I was dancing when he hit me.
I didn’t — and still don’t — know why.
All I know is that punch, that high school dance, changed my life.
I was in Grade 9, an honours student who was outgoing and had a lot of friends.
The hit changed all that.
I struggled, becoming obsessed with staying home where I felt comfortable and protected.
I stopped paying attention in school as I sat in class with shaking knees and a nervous stomach.
I sprinted home — a couple of miles, mostly uphill — after school each day. The thought of waiting for a bus made me sick with fear.
I stayed in my bedroom to avoid the anxiety of going to dances or movies with friends.
I’d play basketball or hockey only with the assurance my parents or older brothers would be there to pick me up.
My marks plummeted to the point where I passed Grade 9 only because the math teacher gave me a 50 I didn’t deserve.
My circle of friends started shrinking, and although I managed to hide my anxiety from most of them, some guys I had known my whole life wondered what happened to me.
My parents, worried sick, did too.
My struggles lasted over the summer and throughout Grade 10.
It reached the point, or sunk to it, where driving in a car with my parents past a group of teenagers made me anxious.
I felt completely lost, knowing there was much more to adolescent life but too afraid to step out and find it.
My mother arranged for me to see a professional.
Karen listened, and slowly brought me out of my shell. She made me realize something simple but monumental — that I was OK.
It was some time during Grade 11 — after almost two years in a daze — before I started feeling enough confidence and courage to do more with friends, before things got better.
And they did get better.
At some point, I vowed to seize the day and enjoy life as much as possible.
I also promised never to let another person have so much control over me.
Fortunately, I ended up in journalism, an incredibly fulfilling and enjoyable profession.
Many times, I’ve pinched myself and shook my head in disbelief that they were paying me to tell stories.
Which brings me to why I’m telling this one — last week was National Bullying Awareness Week.
And, as someone who’s been there, I want those who are being bullied at school, work or wherever to know something simple but monumental — you are OK.
There are better days ahead.
I also want them to know help and support are available.
Talk to your parents, teachers, doctor, or someone you trust and get the support you need.
And if you are a bully, just stop it. You’ll never know the deep effect of your actions and words. Just let people dance.
Steve Bartlett is an editor with SaltWire Network. He wants to say thank-you to Karen. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org