Bullying at School Can Take the Sunshine Out of Life

Darlene and Lenette Doskoch

Reprinted from "Schools" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 5 (2), pp. 15-17

stock photoA daughter’s story

Hi, my name is Lenette Doskoch and I have generalized anxiety disorder. I don’t know exactly what to write. Remembering what happened to me and sharing it with you is very painful.

I’ve always been judged by the way I behaved, how I dressed and who I hung out with. Growing up in Castlegar, I was tortured day after day about my weight, my looks, and whether I was good enough for anyone. As early as kindergarten, I can remember being picked on by my peers because of my weight—and I’ve never even been a heavy kid, nor was I too skinny. I was normal. But the kids said very nasty words to me. I was called fat, slut and whore, every day that I was in elementary school. I didn’t understand why I was called all those things. I tried to be everyone’s friend . . .

I started high school thinking that these years would be the best of my life. But nothing changed. The kids that had bullied me in elementary followed me to high school. In grade eight I was bullied, just for being me. I was still treated like a piece of trash that no one cared about and called horrible names—including by my teachers and principals. My principal even called me a lesbian for dancing with my ‘girl’ friends. I was devastated. In high school the words came with physical attacks and, even though I was older, I still didn’t understand why I was hated.

I started experimenting with alcohol, pot and smoking cigarettes. I also began skipping class and cutting myself—all this by the age of 13. I was still so young, but my whole life had turned upside down. I wasn’t the same person anymore. I looked the same on the outside, but the hurtful words from peers and teaching staff had changed me. My self-esteem had been shattered and I hated myself. I had opportunities in front of me, but I chose to lose them because I had no faith in myself. I had thoughts of suicide.

One day I ran away from home. That day, it felt like the bullying would never stop, and the pain became too much. Two ‘friends,’ who made me a regular target for their bullying, decided to run away. Because I was desperate for their friendship, I allowed them to talk me into running away too. This was to be the last day of my life as I knew it.

It was winter and we hitchhiked from Castlegar to Osoyoos, three hours away. We were picked up by the RCMP after the first person we got a ride from reported us as possible runaways. We were only gone for about 18 hours, when my mom and the other parents arrived to pick us up.  

When that day ended I thought I could never be the same. But what I didn’t know is that running away wouldn’t make things any better. Because I was trying to run away from myself. I tried to change myself to make other people happy and ignored my heart and my soul.

* * * * * * *

We moved to Williams Lake for my grade nine year. I was so scared I’d be bullied again. What if the kids didn’t like me? Or, what if I wasn’t pretty enough to be in their cliques?

I had a bit of a break down in the first month at school because I was waiting for the kids to bully me—but they never did. I’m not sure if it was the town that was different or me. Maybe a bit of both. I do know that I make better choices in friends now.

Before I moved to Williams Lake I was a seed, unwatered, uncared for and lonely. In Williams Lake, I found an amazing best friend named Sarah and a lot of other good friends who support me. They’ve all helped me bloom into a beautiful flower—a yellow tulip, bright and colourful.

A mother’s story

I was sitting in my office in Nelson, BC, getting ready to close up my office for the day and go home. Home is a 45 minute drive to Castlegar, which gives me plenty of time to unwind from a busy day and think about what I’m going to make for dinner. And I start to get excited about seeing my children, Lenette (13) and Dillian (11).

In 2002, I decided to go back to school and change my career. I took the Social Services certificate program at Selkirk College and got a job right out of school. I haven’t looked back since. As part of my job, I work with people who have mental illness and other disabilities, so I’m fairly familiar with the signs of depression and anxiety.

This particular winter’s day at the office had been no different from any other. As I was finishing up, the phone rang. The person on the other end identified herself as a constable from the Osoyoos RCMP detachment; she wanted to speak to me.

Imagine my shock when she told me that my daughter was sitting in her office; that she’d been picked up as a runaway. I laughed and told her she must be mistaken. Lenette couldn’t be there; she must have the wrong number. After a few more denials on my part, it became clear that my daughter had, indeed, run away from home.

My big question was: why? What had I done? What had I missed?

When Lenette started grade eight, I wasn’t happy with the new school system. Kids from grade eight through 12 were now together in the same school, and I was concerned about her being around students so much older than her. But Lenette kept reassuring me that she was fine. She had many friends and was often invited over to their homes, or they came to ours. The fact that she was spending more and more time alone in her room was surely just a symptom of being a teenager, right? I was a professional; I would know whether my child was depressed, wouldn’t I?

