Dreams, Family, Friends, Mental Health

Sticks and Stones: The Power of Words

CW: Mental health, bullying, brief mentions of suicide, medication

Before I start this post properly, I’d like you to watch this TED talk by Shane Koyczan: “To This Day” … for the bullied and beautiful (transcript of the poem underneath).

When I was a kid, I used to think that pork chops and karate chops were the same thing.

I thought they were both pork chops.

And because my grandmother thought it was cute, and because they were my favorite

She let me keep doing it.

Not really a big deal.

One day, before I realized fat kids are not designed to climb trees, I fell out of a tree and bruised the right side of my body.

I didn’t want to tell my grandmother about it because I was afraid I’d get in trouble for playing somewhere that I shouldn’t have been.

A few days later the gym teacher noticed the bruise and I got sent to the principal’s office.

From there I was sent to another small room with a really nice lady who asked me all kinds of questions about my life at home.

I saw no reason to lie.

As far as I was concerned, life was pretty good.

I told her, “whenever I’m sad, my grandmother gives me karate chops!”

This led to a full scale investigation; and I was removed from the house for three days until they finally decided to ask how I got the bruises.

News of this silly little story quickly spread through the school and I earned my first nickname.

Pork chop.

To this day, I hate pork chops.

I’m not the only kid who grew up this way.

Surrounded by people who used to say that rhyme about sticks and stones.

As if broken bones hurt more than the names we got called- and we got called them all.

So we grew up believing no one would ever fall in love with us.

That we’d be lonely forever.

That we’d never meet someone to make us feel like the sun was something they built for us in their tool shed.

So broken heart strings bled the blues as we tried to empty ourselves so we would feel nothing

Don’t tell me that hurts less than a broken bone.

That an ingrown life is something surgeons can cut away

That there’s no way for it to metastasize- it does.

She was eight years old on our first day of grade three when she got called ugly.

We both got moved to the back of the class so we would stop get bombarded by spitballs.

But the school halls were a battleground where we found ourselves outnumbered day after wretched day; we used to stay inside for recess because outside was worse.

Outside we’d have to rehearse running away or learn to stay still like statues giving no clues that we were there.

In grade five they taped a sign to her desk that read beware of dog.

To this day, despite a loving husband, she doesn’t think she’s beautiful because of a birthmark that takes up a little less than half of her face.

Kids used to say she looks like a wrong answer that someone tried to erase but couldn’t quite get the job done.

And they’ll never understand that she’s raising two kids whose definition of beauty begins with the word mom.

Because they see her heart before they see her skin

That she’s only ever always been amazing

He

Was a broken branch grafted onto a different family tree.

Adopted.

But not because his parents opted for a different destiny.

He was three when he became a mixed drink of one part left alone and two parts tragedy.

Started therapy in 8th grade; had a personality made up of tests and pills

Lived like the uphills were mountains and the downhills were cliffs

Four fifths suicidal; a tidal wave of anti depressants

And an adolescence of being called popper.

One part because of the pills, and ninety nine parts because of the cruelty.

He tried to kill himself in grade ten when a kid who still had his mom and dad had the audacity to tell him “get over it”.

As if depression is something that can be remedied by any of the contents found in a first aid kit.

To this day, he is a stick of TNT lit from both ends,

Could describe to you in detail the way the sky bends in the moments before it’s about to fall,

And despite an army of friends who all call him an inspiration

He remains a conversation piece between people who can’t understand:

Sometimes becoming drug free has less to do with addiction, and more to do with sanity.

We weren’t the only kids who grew up this way.

To this day, kids are still being called names.

The classics were, “hey stupid”. “hey spaz”.

Seems like each school has an arsenal of names getting updated every year.

And if a kid breaks in a school and no one around chooses to hear…

Do they make a sound?

Or are they just the background noise of a soundtrack stuck on repeat,

When people say things like “kids can be cruel”?

Every school was a big top circus tent, and the pecking order went from acrobats to lion tamers from clowns to carnies

All of these were miles ahead of who we were- we were freaks.

Lobster claw boys and bearded ladies.

Oddities juggling depression and loneliness, playing solitaire; spin the bottle, trying to kiss the wounded parts of ourselves and heal.

But at night while the others slept, we kept walking the tightrope.

It was practice- and yes, some of us fell.

But I want to tell them that all of this is just debris.

Left over when we finally decide to smash all the things we thought we used to be

And if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself: get a better mirror. Look a little closer. Stare a little longer.

Because there’s something inside you that made you keep trying despite everyone who told you to quit.

You built a cast around your broken heart and signed it yourself; you signed it, “they were wrong”.

Because maybe you didn’t belong to a group or a clique.

Maybe they decided to pick you last for basketball or everything.

Maybe you used to bring bruises and broken teeth to show and tell but never told,

Because how can you hold your ground if everyone around you wants to bury you beneath it?

You have to believe that they were wrong.

They have to be wrong.

Why else would we still be here?

We grew up learning to cheer on the underdog because we see ourselves in them.

We stem from a root planted in the belief that we are not what we were called we are not abandoned cars stalled out and sitting empty on a highway; and if in some way we are- don’t worry, we only got out to walk and get gas.

We are graduating members from the class of we made it.

Not the faded echoes of voices crying out “names will never hurt me”.

Of course they did.

But our lives will only ever always continue to be a balancing act,

That has less to do with pain, and more to do with beauty.

