Holly: How one teacher’s compassion helped me break free from a bully
Altruism is essential for mental well-being because it encourages us to put others first. Altruism helps us to build meaningful relationships and become part of something greater than ourselves.
People are at their best when they don’t just worry about themselves, but see themselves as a part of the greater good. In doing so, we begin to act as if our actions make a difference … because they do.
By being kind to ourselves and others, we can reduce stress, alleviate loneliness, and increase our feelings of optimism. Our actions can have a ripple effect, and our choices to be kind can have far-reaching impacts, beyond what we can even imagine.
Here’s how Holly’s experience with altruism has improved her mental well-being.
Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to help people. I wanted to help people so much that sometimes, I would even put myself at risk.
I remember when I was in the third grade and I was trying to help a friend get her lunch bag from her locker. It was on the top shelf, pushed far to the back, and neither of us could reach it.
We had always been told not to climb on the lockers, but my friend’s lunch was at stake here! I figured there would be no harm in scaling a few shelves if it meant helping a friend, right?
So I jumped up to grab her bag, hanging onto the top shelf for dear life. But while I was dangling there trying to reach it, I suddenly lost my grip.
I came tumbling down from the locker and fell right on top of my wrist. It was contorted in a way a wrist should never be contorted, and to this day my wrist is still not right.
For me, when I see a friend in need, it’s like I have these blinders on. I didn’t always have a ton of friends growing up, so when the opportunity presented itself, I wanted to make sure my friends knew that I would do anything to help them.
Learning when to put myself first
When I was in eighth grade, I became best friends with this girl. We started eating lunch together, she introduced me to her friends, and eventually, I became a part of her group.
She confided in me about everything. She had a lot of struggles and I really wanted to be there for her. But I didn’t have the tools to deal with what she was going through at the time.
Eventually, this friendship became really unhealthy. She would call me names, push and hit me, and make me feel like everything bad that happened was my fault.
The dysfunction in this friendship started to affect me. My grades started to slip. I did terribly in math because she would sit behind me throwing highlighters at my head and would even tear up my homework. I was mentally and physically drained and my self-esteem was at an all-time low.
My math teacher, Mr. Auger, noticed how this friend would treat me and often stood up for me in class. A lot of students would eat our lunch in his classroom, but one day as I was about to go in, I remember him standing in the doorway and telling me, “No, you can’t come in here.”
I was so confused! This is where I ate lunch every day and Mr. Auger and I had a really great relationship. I thought I had done something wrong.
But instead, he said, “I’m not going to let you eat in here today, because she is in here. You’re going to go eat with your friends who actually treat you like a friend, you’re going to have a nice lunch and then you’re going to come back and we’re going to do math.”
At first, I thought this was super weird, but was later so grateful for what he had done. I didn’t realize how much I needed that one person to say, “You can’t take this abuse anymore; you have to move on.” That day was an amazing gift because that was the day I told myself I wasn’t going to let this bully take any more from me.
How altruism changed my life
I started ignoring this friend when they bullied me in class, and would instead hang out with the friends I had made on a school trip to New York. And eventually, I stopped being friends with her altogether.
I told her how much I respected everything she was going through, and that I understood the pain she was in, but that I couldn’t be that person carrying that weight for her. I did really want to help her and was sorry that I couldn’t.
Leaving that friendship behind made a world of difference! I felt like I finally had a handle on my life again. I started feeling better about myself, I made better friends, and I was able to focus in class—I got a 48% in math when dealing with this bully who was masquerading as a friend, but that grade skyrocketed to a 97% once I started leaning into healthier friendships.
I’m forever grateful to Mr. Auger for seeing my struggle. For standing up for me when I didn’t know how to stand up for myself, and giving me the courage to find my own strength.
It made me realize how much power there is in a single moment because that moment changed so much for me.
Mr. Auger showed me how important it is to set boundaries, but he also showed me that sometimes all it takes is noticing someone and caring about them to help put them on a better path.
Mental health is an ongoing journey and it is important to make sure that we all take the time to check in with ourselves, our loved ones and our mental well-being.
LiveDifferent Circles equips young people with the skills and tools needed to build positive mental health. Through conversations on authenticity, empathy, growth, resilience, altruism and values, youth develop the self-confidence to deal with the issues they’re facing and take positive action in their communities.
Want to join people like Holly and help youth across Canada build positive mental health? Become a Road Team Volunteer! Want to learn more about Circles and how it can make a difference in your community? See how LiveDifferent can help!