A personal reflection on bullying
By: Annalee Grant
Reporter, Cranbrook Daily Townsman
This is the single hardest piece of writing I’ve ever done. In one of my many interviews that I conducted for my series on bullying, Gordon Terrace Principal Michelle Sartorel asked why I was doing it.
I told her it was because I myself was bullied in school. I told her I didn’t want to come forward, but rather wanted to stay behind the scenes as I often do in this job.
But then I realized that wasn’t good enough. If I wanted to make an impact, it made sense to tell my story. By not coming forward, I was letting the bullies win like I did every time they targeted me and I didn’t do anything.
It all started in elementary school when my family moved from Ontario. One boy really didn’t like me. Maybe it was because I was already taller than him at nine years old. Maybe it was because I was a girl, I was new, and I was a little bit different with my Ontario accent and love of horses. One day at recess, he reached up and grabbed my hair and dragged me to the ground. The teachers couldn’t see – but his friends watched as I struggled and ripped my own hair out trying to get away.
On a field trip in middle school, a group of boys threw deer feces at me until I ran away. They laughed hysterically when I started to cry.
I got in trouble in middle school when a girl told on me for starting a rumour about her. I had never actually spread the rumour in the first place, but many confrontations followed. She continued to target me and almost every girl in school into high school.
I grew taller than all the boys by about Grade 10. I liked punk music and wore my hair short and dyed black. This type of individuality was not okay amongst my peers. I remember being called a Goth one day in Math class when I was wearing a pink T-shirt with a skull on it. Everyone laughed at me, and being the push over that I was, I said nothing. I remember trying to fight back tears as a group of girls taunted me until the teacher came into the room. That was often my saving grace – because no one wanted to get caught.
In high school I pretended I couldn’t hear things people yelled at me in the halls or in classrooms. I was constantly called sexually explicit names not fit for print – even though I didn’t have my first boyfriend until I was 20.
I remember girls chasing me home one day from school to beat me up. I ran home, and was called a coward for not letting them beat me up. I can’t even remember what I did to deserve a physical beating. Maybe I tried to stand up for myself that particular time.
I had boys call me fat constantly. The truth was, I struggled with my body image because of the things they said. I truly believed I was fat. I thought I was ugly.
The way they treated me was nothing compared to how some other girls were picked on in high school. I felt bad for them, and so badly wanted to stick up for them but I was so beaten down by the bullying I received that I was sometimes just happy they were focusing their attention elsewhere. I did tell one boy to shut up once. I watched him walk up to a girl who was literally minding her own business reading a book, and spit on her. He did exactly what I thought he would – he turned his attention on me instead of her.
One day in English class, I remember an older boy sticking up for me. He heard some girls yelling mean things at me from outside the classroom, and told our teacher. I remember that to this day, and I now call him a friend.
When I look back at photos of myself now, I think there was nothing wrong with the way I looked in high school. I think my style was funky and I love how creative I was with cutting up my own clothes, sewing things and hitting up thrift stores. I wish wise, grown-up Annalee could go back in time and tell high school me that. I also wish I had stood up for myself and other girls who were being bullied more.
If getting bullied taught me anything, it was to be tougher. I also learned that I had a great family that supported me through it.
I’m now 23. I went to college in Calgary and got a diploma that has allowed me to do incredible things. In fact, I have already accomplished much of what I thought I’d get to by thirty, and am having to come up with a whole new set of goals. I’ve traveled a lot; I went to Europe in 2008 and have been all over the United States. I have a boyfriend, great friends and family and I do what I love. I know people being bullied hear a hundred times a day that it gets better. For me, it really did get so much better, and I believe anyone’s situation can too.
During our interview, Michelle told me about an activity her school did, where each student drew a picture of themselves. Michelle then said mean things, and each student crumbled up their paper. The lesson was that you can smooth out those wrinkles, but you can’t erase them.
In writing this piece, I think I’m finally smoothing out all of mine.