Meaghan’s August 2nd post about bullying saw a lot of traffic; in two hours over fifty people had read the post. By the end of the day Meaghan’s post had more views than any other post we’ve shared (except for our “launch day” post back in early May). These stats indicate one thing: parents, teachers, students, friends and families are clearly concerned about bullying and its unfortunate manifestation in our society. I’ve been doing some serious thinking and talking since Meaghan’s post. I’ve talked with my mom, my husband and Meaghan about how to write a follow up post to “Speaking Up“. I’ve decided to share my own personal “bullying story”. This story may come to a shock for some of you who know me. I do not intend to criticize anyone by sharing my story, but rather inspire others to create positive change in their own lives. The situations and events described in my post are accurate to my mom’s memory and my own memory. The opinions expressed are my mom’s, as well as my own.
I was a fairly successful child athlete (rhythmic gymnastics). I was absent from school quite a bit because of training and competing; I was also late to school almost every single day because I often trained from 6-9am. I did not have to participate in PE because I trained 30 hours a week. I missed school ski trips and field trips, opting to spend extra time in the gym instead. My school and my teachers made many special arrangements to accommodate my rigorous training schedule. I was smart, bright, driven and never let my love for gymnastics get in the way of my education. Naturally, my involvement in high level gymnastics began to set me apart from the other kids in my grade. My parents and I aren’t sure if this is why I became a target for bullying or not, but looking back, it seems like if the bullies needed a reason to torment someone, the kid who was already different from the others made an easy victim.
During grade 6, 7 and 8 I experienced some pretty serious bullying. The bullies were former female friends of mine from my earlier elementary school years (where I come from middle school didn’t and still doesn’t exist). I can’t remember exactly when and how the bullying started, but I recall it being persistent, exclusive and scary. I became the outsider at school; kids formed cliques like they always have done/still do, and I was not welcome to play with them at recess and lunch. Rumors spread. I was never physically harmed at school, but in an age where many families did not yet have internet access in their homes (mine included) the bullying and rumors managed to make their way outside the school yard. My mom talked to my teachers and my principal which, unfortunately, did not help the situation in the slightest. My school did nothing to try and stop the bullying. I’m not sure why?
Toward the end of my elementary school life I decided I didn’t want to go to high school with the girls who had completely turned on me. Back in 2000 (the year I finished grade 7) catchment areas were still indicative of which schools kids went too. My parents put me on the list to go to a high school outside of my catchment area, honouring my wishes to make an escape from the bullies. I felt a little bit better knowing I would be going to high school with my gymnastics friends (my gymnastics friends went to the French Immersion school). However, grade 8 began and the bullying continued. One day I came home to a voice mail on my family’s answering machine (remember, this was in 2000…the days before every single child had a cell phone with internet access). The voice mail was from the group of girls who continued to torment me, even though I had started high school at a new school across town. The message was brief, but included some profane name calling with the utterance, “We’re gonna get you”. My parents were furious. I was furious. I remember standing in the living room in tears, yelling at my dad and telling him I wasn’t the person the bullies were making me out to be. My mom took it upon herself to call the parents of these bully girls. My mom met with the families of the bullies, explaining what was going on, and threatening to call the police. After my mom threatened to get the police involved, the girls calmed down a bit. I was so upset. My supposed fresh start didn’t work out as I had planned, but I had gymnastics and my friends there, so I threw myself into my training.
As my focus on gymnastics and intensity in my training increased, the bullies were pushed further from my mind. Toward the middle of my grade 8 year the actual bullying had essentially stopped, but the looks and whispers I garnered when running into old elementary school classmates definitely still lingered. It was around this time when I took on the aggressive role and began bullying myself. The few years that followed (until I quit gymnastics at age 16) were unhappy, stressful and downright depressing years. I was really angry with myself – always wanting to train harder and push more. However, my body began to “fail me” and I was constantly injured. My eating habits deteriorated and I developed an extremely unhealthy relationship with food, which I have come to realize in more recent years, was a definite version of an eating disorder. During these darker years I didn’t have any school bullies tormenting me; however, the stress associated with being competitively judged affected me deeply and I became very harsh toward myself. In a sense, I guess I became my own bully – incapable of self love and self acceptance.
Toward the end of my grade 10 year I was training hard for the most prestigious competition in Canada, Elite Canada (National Team Tryouts). In a practice competition I tripped on the smallest jump in my ribbon routine and my ankle snapped; I fell to the floor, shocked. I cried so hard – I remember my body shaking because I knew I would not be competing at Elite Canada four days later (my last chance to try out for National Team before I planned to quit training). To me, this was the ultimate betrayal. I trained 30 hours a week for seven years and on my last chance to try out for National Team I actually was sitting in a pile on the gym floor with two torn ligaments in my left ankle. Despite all this frustration, I was relieved. This new injury was my out. I knew I couldn’t compete at Elite Canada, so I finished off the competition year at an invitational competition in Vancouver so that my family could watch me compete one last time. I qualified for Nationals that year, but I skipped that competition. I didn’t want anybody judging me anymore.
When I quit my gymnastics training I continued to coach. I coached until I was almost 25 years old. I stopped coaching when I found myself experiencing coach-gymnast bullying at a competition. I watched an older woman (coach) stand over top of a tiny, young girl (gymnast) and scream at her. I knew that this was not how most gyms functioned, but I remember turning to my coachmate, commenting on the scene and silently vowing to leave the sport for good in order to follow my own teaching values that are grounded in positive feedback, generosity, and and an outpouring of love. I am 26 now. It took me until I was about 23 to really let go of all the bullying and negativity I experienced growing up. Despite all the sadness, I would not change my experiences if I could. Everything I experienced made me the person I am today. With the support of my closest friends, my family, my husband (who has been around for a long time because we started dating when I was 17) some extensive traveling/soul searching and some phenomenal teacher-mentors turned friends, I have been able to turn my life around and see the beauty. I’m capable of self love and acceptance now, which enables me to do my work and grow as a teacher. Most importantly, I have found the ability to forgive the bullies from my past, including myself. I now see life as a glorious and joyful adventure, and I am so excited to grow my teaching practice with my more positively developed outlook on life.
I didn’t want to end this post without sharing a hopeful initiative for girls young and old. My good friends, the Keane sisters, have just started their “For The Girls” initiative which aims to support and foster fitness, nutrition, emotional well being and inspiration for girls. Check out Naomi and Olivia’s page HERE to learn more!