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Healing after bullying

Marshall High grad tells his story of ‘pain and scars’

Photo by Jenny Kirk Balaton native Luke Nelson speaks to students at MATEC recently about the long-lasting effects of bullying.

MARSHALL — Marshall High School graduate Luke Nelson is now happily married with a 2-year-old daughter, but life wasn’t always so pleasant he told students recently during a presentation at Marshall Area Technical Education Center.

As the victim of vicious bullying, Nelson contemplated taking his own life at one point.

“When I was full of pain and scars, when I believed the lies that I was worthless, that I would never amount to much, that I was a failure to my friends, my parents and my family, I thought to myself, ‘Why not give up? Why not just take my own life? There’s no point for me to live. I’m worthless. I’m an embarrassment to my parents. I’m a mistake,” he said.

From the moment he was born 27 years ago, Nelson experienced difficulty.

“Before I was born, I had a blood clot in my brain and I lost a little piece of my cerebellum on the bottom right side,” Nelson said. “For those of you who don’t know what the cerebellum does, it’s your hand-eye coordination, it’s your balance and it basically makes you aware of your surroundings — that you’re alive. And I lost a little piece of that.”

Nelson said the doctors called him “the miracle baby” because most infants do not survive something like that. Nelson survived, but he had to spend the first five years of his life taking intense therapy.

“I had to go to therapy to learn how to throw a ball, catch a ball, pick up a ball,” he said. “I had to learn how to hold a pencil or a pen because the dexterity of my left hand was so bad I couldn’t even hold a pencil.”

Riding a trike wasn’t easy either as he would “veer off to the left every time and run straight into the wall time after time” during therapy. Then Nelson started kindergarten.

“I was during my K-8 years that I learned that I wasn’t like all of my friends,” Nelson said. “I wasn’t like all of my classmates. I was different because what came easy for them came twice as hard for me.”

While there was a lot of frustration, nothing compared to the pain of what he faced when he started high school.

“That’s when my whole life turned upside down,” Nelson said. “That’s when I hit rock bottom. My life was a train wreck.”

Because of his condition, Nelson bobbed his head. It wasn’t long until he became known as “Bobble Head” of the school, he said.

Nelson said he’d stand on the curb outside the school and dread coming through the front doors. If he was fortunate enough to make it to his locker with people laughing at him, he knew there was still the walk to his classroom.

“If I could only make it to the classroom, I’d be safe for 90 minutes,” he said. “So I’d count to myself, ‘Three, two, one’ and start walking. ‘I’m almost there. I’m going to be safe.’ But then I got stopped. This kid looks at me in the eyes and he starts mimicking me, bobbing his head up and down at me, with me.”

Looking back now, Nelson said it just amazed him how kids could take anything in another student’s life and use it against him or her.

“It could be because of the clothes they wear, the friends they have or don’t have, their weight or their last name,” Nelson said. “For me, it was because I bobbed my head up and down — because I bobbed my head up and down! They didn’t even know my story. If only they would have asked why, I could have told them that before I was born, I had a blood clot and lost a piece of my brain.”

If only. . .

But no one asked and Nelson didn’t tell — not even his parents knew what he was going through at school.

“I got knocked down time and time again,” he said. “I have been through storm after storm my whole life.”

A few years back, Nelson was in a terrible car accident. In his own words, he described being in the “worst physical pain of his life.” With the roof ripped completely off and the dashboard smashed into the passenger seat, EMTs were surprised to see Nelson was not only alive, but that his seat was actually broken. They asked him if he had ducked or had put his seat back.

“I said, ‘No,’ I didn’t have time to,” Nelson said. “They said the reason they asked is because the seats are made so well — they shouldn’t have broken. They said if my body broke the seat, I’d be dead or paralyzed. At the same time, the seat would have slowed my momentum down enough where I’d have been decapitated from the chest up.”

The Jaws of Life helped cut the door off and get Nelson out of the smashed vehicle. He said he remembers being put on a stretcher, into an ambulance and being rushed to the emergency room. After being strapped to a back board for three hours while tests were being done, Nelson said he was cleared to go home.

