Remember when monsters used to be under your bed?
Then, as you slowly got older and more aware of the world, you began to realize that monsters, in reality, were people who smiled in your face every day but were simultaneously plotting to chew you up and spit you out?
Every day, your innocent, musical-like illusion of how the world works began to shatter into infinitesimal smithereens that you could never piece back together. Day after day, the monsters became less subliminal as their tails began to show and you no longer felt like you were dealing with people in your same age, because their level of cruelty and disregard was unfathomable. As you continued to develop as a person, you wondered what it was about yourself that was so undesirable, that only those who loved you unconditionally were in your corner.
No matter how much effort you put into trying to make friends or just simply getting along with someone, it ended awkwardly and miserably. You felt like regardless if you had outlets, there was just never any point to dealing with all you were struggling with. Bullying, depression and loneliness are all clichés that industry giants, prolific artists, next-level legends, innovators and influential figures of the world go through before they reach their full potential.
Beasts don’t normally prey on smaller animals unless they’re simply desperate for a meal. It’s the most maniacal form of flattery because it means that if they’re after you, you’re the most prized game in the game.
As a child, I was always bullied for my size, the way I spoke, the hearing aids I wore, my interests and occasionally my skin color. Some of the bullying was verbal and some was physical.
However, I found that once I began to combat the bullying — witty comebacks or removing myself from the negative environment for the verbal and fighting back against the physical — it ceased to occur.
This worked so well that the bully who lived in my neighborhood eventually tried to be my friend. After a while, people noticed I wasn’t taking any kind of treatment any longer, and they gradually stopped picking on me.
[Related: “I’ll Miss You, Chris” – with resources for help]
It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I realized bullying was very real yet abstract at the same time.
A bully did not have to use their fists, ubiquitous technology or voices that spit fire to harm a victim. In fact, exile that seemed to be placed upon a ballot with a unanimous vote was enough to drive someone insane. The loneliness I became deeply aware of, deeply immersed in, uncomfortably comfortable in, escalated into various introspective catastrophes.
Ironically, this form of bullying was the most painful because I knew I was powerless in this situation. My mother had always told me to never run up behind anyone or chase someone, so how was I to fight back? A person can’t force interaction, so I was stuck in a cycle of subtle bullying, brought upon me by exclusion. Even in a heavily clique-oriented school, people still formed bonds, so why was it so difficult for me? When society does not accept a person, he/she questions his/her worth, and his/her self-esteem can greatly suffer.
Luckily, I have a support system that reminded me constantly that I am important and purposeful. This support system happened to be my mother. Unfortunately, not everyone has this support, and the effects can be much worse, resulting in self harm or suicide.
Exile can push someone to extremes, much like any other form of bullying can. When my mental state was spiraling out of control, I had to find a way to remind myself of my worth and fight back. The worst part about it was that I had no clue why I was being excluded! I concluded that I had to do something to help myself, to improve my mental state and welfare and ignore being disregarded by those who didn’t really matter.
I’ve come to find that in a life full of nos, rejection, disappointment, disenfranchisement, displacement, malaise and hardship you must find loopholes in all the madness. It is not merely about being optimistic but poking holes in the negativity of others.
When someone gives you a reason to stop fighting, stop living, stop working toward your dreams, you must tell yourself that this brick house is no match for your tornado. You must treat it like a court case and realize that there’s always a way out. When your opponent seems invincible, always remember that good lawyers can get the filthiest criminals acquitted of their crimes. Therefore, when you know you don’t deserve the cards you’ve been dealt, bluffing won’t hurt at all.
In other words, when someone tries to point out your adversities, look past the flaws and find the value in yourself. Coal is put under pressure so it can become a diamond.
You’ve got to be your own support system sometimes
When no one is encouraging you, you have to be your own cheerleader. Although you may feel alone, there will always be better days. You just have to coach yourself to construct a more positive thought process. As hard as it may sound, there will be times in your life where it seems like no one is in your corner, but you have to realize that it’s always darkest before the dawn and it’s always worth it to hold on.
When we push ourselves and believe in ourselves, people will eventually notice and your support system will gradually come together if you don’t have one already. They say build it and they will come, so you must lay down the foundation with your own two hands.
Once you have laid down this foundation and made the promise to yourself to not allow the monsters to destroy you, you can look to people in your community who may offer support. For some people this may be a pastor, teacher, social worker, therapist, family member, public servant or career field mentor. Typically, they can provide you with guidance and advice to point you in the right direction.
Create a world that people don’t have to escape
On many occasions people have isolated themselves or taken their own lives because they felt it was the only escape from the torment of disheartening people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics from 2014 show that suicide was one of the top two causes of death for teens in the United States.
People need to know there are others who feel like them, others who wish to eradicate mistreatment and want to advocate for victims of harsh social calamities. Members of society have a responsibility to uplift and protect those who can’t do so for themselves.
