On bullying

I hear October is anti bullying month and that there’s some authors against bullying thing going on Stateside on Friday. Figured it wouldn’t hurt to put forward my two pence on the issue. See, here’s the thing…I was bullied as a child. Badly.

It’s safe to say I was a monumentally ugly teenager. It’s the truth. I was the Hermione Granger of my year except with bad skin, awful hair, worse dress sense and glasses that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Timmy Mallet. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I’m a vicar’s daughter. And yeah, I’ve heard all the jokes. My gift (or curse as I sometimes think of it) manifested when I was around 12. Suddenly reading wasn’t enough any more. My imagination had expanded.beyond the bounds of what already existed. So, while everyone else was talking makeup and boys, I was away in a world of my own.

I was single through the whole 9 years at school. In my defence, this had more to to with my brother threatening to break anyone that laid a hand on me than anything I did, but it was still pretty crushing. I know all about how it feels to be the one girl left standing by the wall at school dances.

Kids can be cruel and compounded into the boarding school environment it’s 10 times worse because you can’t get away. There’s no respite at night. It goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’m not going to lie. There were times I felt suicidal. On top of the damage to my self esteem, the sleep deprivation and constant stress must have had a massively traumatic impact on my body. I was always ill, getting headaches and colds.

I tried everything. I went to my housemistress, I went to my tutor, I went to my parents, I went to my headmaster. Nothing worked. The system totally failed me. They changed my dormitory so I just got picked on in other ways.

It finally stopped when my brother stepped in. He found me crying one night when he came to pick up his prom date. Half an hour later his entire pack of rugby playing, no nonsense talking, Rivvy loving friends turned up and took the girls into the common room for a grim talk. They never bothered me again.

I should clarify that the guys never laid a hand on them. As far as I’m aware they just warned them of the consequences of messing with everyone’s favourite little sister again. It was a classic bully manouevre on the girls part – bully someone until they grow teeth and then run away.

I know the system failed me. It fails a lot of people, probably more than it works. I know that when you’re in the middle of it, some super-rich, gorgeous celebrity telling you it gets better doesn’t help. Hell, that might have actually pushed me over the edge. Seeing someone who’s everything I know I’ll never be telling me that it gets better? As an adult I understand it. As a teenager it would have made it worse.

So my appeal is to the bullies, to the mean girls and boys of this world. Your actions have consequences, and I’m not talking about the rugby team that wants to flatten you. I’m talking about the kids that you push into suicide because they don’t feel there’s any other way out. I’m talking about the emotional scars that some of us carry for the rest of our lives. You have no idea of the butterfly effect your silly little mind games have on those you torment. Your personal issues and inadequacies can destroy those you lash out at.

You think that sounds melodramatic? It’s not. For me personally, the woman who left school was battered and dented emotionally. I scraped through university on the back of incredibly supportive friends. A year later I walked into an abusive relationship that lasted for 5 years. Do I blame the bullies for that? No. My choices are my own. But I can understand how I came to be the kind of woman that let a man do that to me. The damage to my self esteem is irreparable.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I got out and I made it a positive experience. I am stronger, better and wiser than a lot of people my age because I got the right help when I needed it and because I was lucky enough to be able to start over with a new life. I look at myself now and wonder how I was ever that girl that used to hide in my wardrobe crying because I couldn’t face the taunting any more. I wonder how I ever could have sat with those four boxes of paracetamol and seriously contemplated taking them all. It seems like a world away, some other person in some other reality.

I’m self aware enough to know that I’m still damaged. I still have severe self esteem issues. I probably always will. THAT is the cost of bullying.

So I advise you to think carefully before you make fun of that kid, before you pick on the little guy. You can’t take words back once they’ve been spoken and you never know how deep the cut you just inflicted will slice. Cause and effect. Consequences. For them and for you. Because when you grow up and work through your own issues, when you see to the heart of whatever was making you angry, you’ll realise that the spoken word is a double edged sword. You can’t take back the words that scarred them and you’ll have to live with that guilt for the rest of your life. Consequences. Don’t bully.

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