By: Don Todd
Hearing about the teen suicides a few months ago started to bring back some old feelings from my own high school career, but the story about Seth Walsh broke me. Seth was a student in my hometown of Tehachapi, California and attended the same schools as I did. He was a gay teen and was harassed by other students to the point that he hung himself. The only two differences between Seth and me were that I did not come out until later in life and did not follow through on my mindset as a teen. I hated every minute of my life at that time, but I was too afraid to be dead.
I was harassed in junior high and high school to the point that I dropped out after my junior year. My parents and I did not receive any assistance from the schools or the school district. When I spoke up about being pushed around, I was viewed as the troublemaker. I was told that it was a part of growing up and to learn from it. There was nothing that they would do to make me feel safe at school, so after many trips to a shrink they just pulled me out.
It’s not the pushing or getting hurt; it’s the fear that leads up to it. I spent every day sitting in class planning out how I would get to my next class without a “run in”. Even better when one of the bullies had the same class as I did and I would have to drop that class the next day. Teachers, faculty, and the school board did nothing! I was considered a problem for bringing it to their attention. It was as if a policy was in place that the first to speak up had an “angle” and was trying to get away with something. All I ever wanted was to have one day that I actually finished –a full day without sneaking off to my car and going home.
I was even asked if I planned on leaving a job and running every time a co-worker picked on me, or things got unbearable. I said “no”, but looking back that is just what I did. After all, high school is a “dry run for life”, as the school board says. I have done that all through my life, just like school taught me –the fight or flight reaction.
Now I am in college and have good grades –all while working full time. It keeps me up at night thinking about how things might have been if the school would have had policies in place so that I would be safe to learn. What would my life be like now? If someone would have done something I could have graduated, gone to college –and would not be in my early thirties still trying to get my life together.
One quote from the school system that I will never forget is, “it’s all a part of growing up.” I start to get sick to my stomach when saying it now. This is not a part of growing up! Living in fear and being driven to a deep depression is not a part of life –if it is, it’s a really short life.
Once a bully sees that he can get away with something, it escalates. Through the years it is treated as simply a part of school to be bullied or to bully someone. It needs to stop now! We are now seeing how bad it can get. It led to me dropping out of high school, but now kids are committing suicide. How is that a part of “growing up”?
I know how it feels to be bullied every minute that you step foot in the direction of the school. It is a horror movie with the creature chasing you, and no matter what you do, you can’t get away. Never knowing what’s going to happen or what is going on in the other kid’s head —how far will the other person take it? Standing up for yourself or just walking away doesn’t work without the school’s backing. Without set polices in place (that are HELD!), it just makes it worse.
I had a chance to meet and talk to Seth’s mother, Wendy Walsh, and tell her about what I had gone through at the same schools. I keep thinking that if I could have done something when I was bullied and harassed, she would have Seth here today. The timing of everything is very odd, you see. I dropped out of school around February of 1997. Seth’s Birthday is February 12th 1997.
Don Todd will be doing an interview with Wendy Walsh about her son, bullying, and the plans she has to prevent this from happening in the future. Keep an eye out for this interview in March.
[Photo Credit: Teachingtimes.com]