“When I got home, that is when the worst, I mean the worst physical pain I’ve ever been in, started,” he said. “I walked in the door, went straight to the bathroom and spent literally half of the night throwing up due to the trauma my body went through. I felt like I had broken every bone in my body.”

But Nelson said that the pain was nothing like he experienced when he was bullied.

“The pain from the accident, yeah it was horrible and hurt like crazy, but that went away,” Nelson said. “I healed from that pain. That went away after a few weeks or a month or two. But the pain I got when I was bullied, the pain I got when I was made fun of, called names, laughed at — the scars I got from high school — didn’t go away after a few weeks or even after a month or two. It lasted for years, and even to this day, it’s still hard to talk about.”

During some dark days when Nelson thought about giving up, when he thought all hope was lost and that everyone was against him and no one was for him, there was one student who stood up for him — and ultimately saved Nelson’s life.

“I was in the locker room getting ready for cross country practice and there were a few other students getting ready for their practice,” Nelson said. “A few of them started making fun of me, laughing at me, mimicking me, bobbing their head at me, with me. And one of the most popular kids in school — I’m one of the least popular kids — he’s captain of the football team and I’m Bobble Head of the school, started yelling at him, saying, ‘Stop making fun of him because you don’t know who he is or what’s wrong with him, so stop it.’ So they did. They stopped.”

Nelson admitted that it was extremely embarrassing for him and that he wanted to run out of there and “crawl under a rock and not come out,” but at the same time, it meant everything to him because it showed someone cared.

“It showed me that someone would stand up when no one else would,” Nelson said. “That one second it took for him to stand up spoke a thousand words in my life. And it gave me hope for another day.”

Nelson encouraged the students in attendance to stand up for someone else, like that football player did for him.

“You might get made fun of and laughed at but isn’t it more important to stand up, knowing that you could potentially save their life,” he said.

Nelson then shared a story about a father squishing a bee in his hand so that his son, who was extremely allergic to bees, would not be hurt.

“I want to encourage every one of you to take the sting away from those who get made fun of, laughed at, called names,” Nelson said. “Take that embarrassment from those who eat alone. Take that embarrassment from those who walk alone in these halls. Take the embarrassment from those who have no friends. Just show them that someone cares.”

Nelson also inspired students to not only hang in there if bad things are happening to them, but to also tell their story to someone.

“I can’t promise that you’ll feel better right away,” he said. “You won’t. But I can promise you that you will start feeling better because when you’re at rock bottom, life is going by you 100 miles per hour and you feel stuck. You feel like there’s no hope. But there will be that one teacher, that one counselor, that one coach, that one friend, that one parent, that one brother, that one sister that you told your story to and they’re going to be right there alongside you, encouraging you.”

“The healing begins with you telling your story.”

MATEC student Erin Eaton shared her thoughts after the presentation.

“I actually really like it because I’m going through a lot right now,” she said. “I think it helped.”

Rachel VanMeveren said she thought the presentation was really good.

“There’s a lot of drama and bullying around the school, so it helps to hear presentations like this,” she said, adding that “it’s depressing” to know that people bully “for any reason at all.”

Michaela Berre said she shed tears throughout the presentation.

“I wanted to give him a hug halfway through,” she said.

Berre said kids can be just downright mean to each other.

“Nowadays, it’s about roasting each other,” she said. “Each generation, it gets worse and worse.”

MATEC phy ed teacher Angela Anderson said she remembers coaching Nelson in T-ball years ago and that she’s very appreciative that he tells his story in order to help others.

“It’s good for schools to focus on mental health issues,” Anderson said. “Even if it can change the life of one kid, it’s worth it.”

Nelson has written a book, which is expected to be released in January. It’s called “Against All Odds.” While Nelson shares his experience in the book, it also includes text from the football player who stood up for him, the neurologist when he was a baby and his parents.

“It’s just showing you how to overcome, that you’re not alone, that you do matter and that there is hope, that there is a purpose for your life,” Nelson said.

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