Episode 88: Claire and Charlie Tietgen, Bullying, Depression, and Suicide
In this episode, Karen speaks with Claire Tietgen and her father Charles. Claire is 18 and the survivor of bullying as well as several suicide attempts. Claire is on a mission to share her story to normalize the conversation about bullying, depression and suicide.
Claire Tietgen is an anti-bullying advocate; she was born and raised in Kansas and had been bullied throughout her childhood. Instead of letting it keep her down, she decided to do something about it. At age 13, Claire started her own Youtube channel (Bullied But Not Broken) and then her family, including her dad Charles, founded a non-profit organization (E3 Scholarship Fund) to help children overcome bullying.
Intro Voices 00:04
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me? This is You Matter, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Campus Safety.
Karen Ortman 00:32
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Campus Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today, I welcome Claire Teagan and her father Charles. Claire is 18 years old, a bullying survivor and the survivor of several suicide attempts. She is on a mission to share her story to normalize the conversation about bullying, depression, and suicide. Claire and Charles welcome to You Matter. Glad to be here. Wow. So nice to meet the both of you, Claire. Tell me when did the bullying start for you?
Claire Tietgen 01:30
Probably when it when I was first aware of it, and then my parents kind of talked to me was probably fourth grade. Wow. But I've had bullying my entire life.
Karen Ortman 01:43
So fourth grade. What's that, 11 years old?
Claire Tietgen 01:47
I think so. Yes.
Karen Ortman 01:49
So in what form does bullying take for you?
Claire Tietgen 01:54
I'm calling names. Physically, like they physically threw things at me. Called me. So many things that I can't say on camera because it's not appropriate. Even for fourth graders they were cursing and saying things that most adults are not used to hearing.
Karen Ortman 02:16
Did any adults witness this or observe this behavior?
Claire Tietgen 02:20
Oh, yeah. All the time.
Karen Ortman 02:21
And what did I do about it?
Claire Tietgen 02:23
They just stood by and watched because the kid’s parents had money and use their authority, I guess to override the teachers. And they thought I was just some dumb disability girl who was not making any sense at the time.
Karen Ortman 02:39
That's so silly.
Claire Tietgen 02:39
They were always on the kids’ side, not mine.
Karen Ortman 02:42
And this wasn't that long ago. And it's 2021. So when all of this behavior and conduct occurred in front of adults, nobody stepped in and did anything on your behalf?
Claire Tietgen 02:53
So my dad one day, he was like, he heard me saying a bunch of things and ask teachers and they're like, yeah, maybe it's just a little name calling and all this and that. So he actually showed up one day, and sat at recess and watched the whole thing. And they were harassing me and using very harsh language. And he took it to the principal and was like I witnessed it, it is much more aggressive and seriously than you guys are claiming to be. Do you have any records of this? And they're like, no, we have no records of anything. Up to this date they do not have any records of my interactions with kids?
Karen Ortman 03:36
So dad, Charles, tell me what you observed when you went and watched Claire at recess?
Charlie Tietgen 03:47
Well, let me say it's not because I didn't believe her. I did. I mean, we talked about it every day. But you think it's just kids being kids? And maybe Claire's exaggerating a little bit. But no, I walk in the playground. I sit on the park bench. They don't know who I am. And Claire's just kind of hanging out. And they walk by her. And you know, it was unbelievable, actually, at that age, using those types of profanity, directed at your own kid for no reason at all. It's disturbing.
Karen Ortman 04:23
So did you witness it was verbal harassment. Was there a physical assault on her that you observed?
Charlie Tietgen 04:32
Well, yes. Oh, yeah. It escalated over the years from the physical to the pushing to the, you know, to actually holding her down and beating her unconscious. Being hospitalized too. You know, so yes. Wow.
Karen Ortman 04:50
Wow. Were the police ever notified?
Charlie Tietgen 04:54
Yes, the police you know, once you have an assault on school grounds, but actual physical assault They'll step in. Okay. The verbal the emotional abuse they don't. They do.
Karen Ortman 05:07
So when there were when there was police involvement were there ever any juvenile petitions filed against any of your classmates for their conduct?
