I can’t actually promise anyone it will get better. And I think it would be, with the lived experience of my life, disingenuous to try. And I’m not going to lie to anyone: it doesn’t always get better.

But it does get… different. That might not seem like much, especially when you are on the low side of down, but it means everything to me.

Bullies are trying to exert their power over someone else. I’m not entirely sure why that feels good for some people – though I sometimes think it is to make up for a lack of power in other areas of their lives, I tend to shy away from pat, universal answers. Sometimes people are just cruel people.

That doesn’t go away when you’re an adult.

But here is what happens: When you’re playing an RP game, and you first start out, there are these enemies at the beginning of the game who seem impossible. All you’ve got is, like, a flashlight, if that, and you don’t know where you are or what to do. You fight those enemies and sometimes they wound you gravely and you limp along avoiding other fights until you find something that will heal you. You repeat the process, and you level up.

You keep leveling up until, when you go back and fight those early monsters, they seem like a cakewalk in comparison. The enemy isn’t changed at all – they are still the same low-hit-point ridiculous monsters they were at the beginning of your campaign. But you have changed. You’ve survived in spite of them and sometimes you even get to deliver a hearty fuck you in the midst of it all.

That’s very satisfying, I’m not gonna lie.

One thing that happens is simply time. Being a pre-teen and/or a teenager is one of the hardest things you can be. Both because you are figuring things out for yourself (which is sometimes the most awesome creative process ever and sometimes excruciatingly painful but in either case it’s kind of like creating a whole new reality) and because you don’t have a lot of personal agency. When you aren’t 18 yet, at least in the United States, your power is limited. Bullies try to take it away from you and it isn’t like you have a lot of options for response because everything is too dependent on adults taking action.

But time passes and your personal agency really does increase. Being a legal adult shouldn’t make such a difference but especially if the environment of your young adulthood is part of the problem, just getting out of high school – and out of someone else’s house – can be the biggest relief in the world. At that point you have more direct – and legal – control over your choices and what you want to do with your life.

Of course, that doesn’t mean things are magical unicorn double rainbow okay. Because, as you level up, you sometimes run into bigger and meaner monsters. Your toolbox for dealing with them gets expanded and your own hit points increase. You get a sword instead of just a flashlight. You are, almost always, at a level where you can beat these enemies. And if you aren’t, it really is okay to step away from the fight and look for some health packs or a healer or something. Because there’s no shame in taking care of your self – in fact, that’s pretty much your job number one. Not because other people won’t do it (sometimes, in fact, other people will want to take more care of you than you want taken!) but because it is important that you be able to do it when no one else is around and it’s just you and your flashlight and a bunch of nasties.

It gets different and it feels easier at times and harder at times. Brick by brick, that suffocating feeling of pressure on your chest lightens up a little bit. The moments of relief come more often and last longer.

And, more than that, you aren’t so alone. There is something inherently hopeless about feeling alone and powerless. You meet other people, though, other people who are a lot like you, and it makes some of that bleak loneliness go away. It means there are extra hands to lift those bricks off your chest, extra hands to hold the flashlight steady, to go on quests with you until you find whatever it is that you’re looking for.

Sometimes it’s hard to find those other people – but I promise you, we’re already around you.

There isn’t anyone else like you; that’s the really, really cool thing about being a person. It’s not about being a special snowflake – it’s about every individual being truly that, an individual. You are the only you there is. And that’s amazing.

When I was a pre-teen, I had a bulletin board. And behind some stuff (I remember with particular clarity a little pennant with a pink pig made of felt that I’d made in some kind of home economics class), written on a scrap of paper, I had the number for a local suicide prevention hotline. I spent a lot of time alone as a kid but more than just the time alone, I felt alone, as though there was simply too much between me and any hope of being more in control of my life. I don’t share this lightly – I don’t think my family ever knew and it isn’t like I’ve ever told anyone. But I posted the number because I knew, even then, that decisions made when I was at my worst probably weren’t the best decisions I could make. And something so permanent, well, that wasn’t a decision I wanted to fuck up. I didn’t really want to kill myself. What I wanted was relief. To make it all stop, just for a little while if at all possible. I had enough respite, in the form of family and books (oh, books, you have saved my life so many times), so that it never felt like the only possible option but I’ve never been so close to ending my own life as I was at 10 and 11. As I’ve said before, I’m stubborn and I’m contrary, so it felt like just surviving was kind of sticking it to the people who wanted to make me hurt and fearful, too.

It’s okay to be afraid. Monsters are scary. Not wanting to fight them doesn’t make a person a coward.

