Monday Motivation – How I Survived My Bullies and Tips So Maybe You Can, Too

When I was a little kid I talked funny. If you’ve heard me in person or listened to the podcast, you can tell that I still do, but it was way worse then. I slurred my s sounds. It wasn’t a lisp. It was more of a slur – like my tongue was kind of lazy and just didn’t want to do all the work.

How I survived bullying
The tongue – my mortal enemy

 

So, in first grade for the whole first week, Jay Jamison (almost his real name) made fun of me. I’d raise my hand and answer and he’d lean over his desk and repeat whatever I said only super exaggerating the bad ‘s’ sounds.

So, if the answer was Sunday, I’d raise my hand and say, “Sunday.”
And then he’d lean over and go, “Ssssssshunday.”

And something inside me would tighten up. And something inside of me would want to cry, so I’d have to press my lips together really hard. And something inside of me would die a little bit.

Then, things got worse. Jay got his friends to mock me too at recess. They’d stand around me and say ‘s’ words, copying my voice, making their voices really high, laughing. They made fun of my last name, which was Barnard, and call me, “Carrie St. Bernard.”

It was pretty bad. Sometimes they’d pull at my jacket or my hair. Sometimes they’d monster hug me, which meant they’d try to squish me. The entire time they’d make fun of my voice, my s’s, me.

So, I stopped talking. I stopped raising my hand. I stopped answering questions.

I’d talk to my best friend Kathy Albertson and that was pretty much it. They had silenced me.

And I also tried to be invisible because I figured if they didn’t notice me then they couldn’t hurt me. I wanted more than anything to have invisibility be my super power. I would pray for it every night.

How I survived bullying Carrie Jones Books, NYT bestselling kid lit author of children's books
This is what I’d say

Pretty much all of first grade I didn’t talk. It was too scary to talk. I didn’t ever raise my hand even though I always knew the answers. And when I did talk I would try really hard to find words without ‘s’ sounds. (David Sedaris has a great essay about this. He did it, too). And the teacher thought there might be something wrong with me in a developmentally divergent and/or emotionally challenged way. And she told my mom. And I promised my mom I would talk more in second grade.

I spent the whole summer trying to learn how to talk better. I was home alone most of the time so I needed a model. You couldn’t hear people when you read books so I turned to the television.

We were super poor and we only got two channels – sometimes three.

One channel was soap operas and kissing, which was grosser than gross.

The other channel was mostly game shows, which was so tense. I had issues watching people almost win things and then not win things.

I was the least tough kid ever, basically.

This left one channel – PBS.

PBS is full of kids show, and back then it was also full of Muppets.

Yes, like the brilliant kid I was, I watched Sesame Street over and over to learn how to talk, so yes, I modeled my voice after Muppets, which pretty much explains my voice now.

Helpful Hint: It is not the best idea to model your voice after Elmo and Big Bird and Grover if you’re trying to fit in and not be bullied.

 Yes, I taught Carrie how to talk.

Obviously, Sesame Street did not fix my s’s, but it did tweak my accent AND make me sound like a Muppet, which means that in second grade people still made fun of my voice, but my teacher, Mrs. Snierson gave us a haiku assignment that I totally aced and she realized I was smart, and pretty much protected me all that year.

Say what?

Say “writing changed my life” is what.

How I survived bullying Carrie Jones Books, NYT bestselling kid lit author of children's booksHow I survived bullying Carrie Jones Books, NYT bestselling kid lit author of children's booksHow I survived bullying Carrie Jones Books, NYT bestselling kid lit author of children's books

I also learned that if you give your snacks away to the kids who never had enough money for snacks they would protect you, too.

And I also learned that if you asked people what was wrong when they cried, they’d protect you, too, once they were done crying.

And I also learned that Timmy Bourassa also liked smelly stickers, so I gave him some and then he protected me, too.

It was weird, but it was how I dealt. I coped by taking care of other people. I coped by buying protection with food and stickers.

The price of my protection?

  1. Empathy

  2. No lunches for me

  3. Smelly stickers

And things got better for a long time. People stood up for me when Jay was mean. Jay eventually became a kid named Chris. Both of them gave up when other people stepped in for me.

No.

I never stepped in for myself.

I didn’t know how.

