Build CAMH: tanding Together in Pink

Published on February 24th, 2015 | from CAMH

Standing Together in Pink

By Olivia Heffernan, NYAC Co-Facilitator, and Maree Rodriguez, NYAC member

The idea for Pink Shirt Day started when a student came to school wearing a pink shirt and was made fun of for wearing it. Two students in the school heard about this incident and decided to do something about it. They went to their local discount store and bought fifty pink shirts and asked other students to wear pink in support of the student who was bullied. NYAC’s Olivia and Maree share their experiences with bullying, to raise awareness about this ongoing issue and important awareness day.

I was about 13, in my prime (complete with braces, terrible hair and knobby knees) and I was a bully. I was part of the popular pack in middle school, traipsing around the halls with my Mean Girls-esque crew, wearing our velour sweatsuits. We were exclusive and most importantly, exclusionary. We would keep out the girls that we didn’t want in our circle but keep everyone guessing as to which girls would actually be able to stay in the circle.

Why did we do it? Now I can answer that it was a product of group thinking, low self-esteem and anxious thoughts over social consequences. Despite having a leading role in this group, I was never brave enough to go against the grain for fear I would be next to be shunned, talked about and excluded for an undetermined amount of time. I remember saying to my mom after school one day, “it’s like the show Survivor mom, I don’t want to be the next one out”.

Think about the Pink Shirt Day story. What if those two kids had just followed the herd? What if they had just gone along with their friends like I did?

It may seem ridiculous to make fun of someone simply because of the colour of their shirt. However, people get bullied for many different reasons. Being bullied can cause feelings of isolation. Students may not want to go to school, develop low self-esteem and may feel anxious or depressed which can lead to thoughts and sometimes attempts at suicide. 

It started in 2007, I was bullied in middle school. I remember the names, the jokes and the feelings I had during that time. I slept in a lot and most of my grades dropped by the end of grade eight. I felt isolated and tried to keep to myself. I never told anyone because I didn’t know who I could turn to. I began to lose trust in people but I still wanted to be friends with them. I wanted them to like me. I wanted to belong. Looking back at it – it was a period in my life where I am able to look back, reflect and learn from it.

I never hated the students who bullied me. I’ve learned how to forgive but I don’t want to forget about it. It’s an experience that will always impact me. It shaped me into who I am today.

Reading the origin of Pink Shirt Day makes me smile. Not just because the students stood up to bullying, but because they came together as a community to support the student who was bullied. I think it’s amazing how one simple act of kindness can have a ripple effect throughout the country. Think about the mental health and wellness of that community – that stemmed from the simple yet courageous act of going against the ‘norm’.

Now when I think about middle school, I’m amazed at how insecure I was. I feel sad for that girl who wasn’t brave enough to tell her friends that what was happening wasn’t right. I also now think about the people who were left out, the people who were talked about and the people who may not have had the feeling that I did about my group. I’m so sorry to those that I hurt and to those who felt the impact of my actions on their sense of self.

I’ve grown up as a person. I’ve experienced depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I don’t ever want to have a hand in someone else feeling like that. I’ve turned into someone who is willing to fight for her values. I’m not afraid anymore to stand up in front of a group and say, “I don’t agree with this and I don’t want to be associated with that behaviour”. It takes time and a lot of self-reflection but it’s possible to get to this point. To anyone reading this who may identify with this, don’t be scared. Be courageous. Stand up for those around you who may feel uncomfortable. Stand up for yourself and your values. Be kind to others.

Looking back, I’ve had some amazing experiences to educate others about bullying and mental health through speaking engagements, facilitating, and writing. I have a feeling that there will be many more experiences to come down the road. I just know it.

Don’t be scared of being different. Let’s all stand together in pink.

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