Claire Tietgen 05:19
Only one, the only one case where I was hospitalized, but when I was like physically assaulted at school, I was punched one time they were throwing ice cubes at my face and different types of drinks and actually throwing like, the necklace beads on my face. And there were scars and marks all over my face, that none of the police got brought in for those but the one time that had actually reached the point where it was hospitalized and knocked unconscious, then they stepped in.
Karen Ortman 05:53
So what happened? How old were you? What happened that caused you to be knocked unconscious?
Claire Tietgen 06:00
Um, so there was this one incident, I was in eighth grade, it was my second middle school I was there for not even a month when it happened. And so I was getting picked on. And they were picking on me for my shoes, which I don't remember much details, but they were saying that it was fake that I didn't pay the actual real price for it. And I was like, No, I can show you the receipts. And I stepped up for myself. And I said a snarky comment to one of the kids. And they did the - Oh, she's saying bad things about her, Bla bla bla bla bla. And then they did - fight, fight fight. And I was walking to my mom was outside waiting. And I as I pushed on the door to go outside, the girl grabbed my hair and pulled me down and I was instantly knocked out. And I woke up with her punching in my face. And they were all standing around with cameras saying -Fight, fight fight. And as soon as I got conscious enough to realize what was happening, I pushed her off of me with my foot, like I kicked her. And she stepped back and hit the door and then everyone ran out. And I had to literally like crawl. Like to the principal's office that was probably 100, not even, 100 yards away. And because I was so concussed and my face was bleeding and bruised, and it was so bad that I wasn't even conscious, but really conscious at the time to understand what was going on. And so as soon as I got there, I was making no sense at all. And so my mom finally had to speak for me because I couldn't come up with anything to say about it.
Karen Ortman 07:53
Your mom was waiting outside for you, so she had no idea this was going on.
Claire Tietgen 07:56
No, she had no idea until I called her. I was like, Hey, can you come inside? And she was like, she looked at my face. And she was like, What happened? And I told her that I stood up for myself and I got into a fight. And these were about Air Jordan sneakers you were wearing? Yeah. Yeah.
Karen Ortman 08:15
Claire Tietgen 08:15
Yeah, I bought them for volleyball. So I started playing volleyball. And I wanted like cool shoes, and they were the cool shoes at the time. And they were super cool. I loved them. Yeah, but apparently, at that specific school, those kids knew all about those shoes.
Karen Ortman 08:34
Well, I'm so sorry to hear that this happened to you. And I I'm shocked. So when you were outside on the playground, and these things would happen. Were there any adults present?
Claire Tietgen 08:51
Oh, yeah. All the time.
Karen Ortman 08:52
So you had teachers that had recess duty.
Claire Tietgen 08:56
Right. Yeah, hearing the conversations that the kids were saying to me.
Charlie Tietgen 09:05
I know it doesn't make sense. It's baffling. But, you know, the reason and what's...
Karen Ortman 09:12
It's disturbing is what it is.
Charlie Tietgen 09:14
Karen Ortman 09:14
Charlie Tietgen 09:15
Oh, very disturbing. We took it to the school board. We took it everywhere. And that's why your story was national. As far as her trying to picket outside the school district and change some of the, you know, the way they discipline children when it's the squeaky wheel. You know, Claire was labeled a problem and with her disabilities, because she was picked on all the time and constantly agitated. And so nobody identified it. Nobody took the time. And so Claire was just - leave her alone on the playground - and the teachers did the same thing. And then also, the logistics of reporting a bully situation are Apparently too cumbersome for a teacher to want to do. It's just like, Oh, it's just one of those things. Kids are kids. Well, it turns from kids or kids to you got a child that's trying to leave this earth. And, you know, and it's really the parent that I think has to enter intervene.
Karen Ortman 10:20
Yeah. So how many times? Did you switch schools because of bullying?
Claire Tietgen 10:27
I've been to nine schools in six years.
Karen Ortman 10:32
And at what point in those changes in school did you start thinking about suicide? The third school fouth?
Claire Tietgen 10:47
Oh no, the first. Every school I've been at, up until probably sophomore year, I considered suicide. And then sophomore year was probably one of my worst years because I was actually sexually assaulted, and had to leave multiple schools in that year. So I think that was my worst point. But then since junior and senior year, I haven't thought about it. I've been in good schools, just the traditional like - kids will be kids type of mentality.
