The clay of White Fang had been molded until he became what he was, morose and lonely, unloving and ferocious, the enemy of all his kind. – Jack London – “White Fang”
I waited before writing about this. 10 years after the worst of it, it’s still painful to write about. I was a kid once. Unsurprisingly, given that I’m an autistic adult now, I was an autistic kid. I wasn’t a kid for very long, about 5 years. After that, my repeated exposure to the kinds of people who write articles about the “perks” of being bullied turned me into something else. At 24 years old, I’m still working my way back to a state where I can start growing up without survival mode switched on 24/7.
Like most autistic kids, I was bullied. If I recall correctly, I was bullied consistently from the age of 5 until I was 16, and then sporadically until I left school at 18. The lessons I learned from being bullied are decidedly unhealthy, and manifest as a set of rules that I have to try my hardest not to follow.
Rule 1: Don’t interact with people beyond what’s absolutely necessary. If you think differently, you’re bound to say things that others consider odd, and children are merciless when it comes to teasing. If you have an accent that suggests you’re not from the same part of the country, for example you bother to pronounce your ‘t’ sounds, it’ll be worse. Don’t talk, they’ll only find something in your words with which to make your life miserable.
Rule 2: Don’t bother sharing your problems or feelings with other people in your life. Your peers will keep the information to use against you in a brutal rumour campaign, and your elders will dismiss your experiences to the point where you spiral into doubting everything you feel. Just keep it to yourself, bottle it up.
Rule 3: Be unpredictable, if you walk the same way every day, they’ll know that. If you hang out in the same spot at lunchtime, they’ll seek you out for sport. Time your movements so you’ll transition between spaces at times when they’ll be preoccupied with other things.
Rule 4: Sticks and stones can break your bones. Stay alert, a thrown stone to the skull really hurts, and it’s easier to dodge than to figure out which of the thousand suspects might have done it and report them. It’s not like the adults will do anything about it anyway.
Rule 5: Overreact. If you don’t have an easy way out, get violent. It’s the only way you’ll get the situation looked at by adults, and if you’re lucky they’ll put you in seclusion as a punishment for fighting. Seclusion is safe.
Rule 6: Violence is the answer. If you put on a big enough show of force, they’ll leave you alone for a while.
Rule 7: Don’t let anyone near your food, it’s easy to steal a lunchbox from the shelf and hide it, or contaminate the food. Keep your lunch in your pockets.
Rule 8: Don’t eat around other people. Eating means your attention is on your food and not on your surroundings, opening you up to attack.
Rule 9: Do whatever it takes to survive. If you need to self harm in order to make it to tomorrow, do it. If you need to intentionally break a bone to avoid P.E., do it. Make sure any self harm is easily hidden (see Rule 2).
Rule 10: Trust no-one. Any apparent friendliness is likely just a ploy to gain your trust so that they can betray you later.
Rule 11: Happiness is temporary. Don’t bother with self-esteem, don’t get attached to things, don’t get attached to people. Everything can be taken away from you. If they find out you care about something, they’ll destroy it. Stop caring.
So far, I don’t see any perks. I see the makings of PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, eating problems, long-term problems with self-esteem, self-harm, aggression, trust issues… A child shouldn’t have to learn that biting, scratching and otherwise fighting dirty is a viable tactic. A child shouldn’t have to learn that the only way that they can be taken seriously is with violence. A child shouldn’t have to learn that they’re they only person they can rely on.
Living in constant survival mode is exhausting. Setting children up for a life of that exhaustion, and doing so willingly as a way of “teaching” them, is inexcusable.