Tag Archives: Teasing

Being Bullied: The Effects that Can Last a Lifetime.

9 Oct

About two weeks ago, I randomly received an email from a woman who works at an elementary school in Asheville. She informed me she had received my contact information from the program director of Easter Seals in Asheville who spoke very highly of me. She then told me there is a book club at the elementary school, and in the book the children are reading, the main character has Cerebral Palsy. Based on the high remarks she received from the Asheville Easter Seals program director concerning me, she asked if I’d be willing to come speak to the third through fifth graders about my experiences with CP. Specifically, she asked if I could speak about my experiences of being bullied during my school years.

The email was completely out of the blue, and I was stunned. To have received this kind of opportunity without searching for it is incredible, and I am excited for such a wonderful opportunity. However, the tricky part comes with the focus of the talk: my bullying experiences in school.

It is safe to say my bullying experiences were the worst part of my childhood (excluding my intense surgeries and physical therapy, obviously). As a child, I could not understand why I was being targeted out of everyone in my class. I understand now that children are especially curious about those who are different from them. However, I didn’t know why it always had to be me. During those times, I also didn’t understand why I was so different. All I wanted was to fit in, and by getting bullied I stuck out even more.

I got my hair pulled in kindergarten because I had no way of running away, I got pelted with a dodge ball in middle school because I couldn’t move away from the ball fast enough, and every day in gym class, I was picked last. Though I know those experiences helped me to develop a thicker skin very early on in life, many of the experiences were just plain cruel. There is no other way to say it. They resulted in me coming home from elementary school crying to my parents on a daily basis. I cried over more than just the bullying though. I cried over hating I was so different. I cried over not being able to fit in because my experiences were so different from most of the other kids my age. I cried because it wasn’t fair. None of it was fair. I was a nice kid. I smiled at other kids, I laughed with them, and yet I still didn’t ever really fit in with them.

The complex social aspects of school are difficult for any kid. However, they are especially difficult for any kid who may be a tiny bit different from their peers. I only hope to try to convey this to the children I’ll speak to at the elementary school in Asheville. I don’t want to berate them or tell them to stop being mean. After all, they are kids. Kids are curious, especially regarding things they don’t fully understand. I only hope to explain how children with disabilities should be treated just like any other kid. Yes, they are different, but pointing out their differences and excluding them from activities because they are a little bit unique only makes it that much more difficult for them.

Despite growing a tougher skin due to being bullied, I have carried my bullying experiences with me ever since I was a kid. I remember the specific moments in detail. I remember who targeted me, and I remember exactly the way I felt when I came home and cried. I know now that many of my bullying experiences were not intentional. They were just moments of kids being kids. However, that does not mean I still don’t remember the feeling of walking into gym class with my fingers crossed, silently hoping I wouldn’t have to be pelted with a dodge ball by the one girl who always got so much satisfaction out of being the one to hit me.

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Try like hell.

27 Sep

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been born with Cerebral Palsy. I wonder if I would have decided to be a dancer or maybe an athlete rather than an aspiring psychotherapist and a writer. I wonder if I would have spent my childhood climbing up into trees to read books rather than becoming all too familiar with hospitals, surgeries, and physical therapy. I wonder if I would have had a big group of friends throughout middle school and part of high school rather than coming home every day crying because I had no friends due to my differences. I wonder if I would have spent my time hiking beautiful mountains rather than having to wonder if I’d have the stamina to make it up the next hill.

Earlier this week, my dad said, “Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if you hadn’t been born with Cerebral Palsy. You could have had a wonderful life. You wouldn’t have had to struggle so much.” Though in the moment I wanted to interject and say I have had a wonderful life, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say the words. As soon as I wanted to say something, the memories all came back. I saw myself sitting in a hospital bed screaming out in pain because of the spasms that wouldn’t stop. I saw myself in kindergarten getting my hair pulled every day because I was the one child on the playground who was unable to run away. I saw myself shaking as my classmates pelted me with doge balls during middle school gym class because I couldn’t move away quickly enough. I saw myself crying as a girl I didn’t know imitated the way I was walking and then said she did it because it was a “class assignment.” I see myself at 21, struggling with depression and still not being able to truly accept and be comfortable with having a physical disability.

