A few days ago, I came across an article at the Slate website: “College Students Who Were Bullied as Kids Are at Higher Risk for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My reaction was a short, nasty laugh, followed by “No frikkin’ kidding?”
You see, I am in treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Until just a few years ago, I didn’t even know I had it. Over the decades there would be a sign once in awhile. A stressful group situation would provoke intense negative energy and I’d wonder, “What was that all about?” Then in my ’60’s I found myself with a diagnosis of “delayed onset PTSD.” I didn’t even know that could happen, but it was a factor in my decision to retire at age 65.
So–bullying can cause PTSD. Apparently, a wide variety of bullying situations can produced delayed onset PTSD. If that’s surprising, it probably shouldn’t be.
In my case, it really got rolling when my family left our small Colorado town and I started 7th grade in Salt Lake City, Utah. Shy, chubby, and not of the dominant religious culture, I quickly got a lot of attention I didn’t want. I won’t go into details. I merely note that techniques ran from fists, through practical jokes, all the way to caustic chemicals applied with malice aforethought. Good variety. Yes, I’m being sarcastic.
A lot of it centered in gym class. Boy’s locker rooms can be hellholes. In those days, if the coach got wind of it–which was rare–the response would usually be, “Lad, you need to man up. Then they’ll stop.”
I’m glad bullying is taken more seriously today. If nothing else, think of the money insurers might save–fewer PTST treatments. Yes, I’m still being sarcastic.
But if that Slate article were the only poignant moment from last week, it wouldn’t be more than a footnote. Days before I saw it, though, an offhand moment of web surfing–just a whim, no good reason–I Googled the name of one of my more enthusiastic bullies. Yep, it was in gym class, my sophomore year in high school.
The last time I saw him–or to my memory thought about him–was our high school’s 10-year class reunion. This guy had actually dropped out after that sophomore year, but he was apparently popular enough with the folks who put together the reunion, they invited him anyway. He still moved with the studied nonchalance of a dedicated underachiever.
For my part I had my own group of old high school friends. I stayed on my side of the floor and left him to his.
Now, decades later, my offhanded Web search brought a single hit on, of all places, findagrave.com. Turns out the guy met his end only six months after that reunion. Cause of death was not listed.
I searched around to find more, but there was no more. Just that one enigmatic posting. Whatever killed him, my tormentor has been pushing up daisies nearly 40 years.
I fear that his death didn’t thin the bullies’ ranks all that much. There were plenty of others. I do blushingly admit a wee gloat the moment I comprehended his demise. If I had known at age 15 that I would live most of my life after he died–it would have helped.
“Living well is the best revenge,” I read somewhere.
I’ll take the moment to my next PTSD therapy session. Maybe my therapist and I will get a chuckle out of it.
But back to that findagrave post: I recognized the guy’s photo. It was his sophomore yearbook picture. He wore a strange, almost frightened-little-boy-expression in his first-and-only yearbook photo. It seemed strange to me they would use it.
I remember playing touch football in gym much more poignantly, how richly he seemed to enjoy getting me down and grinding my face into the mud when the coach wasn’t watching. Conscious memory has faded over the years, but my amygdala keeps track. Now I look at his photo and feel a twinge of curiosity, even compassion. What’s that scared kid in the photo thinking? Why did he have to take it out on me?
Pondering these things, I don’t find myself particularly satisfied that he died young. I don’t know what I feel. Do bullies of the past regret their bullying–or do they even remember? Maybe that would be the worst cut, if the bullies didn’t even remember the bullying. I can tell you from experience, the ones on the receiving end remember it.
Is living well really the best revenge? I don’t have an answer. Maybe the only compensation–consummation–we get, is being able to ask the question.