Episode 3 Battling Bullying

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Better Together With A Life Worth Living
Episode 3 Battling Bullying

Hosted by:  Veronica Nikolica Guests: Virginia Nikolica, Zoran Mitrovski

Excerpt Episode 3 Battling Bullying:

Bullying is brutal. In this podcast, we’ll explore how bullying impacts our humanity and dignity. We’ll also share how to build an arsenal of support against it.

Transcript Episode 3 Battling Bullying:

Veronica N 0:07
Welcome to Better Together. I’m Veronica Nikolica. 1994 was the year of the family. The leaders of several community health services came together to form A Life Worth Living. The charity’s goal is to include people who live with disabilities into every part of society to share their life stories, as well as the stories of families, friends, employers and others. And now, we’re going to share those stories with you to inform, to inspire to learn how we are better together.

Thanks to William McCrae for sponsoring this episode. Mr. McCrae is the former Director of Education, the Windsor Essex Catholic School Board.

Bullying is brutal. In this podcast, we’ll explore how bullying impacts our humanity and dignity. We’ll also share how to build an arsenal of support against it. Virginia is no stranger to bullying. I’ve been there to witness much of it. She is my sister. I’ll introduce you to Virginia and we’ll explore the bullying she endured beginning in grade school and lasting into the workplace. It deeply touched my life as well as the older sibling, the self appointed protector on the playground. I was part of Virginia’s arsenal of support as a friend of ours calls it the only real way to battle bullying. Virginia is my younger sister, Virginia, welcome to Better Together with A Life Worth Living. I’ve never interviewed you before.

Virginia N 1:44
Really cool, isn’t it?

Veronica N 1:47
This should be interesting, as you give our listeners some background on you, on us, so they can understand your life a little better. We were like a society of two weren’t we? As children, we often talked about things we didn’t tell our parents, because they had so much to deal with already being immigrants to Canada, and not knowing the language. Virginia was born 10 days after our parents and I arrived in Canada in 1963 from the former Yugoslavia. We had just spent six months in a refugee camp in Italy. She was born at six months, three months premature and had to fight to live. Virginia we both remember the stories of the doctors telling our parents you would not survive. The priest gave you last rites at the hospital. Three months later, you came home. And it’s been a fight on some front ever since.

Virginia N 2:41
Well, three months later, not only did I come home, that we moved into my great grandparents’ house, which I still live in today, and I cherish all those memories.

Veronica N 2:51
Virginia was born with cerebral palsy. Our parents were told she would never be able to walk. But she and our mother had other plans. Our mother never accepted that diagnosis did she?

Virginia N 3:03

Veronica N 3:04
Do you remember her telling you that she took you for baby swimming at the YMCA?

Virginia N 3:08
Well, I have one memory I must have been about two. And I remember being in a pool with a bunch of what I thought were fat ladies and their babies. And I was one of them. I wonder what on earth are we doing here?

Veronica N 3:22
She wanted to teach you how to move your legs so you could move them to walk?

Virginia N 3:27
Well, because of that I developed a love for swimming, and pools. And my dream was one day to own my own built in pool.

Veronica N 3:37
And that actually happened, didn’t it at our great grandparents’ house at the house that they left for you.

Virginia N 3:43
That’s correct.

Veronica N 3:45
What did it take to enable you to walk?

Virginia N 3:49
Well, I had to go through what I thought was grueling physiotherapy at the Red Cross every week. And boy did I hate it.

Veronica N 3:57
It hurt. It also took multiple surgeries to help you to be able to walk

Virginia N 4:03
less correct. The first one wasn’t too bad. You know, now, Mom just carried me around. I only had casts up to my knees. It wasn’t a big deal. That was the heel cord surgery. But then the second one, the knee cord surgery. When I grew too quickly, they said I had casts from the hips down. Then when they took them off, they said okay, just get off the bed as if you’re supposed to jump off. Then when I got up, it hurts so badly. I couldn’t believe it. It took a year of physiotherapy to be able to walk again. Because I was not just a walker; I was a runner. I didn’t sit still. That’s why my poor mother couldn’t keep up with me.

Veronica N 4:51
So Virginia would learn to walk she clearly had difficulty and that made her a target for school children who thought it was amusing. to pick on her, What do you remember about school, Virginia?

Virginia N 5:04
Well, going to grade school, here in Windsor, I would say from about the time of grade two through to grade eight, I was nothing but Bolete. And everybody’s favorite thing to do was to push me down in the schoolyard give me bloody elbows or a bloody head.

