I was a teenage bully.

Oh no, not the obvious way. I wasn’t one of the mean girls on the cheer leading squad or one of the popular girls trying to maintain her status as HBIC. If anything, I was the weird chick.

But I could, and damn well did lay the smack down. I could rationalize that often it was in response to someone trying to bully me, or bully my collective of weird people friends. You could say I was the antithesis of the gay bashers, defending my friends or assorted people I felt were being picked on.

I didn’t report them to teachers. I didn’t ask them nicely to stop, to behave, to think about their behavior. Oh no. I went for the jugular. Mean girl was tying her sweater around her waist, obviously insecure about her ass. Guess where teen me went with a retort?

Now, some might call that justice, and at the time, that’s certainly how I felt. If I don’t think about it too deeply, I could still rationalize my behavior that way. But it’s not. It’s not right. It’s not any better or any fairer.

And to be honest, it wasn’t always in response to me or others being bullied. Sometimes I just thought I was funny. Everyone around me was laughing, so it’s a joke, right? No. It’s not. It’s really, really not. Sure, some of those people drove the BMWs and looked down on me with my second-hand Mazda, but that didn’t and doesn’t mean that their lives didn’t have their own complications. They felt the same hurt I or my friends did from comments that came out of my mouth before filtering through my head, or more importantly, my heart.

The more I see extreme homophobes coming out of the closet, the more it gives me pause when I reflect upon my high school days. Was I really helping anyone by lashing out? Maybe in some ways. Certainly no one bothered me more than once or twice.

Then there are those other times. When I felt someone was flirting with my love interest. When I was cranky and needed a verbal punching bag. When I thought that I was funny. When I was jealous. When I felt insecure.

Bullies aren’t always the biggest guy on the playground. They aren’t even bullies all the time. Sometimes it’s the little, more personal slights that cut the deepest. That’s where I find my guilt.

And, that’s where I still struggle. I try not to judge baby Clancy too harshly. She was young and didn’t know better. She didn’t have much perspective. Yes, I’m referring to my younger self in the third person. She seems strange to me in a lot of ways, but she had a lot going on. She was almost a statistic herself.

Now I’m in a safer place, an easier place. It gets better, yeah. But not without a lot of struggle, a lot of work, a lot of trial and error (mostly error) and sometimes it doesn’t feel any better at all. What’s important is finding ways to cope, finding tools to live with yourself and the rest of the world. I relied on being a bit of a bully. I still do. I hate that about myself, but I don’t kid myself that it isn’t there.

The important thing now is to take care with other people, even when they’re deeply deserving of a cockslap. You don’t have to agree, but you don’t have to engage. I try to practice what I preach. I fail at that a lot, too.

I think we all look at the recent suicides and wish we could talk to them, that there would be some way to stop the trajectory of their lives. There isn’t a way to do that. But what you can try to do is be better. Be open. Not everyone has the money to give, or the time to volunteer, but everyone can be mindful of the waves of negativity that they originate or proliferate.

You don’t have to be perfect. I’m the last person who could ask or expect that. But try. At least try. If it even stops one negative interaction, that’s a victory.