Editors' Note: Guest blogger Eric Poole, author of Where's My Wand?: One Boy's Magical Triumph Over Alienation and Shag Carpeting, is a VP of marketing for a major media company and the winner of more than thirty advertising awards. He was once called "the best undiscovered writer I've ever met" by Tracey Ullman, an accolade he continues to live up to.
Yeah, it gets better.
But what about when some armored tank with ears is escorting you, face first, into your locker or a ditch? Or some charm-challenged cheerleader who can barely spell D-E-F-E-N-S-E goes on the offense on Facebook? Is it really a crapload of comfort to have people tell you that, as adults, their lives got better?
Oh, it's absolutely true - once you get out of high school, or in some cases college, things just about always turn around. In fact, most bullies, once they grow up, end up realizing what jagholes they were (or they score a mug shot for selling meth from an ice cream truck, but at that point it's pretty clear which of you is the winner, here).
But a few years from now is like a freaking lifetime, right?
Before it gets better, you've gotta live through this year. This month. This. Rotten. Day. And I'm guessing you're more concerned about how you can handle your life right now.
I certainly was when I was your age. And unfortunately, I didn't have any tips on how to handle it. You wanna know how I coped? Have you ever seen the old TV series (or the movie) Bewitched, about the woman who was a witch married to a mortal? Well, at home, alone in the basement of our house, I would pretend to be her mother, Endora.
Yeah, I pretended to be a 60-year-old female witch. Shut up. I didn't say it made sense. But you can only pretend to be sick and stay home from school so many times; eventually, you run out of diseases. And this helped me deal with the pantsing, the threats, the humiliation that made my childhood so relentlessly miserable. Swathed in a bedspread (which was my approximation of the caftans Endora wore - hey, when you're eight, you gotta improvise), I would close my eyes, envision a better life, and try to cast magical spells.
Believe it or not, that helped when I was a little kid. But when I was 14, or 16, I couldn't exactly run home and wrap a bedspread around me. So I had to find new ways to deal.
Some worked; some didn't. And I want to share the ones that did, so you can have an easier time of it than I had. Because your life can get better now.
#1) Accept the Haters
You could be Oprah Winfrey, saving the world and tossing free Pontiacs from your private jet, and still some people will hate you. That's life.
But accepting that is harder than you might think. Being unliked can make you feel like a big, fat failure. But the moment you understand that some people are just insecure, that some thrive on debasing others in order to elevate themselves, that you can't win the hearts of people whose hearts are closed, you will have less judgment on yourself. And you should, because it's not about you. They have their own drama going on.
This was a tough one for me, because I'm a people pleaser. But the moment I accepted that I was never gonna win over about 30% of the people in my world, I immediately became 30% happier. Screw the people who don't see how awesome you are.
#2) Have a Big Mouth
If you're being harassed, be it physically or verbally or via Facebook/text/etc., tell someone. Tell your parents. Tell your principal or counselor or your favorite teacher. Tell anyone in a position of power. Don't be ashamed.
And if the first person you tell doesn't do anything, tell someone else.
When I was a kid, nobody sued the school. Nobody got the principal fired. We had no choice but to take it, and then apologize to the bully for making him hit us.
But now, you have resources. You can file a complaint. You can get the police involved. You can threaten legal action. This may not make you any more popular, but it probably won't make you any less, because at the very least, people will be afraid to tangle with you.
#3) Carry a Big Stick
Turning the other cheek is an inspirational notion. If you're Jesus. As spiritually evolved as it may be to silently bless someone's fist as it heads for your face, it's not exactly the most effective deterrent.
Bullies are only brave because you're not. The minute you stand up to them, 99% of them back down. And the 1% that don't should be reported - see #2 - before they end up selling meth from an ice cream truck.
Self-defense courses like Karate, Aikido, etc., are a powerful deterrent to violence, because as soon as a bully sees that you can protect your ass, he's highly unlikely to tangle with you. Bullies prey on the weak, the defenseless, the fabulous - not the kid who can be standing with his or her foot on their face in 2.5 seconds.
Of course, bodily contact isn't for everyone. My idea of hand-to-hand combat as a kid involved two G.I. Joes and some highly inappropriate battle moves. If you're not comfortable taking self-defense training (or you don't have a school near you), there's another option.
There was a guy in my middle school who routinely tried to pick fights with me, and I didn't know what to do. Doing his homework had worked -- but only for a while -- and I was running out of options. So I tried something my sister's boyfriend, who was a cop, had told us to do if we were ever abducted.
The next time he tried to get me to fight him, during gym class, I went apes***. Right there, on the soccer field, I started screaming. And carrying on. Acting like I'd lost my freaking mind.
This can be surprisingly effective. It not only makes them think that you're insane and therefore potentially dangerous, but it draws a lot of attention to them. Bullies don't like public attention when they're not in control of it.
I had to do this a couple more times to assure him that I was indeed mad, bad and dangerous to know, but it worked. He never tangled with me again. And there was something liberating about expressing all that pent-up rage.
#4) Carry a Big Computer
Cyberbullying is not only super passive-aggressive, it's super stupid. People leave a digital footprint everywhere they go on the internet, and every snotty/threatening thing some bully posts or sends you can be copied and filed away forever.
If somebody is emailing or texting you mean notes, or posting reputation-smearing comments on Facebook, or setting up a website designed to demean you, you have proof. Don't give them the satisfaction of responding to it - that only fans the flames and can be used against you. Just save everything - the texts, emails, screenshots of web pages, etc. Print them out. Then block their phone number and email address, and report the offender to the school - and, if necessary, the police.
The punishment can be severe - expulsion from school, jail time, lawsuits against the family of the bully, etc. You have the power to do far more damage to them than they could ever do to you.
#5) Find Your Posse
Feeling comfortable in your skin is all about finding the people who recognize how amazing you are. And they're out there.
I was a total band nerd. And while playing the trumpet didn't do that much for my popularity in school as a whole, it gave me a place to be myself. It was a safe space, where I could let my inner superstar run free and bond with other kids who shared my passion. You'd be surprised how much acceptance you can get from guys who play the clarinet and girls who play the tuba.
There are arts and academics and sports organizations within your school. And, often, gay/straight alliances that bring together allies from both worlds. Find the one that makes your heart sing. And you'll find your posse. It may not make you prom queen, but it will make you happy.
Finally, if you try all these tips and still feel alone, or hopeless, know that there is always someone to turn to. The Trevor Project's hotline is open 24 hours a day. 1-866-4-U-TREVOR. Call it. Or go online to find out how they can help.
(Bio pic via the author. Stock photo img src)