Veronica N 5:25
And all they had to do sometimes would just stand too close to you, and it would bring you off, right?

Virginia N 5:29
It didn’t take much to tip me over.

Veronica N 5:33
And it always happened at recess when the teacher couldn’t be everywhere.

Virginia N 5:35

Veronica N 5:37
What I remember is that I would have to stick by you during recess, even if I left for a few minutes, someone would come over and either push you over or just stand there. And that would be enough to get you unstable enough to fall.

Virginia N 5:50
Well, there were actually two different bullies at school. One was in the same class as me and her, and her friends, used to pick on me, and it was constant. And even if I stayed inside at recess to keep away from the bullies, they would come inside and bully me.

Veronica N 6:08
What did they do?

Virginia N 6:09
Well, they would say, What are you doing here all the time? Why aren’t you outside with the rest of the kids? It’s like, you know, I want to be away from you. So I mean, I felt like I didn’t have any friends. So what ended up happening was I made friends with a few of the teachers, we got close, and they protected me. And some of the teachers were phenomenal. Even when we went on field trips like Greenfield Village where there was a ton of walking. I don’t know why nobody thought of it. Nobody thought to bring me a wheelchair, they would just hold me up and drag me, drag my feet, so we could get everywhere.

Veronica N 6:48
There was one group of attackers was particularly memorable one was in your class in grade five around there, another was in grade eight. So these students and their friends would take turns bullying Virginia, and their attacks were more vicious and more frequent. What did they do?

Virginia N 7:05
Well, they would verbally abused me, pushed me over, that was not just one person it was her and her friends, every day, every day. And that gave me eventually I didn’t want to go back to school, who wants to face that?

Veronica N 7:21
Every day.

Virginia N 7:22
If you’re supposed to go to school, you know, to learn and have fun. That was not my idea of fun.

Veronica N 7:30
The principal used to discipline the older girl and strap her which you could do in those days, and they suspended her. The teachers tried. She was kept inside. They talked to her. They would ask her why she was doing this, but none of it made a difference. Things reach a turning point when one day you came home from school and you were bleeding. Your elbows were bleeding. You borrowed my purple jumpsuit. You remember the purple jumpsuit?

Virginia N 7:54
Unfortunately, I don’t and purple is my favorite color.

Veronica N 7:57
Purple is your favorite color. That’s why I lent it to you. It looks so great on you. You know it was it was it kind of silky looking.

Virginia N 8:04
That’s why I liked it because it look rich.

Veronica N 8:07
You were so excited that morning I so remember. Purple was your favorite color. That afternoon I was in the front yard and you were walking home from school. My heart just sunk because I saw blood spots. {pause and tears} I saw the blood on the jumpsuit and your elbows were bleeding. You thought I’d be upset about the jumpsuit. I was upset because you endured another attack. Something inside me just, just snapped. I remember feeling controlled, but feeling this white hot fury. And I went to the school and I found the girl who assaulted you. I came within a few inches of her face. And I told her if she ever touched my sister again, I would come and I would find her. I told her I didn’t care what they would do to me. I never said exactly what I would do. But she got the message. Now the unexpected twist in this story is that I ended up working with one of the attackers a few years later when I was in college. She apologized to me for her behavior and the way she physically abused you. But then she apologized to you. What do you remember about that?

Virginia N 9:29
I couldn’t believe who would walk through the door. I didn’t recognize her. Oh, so long ago,how would you? I couldn’t believe it. And then you sat down and she said, you know, I’m sorry. My parents couldn’t help me. You know, I’ve been abused myself. And that was what it was. She was taking out her anger on me.

Veronica N 9:50
She was abused herself. But nobody knew that at the time. But she apologized because I remember her saying it was no excuse for what she had done to you.

Virginia N 9:59
Right, that was quite a surprise.

Veronica N 10:02
Did you recognize her? Or did she recognize you?

Virginia N 10:05
Oh, we both recognize each other. Wow, never forget that face.

Veronica N 10:09
So you were pretty surprised? What was the impact of all this bullying? How would you describe that?

Virginia N 10:16
Well,it certainly didn’t boost my self esteem. It just seemed to go lower and lower every day.

Veronica N 10:23
Now you had social workers, and I know they tried their best. Did any of them help you?

