Family Life Stories Life

This is my open letter of apology to my sister

Growing up, I had only a few friends. From the ages of twelve to sixteen, I had a grand total of three people I would talk to and even then, I only felt comfortable messaging one out of these three friends. But, the one consistent person in my life has always been my older sister, someone I owe a big apology to. 

When we were younger, my older sister and I were often called twins – we were so in-sync all the time whether it was sentences, responses, or even emotions. My sister is in fact just under two years older than I am and although she can be a bit up herself for being the older sibling at times, I can’t say I’ve never connected with her even though my sister was always a little more sympathetic to things than I was or even still am; if I shed a tear, she shed a waterfall. 

Exhibit A; I slipped headfirst into the side of the building and got a concussion at school one time in year three and she cried more than I did as she went off to get a teacher who basically told her to calm down because not a single coherent word was coming out of her mouth. Though I had to stay home battling a throbbing headache for the upcoming weeks, my sister would spend her time at school making get well soon cards for me and coming home to just sit with me. 

I remember when she was leaving primary school and on her last day, I was filled with dread because I realized that if I now had a spat with my friends, I couldn’t run off to my sister. She was now going to be somewhere that would require me to climb out of the school gates undetected, crossroads safely and not get kidnapped by the white van that appears to be everywhere. Far too much effort for the kid who barely got off the sofa once she sat down.

I got through that year anyhow and remember my sister giving me a pep talk before my first day of secondary school with the same sentence over and over: “I’m there if you need me.” It got really sour, really fast. 

Although undiagnosed at the time, social anxiety has always been a lifelong struggle of mine and I always took comfort in familiarity in my surroundings. I expressed to my sister how nervous I was about starting school on our walk there and she agreed for both of us to meet during break time in the school canteen. The first day had already been awful for me with the highlight of it realizing that I would be picked on by this one girl for the next five years. Her reason? She thought I was ugly. 

As I sat at a table waiting for my sister, a group of girls from my class walked past me making comments about how ‘ugly’ I was. I became the focal point of their laughter when my sister walked up to me and gave me a hug asking how my first few lessons were. I was suddenly torn between being in my safe space and fitting in – would I have been spared the embarrassment if I didn’t talk to my sister? I didn’t know it wouldn’t matter either way; the class bullies ran with it, teasing me relentlessly for the next five years. 

I got teased for a myriad of things during my time at secondary school, but it was all largely in comparison to me and my sister. She was tall, fairer-skinned (colorism at its finest), pretty, and above all, skinny. It didn’t help that she was also smart so whenever we had the same teachers, I would have to face comparisons by the teachers which would just become more ammunition for the class bullies. One girl in my class spread the rumor that I was adopted because there was no way one sister could be so beautiful and the other one so ugly. Another girl told me that my sister should be embarrassed to have such a fat sibling. The comments only got more demeaning from there.

I took it all out on my sister. I started arguing with her every morning so she would leave for school without me and purposefully get out of class really late so I wouldn’t have to walk home with her. Everything anyone has ever bought me down for, I would blame on her and I made sure she knew it. I bullied my own sister for my insecurities and that is a regret that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I regret my actions especially because my sister is a kind soul who has only ever encouraged me and waited patiently for me to work through any issues I was having.

It wasn’t until I got out of secondary school that I realized how awful I had been to someone who had never been mean to me – we came out of school with an overwrought relationship on my behalf. The road to healing has been long but my sister deserves to know that none of it was her fault and if I could undo it, I would.

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Love Life Stories

When I moved to America from my home in India, my classmates tried their best to break me down

I was bullied in middle school and it made me a shell of the person I am today. I had recently moved from India to the United States and I was teased for being observant and having a lazy eye. It was traumatizing to move to a new place and try to adjust, just to feel different and lonely.

Although the teasing stopped after middle school, being bullied continued to impact me throughout high school. I was caught up in a vicious cycle of low self-esteem and the inability to express myself, so I became a lifeless person walking the halls.

I tried to assimilate by becoming quiet and detached from those around me, mostly because I didn’t have the strength to deal with being bullied anymore. It didn’t work. Being reclusive just made it worse because everyone else seemed to be adjusting well and I was still alone.

 I saw people around me be happy and social whereas I was quiet and had no friends.

In the middle of the eleventh grade, I realized that something needed to change. I hated that everyone had friends and I didn’t have that many. I tried to figure out how it happened and I realized that it was a matter of choosing who I wanted to be, and I had to take charge. I felt a need to be defined as more than just a quiet, shy girl. 

I needed to become someone I actually liked.

I had a personality, but it was hidden under the multiple blankets that needed to be unwrapped. Not many people actually made the effort to get to know me, and that bothered me because I knew that I was a great person.

I realized I needed to start making an effort.

I started doing the best I could to talk to people. I would take the time to join in random discussions which I thought were awkward, yet necessary. I didn’t solidly make ‘friends,’ and I didn’t become part of a clique or group of people, through this process, but at least I knew I was trying. And I made acquaintances who were interesting people.

I tried to make friends at home too.

 Opening up and getting to know people was a very slow process and I knew that it would take time, but I was okay with that. I cringe at the thought of trying to make friends. I could barely muster the courage to introduce myself, but I did anyway. 

By the time I left for college, I was still never satisfied with the progress that I’d made making friends, but college gave me the chance for a fresh start. I felt like I could leave most of my past behind. I made sure to choose a university where no one from my high school was going: a small suburban Penn State campus in Erie PA. I vowed to myself that I would not let the ghost of my past haunt me again.

 I would make friends and not be afraid to express myself.