Karen Ortman 11:21
And Charles, at what point did you learn about Claire, and her suicidal thoughts?
Charlie Tietgen 11:31
About the age of 12. And we just discovered some notes that she had written under her mattress with a sharpie, and then in her closet, she wrote on the wall. And she was always wanting to keep a diary. But you know, that was always private. And at that age, you're just what are they writing about? You know, just everyday things. But that's, yeah, we looked at her mattress to put new sheets on, and that's where it was, I want to die.
Karen Ortman 11:57
How'd you feel when you saw that?
Charlie Tietgen 12:01
You're way off guard. I mean, we're very involved family, we got two other children. I mean, and I was just taken completely by surprise. You know, I thought we had a handle on it. I thought we were working with Claire. With the bullying. Claire was, you know, seemed to be adjusting. You know, we would start a new school. And, learn some things from the last school. But no, this is internal, you know, emotional trauma that she's carrying around with her. It just grew to the point that she had no options. She didn't know what to do. And there was really only one way out.
Karen Ortman 12:45
Yeah, so although the bullying went on for many years, during those years, did you believe maybe towards the end that it actually had subsided? Or did you know that it was going on for as long as it had been? You and your wife?
Charlie Tietgen 13:03
Well, the bullying changes depending on the immaturity of the people around her, you know, it starts off as throwing kick balls at her and food, to social abandonment, I mean, and to where they just refuse to interact, or they play games with her social games and complex games of not being accepted in a group or teasing her like she is but then they laugh at her and run away. So it's like this moving target. You think you got a grip on one scenario, but then a new one presents itself.
Karen Ortman 13:41
Tell me about when life changed for you.
Claire Tietgen 13:45
Um, life change when probably Coby happened. Yeah, probably when I like understood the situation. So when I started doing jujitsu, and then Colby was implemented, and then I just started interacting with my family a lot more than like, the outside world. Probably got like to where my mind really changed was when I got more mature and older, probably like, early stages of high school. And now I think it's gotten completely better just because there's not really in bullying left - like there's a couple like scenarios where it's like - okay, really, you guys are being childish- but I think it got much better is when eighth grade restarted.
Karen Ortman 14:40
And what is Colby? You mentioned Colby.
Claire Tietgen 14:44
So Colby Corp is an assessment to help kids with their natural talents. So with me, I don't like to be interrupted. I'm a very task-oriented person. So with anything I need to do if someone interrupts me, it's like I don't speak English like I can't function I have to start all the way up from the beginning. So as soon as I figured that out, that was what helped me so much in school because on top of the bullying on top of all my stuff growing up is I am never really good at school. So it was kind of really hard for me, especially math. And so since we figured out like, how I need to be taught and how my ways of learning are really important, and how to advocate for myself, then, that's when I think it got much better. The bullying was still happening, but school was getting better.
Karen Ortman 15:40
Yeah. Tell me about the video in memory of Claire. There are dates in that video, August 2, 2002 to February 15, 2014. What is the significance of those dates?
Claire Tietgen 15:57
So that is the date that kind of turned it all around for me. So that is when I had a wake up call that I am doing so much with my life like - Colby started, e3 started. And that's when I think we lost CeeCee correct? Right around that time we lost CeeCee. So that's when that happened.
Karen Ortman 16:21
Claire Tietgen 16:22
So CeeCee is one of my friends who actually passed away by suicide, right around the same time I was struggling and wanted to end it. And so with her death, it kind of got more like eye opening for me about all of it. So that's when I got better. And started asking for help and started talking more. I think that's when that date kind of circles about how my life was changing, and how it needed to change where I would end up.
Karen Ortman 16:54
I'm very sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.
Claire Tietgen 16:58
Yeah, thank you.
Karen Ortman 17:00
So the the video in memory of Claire, what is that?
Claire Tietgen 17:06
So that's in memory of my old self of me going through all that I was going through that if I don't change and become someone much stronger and more confident and more self-aware with my disorder with Colby that I would not be on this earth anymore. So I did change myself and ask for help more. And just be a new Claire. To live, basically.