Things were better though because my caring about other kids returned as they cared about me. ,

But then in seventh grade after years of speech classes that didn’t help my s sounds at all, one of my teachers made me stay during recess and said, “Carrie. You are never going to succeed because of your s’s. You’re a smart girl, but you’ll always be a loser if your voice sounds like that. “

He told me I had no hope.
He told me that there was no point in me trying or going to college or even finishing high school if I didn’t get those ‘s’ sounds fixed.
He told me I would never succeed.

I cried a lot in the hall and another teacher asked what happened. I still remember how red that other teacher’s face got when I told him.

I remember him hugging me while I sobbed.

I remember him storming into the first teacher’s room and yelling so loudly the whole school heard.

That teacher saved me. My mom saved me too.

She went to the school and complained. Nothing happened to the first teacher, but I knew my mom cared and that was important. But no matter what either my mom or my nice teacher, or any of my friends said, that first teacher’s words echoed in my head and in my soul for a super long time. They still echo there sometimes and I hear those words in that teacher’s voice, and Jay’s voice, and those recess boys’ voices, and sometimes I hear them in my voice and that’s when it hurts the most. It hurts the most when I, myself, am thinking:

I have no hope.
There is no point in me trying.
I will never succeed.
I am a loser. 

My books have made  New York Times bestseller lists and bestseller lists in France and I’m published in a bunch of countries and I get fan mail, but I still can hear those bullying words sometimes – not all the time – but sometimes.

And I realize I cringe every time someone makes fun of speech impediments on tv or movies or books.

And I realize that I still do what I did in second grade – I surround myself with people who protect me by making me feel better. If I’m really hurt, I’ll friends-lock blog about it and people are always so kind. That’s how I cope. But other people? They aren’t so lucky for a bunch of reasons.

Sometimes you are too hurt to help other people.

Sometimes sharing a lunch or a smelly sticker isn’t enough.

Sometimes the pain inside of you becomes so big that there is no way for you to help other people because your own heart has fractured so much.

Life advice, writing advice, dogs. Carrie Jones talks about bullying and how she survived it
Need series

So, thanks to all of you who have ever helped me through a bully experience. I hope you know how awesome you are.

WHAT I’VE TRIED TO DO

So, I can’t save anyone, really. All I can do is listen, give out smelly stickers, and share my own stories. Sometimes those stories are super fun and inspiring, like the NEED series or TIME STOPPERS or THE SPY WHO PLAYED BASEBALL. 

Sometimes those stories? They are full of pain.

I’ve recently contributed to the anthology THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID and Megan Kelley Hall and I co-edited another anthology, DEAR BULLY, which was an effort of writers, readers, bloggers and people to raise awareness about bullying. The money we raise from Dear Bully’s royalties continues each year to support programs meant to raise awareness about bullying and support those who have suffered. I am so grateful for that opportunity.

But it doesn’t feel like enough, you know? Nothing ever feels like enough.

If you’re a survivor of bullying, please know that you aren’t alone. Check out this website for some resources. And if you are a person who bullies? Try to get some help too. Your life can be so much better than it is now.  Let’s change our culture into something better.

 

carriejonesbooks.blog Writing tips and help from NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones

Writing News

The Class at the Writing Barn

The awesome 6-month-long Writing Barn class that they’ve let me be in charge of!? It’s happening again in July. Write! Submit! Support! is a pretty awesome class. It’s a bit like a mini MFA but way more supportive and way less money.

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Praise for Carrie Jones and Write. Submit. Support:

“Carrie has the fantastic gift as a mentor to give you honest feedback on what needs work in your manuscript without making you question your ability as a writer. She goes through the strengths and weaknesses of your submissions with thought, care and encouragement.”

“Carrie’s feedback is specific, insightful and extremely helpful. She is truly invested in helping each of us move forward to make our manuscripts the best they can be.”

“Carrie just happens to be one of those rare cases of extreme talent and excellent coaching.”

People are saying super nice things about me, which is so kind of them because helping people on their writing journeys and their craft and supporting them? That’s pretty boss, honestly.

Dogs are smarter than people - the podcast, writing tips, life tips, quirky humans, awesome dogs
The podcast of awesome

The Podcast

The podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE has a new episode about life tips, dog tips and writing advice tomorrow.

