Once upon a time, in a land about 45 miles away, there lived a young woman who was scared. Her life was falling down around her and she had nothing left except a dream, a tiny glimmer of a calling, that gave her a sense of purpose. At 24 years old, she’d just lost her job, someone else had totaled her car, she’d had to walk away from one of her only friends, she was in constant pain, and knew all too well the darkness of depression. She hated herself and her life. She hated everything except that one idea of knowing she was a writer somewhere in the depths of her soul.
She was beginning what she was then unaware would be a five year walk through hell to get on disability. She couldn’t function on a daily basis. She had been seeing a therapist, but the therapist needed a change of scenery and took a different job. So, she searched for a new one. She went to the McDonald’s equivalent of psychotherapy because it was the only place around that took in people who couldn’t pay. Her first appointment with the new therapist came; and, in that one session of 50 minutes, she was told that she was “avoiding life” as though she had a choice in the pain and depression. She was also told that her one dream, her one claim of her identity that she didn’t hate, feeling called to write, was a “delusion of grandeur” and, therefore, a part of her illness. She believed this stranger’s words. She did not return to another appointment with her, instead seeking out several others who would only last one appointment until she found a keeper, but she still carried those words with her. And the one part of herself that she didn’t hate, she no longer felt allowed to love. She did not make an honest attempt at writing for another decade.
Obviously, she is me. And today is #SprirtDay where people wear purple and change their social media icons in support of LGBT+ youths against bullies. See, you can be a bully even if you get a paycheck for it. You can break people trying to fit them into a box with a label based on your understanding or snap judgement. I’ve dealt with bullies in middle and high school. They hurt me in various forms of being teased, ridiculed, excluded, called names, ganged up on, handled roughly in gym during what should have been non-contact sports, and distracted in classes so that I couldn’t concentrate. I had a few amazing friends, but life was still mostly destructive during school years. Even those in authority at the school did nothing to help and, even unintentionally, set me up for greater bullying down the road. But I knew they weren’t my friends. I wasn’t going to them for help, baring my soul and secrets to them, seeking better understanding on how to become a healthier person. It was the bully dressed as help with professional initials after her name that I sought out that did, in one 50 minute session, the worst damage.
I was not aware of my orientation until much later in life. I only just this moment remembered one time that I was teased about being a lesbian in high school because I was reading a magazine interview of Reba McEntire during a boring study hall and chatting with a friend who was a girl about said article. I had no romantic or sexual interest in my female friend nor Reba, my only interest was in Reba’s music; yet thus is the logic of the high school hierarchy. That, to my current recollection, is the only lgbt discrimination I faced back then and I was, at that time, completely clueless that I wasn’t straight! (I’ve recently decided I did an incredible job of lying to myself for far too many years!) Even since coming out, I’ve only experienced minor online bullying or discrimination about my sexuality, mostly from people of faith and your run of the mill anonymous trolls. There has been a great deal more that has been positive and healing to my spirit.
I cannot fathom growing up knowing I was LGBT+. I cannot imagine the struggle of coming out in that environment and era. It was hard enough in my 30s! I’m glad to see the environment has changed in recent years and continues to change. But we have a long way to go. Groups like the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance), GLAAD (Gal & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and HRC (Human Rights Campaign), along with many other groups, help to erase the stigma of being different. But some people are resistant to change. Some people want to feel superior to anyone they don’t understand. Some people want to break down others to feel more powerful. Some people are in a position of authority and think that the issues a kid is having can’t possibly be that serious; and so, they treat it with a backhanded, half-assed attempt at a solution that only makes matters worse. Or perhaps they are doctors, therapists, parents, siblings, church members, etc., who feel that they understand, know what’s best, and can try to “help” and change someone based on their divisive and label-happy beliefs. It is an obstacle course of challenges with no finish line in sight.
However, the human spirit is an amazingly resilient phenomenon. When it comes to bullying, you will sometimes see those who’ve hurt so many realize what they’ve done and be the first to intervene. You will see those broken down repeatedly, blossoming into an ofttimes victorious warrior for another. The more stories of love and compassion that come forth on days like this, the better the world becomes. The more support and kindness shown, the more bullying is addressed as a problem and not a shame for the victim, these are all steps. Every step of the way is progress. Every step of the way is helping to show someone the error of their way and helping to pick up and dust off one who has been hurt. Days like today are a time to show our desire to change, even if we have a long way to go. Even if there will be two steps forward and three steps back, seeing the forward steps must be our inspiration to not let the three back defeat us! Together, we can heal the human spirit.