In the last couple of weeks, perhaps you have seen a short video that has gone viral of a young boy in Tennessee named Keaton Jones. His mom is videoing him as he sits in their car, crying about the way other kids are bullying him at school. He talks about milk being poured on him. He talks about food being put down his clothes. He talks about kids making fun of the way he looks. Regardless of whether or not you believe the video should have ever been posted, the tears and pain are real.
If you haven’t seen the video, you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kz1xzBYppW8
The video is heart breaking. I started to watch it one night, but I only made it a few seconds into the video and had to turn it off. It had already made me start to cry. It wasn’t until the next day before I could watch the rest of it. His message struck a cord with me, and it brought up some painful memories that I’ve shared with only a few people in my life, including my family.
I’ve debated with myself for several days whether or not I wanted to share my experiences. However, I decided that if my experiences can help someone else, then I have no reason to keep them bottled up. It has been extremely difficult to put this to paper, so please bear with me. I share this for one reason, and one reason only. There are things that I learned about myself during some very dark times in my life that I hope will help others to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I also know what helped me to get through it, and the ones who don’t struggle with these issues need to know how to recognize it in others and help.
My childhood was pretty normal. I had several close friends that I spent time with in elementary school. We stayed the night with each other and had birthday parties together. I played baseball, basketball, and soccer in the recreation leagues. My family was very active in the church from the time I was born, so I grew up with a good foundation of God and the Bible. It was a time in life when all you cared about was having fun with your friends and playing Nintendo.
In our hometown when I was a kid, there were lots of elementary schools, but they all funneled into a single Junior High School. Like everyone else who made that transition into 7th grade, the social aspect of friendships started to change. I started to have classes with kids that I didn’t know. I had very few classes with the friends that I grew up with, so those friendships began to weaken. Like every other 12-year-old kid in a new school around new people, I was trying to find my place.
It should have been an exciting time with memories of your first crush, ballgames with friends, and conversations between classes. My transition didn’t go that smoothly. Instead of fitting in with the rest of the kids that I had class with, I somehow became one of the kids they liked to pick on. I was laughed at and forced out if I tried to participate in conversations. Some guys took swings at me just for the fun of it. I was the butt of many jokes. I’ve had drinks poured on me. I’ve been spit on. I was once given detention for shoving a kid that slapped my sunburned back and pointed in my face to laugh at me. I’ve had my pants pulled down to my ankles in the hallway in front of all my classmates, which resulted in roaring laughter.
I didn’t understand. I just wanted to go to school, have a few friends, play sports, and go home. I had never been around this kind of environment, and I mentally didn’t process it well. No one knew how I felt, but there was a good reason for that. I learned how to hide in a crowd and not get noticed. When I was picked on, I would just laugh it off. I had learned to fake a smile, and I was good at it.
But inside was different. I was miserable. I hated going to school. I dreaded running into certain people in the hallway. I felt like an outcast everywhere I went, which bled over into our church’s youth group and the sports teams I played on. I eventually started to hate myself, wondering what was wrong with me.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I had been having a particularly rough couple of days. I was mentally done. I was emotionally done. I was tired of crying myself to sleep at night. I was tired of feeling like I didn’t fit in with the world. I was tired of feeling like I had no hope. For what seemed like hours that day, I sat on the end of my bed with my door locked, looking at the loaded .22 revolver in my hands. I remember trying to figure out where to shoot myself so that I wouldn’t have a chance of surviving it. I started thinking what life would be like for everyone else if I wasn’t there. I didn’t think my ball teams would miss me. I was confident my classmates wouldn’t miss me. I didn’t think my youth group would miss me. I was a nobody. However, I couldn’t do it, because there was someone who would miss me. I knew the devastation my family would go through. My parents and both of my sisters were in the house while I was in my room that day, and I remember picturing in my mind what their reaction would be when they heard the gun fire. I couldn’t do that to them. I couldn’t make them feel the emptiness that I did. I decided it would be best if I just suffered through it. My only hope was that it would someday get better.
The day my pants were pulled down at school, I remember crying in the car on the way home. Outside of that and a few comments, I don’t remember sharing with my family how much I hated school, but they must have sensed it to some extent. Before high school started, I asked if I could go to the high school in the next town over. They didn’t even question it. They moved me and my two sisters that next year. I started 9th grade meeting all new friends. On my first day, I probably didn’t know 10 people in the whole school, including the three relatives of mine that were teachers. I didn’t know what to expect. I’m happy to say that I quickly met some friends that took me under their wing and introduced me to everyone else. It was a much smaller school, so it was a much closer group of friends. I began to gain some of my confidence back as a person. On the outside, I still knew how to fake the smile, but I wasn’t having to fake it as much. It slowly started becoming authentic. By the time I graduated, I had lettered in three sports, become valedictorian, been elected senior class president, and voted by my classmates as “Mr. Upperman High”. My life had done a complete reversal.
Today, I have a wonderful family. I have a beautiful wife (both inside and out) who loves me, and I can’t say enough for what she has done for me. I still battle at times with feelings of worthlessness, and she knows better than anyone how to get me through that. To top it off, God has blessed us with three wonderful kids.
I don’t share this with you to make you feel pity for me. I’m past that part of my life, and I know there are kids who have had, and still have, it worse than I did. However, there are things that I learned about myself and those around me through the dark days of my life that I want others to realize as well.
To the Parents: It’s because of my parents that I was even there to finish 7th grade. Listen to your kids when they want to talk to you. Seriously, stop what you are doing. Put down your phone. Facebook can wait. Spend time with your kids. It’s possible that they may be looking for a friend or someone to give them encouragement, and they are looking for that comfort in you. Also, pay attention to changes in your kids’ personalities. If they start to become secluded and distant from all relationships and friendships, don’t dismiss it as part of “growing up” or “going through a phase”. There may be more to it, and they need you for support. By all means, if they share with you that they are being picked on, don’t give them a speech about sticking up for themselves and punching some bully in the nose. They just want to know that at least someone in this world loves them and cares for them. Don’t send them into a losing battle and tell them you are cheering them on from the sidelines. If you need to get involved, do that. I was blessed with two parents who did this for me. They didn’t question my desire to change schools. They were constantly involved in my life. Make sure you are that support for your children.
To the Kids not being bullied: If you’ve never experienced being bullied, it may be easy to dismiss it as people being oversensitive. But that’s not right. It’s very real and very hurtful. Understand that some of your classmates are bullied, and they hate it. I went through a school that was miserable, and I also went through a school that was great. Please understand that though it may be easy for you, it’s not for everyone. Find the kid in your class that no one will talk to and start a conversation. There are about three people that befriended me very quickly in high school. They treated me like everyone else and showed me that life was worth living. They became the support at school that I had never had. It’s because of them that I was able to change my outlook on life. Be that friend for someone else.
To the Kids who are being bullied: No matter what you are going through, know that many of us have been there (even the ones you would least expect). Life is tough and vicious at times, especially during school. It will do all it can to beat you down. The world will tell you to take on the bullies and let them know that you won’t be picked on. I know first hand that doing that is infinitely harder than saying it. There are good friends out there. Seek them out. Whatever you do, don’t keep it all bottled up inside yourself. I did that for far too long, and it almost cost me my life. Talk to your parents, and be open. Talk to a teacher or counselor. You can also reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Most importantly, grow your relationship with God. He is the only One that will never turn His back on you (Hebrews 13:5-6). He will always be there to love and comfort you (Psalm 9:9, 46:1). I know from experience that it’s hard to hold on to that when all seems lost. But through the darkness, God is still there.
Darkness can never consume the light as long as you never close your eyes to it.
There is hope. Never give up.