Karen Ortman 17:33
I'm really proud of you.
Claire Tietgen 17:35
Thank you, I've come a long way certainly.
Karen Ortman 17:38
You have. Tell me about the significance of coach Austin Ford.
Claire Tietgen 17:46
Oh, he changed my life. He was I might get emotional here. He was the person who was outside of my family. Who, yes, I had differences. Yes, I had a disability but it didn't stop him from treating me like everybody else. Because even at a young age with my parents, with my siblings with kids at school, I always felt different. I always felt like I was being treated differently. With Austin, he didn't do that at all. He was like a clean slate. You're Claire. That's it. Like you're a normal kid. And so as I grew up and started doing jujitsu, he made me feel like I was his second daughter. Yeah, like, he was my second brother. Like besides my dad, him and Austin were like everything to me at that time, because he saved me from dying. He saves me he's saved me from like staying locked. So he made me want to stay alive. Because everything that we went through together.
Karen Ortman 18:49
And so, is he still your coach?
Claire Tietgen 18:52
No, he is not so he is a family friend, but he shut down his gym a while ago and we still we actually talked to him a couple weeks ago, didn't we?
Karen Ortman 19:03
So your your video in memory of Claire? Is that something that if a listener is interested in viewing, where can it be accessed?
Claire Tietgen 19:15
So it can be accessed on YouTube. Okay.
Karen Ortman 19:20
Claire Tietgen 19:20
So they look up just Claire Tietgen and they'll find all my videos, all my podcasts that I've done.
Karen Ortman 19:25
Okay, so that brings me to my next question regarding your YouTube series, Bullied, Not Broken. Tell me about how that series originated.
Claire Tietgen 19:37
So that originated with - okay, great, my story's great. But other people have stories like me, and other people - there are highly successful people have stories like me. So I've noticed that in the sport of jujitsu that I when I went to competitions, they're like, I have similar story. Like, you know, I'm like, really? Because I never understood that I was like other people, I thought I was going through this alone and had my own problems. And so as I was talking to my dad, I was like, you know what I would want to hear from like, Rhonda Rousey or like people who inspire me to be better. And so that's when that originated is kids getting inspiration from the people who inspire them to be better, or sports. And so that's when that started is I did Rhonda Rousey and a bunch of UFC fighters and I found that a majority, or not all of them have bullied stories, or some story.
Karen Ortman 20:44
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So is your series still ongoing, Bullied, Not Broken?
Claire Tietgen 20:49
Yeah, it is. I've been, we've been jumping up Colby a lot. And I've been getting ready to graduate. So we haven't done a video in a while. But I think as soon as I graduate, and come back from spending the summer at my aunt's, that I think we'll do that a lot more.
Karen Ortman 21:09
Charles, tell me about e three, and the impact that it's had on your family's life?
Charlie Tietgen 21:15
Well, e3 is that assessment Claire was talking about with Colby Corp. And the assessment is important to understand - in about 20 minutes - it kind of peel the onion and told us what was causing stress for Claire in school. And I was amazed that it can be accomplished in 20 minutes, because I had tried everything else, you know. And then within 30 days, Claire's grades went from F's to B's, and C's. And then within about 45 days, she had straight A's, her first time ever to earn an A. And, I'm going this is remarkable, just to change a few little things with our teachers, and based on how she naturally learns. So I'm driving home from work, and there is a lease sign in the building. And I said we're gonna open up one of these. And so Claire was the inspiration. She was with me. We looked at the building, and she said, I want to offer this to other kids because it really helped me. So we opened up a jujitsu and a Colby Academy. It's the only one actually a nonprofit in the United States. And so Claire has spearheaded that and we now, you know, a few years later, we have a beautiful facility. Claire has a board, a 501c3, and a whole brand-new website marketing plan on a massive scale to go national.
Karen Ortman 22:57
Congratulations. Congratulations to you, Claire. You are an inspiration
Charlie Tietgen 23:05
She's a force.
Karen Ortman 23:06
She absolutely is. Watch out.
Charlie Tietgen 23:08
You know, if you channel this girl, it's amazing.
