Here’s a link to my May 14, 2014 column for Bluffton Today.
Here’s the text.
When it comes to bullying and depression, an email can save lives
I received a number of “welcome back”-type emails over the last couple weeks and I’m grateful for every one of them. But the one email I’m most grateful for came from a student at McCracken Middle School.
He had a simple request.
“Please talk about Celeste Wills,” he said.
He didn’t know 12-year-old Celeste, but he sympathized with her story.
Wills died on April 30 of what authorities believe may have been a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The Robert Smalls Middle School sixth-grader wrote about her struggles with depression and with bullying at school on an online blog that sadly too few saw before her death.
The Bluffton student wanted to make it clear to me that he was not at risk.
“I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess. I’m happy and I stay out of the line of fire,” he wrote. “But it’s happening every day in schools and online. She’s not alone.”
I would also count myself as one of the lucky ones, in that I survived bullying in a different generation. I was a very quiet middle schooler. I played sports, but I had just enough chubbiness going on and even worse, I wore my emotions on my sleeve.
So kids knew when they scored a direct hit with a verbal onslaught. And those kids didn’t let up, because they knew it got to me and that I rarely had a retort.
I’m thankful for a couple of teachers who both protected me and encouraged me to get those emotions out in my writing. It’s why I was so sure I wanted to be a writer so early on. My journal, my keyboard, it became my outlet.
Back then, I knew that I only had to survive the hell until 3 pm. The minute I was inside my house, they couldn’t touch me.
Nowadays, the ways that bullies can get to you are endless. There’s Facebook, Twitter and probably 16 social networks most of us haven’t heard of that kids are already trying out.
There’s even online voice chat through the games they play on Xbox and Playstation.
So they never feel safe. I see the horrors that my niece has gone through with Facebook bullying and I swore I would keep my kids off social media as long as I could.
But that’s just avoiding the inevitable. The real key is just talking and educating, instilling confidence in our kids so they know that the bullies are the real weak ones. They’re just lashing out at others because they have a lot of issues of their own.
I wish I had known all this truth in middle school. I went home and I rarely talked about it with my parents. It only came out when I was brought to tears at school and couldn’t hide it when I got home.
I’m blessed that I found outlets for that anguish, that I found passions in my life that made it clear that my daily torture would get better. Eventually I found confidence in myself and I didn’t let them see that they were getting to me. Soon enough, the bullies moved on to the next target.
There are plenty who want the Beaufort County School District to do more about bullying. And yes, there should always be more education and always be more talking.
Sadly, this is a problem in the trenches that the school board can’t solve. Policies can punish, but the true bullies do most of their damage working around the rules.
Thirty years later, bullies are still here. They have more weapons than ever at their disposal. But likewise, we have just as many weapons to expose them for what they are.
The biggest weapon is talking. It’s not tattling. It’s simply shining light on the cockroaches. It’s amazing how powerless they become with just the slightest bit of sunlight.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. I’m encouraged that we as a society are talking about depression more than ever, but the stigma is going away too slowly.
Mental illness is real. It’s not a choice. Would anyone really choose to be depressed?
If you have a broken leg, you get surgery, you go through rehab. This is no different. Your brain is broken, it needs rehab. Too often, the shame of the illness overtakes this logic.
In many cases, there are genetic tendencies toward chemical imbalances that we have no idea about. Bullying can accelerate the issues into a depression that seems inescapable. And then we’re dealing with tragedies.
Most of us spend too much time saying, “Boy, I’m glad that’s not me,” and moving on.
Whether it’s bullying or depression, it’s too often the case.
There’s a group of Beaufort students performing a play they penned, “When You See Something, Say Something.” It’s a beautiful thing. Young adults talking about the issue in the moment. Every move like this, it truly saves lives.
The young man who sent me the email showed the kind of courage and maturity that will save lives.
No one talked about it 30 years ago. We’re making progress. I hope that we honor Celeste Wills by shaming the bullies into silence with our words and our actions.
Depression and bullying are two everyday wars that need constant support.
Take the time to be educated. Take the time to help.
Tim Wood is a writer living in Bluffton. Email him with comments or story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.