 

 

Book Expo America 

I’ll be at Book Expo America in NYC on June 1. From 11:30 to 12, I’ll be signing copies of The Spy Who Played Baseball. If you’re going to be there, come hang out.

Moe Berg The Spy Who Played Baseball
Moe Berg

Flying and Enhanced – the Young Adult Science Fiction Series

Cross Buffy with Men in Black and you get… you get a friends-powered action adventure based in the real world, but with a science fiction twist. More about it is here. But these are fun, fast books that are about identity, being a hero, and saying to heck with being defined by other people’s expectations.

This quick, lighthearted romp is a perfect choice for readers who like their romance served with a side of alien butt-kicking action School Library Journal

Sparty knows all about that. More info about FLYING is here and the rest of my books? Right here.

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Having Epilepsy

 

I am pretty open about having occasional seizures, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how that aspect of my identity fits in the writing community and I’ve been really inspired by author Mike Jung’s adult autism journey and it’s made me wonder why despite the fact that I’m so open about having seizures, I’m so hesitant to claim that as part of who I am.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not sure.

My seizure journey is a bit weird. Right before I started college, I had a #metoomoment that left lasting physical consequences. The guy was about to have  (or did have) Mono, which meant he had the Epstein Barr virus. He gave that to me. But the virus didn’t just give me Mono. It attacked my brain. I had bullet rashes and seizures that started with my right hand jerking and then my arm and then I would pass out.

It wasn’t the best way to start college but the administration at Bates were outstanding with one dean even volunteering to stay up all night with me to make sure I didn’t fall asleep for sleep deprivation tests.

Eventually, those seizures stopped being multiple times a day to once a week to hardly ever.

And when they did happen, it was usually at night. And when they did happen, I knew it and would say how I felt sort of “wiggly,” which I guess is my code word for seizures.

This is my first book. The main character has seizures.
So how does this relate to being a writer and labels and discrimination? I’m honestly not 100 % sure. I know that when people talk about being a disabled author, I don’t think of myself. I know that when people post stereotypes or negativity about people with epilepsy in their family, it takes a hell of a lot for me to confront them about it, but I do and afterwards I feel … panic. Because their worries/fears about their family member’s health tends to be more important to them than the stigma they are reinforcing. Or, when people ask me about epilepsy in a book and I say that it’s a trope that’s happening or a stereotype, they ignore it and win awards. 
And yes, this is partly my fault.
My disability is hidden and I let it stay that way because I don’t announce it very often. I don’t claim it much anymore. And you know what? That’s wrong. It makes me a coward. Other people dealing with discrimination and oppression don’t have that luxury. 

Despite the fact that epilepsy is commonplace in our society, there is still a feeling of secrecy and shame associated with it. There are still negative stereotypes that exist.

Jenna Martin quotes Bruce Link of Columbia University who wrote “Stigma exists when a person is identified by a label that sets that person apart and links that person to undesirable stereotypes that result in unfair treatment and discrimination.” (Martin 1)

I am a really fully functioning person who has had seizures – so many seizures. The amount of seizures that I’ve had in my past has made me more susceptible to having seizures now, but the virus also caused some cognitive degeneration. It’s not good for a brain to have as many seizures as my brain has had, for that virus to attack it.

“You’ve lost a good 20 IQ points,” my neurologist told me in college and when I grimaced, he sort of laughed and said, “It’s a good thing you started off so high, but I really don’t want you to lose anymore.”

But the thing is? I can tell. I can feel that loss of cognitive ability. All. The. Time. And I hate it.

I also hate the stigma that Link speaks of and that’s why I have been so hesitant to really claim the label.

It is a negative cycle according to Martin and Link. The first step that occurs is that people realize that others are different from them and they give those differences “labels.” Next, the cultural mores determine that those people with labeled characteristics are representative of all people like them, creating a “negative stereotype.” There becomes an “us vs. them” mentality. Finally, those who are labeled become discriminated against. (Martin 1)

Obviously in the United State in 2017, this applies to more than people with epilepsy, but I’m going to try to confine my topic to this stigma here.

