Aug 21

A federal lawsuit has been filed in Pittsburgh which alleges that an 11 year-old girl was bullied so much by her classmates that it caused her to become anorexic. The lawsuit further alleges that the principle and other employees at the girl’s middle school knew about the bullying and didn’t do enough to stop it.

The girl, “B.G.,” was allegedly taunted about her weight and harassed daily during lunch periods about what she was eating. Eventually “B.G.” discarded her lunch instead of eating it in an attempt to stop the harassment. She dropped down to 96 pounds, was hospitalized, and had to finish her seventh grade year from home.

Hannah Friedman knows what it is like to be on the receiving end of this kind of adolescent bullying. One of the nicknames given to her by her classmates in middle school was “Flat Monkey-Girl Freak.” She was teased mercilessly about her hair and her clothes by the girls in her class who came from families with higher social and economic status. Hannah even had carrot sticks thrown at her daily in the lunchroom.

Like “B.G.,” Hannah developed an eating disorder because she thought it would help her to fit in, be accepted, and change her enemies into friends. In what Hannah calls her “quest for cool,” she traded public school for a private prep school, straightened her hair, started wearing designer clothes, got straight A’s, became bulimic, developed a cocaine habit, started smoking and ended up slicing her arm with a razor blade when all of her extreme attempts to fit in pushed her to the brink of insanity.

Hannah chronicles her extreme high school experiences in her new book, “Everything Sucks, Losing My Mind and Finding Myself in a High School Quest for Cool” because she made a promise to “the Universe” that if she could get some help figuring things out, she would spread the word in any way that she could.

“This is all the stuff I wish I had been able to hear from a big-sister type figure when I was going through all that stuff,” she said recently in an interview with LoHud.com. After being the target of bullies, Hannah concluded that who she was obviously wasn’t good enough, and that she needed to be more like the people who taunted her. They were obviously acceptable and she wasn’t.

“When you’re trying to be someone else, that really colors every facet of your life, so everything does suck as a result,” Hannah told LoHud. “Because your entire existence is dedicated to keeping up the façade, and making sure you appear a certain way. And that really comes at a cost.”

The price that is paid for teenage bullying these days is higher than most adults are willing to imagine. Some teens, like Hannah, are able to deal with the abuse of their peers and survive their own path of teenage self-destruction without adult intervention. Others do not have the same internal fortitude or physical strength.

In March, another federal lawsuit was filed alleging that bullying was the cause of 17 year-old Eric Mohat’s suicide in Mentor, Ohio. According to the suit, Eric was bullied not because he was fat, like “B.G.”, but because he was too skinny. His spindly physical appearance, and his participation in theater and music were used as evidence by some of his classmates that he was gay. Besides nicknaming him “Twiggy,” bullies allegedly openly called Eric “fag,” “queer,” and “homo,” and shoved and hit him regularly. Reportedly these abuses took place in front of teachers, and reportedly, school officials didn’t do anything about it.

Nine weeks before the end of the school year, Eric shot himself in the head with his father’s revolver. Three of Eric’s classmates also committed suicide that same year, and it is suspected that bullying played a significant part in those deaths as well. The lawsuit filed by Eric’s parents seeks no financial compensation, but instead seeks acknowledgement from the school district that these deaths were “bullicides.” The Mohats also want effective anti-bullying programs and policies to be put into place throughout the school district.

It’s not like it was in the 1950’s when one really big kid was the schoolyard bully, or one small group of kids was the “bad crowd.” These days it is estimated that nearly 30% of the children in America are either bullying, or being bullied at school, according to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that today – and every day – 160,000 children will either go home early or stay home from school completely because they are afraid to be bullied. The Yale School of Medicine has also found that children who are bullied may be nine times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Yale, by the way, is the college that Hannah Friedman was able to attend as a result of her neurotic overachievement in prep school. She was published in Newsweek magazine while still in that prep school, and she won both the Yale Playwrights Festival and the New York Television Festival before she graduated college.

Friedman’s accomplishments at such a young age definitely do not help her to fit in with her peers. The candid and shocking truths that she shares in her book probably won’t make her the most popular person at the high school reunions either.

Come to find out, though, not fitting in is not always such a bad thing. Because when you’re a 22 year-old published author who’s found your voice, you don’t have to spend the rest of your life on the quest for cool. You’ve already found it.

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Aug 12

This month the court of Morrow County, Oregon received a request to declare a West Nile virus state of emergency due to a sudden appearance of infected mosquitos there. West Nile is a pathogen that is native to Uganda, and can be transmitted to humans with a single mosquito bite.

Morrow county is a place that is near to the hometown of author, Emily Smucker. But West Nile virus is a disease that is not so dear to her heart, after she lost her senior year in high school to it.

In her newly released book, Smucker gives a detailed account of her struggle to survive the potentially deadly West Nile virus after she contracted it at the age of 17. What was thought at first to be just another “Emily flu,” turned into a serious chronic illness that the teenager is still struggling to overcome two years later.

While most people will experience no symptoms or mild effect after being bitten by West Nile infected mosquitos, others will experience severe and long-lasting effects which can include encephalitis, meningitis, and permanent damage to the central nervous system. If the virus spreads to the brain, death is a possibility as well.

Considering the worst possibilities of the virus, the severe fevers, headaches, and debilitating weakness that incapacitated Smucker were not the worst things that could have happened to her. Being isolated from her friends, missing every aspect of her senior year, and not being able to graduate, however, made it feel to Emily that the worst things that could have happened had actually happened. She was still a teenager, after all.

“Sometimes it feels like I’ll never be able to do anything in life, to go anywhere in life, because I’m sick all the time” Smucker wrote in her book. “And other times it feels like I am missing a huge chunk of life, and in place of that missing chunk is sickness.”

Smucker’s experiences with battling West Nile virus were documented on her blog while she was living through them. Her book is a memoir of sorts which gives readers an intimate look at the emotional, spiritual, and identity crises that chronic illness can create. The author provided more insights about the experiences documented in her book during an open web conference this month, which has been viewed by more than 1,000 people. The teen fielded about 300 questions and comments from participants during that event.

“The world would be an easier place if everyone I knew had gotten West Nile in their past, that way I wouldn’t have to spend so much time explaining to people what it was like,” Smucker wrote in her book. “So maybe someday someone else will have the same thing, and I’ll make their life a little easier, because I’ll know how to empathize.”

With the outbreak in Oregon this week, and other major West Nile outbreaks reported in California, Alberta, Canada, and even the Galapagos Islands this summer, unfortunately, Smucker may have to see that wish come true.

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