Karen Ortman 23:12
Yeah. What are the services that e3 provides?
Charlie Tietgen 23:17
We do youth assessments here.
Karen Ortman 23:19
Okay, so this is so this is the only Assessment Center in the country?
Charlie Tietgen 23:26
For youth, yeah, in a brick and mortar building. Yes.
Karen Ortman 23:29
Okay. Do you provide services to youth outside of Kansas?
Charlie Tietgen 23:36
We do all across the nation. And we actually did an entire inner-city school in Kansas City, the whole freshman class. And we raised the money for that. And we also have scholarships for the kids that do jujitsu and the ones that do Colby come in here for assessments.
Karen Ortman 23:57
And anybody wishing to look into your center, how would they find that information? There's a website, correct? Yep. It's e3sf.org. Letter E, the number 3, S as in Sam, F as in Frank, .org. Go there, and you'll find Claire's stories and what we're all about and what we're trying to do. Claire, how has e3 impacted you and your ability to find joy in life?
Claire Tietgen 24:34
Oh, it changed everything because this is gonna be my career. So at 13 I found out what I was going to do. And I love it because I love helping people and I love seeing the smiles on kids when they're like, I have a voice now. I love helping people and changing people's worlds because that's what it did to me.
Karen Ortman 24:55
Yeah. You have a gift. You know, thta? You do. Because Claire spoke of suicide earlier on in our conversation, what would you like to say to young people who are listening who might feel the way you did or experienced bullying like you did?
Claire Tietgen 25:17
I would say is talk to someone, because anyone who is in the right mind, who actually truly cares about you will listen and understand and want to help you. And also find an outlet. If you love drawing, draw. If you love working out workout, just find something to keep you happy for an hour at a time. You just enjoy doing your thing, no one bothering you, just enjoying your peace and quiet and also talk to someone and just get involved.
Karen Ortman 25:52
Yeah, good advice.
Claire Tietgen 25:53
Keeps it positive because it always gets better.
Karen Ortman 25:56
I like it, who's your role model?
Claire Tietgen 25:59
I would say realistically would be my parents. But if I had a dream world would probably be my future self.
Karen Ortman 26:09
I'd love that.
Claire Tietgen 26:11
People literally have turned their entire lives around.
Karen Ortman 26:19
So who is Claire Teitgen in 10 years?
Claire Tietgen 26:24
She's a successful businesswoman, running multiple e3 facilities all over the world, and the country. Traveling, just having fun and just doing what she loves to do. And enjoying life, right? And enjoying life for sure. Because there's only one life that you can live.
Karen Ortman 26:46
So you are a true inspiration. And I am so honored that I had the opportunity to talk to you and to your dad. Is there anything that I didn't ask you that you would like to share?
Claire Tietgen 27:03
No, I think you asked great questions.
Charlie Tietgen 27:08
No, I think you did. I yeah, the only suggestion I'd have for any parent going through this with their child, is take it seriously. Very serious. Because we opened this facility, I get a lot of parents who have lost their child. And they come in after the fact. And they share insight and they go - we had no idea this was coming. Every one of them says that. You know, we knew she wasn't happy or he was happy. We knew that we were going to counseling we were working on it. They were on medication. But you know, I'd never thought he would or she would do this. And so their perspective changes. They said I would have done this and this and this, I would have addressed the actual suicide conversation and not danced around it.
Claire Tietgen 28:06
These kids who are getting bullied or who are thinking of suicide, have mature minds because they're seriously considering it. So don't sugarcoat it with your child no matter what the age is. Because if they're going through so much trauma, they're like, you don't need to sugarcoat it with me because I already know. Luckily, my whole life my parents, no matter what the topic was literally, little or big, they never would sugarcoat anything, they would always tell me straight up. And so that's probably why I'm so mature in talks and just interacting with kids my own age, just because I grew up with people being honest being like, Hey, this is how it is. It's hard. Life is hard, but here it is.
Karen Ortman 28:51
Okay. I like it.
Charlie Tietgen 28:54
Karen Ortman 28:55
Thank you again. Thanks to my guests once again, Claire and Charles and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter if any information presented was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Campus Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like, and subscribe to You Matter on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or Tune in