You would think after 21 years I would be used to the cards I’ve been dealt in this life. The truth is, I’m not. Every day of my life is a challenge. On top of having to convince myself to go to class when my back and my muscles hurt, I have to try to convince myself to get out of bed and face the day even though I’d rather sleep to escape the overwhelming sadness and hopelessness that hovers over me like a dark cloud.

I’m trying to learn to hold on to the good moments, though they are few and far between. The color of the changing leaves during autumn, the few (but true) friends who have been by my side through all of this darkness, a dad who has never given up on me, a smile from a child fighting cancer after completing an art project I taught her. In the darkness of depression, it is very hard to remember those good moments, especially when the bad days outnumber the good. However, I’m trying. It’s all any of us can really do. We try like hell, and hope against all odds that we can kick this life just as hard, if not harder, as it kicks us every single day.

Bringing awareness to disabilities.

22 Oct

I’m proud to announce that my university, UNC Asheville, is having its very first Disability Awareness Week starting today, which is hosted by UNCA’s Disability Services Office. Even though I wasn’t involved in bringing this event together, I am very honored that my university is making such a positive decision by understanding that we need to bring awareness to disabilities. Even though awareness is something that takes more than just one week dedicated to disabilities, I believe that this is a step in the right direction. Through doing research for my community psychology project on the social stigma of physical disabilities, I’ve found that the stigma persists because of two main thing: a lack of knowledge and simple fear. Though fear seems like a small component, it drives much of the social stigma of physical disabilities since being “different” is purely a cultural construct.

One of my favorite events of UNCA’s Disability Awareness Week is its “Wall of Oppression.” Starting today, there will be a huge poster hung in the student union where people can write some of the hurtful statements they have received, heard or read regarding disabilities. In my opinion, this is such an awesome way to bring awareness to the stigma that’s connected with disabilities. I think it’ll help a lot of people realize that the strongest component behind the stigma is fear. So many people are afraid of what’s “different.” My university has the chance to change that…or at least try.

Along with the “Wall of Oppression,” at the end of this week there will be a fire pit gathering in which the “Wall of Oppression” will be burned in a symbolic act freeing people with disabilities from oppressive words and thoughts. I love this idea so much. Throughout so much of my life, I’ve heard it all. I’ve been teased, laughed at, and avoided…and this week of Disability Awareness Week is acting as a way to inform students that this behavior is not okay. Just because someone is “different” doesn’t mean they should be treated as less than anyone else.

My entire life I’ve tried to find a place where I fit in or belonged, and the fact that the social stigma of disabilities is so prevalent in our society has made fitting in even more difficult. However, over the past few months, I’ve realized that I’ve known my place all along. It’s to advocate for myself and others will disabilities, especially for those who aren’t able to speak for themselves. I strive to make people with disabilities realize that they are not alone and that I understand their pain and how hard it is to put up the daily fight. After all, we are the only ones who can understand what we’ve faced. No one else knows our pain. Through continual advocation of disabilities, I’m helping so much of society who may not know someone with a disability have a glimpse into our world. If that’s not worth as much time as I can give, I don’t know what is.

Social rejection through the eyes of a CP adult.

3 Oct

I walked into my Community Psychology class this morning to see the following prompt written on the board:

Journal about a time when you experienced disapproval or rejection from peers. What happened? What kind of thoughts and feelings did you have?

When I was in middle school, I took a required Physical Education class every year. In my middle school PE classes, we played “slaughterball,” which was our definition of dodgeball. I think “slaughterball” is a more accurate description of the game though. Every week in PE, I was chosen last for slaughterball. Even though being chosen to play was better than not being chosen at all, being chosen last was one of the worst feelings I ever experienced during my middle school years. When someone who sprained their ankle the day before and was on crutches was chosen over me, it pretty much felt like getting punched in the stomach.

Even though I know that many middle schoolers go through the experience of being chosen last for a game or sport, it didn’t feel the same. Though I know that other kids who were chosen last may have experienced the same feelings of hurt, frustration, and not being good enough, I know that I was chosen last simply because I didn’t have the level of physical ability that my other classmates did. I can’t even count the number of times I came home from school crying because, once again, I had been chosen last. I think it was even harder for me due to the fact that I couldn’t change the fact that I had CP, while the person who had sprained their ankle would be healed and ready to run around with the other kids in a matter of weeks. There never was a 6-week period for me to “recover” from my Cerebral Palsy. At the same time, it’s not something that I suffer from. It is just something that I have. No amount of exercises or talk therapy can change the fact that I am a 20 year-old girl who has Cerebral Palsy.

