certainly aren’t going to remember a lot, or even any, of the specific incidents that embarrassed you at the time. A name or incident that haunts you now will not haunt you your entire life, trust me.
Try and move past your bullies. It will be easier than you think, as soon as your current situation changes. Try not to hold grudges. Eight years of regrets and anger isn’t a good thing to have; I speak from experience.