I have always believed that art must be meaningful if it is to be created because it is too powerful, too wide reaching, too prolific to not spark controversy and revolution. Music soothes our soul, poetry stimulates our brains, film utilizes the capturing of moments to relay messages, and the list continues.
I found my escape and power in writing and made it my goal to advocate for those who have faced severe disenfranchisement, marginalization and subjugation by creating art and material that inspires, evokes change and sparks needed discussion. For instance, I have often been subliminally discriminated against or made fun of because I wear hearing aids. People would either talk about me in front of me, assuming I could not hear them, get frustrated when I asked them to repeat themselves for the umpteenth time, or outright made obscene remarks regarding my hearing aids like: “Can I borrow them?”
Situations like these inspired me to advocate for people who are deaf and hard of hearing through my art by showing people like me it’s the equivalent to having glasses or braces and there’s no reason to be ashamed for using a corrective device. By giving this group, who is often overlooked, representation through characters I create in my literary work and also representing this group in an industry that contains very few of them, this empowers this community.
Representation empowers those who feel powerless by placing a familiar face they can relate to in a field that influences the mindset of the masses. In my art, I like to create characters and personas that embody those marginalized (in this specific case, the hearing impaired) in a way that shatters shameful stereotypes and allows the world to accurately understand the struggles and triumphs of a group that doesn’t allow obstacles to obstruct their path.
Whether you’re an artist, technician, politician or any other form of worker — just person in general — it is your duty to create a world that is intolerable to hatred, bullying, harassment and oppression. Although we can never completely end this way of thinking and stop bullying, we can construct a world where it is not condoned, where people with varying personalities and identities are accepted, and where people are less hypercritical.
Celebrities like Beyoncé have committed themselves to flawlessly and seamlessly incorporating images of diverse groups in their work to show representation and decrease the sensitivity of the public to people with differing interests, backgrounds, practices, lifestyles and particularities. This is slowly becoming the world we live in, but we must continue to go in this direction and not allow obstinate figureheads and influential members of society to force us backwards.
Moving forward, we must assure people who have felt or who feel powerless that the world is changing in their favor.
Ignore class clowns because they will never be paid comedians
A cliché phenomenon is that people who often tease and torture end up in positions where they need these people. Whether you believe it’s God’s (or the Creator as I call it) way of disciplining them, or it’s the universe enacting karma, it seems to be quite inevitable in the grand scheme of things. Those who doubt your power are those who actually doubt their own and try to drain you of yours so they can have some to fill their void. They say everything about you is smoke and mirrors when they don’t like their own reflection.
A bully is typically jealous because they see your potential and want to hinder you from tapping into that oil mine. Once again it is the most twisted, deranged form of flattery because most of the time they see something in you that you don’t, and they attack it, so it can’t develop into a skyscraper that will hang over their heads.
Whether you become a renowned celebrity or a successful business mogul, those who stood in your way will reappear, not as an obstacle but as a welcome mat to your throne.
Find a way to fight back
Always find a way to fight back. Whether that’s literally or strategically, it is mandatory. Violence is never the answer, but like Malcolm X once said, “Why should I be nonviolent with someone who isn’t nonviolent with me?” In protecting yourself, there are some boundaries in how far you should go.
When someone is physically attacking you, you have the right to fight back, but it must be with the intent of preserving your life — not taking someone else’s or intensifying the situation by using weapons. Your goal should always be to rise above hatred and never stoop to their level but preserve your life by all means.
The more hatred and negativity that is put into the universe, the more positive energy you should exert. Whenever you feel like you’ve thrown your last punch, remember you always have a better chance when you fight back. Sometimes it takes time to develop enough confidence and heart, but it is tremendously rewarding once you step into the ring.
They say you can’t fight fire with fire, so be resilient and keener by fighting back with water. The more the fire grows, deprive it of its oxygen.
Caliph, 17, attends Brookwood High School, and his favorite dish is pasta. Check out his related poem, “Trading Action Figures.”
Teen Line offers support by teens, for teens (ages 13 to 19) by phone or text.
CALL 310-855-4673 OR TEXT TEEN to 839863
Teen Line also has a “Teen Yellow Pages,” searchable resource guide, and VOX has compiled some resources about bullying.
Join VOX and Atlanta-area teens Sat., April 29, at VOX-a-Palooza, a FREE by-teens/for-teens community dialogue and showcase.
12-5 p.m. at The Rush Center (near Candler Park MARTA station).
We’ll share our VOX Investigates special about mental health, provide teens opportunities to create art and speak out on issues they care about. The event ends with a poetry slam that finalizes Atlanta’s team going to Brave New Voices this summer.
Click here for details & to register.
This story was published at VOXAtl.com, Atlanta’s home for uncensored teen publishing and self-expression. For more about the nonprofit VOX, visit www.voxatl.org.