I’m incredibly familiar with social rejection. I’m way more familiar with it than I want to be. From being chosen last in slaughterball to getting pelted last in slaughterball because the other kids knew that I couldn’t move fast enough to avoid the ball coming at me, I’ve felt it all. I know what it feels like to be stared at, not just by kids but by adults as well, due to the fact that I walk funny. I know the feeling of sitting in my high school auditorium  watching a mini-play in which the main character had Cerebral Palsy…letting the tears come…and wanting so badly to just get up and walk out of the auditorium, but knowing that doing so would cause me to draw even more attention to myself. I know the feeling of having people avoid me due to the fact that I make them uncomfortable or they are just unsure how to act around me. I know what it feels like when someone is dying to ask me what is wrong with me but can’t seem to even say it because they are too afraid of bringing it up and hurting my feelings. Worst of all, I know what it feels like to have someone imitate the way I walk and then using the bullshit excuse of “I’ve been told to observe people for a class.” No, I’m not kidding. That happened.

You could say I have felt more than my share of social rejection. Sadly, the majority of the social rejection that I have felt stems from the simple fact that I have a visible physical disability, so I naturally become an easy target for teasing and social rejection. However, don’t think that I am saying that all the other kids who have experienced social rejection but don’t have CP are any less important. That’s not what I’m saying at all. However, I think it’s important to understand that due to my CP, I became an easier target for teasing and social rejection, so in my eyes, it hurt worse simply because I was being teased about something that I couldn’t change. Despite the fact that I have gotten stronger due to experiencing so much teasing and social rejection, it wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. Even now, if I get funny looks due to the way I walk, it hurts. It makes me want to cry or scream. It takes me right back to how I felt in middle school when I was chosen last for slaughterball because of the simple reason of having a physical disability. Being triggered to those moments of rejection in my childhood only takes a moment. I’ve always known that. However, the prompt in this morning’s Community Psych class made me remember just how easy it is for me to feel exactly how I did in middle school. It only takes a moment, a trigger, or even the two simple words of “social rejection”….until I’m back in the gym of my small town private school getting pelted with a red rubber ball because I wasn’t able to move quickly enough.

Teaching “social graces” for physical disabilities in schools.

29 Aug

In my community psychology class, we have been asked to do a project on a societal problem. I’ve chosen the stigma of physical disabilities and the social consequences that are connected with physical disabilities. Obviously this topic hits home for me since I have a physical disability, and I’m excited to start researching. Plus, I feel like this project could provide me with some great material to possibly include in my memoir.

I feel like the social consequences of having a disability, physical or not, is something that isn’t brought to too much awareness. Other than my intense surgeries and intense physical therapy, being able to socially adapt is probably one of the hardest things that I’ve faced due to being someone with a physical disability. I learned very early on in life that I was going to have to be the one to initiate relationships with classmates and people in my community. Everyone wants friends and people to count on, but as I was growing up as someone who was “different,” it was the one thing I wanted more than anything. However, in a society where being different isn’t the norm, it makes things that much harder for those of us who are a bit unique.

Today when I was talking to two of my other classmates who are also interested in the topic of the stigma of physical disabilities, I mentioned that grade school and middle school were very hard for me socially. I was picked on, stared at and didn’t feel like I had a place where I fit. Today my classmates and I were trying to think of reasons why that might be so, or why the stigma of physical disabilities may be so high. One thing I pointed out was that many kids don’t automatically grow up around someone with a physical disability. Therefore, to them, seeing a student at school who is physically disabled is something that’s “different” and “not normal.” However, what would happen if we chose to implement a kind of program in schools that taught kids the “social graces” of dealing with disabilities, while also pointing out that it’s important to “empower” the individual with the physical disability so that they feel like they matter within the classroom? Though it may seem easier said than done, I feel like today’s kids are lacking the simple awareness of the presence of physical disabilities. Since they may not be around them on a regular basis, they don’t know how to react, so of course they are going to feel uncomfortable. That’s understandable. However, as well so many other societal problems we face today, maybe education is the first step.

