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Why It’s Finally Time to Speak Out About Bullying

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

During the #MeToo movement these past couple years, I have read so many of the victims’ accounts and wondered when it was decided that we no longer needed to treat each other with respect or empathy. Obviously, the behavior has been going on—and accepted—for years, decades…centuries, even. Which makes me shake my head in disgust. To me, the most fulfilling and rewarding part of being human is just that: making real human connections based on the mutual respect between yourself and another person. This brazen disregard for the victims’ boundaries, feelings, and needs is something that I will never understand or accept.

And so I come to the theme in this piece: empathy. Which I write about often because it is embedded in who I am. But I’ve never truly written about this experience. I have talked to friends and family about it during the past 19 years, but I’ve never put pen to paper until now. When I was thinking about human connection, respect and blatant disregard for someone’s feelings, this experience kept forcing itself back into my mind. It’s a different kind of harassment, but it still counts and I think that it’s finally time to speak out.

I spent the semester in London the fall of my senior year in college. For some reason, the majority of my flatmates (all 12 of us were from UConn) decided that they had no use for me. A few of them (and by that, I really do mean about three out of 12) were friendly enough, but for the most part I was ostracized for the entire three and a half months that I was there. My hair was frizzy at that time, I didn’t have the same fashion sense that I have now, I was a little overweight and I wasn’t confident in myself at all. I was quiet, reserved. I didn’t go to London merely to drink and party—I wanted to experience the culture and see shows at the theater, go to museums and just live.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when or how it started happening, but my flatmates started branching off into groups, usually leaving me alone (with the exception of our classes). They once left me at a bar alone when I had too much to drink and laughed at me when I came crying back into the flat because I didn’t even have enough money to pay the cab driver (he let me out anyway). One time when we were all heading out for the night, one of the guys uttered, “Ever think about who we would vote off if this were an episode of ‘Survivor?’” Lots of laughing followed. I ignored it.

Another time, we were out dancing and having drinks at “Cheers” and two of the guys bought a round of drinks for all of the girls except for me. Then, one of them looked at me, saw a half-empty pint of beer sitting on the bar, abandoned, and said “Here, you can have that one.” Then he laughed and walked away, leaving me alone.

I heard one of the girls talking to her sister on the phone about me in a whisper. I would sometimes get home from a day of walking around the city and go straight up to the roof where you could see the skyline. I’d be freezing, but at least they couldn’t hurt me up there. I wouldn’t come down until everyone was settled in and watching TV.

Writing this now is making me teary, not for what I feel now, but for the poor girl who didn’t know how to handle any of this at the time. I didn’t speak up for myself–not once. I tried to confide in the three friendlier flatmates, but they didn’t believe me—they thought that I was embellishing everything and the perception was “in my head.” It wasn’t. And I wonder now if my experience could have been more positive if one of them had.

I’m speaking up to give that more ‘vulnerable’ girl a voice. To defend her when I should have defended her at that time. I have 19 more years of life experience at this point. I am confident. (Side note: it took a long way to get here, but I honestly think that this experience was the first step in getting me there, ironically enough.) I am successful. The first year after returning from studying abroad was difficult. I couldn’t wait for college to end. I didn’t want to see these people around campus, and I felt myself regressing to an extent. The shyness I had shed in high school when I was surrounded by caring and compassionate friends had returned. I wanted to stay in my dorm room and hide.

But over the course of the next few years, as I started out in my career, I began to better understand how to leverage my strengths, like writing. I landed a job at a Fortune 500 company without having any prior connections here. I met several colleagues that respected my experience and seemed to truly enjoy my personality. I took up running and got in “better shape,” so I felt more comfortable in my own skin. I remember my first day on the job, wearing a suit from Ann Taylor, a latte in hand, heading up the escalator feeling like I finally knew who I was and where I fit in.

To this day, I am still a work in progress, but I am happy with myself and confident in who I am. If my 39-year-old self could go back in time and comfort 21-year-old me, I would tell her, “Be brave, you’re going to get through this one step at a time, and you’ll come out stronger in the end.”

I still have empathy and would never dream of making someone feel like they weren’t worthwhile of my time or energy. We all are, until proven otherwise.


Getty image via tommaso79.

Originally published: October 9, 2019
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