That ride from Nelson to Osoyoos was the longest ride of my life. It was winter and the roads were icy. Even though I went along with another set of parents (there were three girls who had run away together), I felt very alone. I couldn’t understand why Lenette would run away. I knew nothing.

Over the next few hours the facts became very clear. Lenette was being bullied at school. So were the other two girls she ran away with.

The next morning, while we were talking to the ‘adults in charge’ in the vice-principal’s office at the high school, the girls were attacked. I could hear one of them screaming in the hallway. The vice-principal went to see what was going on, found Lenette and the two girls, and brought them into his office. One of the girls had a large chunk of her hair ripped out. The attackers had knocked her to the ground, stomped on her legs and then dragged her down the hallway by her feet, while Lenette and the other friend tried to help her.

The girls told us later that a teacher had merely told them to “knock it off” and walked on by. The vice-principal’s action was to take no action. Instead, he told the girls that if they’d stayed seated outside the office where he’d told them to wait during our meeting, it would never have happened.

One of the other parents phoned the RCMP to report the attack, because the school had refused to do so. We also went to the RCMP to file complaints, but they did everything they could to dissuade us from pursuing the complaint. We were told it would take a lot of paperwork and time, and the results wouldn’t be worth the effort. I’d have climbed Mount Everest to help my child, but it felt like no one wanted to help me—or her.

The sad part is, the girl who received the major brunt of the attack was also suspended for fighting in school. I find it even sadder, as Lenette’s parent, to discover that she had chosen to report this particular grade 11 bully to the vice-principal long before this incident and wasn’t believed. The VP’s words to her were something to the effect of: “I don’t believe you; she’s one of my favourite students and wouldn’t do anything like that.” He admitted to this conversation during our meeting. And it was later confirmed that this girl had been accused of bullying before and there were reports in her file prior to this attack.

Ultimately, our concerns fell on deaf ears, leaving the girls to suffer in silence and feeling they were to blame.

Changing schools was, unfortunately, not an option at that time because there were no other high schools in Castlegar. We did look into the Trail school district, but the district representative’s first words to Lenette were: “Well, if I put you in a new school are you going to be a problem there too?” This was the final blow for Lenette, and it sent her into a deep depression.

Over the next few months, our lives changed dramatically. Lenette was changed. My smiling Sunshine girl was gone and replaced by a sad, withdrawn and depressed child. I had nicknamed Lenette “Sunshine” when she was only a couple of months old. She was an extremely happy baby, always smiling.

On looking back, I realized that my Sunshine had been depressed for a long time, but I had missed it. I began to notice that Lenette was drinking and smoking. Eventually I noticed that she was cutting—I’d see the marks on her legs. At first she denied it, but eventually she told me that it helped relieve her pain.

My worst day as a parent came approximately two months after she had run away, when we had to take her to emergency at the regional hospital in Trail because she was threatening suicide.

* * * * * * *

We moved to Williams Lake at the end of the school year. I could not—would not—make my child go back to that school.

Through my workplace in Williams Lake, I was able to have Lenette assessed so that we could obtain some assistance for Lenette in school. She was struggling with her academic studies. After a difficult assessment, Lenette was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, specifically around school-based activities, and authorities and brought on by the bullying. They also found a mild learning disability. The assessor however, felt that the learning disability was due primarily to her anxieties around school.

Lenette was put on antidepressants and attended counselling for a time. I wish she had stayed in counselling longer than she did. But, while Lenette knows that counselling is good for her, she’s a strong-willed young lady and felt she’d had enough.

You see, Lenette wasn’t bullied because she was fat, or of a different race, or some other ‘difference.’ She was bullied because she liked to be friends with everyone. If she hung out with group A on Monday and then group B on Tuesday, group A would call her terrible names and body slam her into lockers, simply for wanting to hang out with a different group of friends. In her first year at Williams Lake Senior Secondary, however, she was voted best friend of the school!

Lenette continues to struggle with what happened to her; it affects every day of her life. But the good news is that I’m starting to see glimpses of my Sunshine girl again—changed, but still there.

About the authors

Lenette is a grade 12 student at Williams Lake Senior Secondary School. She is active in dance and loves spending time with her friends. After graduation she plans to move to Kamloops and is thinking about becoming a writer

Darlene moved from Oklahoma to Williams Lake in 1983 when she was 17, to be reunited with her mother after 14 years of separation, and she married in 1991. Darlene is a graduate of the Social Services Program at Selkirk College and currently works for the Canadian Mental Health Association in Williams Lake