Transcript found here

I found this poem a few years ago while looking online at spoken word and watching Sarah Kay’s ‘If I Should Have a Daughter‘ Shane Koyczan’s TED talk came up and I was drawn to it. I love spoken word and this was one of the most powerful things I had heard in a while. It just sounded so familiar, so true.

When I was writing my last post I came across this image.

image
Handwritten note 'Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will also hurt me'

I saw it and straight away I knew what I had to write a post on. This poem, and the effect of words.

One of the first lines that resonated with me was this here.

Surrounded by people who used to say that rhyme about sticks and stones.

As if broken bones hurt more than the names we got called- and we got called them all.

I can relate to this more than I’d probably care to admit. In my post Why am I an activist? I spoke about some of the bullying I have recieved over the years. Very little of this was physical, but why does that mean it hurts more? Wounds heal, scars can stay forever. That’s what the comments I had said to me day in, day out, were, scars. They cut me open and didn’t just go away, they embedded themselves into my brain, scaring my memories. I still have hangups even now from when I was at school, some of the things said to me then will probably stay with me for life.

And if a kid breaks in a school and no one around chooses to hear…

Do they make a sound?

Or are they just the background noise of a soundtrack stuck on repeat,

When people say things like “kids can be cruel”?

Most schools have an anti bullying policy, they claim to have a zero tollerance policy. Now, while that is a great idea and in an ideal world it would be perfect, the reality is that most schools don’t pick up on everything – how could they? – and there is always that one child who sits in the corner, questioning why they are still there. These are the people with no confidence to speak up and ask for help because they don’t think they are worth it, that the probem isn’t bad enough, that they somehow deserve it, or that nothing would be done anyway. It is a horrible reality to have and so many people do use the line “kids can be cruel”. That may be so, but where to they learn it? Why does it being a so called ‘natural’ thing to happen make it okay?

But the school halls were a battleground where we found ourselves outnumbered day after wretched day; we used to stay inside for recess because outside was worse.

Outside we’d have to rehearse running away or learn to stay still like statues giving no clues that we were there.

This was me so much going through secondary school. The amount of lunch times I spent in the library instead of the courtyard was ridiculous, or if not the library, in the youth wing. There were days where I would not get lunch because I just couldn’t face going outside. As I said before, it wasn’t all physical, it was mostly mental abuse I was recieving from my peers. I had ‘friends’ telling me that they didn’t want to sit next to me, because I was awful. I was unwanted.

image
Screencaps from the video's animations.

I have been bullied for a number of years, since I was young. It wasn’t just from kids, I’ve had it from ‘adults’ too. They can be just as bad, something most people realise when they start working. I have had issues at university and seen it in the workplace too. It isn’t nice. One comment said ‘innocently’ can have a massive impact on someone.

I talk a lot on my blog about mental health, and naturally this one is not an exception to that. Mental health is so fragile, one word can make all of the difference. That can also be a word for the good though.

The end of Koyczan’s poem talks about the bullies being wrong.

But at night while the others slept, we kept walking the tightrope.

It was practice- and yes, some of us fell.

But I want to tell them that all of this is just debris.

Left over when we finally decide to smash all the things we thought we used to be

And if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself: get a better mirror. Look a little closer. Stare a little longer.

Because there’s something inside you that made you keep trying despite everyone who told you to quit.

You built a cast around your broken heart and signed it yourself; you signed it, “they were wrong”.

Because maybe you didn’t belong to a group or a clique.

Maybe they decided to pick you last for basketball or everything.

Maybe you used to bring bruises and broken teeth to show and tell but never told,

Because how can you hold your ground if everyone around you wants to bury you beneath it?

You have to believe that they were wrong.

They have to be wrong.

Why else would we still be here?

We grew up learning to cheer on the underdog because we see ourselves in them.

We stem from a root planted in the belief that we are not what we were called we are not abandoned cars stalled out and sitting empty on a highway; and if in some way we are- don’t worry, we only got out to walk and get gas.

We are graduating members from the class of we made it.

Not the faded echoes of voices crying out “names will never hurt me”.

Of course they did.

But our lives will only ever always continue to be a balancing act,

That has less to do with pain, and more to do with beauty.

When I first heard this poem I welled up, and I still do when my hormones allow it. It gives hope in the last 21 lines, we aren’t the only ones suffering, there are others out there, and the ones who beat us down, they are the wrong ones. Sure, there may be more of them than there are of us quite often, but at the end of the day there is always a majority. That doesn’t mean the majority is always right. His poem doesn’t say that everything will be better, rather that it is okay.

Sometimes that is the worst word to use, but others it is the best. Okay is middleground. It isn’t saying everything is perfect, but everything isn’t terrible either. Okay is in between. It is manageable. Sure we don’t want to be there forever, but it is a stepping stone.

I found Koyczac helped me understand that. I am still not in the best position, but right now, at this moment in time, I am okay.

image
Gif from the video with the words ' And if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself: get a better mirror. Look a little closer. Stare a little longer.'

Words are powerful, they can make or break a person. If you have people constantly telling you how bad you are at stuff, how horrible you are, how ugly or whatever else, it will have an effect. But so will the reverse. It is all about finding that balance. You never know what someone has had said to them at any given point in time, so why not give out a compliment? Even if you don’t know them, compliment a stranger on their clothes, their smile, something small can make someones day, even if previously it was awful.

Make people’s day’s, don’t break them. I will end on a final quote from Koyczan in the form of a tweet.

image
Tweet reads, 'For anyone inching closer to an edge tonight... step back. I can't promise next year will be better... but there is hope that it might be.' Thid was posted on Christmas eve 2013 and still rings true now.
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