By being a successful writer and having a wonderful, eclectic AF life, I am not fighting that epilepsy stigma when I don’t talk about my times with seizures. I have  friends who also have seizures and nobody knows except me and a couple other people. They keep it secret, really secret. Why? Because they are afraid of being judged. Because they are afraid of losing a job, not getting a job, not being able to afford their health insurance.

I get that.

One of the happiest things that ever happened when I had a seizure was having the person I was with tell me, “That wasn’t all that big a deal.”

One of the worst things that ever happened when I had a seizure was when someone abandoned me and never talked to me again.

And concussions. Fainting is not as romantic as it sounds when it involves hitting your head on hard surfaces.

There has been a long history of people feeling ashamed that they have epilepsy. Epilepsy was hidden. Epilepsy was a secret. Epilepsy was something to fear. Epilepsy was and is a stigma. But epilepsy has made appearances in literature, which brings us back to books and the power of writing.

It was in 400 B.C. that Hippocrates, a Greek physician, wrote Western civilization’s first book about seizures. On the Sacred Disease was non-fiction. In it, Hippocrates refuted the idea that epilepsy was a sacred power, which had been the thought of the time. He didn’t think it was the work of evil forces. Hippocrates believed epilepsy was a brain disorder.

That way of thinking did not stick, however.

In the Bible, Book of Mark (9:14-29), Jesus Christ rids a young man of epilepsy,

“Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive the spirit out, but they could not.”

In the Bible, to have seizures is to be possessed.

Things got worse for people with seizures. With the blessing of the pope, two friars wrote Malleus Maleficarum, a 1494 handbook on witch-hunting. The handbook influenced the persecution of over 200,000 women. Many were tortured. Many were killed. It was not a good time for women who had seizures, because seizures were identified as a trait of witches. To have seizures was to be a witch. To be a witch was to be killed. Women, children and men who had epilepsy did their best to keep it a secret. If they did not, they risked their lives.

Even as late as the 1900s, people with epilepsy could be banned from driving, sterilized, or prohibited from marrying in some states. In 1980, an Idaho mother lost custody of her child. The father argued the mother was unfit because of her epilepsy. The decision was overturned in 1981. It wasn’t until 1980, just a few decades ago, that Missouri repealed the ban that prohibited the marriage of people with epilepsy.

According to American Steven C. Schachter, M.D., “Epilepsy is perfectly compatible with a normal, happy, and full life. Most people with epilepsy go to school, make friends, date, have jobs and families. Not that it’s always easy. Sometimes coping with the reaction of other people can be the most difficult part of living with epilepsy. Keeping a positive outlook is key. So is a strong sense of self-esteem and independence, with emphasis on abilities rather than difficulties.” (Schachter, Stephen)

That’s how it should be. It isn’t how it is.

Imagine: You’re a man with epilepsy. You go to a pharmacy in a Virginia big box store and while you’re there you have a seizure. The store decides you can’t come back. It’s too disturbing for their customers. The next time you go to pick up your medicine you’re arrested for trespassing.

Imagine: You’re a college student in Tennessee. The school administration tells you, that you can’t attend classes anymore because you have epilepsy. It’s not so bad, they say. You can take your classes through the Internet.

Imagine: You’re a Texas woman with a good job, but you lose it once you fill out insurance forms and write that you’re epileptic.

Imagine: You’re the mother of a California preschooler. The school staff refuses to give your child the emergency life-saving medicine that the child might need.

Imagine: You’re a New Jersey man who has a seizure. Police respond to a call for medical assistance. They use excess force to restrain you. You die. (Legal Information about Epilepsy)

So, yeah. I have epilepsy but epilepsy doesn’t have me. And if you are a writer or reader or anyone, please remember that people aren’t defined by their differences. Their differences are part of them, but not all of them.

Link B., Phelan J. Conceptualizing Stigma. Annu. Rev Sociol. 1001; 27:363-85

Martin, Jenna. “Remembering Danny.” Epilepsy.com. Epilepsy Therapy Development  Project. . 20 Jan. 2006 <http://www.epilepsy.com/stories/ps_1093455944.html>.

Martin, Jenna. “Teens with Epilepsy: Living with Stigma.” Epilepsy.com. Epilepsy Therapy Development  Project.. 20 Jan. 2006 <http://www.epilepsy.com/articles/ar_1089388403.html>.

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