Virginia N 10:28
No, I don’t think so. It’s not that they weren’t qualified. They just couldn’t do anything to stop the bullying. For that, they were powerless. They were qualified at what they were doing, but they just couldn’t stop it. You have no control over other people.

Veronica N 10:44
Was there anyone who was a counselor who did help you?

Virginia N 10:48
Well, there was one psychologist. I liked him a lot. You know, when I asked him, Why do they do these things? And he said, they do it because they’re cowards. You know, why don’t they pick on someone their own size?

Veronica N 11:04
Do you remember his name?

Virginia N 11:05
Of course, Bill McDermott. I liked him a lot. I thought it was so cute.

Veronica N 11:10
It’s interesting, the circle of life. How did it help you to hear that? Bullies are actually cowards?

Virginia N 11:16
Because I thought they were tough. You know, nobody could overtake them. But then I realized they’re doing it because they’re cowards.

Veronica N 11:28
Thanks to William McCrae for sponsoring this episode. Mr. McCrae is the former Director of Education, the Windsor Essex Catholic School Board.

I want to bring Zoran Mitrovski into the conversation to talk about the current situation with bullying in schools and how to overcome it. Zoran is a lifelong family friend who is teaching high school in Windsor. You never taught Virginia just to be clear. But you know what’s happening in schools currently? Zoran, how common is it for the bullies to be suffering from some kind of abuse or mistreatment?

Zoran 12:12
It is the the world that we live in. I really don’t see how things are changing. In fact, I think they’re getting worse.

Veronica N 12:19
So with all the attention being given to anti-bullying efforts, why are students still being bullied at school?

Zoran 12:25
The insecure bullies go after the lower self esteem individuals, right? And so they prey upon them. In my day, when I came home, that bullying stopped when I closed the door unfortunately, with social media, the attacks are relentless. And I can’t tell you how many suicides that I have heard of because it doesn’t stop. How in the world would you ever recover from that? When you look into the eyes of the special needs students that I teach you see the brokenness.

Veronica N 13:08
Zoran can you just elaborate what was it that you saw in their eyes?

Zoran 13:12
When you’re broken, you can see another broken human being. When you look at a person with confidence, there’s a certain look about their eyes, and how they carry themselves. When you take a look at a student that’s broken, they’re never going to look in your eyes, they’re going to look at the floor, they’re going to look at their knees, they’re going to be looking everywhere else but looking into another human being’s eyes. The bully gains his power going after the weaker individual. And I call it preying because it’s it’s easy to prey after a kid that’s in a wheelchair, a student that has cerebral palsy, a student that has ADHD and just can’t concentrate and even can’t process and they become really good targets.

Veronica N 14:06
So you see this every day.

Zoran 14:08
More education in the community needs to take place for the community to take notice of the special needs students and give them a fighting chance to lead normal lives.

Veronica N 14:23
What would you say is the impact of the ongoing bullying and harassment for any of your students?

Zoran 14:28
Oh, hell, I’m afraid of taking chances; afraid of making mistakes; afraid of doing anything. I know in my co op class, the first week I spend is creating an environment that they believe they can become something; that they can really rise up above everything else. And I share with them my stories. I share with them some YouTube videos to show if one person can overcome another person can. If we change the paradigms, then we have hope you create a different picture inside your head. Every student that that I have helped move forward, believed in the picture that we helped him or her create. If you see the picture, you can walk towards a picture. And then we have a Virginia on our hands who’s unstoppable?

Virginia N 15:22
Well, there’s only a few people I think that think of I’m unstoppable because not everybody knows me that well. Except for people like Zoran that have been around me forever.

Zoran 15:35
Well, Virginia, how many times have they said you are going to die?

Virginia N 15:38
I’ve lost track, I guess.

Zoran 15:41
And you just come back with a fighting spirit. This last job that you carry you you submitted 1200 resumes in order to get the one job and it was amazing to watch the process. Where okay, next. Okay, next. I wish I could take that tenacity out of you, and give it to every single one of my students. Because you’ve learned how to fight not only for your life, but for your living.

Virginia N 16:09
Well, I’ve couldn’t believe it. I’ve gotten rejected more times then Colonel Sanders.

Veronica N 16:16
Sorry, I’m just going to bring it back to you for a minute. And I’m going to ask you about, well, your own personal experience, you had mentioned that you had personal experience with bullying as a student.

