In honour of Pink Shirt Day, Mazu staff members will be sharing their own personal stories around bullying. We encourage you to think and talk about your own experiences with bullying and have real conversations with your children about bullying and how they can stop it.
Whenever I am at a place where the ice-breaker game of “tell us something nobody would guess about you” I pause. I know you’re supposed to say something cool like ‘I climbed Mount Everest when I was 12’ or ‘I casually run marathons every weekend’ but I am always tempted to say “I was cyberbullied in high school.”
Looking at me now, you’d never guess that I spent months alone and isolated without any friends. I am happy and healthy thanks to the support of my incredible family and one special person. But it could have been very different.
I was a pretty typical high school student — straight As (with honors!) and a competitive highland dancer with lots of friends. I was confident in who I was; owning the fact that I preferred woodworking to drama and art. I had a large circle of close friends who I hung out with a lot. I didn’t worry about other people’s opinions because I had my friends and I knew who I was. Or so I thought.
One day I noticed a few anonymous comments on social media. They were generic one line insults nothing overly concerning. I thought nothing of them, deleted them and moved on. I didn’t bother to tell anyone.
A few weeks later I noticed more comments. Once again I brushed it off, “You can’t make everyone happy,” I thought. “I have lots of friends who care about me and that is what really matters.” I deleted the comments and moved on, no big deal.
The comments were sporadic and had no real weight to them. I would delete them and push them to the back of my mind. As the weeks went on, sporadic comments became regular, and generic insults turned into personal attacks. Just like before I would delete them and push them to the back of my mind. Only now that was a lot more difficult to do. The seeds of negativity were getting harder to ignore. The poisonous comments started to invade my thoughts.
I got to a point where I stopped deleting the comments right away. Instead I would linger on every comment and think about them. Maybe they were true? Maybe it wasn’t a problem with the commenter, maybe it was a problem with me. The negativity started to chip away at my self confidence. They made me question the things I loved doing and made me self conscious about my appearance and behaviour. I started to question everything I had ever said online and would second guess myself before speaking to anyone. I went from being able to talk to anyone, to being able to talk to no one. I had lost a part of myself.
The comments became a part of my new daily routine. Go to school, go to dance, go online, delete, dwell, repeat.
One day, a close friend stopped talking to me. Thinking I’d done something to upset her I pulled her aside and asked what was wrong. Suddenly every hurtful, cruel comment I’d read online came pouring out of her mouth like fire. When she was finished she turned and walked away. Those were the last words she ever spoke to me.
I stood there stunned; my brain whirling, wondering where this had come from. Did she really mean what she said? Was she the one writing those things about me online? Were they true? I looked up to see my entire group of friends standing nearby. They had seen and heard everything but nobody said or did anything to defend me.
The next day, none of my friends acknowledged my existence. When I spoke to them I was met with deafening silence. They wouldn’t even look at me. It was quiet in the halls but the comments on social media were louder than ever. That day when my mum picked me up from school I broke down. Between sobs I explained everything to her while she listened patiently, offering her best advice. I didn’t know it at the time but opening up to her was the first step in finding myself again.
After that, school became incredibly lonely. I had to find a new routine now that I had no friends. New places to eat, new people to sit next to in class, all while avoiding the blank stares from those I’d thought were my friends. It’s difficult to describe the loneliness now because I put all my time and energy into forgetting it. I threw myself into my school work, counted down the hours until I could go home and go to dance. I took solace in my safe spaces, the ones that kept the loneliness at bay. All the while the comments kept coming, silent seeds of negativity that I tried desperately to ignore.
Thankfully, my mum was giving me weekly, if not daily pep-talks. Those talks gave me the strength to face the lonely hours at school every day. Then one day at school I met someone who changed my life. She stood by my side and was my friend when nobody else would be. She planted a seed of positivity — one that reminded me how to be confident in myself again.
Our friendship continued to grow and somewhere along the lines, the comments stopped. Whether the commenters got bored, I stopped caring or a bit of both, it didn’t matter because now I had a friend now who supported and cared about me. I was no longer lost and the loneliness just a memory.
This was possible because someone reached out to me when I most needed them. The difference having one person on your side when you are alone is monumental, a lesson I will never forget. I will forever be grateful to my mum for giving me the strength to get through the loneliness and I will forever be grateful to the one person who made the choice to be kind. If you ever get the chance to be kind you should take it. It could mean the world to someone in need.
Jessica is part of the Sales and Marketing team at Mazu. What makes her unique? About 1% of her DNA. With a background in biochemistry, she has a lot of cheesy science jokes up her sleeve and loves doing research on new and exciting developments in the world. Jessica lives in the beautiful Okanagan Valley and when she’s not making bad science jokes she spends her spare time taking pictures at the tops of mountains or at the beach.