When I was growing up, one of my neighbors was a boy I have decided to call “Jim.” Jim was four years older than me and was three grades ahead of me in school; he was also large for his age. Not only did we attend the same school: we also went to the same church, and our parents were friends.
I have always thought of Jim as a bully, although I can remember only one occasion when he was unkind to me. I was about eight at the time, and he offered to take me out on the river in his rowboat. When we were over the middle of the river, he started making the boat circle in the water. I was scared and begged to be taken back to the shore, but he just laughed and continued circling. I don’t know why I would have gotten into the boat of someone I feared and didn’t trust. All the same, my friend and I thought of Jim as a monster. When no one else was watching, we dropped rocks into the aforementioned boat. Aside from that, we were careful to keep our distance from Jim.
It occurs to me today that we may have feared Jim purely out of stereotyping. He was big and loud like the classic American bully. For all I know, he may have been very gentle at heart. Remembering Jim is painful for me, because I remember him with fear whether or not he deserved to be feared.
Jim died a few years ago of heart disease. I know that he was helpful to my parents several times over the last few years of his life. My father would probably be astonished to learn that I remember Jim as a bully, especially since I can offer only one example of anything mean that Jim did to me.
On occasion at work I cross paths with young men who remind me of Jim. In general they are hefty and have loud speaking voices. For a while I puzzled over the question of why these young men make me uncomfortable, until I realized their resemblance to Jim. When I am around these young men I feel threatened, even though they are doing nothing even remotely threatening toward me or anyone else.
Fear is not rational. Anxiety does not always make sense. I’m sorry to leave such a blot on Jim’s memory–I hope that somewhere on the internet someone else has written nicer things about him. J.
A recent study looked at the victims of childhood bullying, and at adults experiencing anxiety and depression, and it found a significant correlation. Apparently, the team making the study expected to find that children who were bullied at school were as likely to become adults with symptoms of anxiety and depression as were children who were abused by family members. Instead, the study indicated that children bullied at school were more likely to experience anxiety and depression as adults than children abused by family members.
I was the victim of bullies from the fifth grade into the ninth grade. People go to school to learn, and I learned these lessons from the bullies:
* If someone does something that annoys you, don’t let them know they are getting on your nerves; if you do, they will keep on doing it.
* Only mothers and fathers are impressed if you get straight As, write short stories, or learn a musical instrument. Otherwise, those things just make you different.
* The people in charge cannot prevent others from being cruel so long as those others are determined to have things their way.
* The people who consider you worthless may be wrong, but they still can be very convincing.
Not that developing anxiety as an adult is entirely a bad thing. I am a very good defensive driver, since I always expect other drivers to do foolish and dangerous things-I’m prepared for the worst of them. Anxiety has given me useful habits. I never close a car door until I see and feel that the keys are in my hand. I never leave the secure workroom without touching my magnetic key to make sure I can reenter the workroom. Driving to work, I check at least once each morning to see that I have that magnetic key with me in the car. At home, I always lock the doors and turn out the lights before going to bed. If I frequently have a nagging feeling that I have forgotten something important, at least I remember to stop and review my schedule and make sure that nothing has been forgotten.
I could be resentful about the way I was treated years ago, but what’s the point? There’s no going back today to change the way things were. If I face each day with a touch of paranoia, at least I am prepared to defend myself. If I don’t expect people to like me, I am never disappointed by their attitudes, and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Every day has challenges, but most days also have victories. As a wise man once said, “Only if you have been in the deepest valley can you know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”