May 3rd, 2018
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
“I wouldn’t say a single word to them, I would listen to what they have to say. And that’s what no one did.” – Marilyn Manson
“Help me man!” says a voice of a man that stumbles into my office, “I don’t want to do it anymore. I need you to save my life.”
I was working at the walk-in mental health clinic when this distraught man sits down in front of me and clearly has hit his rock bottom. We start talking for a short time and we both feel a sense of familiarity with each other.
“Ozzy!?” He questions, “Well, I guess we both should have seen this moment coming.”
Ozzy was my high school nickname and the man sitting across from me that was pleading for me to save his life was one of my many, and probably worst, high school bullies. This man tormented me and made life a living hell and now here he was, in a hell of his own, and begging for me to bring him out of despair.
April 20, 1999:
Rewind the tape to April 20, 1999. It was our senior year and I have endured seven years of being a social outcast and bullied daily. By my senior year, I was part of the “popular” group but I realize it was not because I was accepted but it was more of a joke and a more covert bullying. Although I recognized it, I went along with it due to it being easier to handle than the overt bullying the years prior.
We all skipped school that morning to partake in International “Weed Day.” While we were innocently watching MTV, getting high, and laughing, suddenly my mindset changed. I grew very resentful at everyone as I knew that they were just inviting me so they could laugh at the awkward kid getting high. It was funny to see the kid that never talked suddenly opening his mouth. They were laughing at me, not with me, and I had enough.
I walked out of the house without saying a word and just walked home. No one called, no one wondered where I went, no one cared that I left. It was right around noon that morning as I began my walk.
At the exact same time, a thousand miles away, another group of high school seniors that had been bullied their entire lives and set as outcasts had a much different response. At 11:19 a.m. (local time), Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris had entered Columbine High School and began to open fire on the most deadly school shooting in United States History and forever change our world.
First and foremost, I need to explain sincerely that I do not condone their acts in any way and express sympathy for all that were affected by this tragedy. I also am a very non-violent person and could never see myself acting in such a way, but the purpose of this article is to show the two distinct paths my life could have taken, as I lived the life of the prototype of a school shooter.
A Life of Bullying:
Ever since entering Junior High School, I had no friends. I sat alone and barely said a word throughout the day of school unless prompted. Then, when I went home, it was more of the same. I was emotionally and mentally tormented and tried to hide in my room. I was even victimized further and accused of being “too sensitive.”
I had nowhere to go. No one ever took the time to step in.
A child that never talks, wears dirty clothes, and sits all alone and gets picked on daily and no one wanted to ask what was going on. Perhaps that would have been a “hard case” and nobody wanted to take the initiative.
Long before Columbine happened, I remember a kid in class joking about how I never talked. “Ozzy, you are the type of guy that shoots up a school. I better be nice to you for when you do something like that.”
Another time, while I was in the back of class writing football plays in my notebook, a girl (that also was fairly quiet), walks by and says “What are you writing, bomb codes?”
If people were saying this out loud, what were their private thoughts about me?
Then, the next day, April 21, 1999, I returned to school. Everyone in the school had eyes on me and looked me in the eye as if I had committed the same crime as Klebold and Harris. They weren’t friendly with me, instead they were more quiet and suspicious. The remaining month of my high school career went back to being ignored, which was perfectly fine with me as the phony “friendships” had run its course. Again, I didn’t want to act violently, I just wanted to escape and begin a new life.
Having a Social Outlet
The difference between neurosis and artistic, is that the artist has an outlet to express himself/herself. They neurotic keeps everything inside and brings about further self-torture.
“I’d be a savage beast, if I didn’t have this outlet to salvage me.” — Eminem
We all need a sense of belonging. Luckily for me, I happened to be an average athlete that was good enough to make the team. This is the only outlet that I had and I could release some of my built up anxieties. In addition, and more importantly, it allowed me to belong and be a part of something. It allowed a few people to recognize me and know about me.
A sense of belonging, above all else, is what each individual needs. Look at every mass shooter/killer in the history and they lacked connection.
If it wasn’t for athletics and not making the team, I would have had nothing. I am not sure how those last few years of high school would have turned out. It was because I was involved in these teams that the popular group took me on as their mascot. Again, although it was a form of bullying, I felt I was part of something and had a purpose. If I hadn’t made the team, or wasn’t into athletics, what would I have had? I would have been even more alone and perhaps I become even more alienated and who knows how that story ends.