Though it may seem far reached, having a type of class on social acceptance is needed in today’s schools. Not all of today’s parents are going to properly teach their kids to be acceptable of all types of people, so maybe it’s something that should be brought up in the school system. As well as decreasing the level that kids with disabilities are being teased, I feel like it would help broaden other kid’s views of their society as well as help those with physical disabilities realize that they have a place where they can not only voice their own opinion, but actually be heard by their peers.

Yes, the fact that I was picked on as a kid made me stronger. However, I didn’t get stronger because I was picked on. I got stronger because I learned how to deal with being teased. However, that shouldn’t be something that kids with physical disabilities need to learn. There needs to be a certain level of respect that exists towards kids with disabilities in today’s school system. Providing today’s middle school kids with an education of “social graces” when it comes to kids with physical disabilities doesn’t necessarily mean that those kids would need to immediately befriend those with physical disabilities. However, I feel like emphasizing that kids with physical disabilities should be treated the same as those kids without physical disabilities would decrease the amount of bullying, physical and emotional, that is present in today’s schools.

I, of course, am fully supportive of decreasing the amount of bullying that is present in schools today. From my own experience, I know how much bullying hurts, especially when you are being bullied for something that you are not able to control. I feel like providing a class of social acceptance would help decrease this issue, thus allowing future kids with physical disabilities to feel comfortable among their classmates. Though I know that my school experience would hopefully have been somewhat different if a social acceptance class was provided at my school as I was growing up, I am willing to accept that I faced lots of teasing if it means that I can help future kids not have to experience it to such a high degree, or better yet, not at all.

The hair pulling days.

19 Aug

I grew my tough skin very early on in life, and I owe it all to one girl: Layosha. I first started out my schooling at a public elementary school in my hometown, Guinyard Elementary School. I attended 2 years of kindergarten there before going to the private school in my town starting in first grade. I don’t remember much about Guinyard, except for Layosha and Miss Marie.

When I was at Guinyard, I used a walker or four-prong canes to get around. I couldn’t walk without assistance at that point, but if I was able to move, I did. Despite having the ability to be mobile, I wasn’t able to move very quickly, and Layosha took full advantage of that. Practically every day when all of us kids were out on the playground during recess, Layosha would walk up behind me and pull my hair. It wasn’t a friendly pull either. Layosha grabbed a huge handful of my hair and pulled….hard.

I should point out that Layosha was mentally handicapped, and so she didn’t know any better. However, I couldn’t understand that concept at the time. At 5 years old with a disability, I didn’t understand what was so special about me….I didn’t understand why Layosha chose to target me. All I knew was that even if I tried to get away from her every day, it never worked. Layosha had the ability to run, and she used it when trying to seek me out and pull my hair. After many weeks of hair pulling and daily tears, I knew that I wasn’t going to win.

A teacher of mine, Miss Marie, pulled me aside one day and said: “Amelia, just hit her with one of your canes.” Even now, that sentence makes me smile. Not because I ever hit Layosha (which I didn’t) but because it’s a reminder that Miss Marie has always had my back. Despite never hitting Layosha, I grew a tougher skin with every hair pull. Even though it hurt every time, I learned that bursting into tears every time would only give Layosha a feeling of satisfaction, so I got tougher and tried not to let her get to me. Yes, I could have hit Layosha with one of my canes, but I was never that kind of kid. I didn’t want revenge. I didn’t want to hurt her, even though I thought about it. I just wanted the hair pulling to stop.

The hair pulling never did stop, and eventually I left Guinyard to go to the private school in my town. I guess you could say that I “ran” from Layosha, but I don’t really see it that way. I see it as escaping a certain level of taunting that would most likely only get worse. And with already having to learn how to live with a disability, I had enough on my plate for being so young. I didn’t need something else pulling me down.

I think about Layosha sometimes, wondering what she’s like now. I wonder if there was ever another kid with a physical disability that she teased. I hope there wasn’t. However, if there was, I hope that they didn’t hesitate to take Miss Marie’s advice.