It gets different. It gets different every day. You get more practice and you level up and you find items to help you and friends who sometimes literally save your life.

Eventually, I think, we’re all together going to score enough damage on the big boss, the big bad, to take it down for good. And that will be an amazing day. We aren’t there yet – but maybe that’s where things do get better: there are more and more of us working to change the world and make the world better.

There are always going to be bullies. But their powers don’t change. Yours will.


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41 Comments

  1. Alexandra
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I lovelovelove the leveling metaphor. This is a really powerful post.

  2. C. Robert Dimitri
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Very nice piece!

  3. Shannon
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    You, my friend, are a true hero.

    Thank you for this.

  4. Danielle
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I love this post so much.

  5. Lindley
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Thank you.

  6. Posted October 4, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this.

  7. krismcn
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    You are such a nerd. A huge, awesome, wonderful nerd.

  8. Ashbet
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    You are amazing and I adore you <3

  9. Posted October 4, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    You know, this is an essay I really could have used at fourteen when I was Dungeoning and Dragoning with my brothers as about 85% of my social life due to bullies and fear.

    But now that I’m 48 and happily married, I can definitely vouch for the fact that things do get different. In my case, they even got better.

  10. jmdr
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I’m really sad to hear that you thought about suicide as a kid (hugs!), I’m really glad you shared that.

    My husband works with a local suicide prevention hotline, and one thing that he brings up a lot is that you don’t have to wait until you’re suicidal to call.

    If you’re feeling sad or lonely (even just a little bit), or just need to confide in someone anonymously, they will listen. I’m sure policies vary from group to group, and many have time limits, but you are absolutely welcome to call, even if you don’t think your problem is very “serious”.

    • Jane
      Posted October 8, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      This post is amazing. The comparison to leveling up really clicked with me, possibly because I’ve been playing absurd amounts of Pokemon for the past few weeks. :) Thank you so much for this, TR!

      Also, I want to reiterate what jmdr said: You do NOT have to be suicidal before you call a suicide hotline. I wasn’t suicidal, but a couple of months ago I was going through a period of being sad and moody and I didn’t know what the hell to do. I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and told the incredibly kind person who talked to me what I was going through. She gave me information on counselors in my area, and now I’m going to one of them regularly and getting myself back on track. I honestly believe that calling the hotline, taking that first step to helping myself, saved me from months and possibly years of unhappiness, even though I never had any intention of taking my own life.

  11. RachelB
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this post.

  12. Tina
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Wow, this is such an important and poignant post.

    In my almost-30 years of life I’ve never matched the feelings of relief, joy and possibility I experienced when I went to college and left an abusive home. The satisfaction of creating my own life from scratch and filling it with loving, positive people has been a literal life-saver. I was fortunate to see the light at the end of the tunnel as a teenager, and work toward it with everything I had.

    I wish kids everywhere, whether they live in an abusive home or feel lonely or bullied… could be granted with the ability to see the hope ahead, and know that they can change their future for the better. Maybe it doesn’t always get better all the time for everybody, but it DOES change and you do get more power and more opportunities for a better life.

  13. Posted October 4, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    TR- Achievement Unlocked: Blog Champion!
    – Achievement Unlocked: Word Master!
    – Achievement Unlocked: Awsome Empress!

    LEVEL UP

    You Rock the Internet!!!

  14. VLou
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Reading this post actually made me feel extremely sad. I really like your analogy of ‘leveling up’, but for me its always been the more time passes and the older I become the worse things get. I thought things were bad as a teenager but now that I’m in my early twenties I’m more lost and alone then ever. I honestly never thought life could be this horrible. I’m just saying, your teenage years aren’t always the worst time of your life things could get so much worse.

    • Revena
      Posted October 7, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      I’m so sorry to hear you’re feeling lost and alone. But even in your twenties, you’ve got lots of experiences yet to come. I hope you’ll find things getting better for you, next.

  15. Posted October 4, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this. It rings more truthfully than “it gets better” because it doesn’t always, or it take a really long time. But it got different, and I’m good with different.

  16. Jackie
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    This is wonderful advice, and it really speaks to gamers like myself, who appreciate the comparison between achieving in a game and moving forward in life, since it’s something we can relate to.

  17. Lady Felicity
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 2:39 am | Permalink

    This was really timely for me. <3 Thank you :)

  18. jennielf
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Here from a retweet.

    Thank you.

    One of the most amazing things about the internet is finding that there are people out there that had remarkably similar experiences to yours (and they are much better writers) and that somehow makes everything so much better.