Penn State Erie had a warm and welcoming campus and I made a lot of friends during the welcome week. Since then, everything has been better.

Though it was, and still is, hard sometimes.

My heart still beats crazy fast if I need to talk to a person I don’t know. It beats super fast when I try to talk in class in front of too many people. 

Until two years ago, I even hated ordering pizza or any take out over the phone because I feared my voice would be too quiet.

I still have time when my self-worth drops dramatically, but I notice it and am able to work on it. When it does, I remember where I came from and the progress I have made, and that I don’t let other people put me down anymore.

I can’t change what happened to me in the past or who I was, but I can make sure that I improve on the person that I am and change how to respond to the events that happened to me. Everyone has something they’re not proud of or feel the need to hide from, but I can’t hide from myself.

It takes time but it does happen. I still think about that time and wonder who would I be today without that experience of being bullied and having to struggle to make friends on my own.

I like to think that having that experience makes me stronger, so I have been able to make peace with it.

Tech Now + Beyond

Cyberbullying can kill. Why are we pretending it’s just a joke?

Cyberbullying has become a serious problem in the digital age and the impacts can be devastating.

The story of Amanda Todd shows that cyberbullying can be fatal. Amanda was chatting with a man online who asked her to flash him. She did, but she didn’t know that he snapped a picture of her breasts. When she refused to flash him again, he sent the picture to her Facebook friends, and the vicious online harassment began. Her peers cut her out. In her isolation, she began drinking heavily and using drugs.

Eventually, she killed herself.

She was only 15.

The story shares many elements with the tragic story of Tyler Clementi, one of the first widely publicized cases of suicide as a result of cyberbullying. Tyler’s roommate turned on the webcam in their dorm room and captured video of Tyler being intimate with another man. His roommate then invited others to watch the video and shared it on Twitter. Tyler immediately became a target for harassment on campus and endured brutal cyberbullying for the last weeks of his life.

He threw himself off the George Washington Bridge. He was only 18.

The wildly popular Netflix Original series “13 Reasons Why” also sheds light on the problem of online harassment. The main character, Hannah, has misleading pictures of her sent to the whole school. Rumors spread quickly, also mainly through digital means, and her reputation quickly suffers. This sets in motion a series of events that lead to her suicide.

These are extreme examples, but cyberbullying has everyday impacts as well.

A recent study found that girls who have been victims of or engage in cyberbullying are less engaged in school. The study found that girls who have encountered online harassment feel less accepted by their peers, which makes it difficult for them to be in a school environment.

I don’t take the impacts of cyberbullying lightly, mostly because I have been a victim.

When I was in middle school the cool thing to do when we got home from school was hop on the computer, sign in to AIM, and chat with our friends. We all traded screen names, which we created and recreated every other day so we’d have ‘cool’ screen names, and spent hours gossiping and sharing secrets.

One day, I received a message request from a screen name I didn’t recognize, but it was connected to a fandom I was really in to, so I accepted the request. I ended up chatting with the person for a while and became pretty comfortable with them.

I ended up sharing things with this person that I was embarrassed to share with my friends.

Then, out of the blue, my friends knew these things that I was too embarrassed to share and they teased me relentlessly. I was devastated and I couldn’t figure out how they could have figured out the secrets I was keeping. After a few weeks, someone let it slip that my ‘best friend’ had created the screen name and was pretending to be someone else in order to get me to share information.

She had shared the information she’d manipulated out of me with my other friends. They all thought it was a big joke.

In the realm of cyberbullying, this is a pretty mild experience. No nude photos of me were shared, The secrets I was embarrassed to share were run of the mill middle school things. But the experience made it really difficult for me to trust my friends and it really hurt my feelings.

When teens experience cyberbullying they experience overwhelming emotions that are hard for them to process. Victims of cyberbullying reported feeling angry, embarrassed, and hurt.

They are forced to relive these feelings every time the harassment occurs.

Messages that constitute cyberbullying are often passed from one student to another and travel quickly through social networks and school systems. This forces the teen to relive the experience multiple times.

Unfortunately, cyberbullying is a relatively common occurrence for teens. Statistics show that about half of teens surveyed have been the victim of cyberbullying. About a quarter of the teens surveyed had experienced persistent cyberbullying. This is not something that’s happening to a few teens.

It’s happening with alarming frequency and a lot of teens are getting hurt.

Cyberbullying isn’t limited to teens either. It’s extremely common for adults, particularly women, to experience cyberbullying on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Twitter especially is a nexus of online harassment. The women being harassed are often from marginalized groups. They are often speaking out about women’s issues. They are often speaking out about problematic structures and how they need to be changed. They are often speaking out against men.

When my first article was published just over a year ago, I experienced cyberbullying again. The article was about going shopping for the first time after gaining weight in recovery from an eating disorder. It included pictures of my plus size body in shorts and tank tops.

In the comments, I encountered cyberbullying for the first time since middle school.

People called me a fat-ass. They told me that they would want to die if they looked like me. They suggested that I try to diet and just not have an eating disorder.

Why did they think I deserved this harassment? Simply because I was comfortable in my plus size body. That’s when I learned not to read the comments on my articles.

Cyberbullying is a serious problem for both teens and adults, especially girls and women. The consequences of cyberbullying are always serious. People who experience online harassment experience intense feelings, that can sometimes feel so overwhelming that suicide seems like the only way out.

We need to address cyberbullying head on.

We need to talk about how harmful it is and we need to fight to put systems in place that will prevent it from occurring.

And we need to confront cyberbullies and shut them down.