2009 and 2010 were great years for the world. President Obama was in his first term. The economy was in a relative upswing after coming back from the 2008 economic crash. In the lives of middle schoolers, Razrs were the popular cell phone, AIM and iChat were still a thing, and hiding fake Facebooks from our parents was all the rage.
One day, I heard through the school grapevine about something on the internet called Bathroom Wall. It was an activity on Facebook where people were able to post anonymous comments on various people and topics. Since it was connected to your Facebook, you knew that the people commenting on the various topics were your friends and acquaintances from school. Someone would post a topic like the name of a teacher or a classmate and people would write comments about them. I thought it was funny at first, when people wrote really funny things about teachers we hated. People also wrote really nice comments—about the popular kids.
I ignored the app’s impact. Until I saw my name.
One or two people wrote something generic about me, but I didn’t focus on that. I was laser focused on the degrading and negative comments like “She’s too loud,” and “She’s too talkative,” and “She’s annoying,” to really look at the one or two positive things that I don’t even remember. To be honest, I don’t even remember the exact negative words written about me, but the fact that they were said was hurtful enough.
Things got so bad that our middle-school principal had a talk to our grade about why we should stop using the app.
Everything changed for me when we had to go to a talk with an expert. It was during our “Life Choices” block in middle school where we had sex ed, “DARE,” and learned the basic life lessons we needed before high school.
The expert got on stage and talked about a term that we had experienced but never classified: cyberbullying.
The woman talked about a girl who was bullied online by people who she thought were her friends. One day, her mom found her tied to her bedpost, after having taken her own life. It was the first time that the topic of suicide was brought to my attention because of an issue that was so close to home. I had experienced that type of bullying and I really did feel like I wasn’t worth it in the eyes of my peers. I remember going home after the speech that day and having a talk with my mom about what that girl had gone through and how I understood her pain.
Though I had never felt the same darkness, I understood what drove her to the breaking point and what it felt like to not belong.
I wasn’t drawn to watching “13 Reasons Why” because it’s not in my preferred genre. However, when I saw its effects on teens and how they tried to emulate the actions of the characters, my gut reaction was that this show should not exist. Teens shouldn’t feel inspired by television shows of that nature to go to the extremes of those characters.
I am a teacher and need to make more money. However, I don’t feel obligated to pull a Walter White and start a meth lab like on “Breaking Bad.”
Teens should be exposed to topics such as suicide so that they can see the effects that their actions can have on those around them, particularly their families and close friends. They should be able to see that they are not alone and that there are people who share the same struggles. Learning from that can change the endings of their own stories.
When I heard that talk in middle school, I saw that there were people like me who were bullied online. But I knew that with the support of my family and friends around me, I could rise above the pain.