Zoran 16:26
Okay, so when you come to this country, you’re always going to be insecure, you’re never going to be good enough, your self esteem is going to be extremely low. And so I remember three kids, they start picking on me. And when I walked home, I remember they threw a brick at my head. And I got, I think, 32 staples at the back of my head, and my shirt just bloodied. And I remember my mother taking my shirt and just wringing the blood out. And because she was an immigrant, she didn’t know what the processes were, in order to, to protect me. So I didn’t necessarily fight. I just learned how to survive.

Veronica N 17:12
So you were saying that at least when you got home, the bullying stopped. But now it doesn’t end with social media.

Zoran 17:20
Well, think about it, say these same three kids that through this brick at my head, now they can post this video online. Then what happens to that? All of a sudden, I come to school, now the rest of the bullies see me as weaker. Now, I become a bigger target. Why would I ever want to live?

Veronica N 17:46
You were saying earlier that you know of some students at your school that committed suicide, or is this talk among the teachers in general?

Zoran 17:55
There was a young man that that had bipolar, was picked on, took a gun, pulled the trigger and blasted his head off. He lived to tell it and he survived. It’s really sad to know the human being that was before he was he was hilarious. He was funny. He will never be the same human being ever again.

Veronica N 18:24
How do you help them deal with the bullying?

Zoran 18:27
Tell them stories of survivors. Is the school board doing everything they can? Absolutely. Can they stop it? Absolutely not. So now we teach students document everything. Then you get police involved.

Veronica N 18:42
It this is how they’re trying to stop it.

Zoran 18:44

Veronica N 18:45
I guess everyone is going to try to understand why can’t it be stopped?

Zoran 18:49
Why? Good question. And so what I tried to do is bring light into the darkness of the souls of the students, because there was one teacher that believed in me when everyone else didn’t. And she said why don’t you become a photographer, it led me to Ryerson. It led me to getting a degree at University of Windsor. Traveling the world became a professional photographer. Carpenter.

Veronica N 19:24
Now that’s determination. There was that one teacher? And you said she gave you a better vision of yourself.

Zoran 19:31
And then then she hooked me up with her husband who was a professionally acclaimed photographer who took me under his wing. And probably that’s the first time I ever felt hope that maybe I’m not as dumb as I think I am. Maybe there’s some good in me.

Veronica N 19:53
Well, you showed them all you became a high school teacher.

Zoran 19:56
I caught them really well. I’ve done it for 25 years now.

Veronica N 20:00
How did that impact your ability to achieve these goals then, the teacher who believed in you? Can you tell us her name?

Zoran 20:07
Mary Jean Gallagher. She was Director of Education and through that process, I just, like Virginia, I learned how to fight. I believe that there’s an angel that has been watching over me for a good long time. Because I could have easily gone in a whole different direction with everything that I was exposed to. In fact, my psychologist said, Well, how in the world did you survive all this? When statistically you should be an alcoholic, you should be beating people up. You should be in jail right now. I mean, you become tenacious, you become a fighter. A never quit personality.

Virginia N 20:47
Sarin is the kind of person he helps people that need a helping hand. But Zoran is not the only one I have in my arsenal of support, there are just a few other people I’d love to mention. One is Jim Sweetman. He’s my veterinarian and longtime friend.

Veronica N 21:06
About 40 years ago, Jim Sweetman opened up his veterinary hospital.

Jim S 21:11
So Virginia came to us years ago with with several cats. We started helping her at the clinic and developed a relationship. We’ve been close ever since.

Virginia N 21:20
He would always offer to help when I needed it. He would even drive me home after I visited my cats’ hospital, because back then I didn’t have a car. I didn’t have my driver’s license. And the ministry said that I would never get it. And then I said, Well, I’ll fight you to my last breath.

Veronica N 21:40

Virginia N 21:41
So it only took me 20 years to get it.

Veronica N 21:43
What did they do to help you at the hospital?

Virginia N 21:47
Well, I could drive to the back to the hospital where the employees parked and then they would just bring out my items or the cats. I wouldn’t have to go in or walk as far.

Veronica N 21:57
What did that do for you for Jim and the staff to treat you that way?

Virginia N 22:01
Well, it really built me up because somebody cared about me and Jim cared about me enough to to make me laugh.

Veronica N 22:10
Dr. Sweetman, he just seemed to know what your cats meant to you.

Virginia N 22:13
Well, I guess they’re my family. And the reason I love them so much, is because they give an unconditional love. Unlike bullies, or a lot of other people around you, who don’t know you they’re always there for you.