    So, yeah, bulletin board and all, thanks. :)

  19. Posted October 5, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I love the variation you’ve put on this! “It Gets Different”, so true!

    “I didn’t really want to kill myself. What I wanted was relief. To make it all stop, [...]” Thanks for writing this, I know just how you felt! I didn’t actually want to kill myself either, I just didn’t want to live.

    • Temporarily anon
      Posted October 9, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      I have been exactly there. As I put it at the time, I could never actually kill myself because it would ruin too many people’s lives, but if it was going to be like this I just didn’t want to live anymore. If there had been a way to just never have existed — without causing anyone any pain — I think I would have taken it. I just didn’t have the resources to go on.

      The motto of this story is, for fuck’s sake get some help/talk to someone. I can particularly recommend Breathing Space if you’re in the UK, on 0800 83 85 87. Unlike most suicide helplines a specific part of their remit is to give advice, so they will actually say stuff *back* to you instead of just asking clarifying/suggestive questions but leaving you to fend for yourself. If I’d had the resources to cope with this myself I wouldn’t be phoning a suicide helpline!

      I found that really different, and really important. I don’t want to feel like I was talking into a void, I wanted feedback and support and advice and a bit of a pep talk. So yeah, they were so lovely.

      • GreyLadyBast
        Posted October 16, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        “I could never actually kill myself because it would ruin too many people’s lives, but if it was going to be like this I just didn’t want to live anymore.”

        That is where I am! It’s exactly what I’m going through, right now, and it’s one of the hardest places to be—almost worse than actively suicidal, because there seems to be NO good, effective choices. And that sucks eggs.

        Still, it’s kind of nice to know others feel this, too, in a weird and depressing kind of way. So thanks.

        Bast

  20. Jess(:
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    This is currently printed out and on my bulletin board.
    Thank you <3

  21. Posted October 5, 2010 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    This may very well be the best of these that I’ve seen.

  22. Posted October 5, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Hi,
    saw this post through a friend’s link. It is one of my favorite responses to the whole it gets better project thing that i’ve seen yet. Definitely, i’ve toyed in my head with how to express something about how it’s more complicated than just “it get’s better,” but that there is something worthwhile which happens if we just stick it out. And you’ve just really said all of that and more so well, neither undermining the best intentions of the project or sweeping under the rug all the experiences of folks who have fallen through the cracks of things getting better. Plus the message of moving forward at the end, so important. So i thought i’d tell you that you rock.
    -mat

  23. Posted October 7, 2010 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    Yes, YES! This is so true I have often gotten a little grouchy about the pat answer often given tat it will get better. It sometimes comes off as a way for people to get the person going through the problems to be quiet and shut up. No sometimes it doesn’t get better, you just learn to live with, cope with, deal with, and soothe an issue so that it becomes manageable. Your comparison of leveling up in a game is so spot on, the task or foe that you are up against doesn’t change or get better, you just get stronger and learn how to conquer them in better more powerful ways.

    I really am aware of my response to others problems, that I don’t give them a pat answer or blow them off when they are struggling, something like this will be great to share with people I love and care about!

    • Posted October 7, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      It sometimes comes off as a way for people to get the person going through the problems to be quiet and shut up. No sometimes it doesn’t get better, you just learn to live with, cope with, deal with, and soothe an issue so that it becomes manageable.

      Sometimes it does. But sometimes – and I speak here of the times when I have been suicidal, which isn’t necessarily about being bullied – sometimes time just gives the antidepressants time to work, or for spring to come with daylight to counteract some of my SADD, or for the depressive episode to simply pass.

      (I’m not trying to tie clinical depression with being bullied. I’m tying suicidal thoughts with depression. Suicidal thoughts and plans are one of the symptoms of depression.)

  24. Cynic
    Posted October 7, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Excellent metaphor. I thought I was alone in thinking that “it gets better” was too simplistic, but this example is perfect.

  25. Posted October 7, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this.

  26. Posted October 8, 2010 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    Amazing, powerful, doesn’t pull punches or bullshit around, basically FUCK YEAH +1000HP

  27. Caitlin
    Posted October 9, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Mother of Christ, you knocked this one out of the park.

  28. Jackie
    Posted October 10, 2010 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    That 11-12 year old phase was the absolute worst for me. I too got suicidal and I’m not a depressive person in general at all. I’ve always thought that if I ever did anything, reaching out to girls at that age could be really powerful. I wish there was a way to say to them, you are not alone! It will change! Thanks for being one of those voices

  29. Posted October 10, 2010 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    You’re absolutely right – the bullies are always there, they never change their shit, but we do. We grow strong, we grow even smarter than we already are, we grow emotionally intelligent, in short, WE GROW.