To Those Who Have Been Bullied
Listen, I am as outcast as they come. I was even too odd for the weirdest people in the school. I have never fit in anywhere in life. As I grow older, I realized this is my greatest strength. If you don’t fit in with mainstream culture, it means you are doing something right. If you fit in with an insane society, that can not possibly make one “normal.”
If I could go back, I would embrace it more. In fact, that’s what I have done since then. It doesn’t have to be painful and life does get better once we truly embrace our life behind the mask.
Less than twenty years later, one of the biggest bullies walks into MY office and asks me to SAVE his life. Here I am living a meaningful, fulfilling life and this man is now begging for me to help him after he put me through hell. The thing is, I didn’t feel redemption, I felt sympathy and empathy for this man because I know how it feels and I don’t want anyone to have to go through that.
To all those who are bullies, remember it is hurt people that hurt people. They are hurting very deeply. Someone who is fully secure and self-confident has no interest in harming the life of another.
I view myself as a non-violent pacifist. I hate guns. But, I also look back and see that I was maybe only a few situations/scenarios away from becoming Dylan Klebold. At the same time, my life changed dramatically in less than twenty years to working with and preventing the future Dylan Klebolds of the world.
Walk Up, Not Out
While this pains me to say it, the conservatives got this one right. In response to the Stoneman Douglas shooting in 2018, high school students around the country organized a “walk out” to protest gun violence. I agree with the students, I have always been for gun control to the point I am anti-gun.
But, I can also acknowledge when the other side has a good point. (See: The True Purpose of the Second Amendment.) But the idea of walk up, not out, has to do with explaining that bullying – not guns – is the cause of the school shootings. Instead of walking out, the students should walk up and get to know each other – this is accurate. The only thing that bothers me is that many people on both sides of the gun control debate use this sad situation as a means to push their own agenda.
If schools would take time to teach classes on having people openly share and express their feelings with one another, it would form tighter bonds. I remember in one class we had to write a very personal essay. We sat in a table of four other students and passed our paper around. Even something as simple as this helped us connect with each other as we saw beyond each other’s masks.
There should be more of this. There should be a treatment-style class in which the group shares their inner world with each other and work on forming meaningful relationships. If we start doing this at a young age it would end nearly all school shootings.
“Imagine all the good that could be done in the world if we offered treatment services – people getting real, talking about feelings, everyone included no cliques – and encouraging adolescents to take off their masks, rather than teach them how to build one and wear for the rest of their lives.” — from the book “Taking the Mask Off”
For those that have been bullied, I would like to share that there is also a place to go. There are support groups around the world, such as AA and NA, that understand the concept of unconditional acceptance. You can sit in a room with a police officer and doctor that are sitting alongside a homeless person, and they understand each other. They talk about real things and form meaningful connections. No one is judged and everyone is accepted.
The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is neglect. I don’t feel people hated me, but I was neglected everywhere I went.
Once again, the answer is love.
Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution
“Taking the Mask Off” is the new book by Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne. Cortland Pfeffer spent years as a patient in psychiatric hospitals, treatment centers, and jails before becoming a registered nurse and working in the same facilities. Based on his experience, this story is told from both sides of the desk. It offers a unique and valuable perspective into mental health and addiction, revealing the problems with the psychiatric industry while also providing the solution – one that brings together science, spirituality, philosophy, and personal experience.
Recommended articles by Cortland Pfeffer:
- Licensed to Kill: Psychiatry, Big Pharma and the State-Sanctioned Drug Cartel
- Bipolar? Or Gifted? The Modern Day Epidemic of Medicated “Madness”
- 10 Life Lessons I Learned as a Psychiatric Nurse – and Patient
- Suicide: Falling Through the Cracks of Stigma
- The Fictions Surrounding ADHD and the “Chemical Imbalance” Theory of Mental Illness
- Schizophrenia – Psychosis or Something More Profound?
- The War On Drugs: How the “Land of the Free” Became the “Home of the Slaves” for 2.3 Million Americans
- Drug Addiction: A For-Profit Epidemic
- The Other Side: The Spiritual Gift of Borderline Personality Disorder
- The State of Psychiatry Address: The Dark Truth of the “Mental Health” Industry
About the author:
Cortland Pfeffer founded Taking The Mask Off in 2014 to help shine a light on the mental health industry (as well as other areas of our society that are shrouded in deceit and misinformation). Sharing insider perspectives and real life stories that have been gathered over 20+ years in the field, Cortland (a pen-name) is a psychiatric Registered Nurse who was himself once a patient in psychiatric hospitals, jails, and treatment centers. He now wishes to share his experiences with others, and has recently made several public speaking appearances. Cortland can be contacted for speaking engagements through www.takingthemaskoff.com.