Jim S 22:31
That’s her family and, and a mother wants to sit with their kids. You’re welcome to do that at our clinic. We had a chair, a special chair, the lower chair that she could sit on, and she would chat with us on the back. Yeah, it was fun. It was a family time. She’s part of the family. So we are family, our kids know her very well. Our kids are all grown up. My one daughter’s done the veterinarian in the clinic. And they’ve known her since 20, or 30 years ago, my daughter’s only 30. So we won’t be 40 years. But that was fun. It was fun.

Veronica N 23:01
Now, part of this, the reason we’re doing this podcast with my sister is that she was bullied as a child in the classroom and in recess, and also when she grew up in the workplace. Were you aware of any of that?

Jim S 23:20
Not till tonight, actually.

Veronica N 23:21
Okay. What would you say about that the fact that she was bullied?

Jim S 23:26
Well, society is mean in a certain aspect. I was a little kid, but now that I’m big, they stopped bullying me as a kid. And the teachers weren’t nice to me as a kid. So it was just, you know, and we still see the bullying on Facebook and this that the kids do and just gotta educate the students not to bully other kids. It’s just a part of society that’s bad. Hopefully the bullying will stop but it probably won’t.

Veronica N 23:53
For anyone who was bullied, the scars remain in some form, whether physical or emotional. But so does the imprint of the people who made all the difference.

Zoran 24:06
There comes a point in time where you need to take responsibility. Will your past have you or will you have your past. I’m just looking at my arms and I’ve got scars on my arms, I’ve got burns on my arms, but the burns don’t have me. And the scars are on my hands. They bring back some interesting memories.

Veronica N 24:30
These are all scars from being beaten or attacked?

Zoran 24:33
Hurt. Attacked. Scars. It’s the life that I’ve led. And you asked me how do you break through it? It’s creating a bigger vision than yourself then the obstacles don’t become so great.

Veronica N 24:50
Would that have changed things for you? Do you think having someone like Zara and saying don’t listen to those people.

Virginia N 24:54
A teacher like Zoran would have been great. Actually I did have two teachers that were friends. One teacher we still write to this day, we’ve been writing for about 45 years.

Veronica N 25:06
So you did have some people who really connected with you at school? What would you say to people who are being bullied right now?

Virginia N 25:14
Don’t give up the fight, you will find somebody that’s going to support you and care about you. You know, if the bullies outnumber your friends, then get away from the bullies. They’re just cowards. You don’t want to hang around with cowards. You want to hang around with people that have guts.

Veronica N 25:36
What would you say to someone who is a bully?

Zoran 25:39
Stop it! Why would you treat someone poorly if you don’t want to be treated the same way? It’s a biblical principle. We’re on this planet for such a short period of time. And, yes, there’s a lot of darkness. But why don’t we become lit up and make this world a better place? I mean, take a look at what they’ve done with with a virus the world came together. And they came up with with with a solution. Well, why can’t we do that with bullying? Why can’t we do that in teaching people with disabilities to be accepted?

Veronica N 26:17
Would you tell someone to get the help that they need? Is it

Zoran 26:21
Really bullies don’t think they need help? That’s the problem. It’s like alcoholics. They’re hurting everybody else around them. But because they haven’t admitted to themselves that they have an issue, they’re never going to stop. I can tell them stop, you’re hurting, stop, you’re hurting. And if they don’t see it, they’re not going to get the help they need because they’re going after the weaker individual in order to gain power for themselves. Take a look what happens. So what happened to Virginia?

Veronica N 26:54
Virginia, what would you say to someone who is a bully? Someone who is bullying someone or many people in their life?

Virginia N 27:01
Well, if you’re a bully and you think bullying is going to get you somewhere, it’s won’t get you anywhere. Not only is it going to hurt the person you’re bullying, it’s going to hurt you. Because as they say what goes around comes around.

Veronica N 27:22
In the end, Virginia, you still believe in justice. Thank you for sharing your story, and thank you to Zoran Mitrovski and Jim Sweetman for telling your own. In the second part of this podcast we’ll hear about battling bullying in the workplace, and how an arsenal of support surrounded Virginia through that. Thank you for listening to Better Together with A Life Worth Living. I’m Veronica Nilolica know who you are, decide where you will go and choose a life worth living.

Thank you again to William McCrae for sponsoring this episode. Mr. McCrae is the former Director of Education, Windsor Essex Catholic School Board