    Personally I believe that “it gets better” isn’t good enough. Yes, it’s a start. But I think we need to MAKE it better. It’s time to stand up to this shit and make it clear that bullying is never acceptable.

  30. iluvtulips2
    Posted October 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I have just finished “Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere”…lots of good information…caused me to think about myself alot. I actually picked up this book a number of months ago…but didn’t buy it. Two weeks ago bought it…it had been calling my name for months!!! Ten days ago my live in partner of two years told me that “he would never be able to tell me that I was sexy, or beautiful” and that he “couldn’t be intimate with a fat woman”….crushing, right?? Soul crushing actually. He is right, I am fat…262 lbs of me, wrapped in a beautiful package of everything else that he loves, but for my fat. I have to say that I have had more down days than up…and along with others that I am reading, “lessons…” has definitely helped me get through some of the toughtest days ever. So thank you Kate and Marianne…for the wisdom, for the courage to say it outloud..and for the book!

  31. Mhari
    Posted October 10, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    A beleaguered nerd loves you for this post.

  32. Lisa
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    That was beautiful. Thank you.

  33. Viktoria
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    Hi! I am a 17 year old girl from Norway, and I saw you on Dr.Phil today. I hust wanted to thank you! My mother is fat, and in the Norwegian media, we have a major debate with the headlines “fat people are lazy, not sick!” She was very upset by this, and I think that it made her really sad.. People like you really make a difference, you should know that! Thank you.

  34. jessi
    Posted October 16, 2010 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    Can I repost this on facebook? I don’t see a share button anywhere…

  35. Posted October 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    THANK you for this.
    Man… where were you, and this, when I was in high school? I was a geeky, awkward, wordy, girl kid, bullied and trying so anxiously hard to fit in.
    Until I found my D&D group… They helped!
    So yeah… completely perfect metaphors.
    So many thanks!!!

  36. Marissa
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    I was linked to this post from one of my frequently visited sites and I am SO SO glad I found it.

    I am LOVING this post. Thanks so much for sharing!!!

11 Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Marianne Kirby, bunny knuckles, Robert Hutchinson, Mary Beth Blakey, Julia Horel-O'Brien and others. Julia Horel-O'Brien said: Amazing amazing amazing. Not "It Gets Better," but different: RT @TheRotund: It Gets Different; Leveling Up: http://www.therotund.com/?p=995 [...]

  2. [...] Rotund has words about dealing with bullies October 5, 2010 – 3:36 pm | By Mandi Kaye | Posted in Link Love | Comments (0) ← [...]

  3. By Not it: you. You get better. | Hearsay | Jhames on October 14, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    [...] you are, read It Get Different; Leveling Up (if you haven’t already). I personally believe that Marianne Kirby’s post speaks volumes beyond [...]

  4. By Bolivia, Assholes and Needles « MirrorMe on October 15, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    [...] It Gets Different; Leveling Up – A really good post about how life changes from teenagehood to adulthood, a slightly different take on the It Gets Better Project (which is also very good). [...]

  5. [...] linked to an essay by Marianne Kirby, of the Rotund, “It Gets Different; Leveling Up.” This, most of all, made me want to jump up and down, sending my laptop crashing to the floor, or [...]

  6. [...] Read the rest of the great, geeky, and wise essay at the Rotund! [...]

  7. By On Bullying and Being Failed | Karen Healey on October 19, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    [...] discussion: Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project*; Marianne of The Rotund’s amazing post It Gets Different; Seanan McGuire’s heartbreaking examination of her own experiences; Kate Harding’s post [...]

  8. By video: Obama/It Gets Better | urban bohemian on October 22, 2010 at 7:01 am

    [...] Gets Better but as you grow older, your perspective changes and I do agree with the article “It Gets Different; Leveling Up” from The Rotund. …here is what happens: When you’re playing an RP game, and you [...]

  9. By Harassment and bullying | Geek Feminism Blog on December 9, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    [...] Kirby: It Gets Different; Leveling Up: But here is what happens: When you’re playing an RP game, and you first start out, there are [...]

  10. [...] And it got different.  Because I got better at dealing with bullies. [...]

  11. [...] it seems that most people get better at dealing with bullies as they get older, likely because they have more life experience and that just makes you better at dealing with that kind of stuff. Or so I have found. I think it’s true that, in general, it does get better, or at least [...]

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