She stuck up for herself while I became a social recluse.
My mother and I were both bullied as children twenty years apart. She stood up to her bully, nearly killing him in the process, while I reacted to being bullied by becoming a social recluse for decades.
When my mother was still in elementary school, the neighborhood bully hid in the branches of a ginkgo tree and pelted her and her sister with rocks as they walked past the local park.
In return, my mother and my aunt shook the tree that was his hiding spot until he fell unceremoniously to the hard ground beneath it. They didn’t intend to hurt him; they simply wanted the bullying to stop.
They especially wanted him to stop pelting them with rocks, and it worked.
Once their bully lay motionless on the packed dirt underneath that tall tree, my mother and my aunt fled the scene. The current status of their mortal enemy didn’t bother them; they just didn’t want to get caught.
Don't worry. He was fine, but he never bullied them again.
Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t nearly as adept at handling my own bullies two decades later. The neighborhood was the same, but the bullies had changed.
After being bullied on the first day of kindergarten, I developed an anxiety disorder that only got worse by the end of the school year. By the time I entered first grade, I was an anxiety-riddled, nervous wreck.
The thought of going to school absolutely terrified me. I became so scared that I refused to go inside at all, and would hide behind anything I could find. My teachers soon noticed that something was amiss, and informed my mother that I wasn’t going into class. They eventually sat down with her and explained that they believed I had a learning disability; they were wrong.
It’s difficult to imagine that I would still struggle with the effects of childhood bullying today. After all, it’s now an accepted cultural phenomenon for adults to engage in self-care activities that help us relieve stress and anxiety. We’re encouraged to include meditation, deep breathing exercises, natural remedies, books on managing stress, and anything else that will help us relax after a long day at work or school.
Things were different back then. Back then, it was your fault if they bullied you. It was classic victim-blaming and victim-shaming. Teachers just told my mother I’d have to toughen up or get eaten alive. That’s not sound advice.
When I was young, I thought that anxiety was just part of growing up. I didn’t realize not everyone felt as tormented as I did, or that it wasn’t normal to cry yourself to sleep every night.
I always had so many things inside me I wanted to say, but by the time I found anyone who would listen, it was already too late. I felt so alone, so isolated, and confused — and those feelings persisted for decades. Decades.
It wasn’t until years later that I would finally find someone who truly understood me. By then, my childhood anxiety had already blossomed into lifelong insecurities, from which I still suffer today.
My mother, on the other hand, has never felt better since she shook her bully out of that tree. I’m not condoning violence. I’m just saying standing up to her childhood bully was empowering in ways that I will never experience.
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