Encounters with Bullying, Assault, and Depression
I grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and come from a well-known Mennonite family. I moved from the local public high school to Eastern Mennonite High School (EMHS) at the start of my sophmore year. This is when I remember life started getting really hard for me.
Even though, like many of the kids at EMHS, I came from a respected Mennonite family (my grandfather was the high school principal, my uncles were well-known soccer stars, and my mom was a teacher), I felt different than the kids at EMHS immediately. I felt pressure to be smart, athletic, popular, and overall successful. I just could never fit that mold…and I became singled out.
Students made cruel assumptions about me and picked on me incessantly. Classmates called me awful names like, “The Harrisonburg Whore.” I went out for the women’s soccer team but the girls and even the coach talked about my body, telling me my weight made me slow. I was told that if I only “tried harder” to lose weight, I’d be a better soccer player. I was so embarrassed and ashamed.
To add to the torture, some of popular and well-loved guys would harass me, grabbing my butt or trying to grope me when adults weren’t around. When I protested, telling them to stop, I was mocked and made fun of by them and their friends. You see, when you’re not popular or respected, people don’t seem to take you seriously.
I was so sad during those times. I didn’t realize I had depression and how serious it was.
Coping with Depression
Under the weight of my misery, I started cutting. I needed some way of externalizing the agony of my internal pain. The cutting started out on my wrists. I would be alone crying, just sobbing, in so much distress. When I cut myself, I experienced a flood of immediate release. I felt like I could understand something about my life again. It gave me the sense of control that I desperately yearned for. When I cut myself, I experienced a flood of immediate release. I felt like I could understand something about my life again. It gave me the sense of control that I desperately yearned for.
At one point, a classmate saw the scars on my wrist. She told me that she “knew” I was cutting in order to get attention. But she didn’t understand that cutting for me wasn’t about attention…it was about coping. From that point on, I started cutting under my breasts and on my thighs so that the marks wouldn’t be visible and draw suspicion.
At this point, my only friend at EMHS was a classmate who also cut. We found solidarity in our struggles together. However, when the school counselor found out that we were both cutting, she demanded that the two of us be kept separate at school. I guess she thought this would help and discourage the cutting behavior, but it only made my isolation and grief all the greater.
I attempted suicide twice in my junior year, both times by swallowing a bottle of pills. The first time, it turned out that I’d only swallowed a vial of vitamins…so nothing happened. The second time was scarier. I swallowed a bottle of pain killers. Looking back at that moment, I know that I didn’t actually want to die but…I didn’t know what else to do. My grades at school were miserable, and I couldn’t handle the constant disappointment I felt that I was to my mom. Feelings of failure and worthlessness had taken such a strong hold that I believed that everyone would be better off without me.
Swallowing the pills calmed me down enough to realize that I didn’t want to die. I told my mom what I’d done, and she rushed me to the hospital where nurses shoved charcoal down my throat.
It was eerily silent when I returned to school after being hospitalized. Not a single teacher or student asked me about what had happened. Maybe they were told not to talk to me about it? I don’t know. But it would have been a lot easier if I’d had support at school.
How Things Got Better
Being hospitalized made my youth pastor realize how severely I was struggling. He reached out and became the one safe and consistent person I could cling to. He did a lot of things right, and my relationship with him marked the beginning of getting the supports I needed to.
In an upcoming article Tiara will share recommendations for congregations, youth groups, and individuals to help churches and adults get involved in the lives of youth experiencing severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
Questions for Reflection
- Have you ever dismissed a person’s struggles as being “attention seeking”? How did this help the person? If a behavior is indeed attention seeking, why is this considered negative?
- Tiara was kept apart from her only friend at school because they both practiced self-harm. This is an understandable reaction, but considering Tiara’s reflections, did it serve to help her? What else could have been done in response to this information?
- What of your own biases or stereotypes about mental illness and suicide did you become aware of while reading Tiara's story?
About Tiara: Hi! I'm a single mom, to 2 beautiful babies. I'm a nurse who loves to go off road in my Jeep, fix my Jeep, and do anything that has anything to do with... my Jeep! I also love to be outside. If I have to be inside, I love football, the Dallas Cowboys to be exact.