Monday 8 December 2014

Where it all started

I'm not sure what brought me to think about the bullying I experienced throughout my childhood, but it's a big topic and I suppose right now I finally feel ready to speak about it more openly. There's a lot to it, and I still find it very hard to explain, but I'll try not to ramble too much.

Disclaimer: I'm simply speaking about some of my experiences, thoughts and opinions here. I'm not particularly aiming to give advice.

TRIGGER WARNING: Details of self harm, bullying, and violence.

I was always quite a chatty, friendly child right up to primary school. I thought that if I was nice to other people, then they'd be nice to me. I tried to get involved and make the first move when it came to getting to know people. I'd always been told to be polite too.

I can't pinpoint exactly when I started getting bullied, or even why. I made friends fairly easily, but there were also classmates who decided to boss me around. I wasn't very assertive, & usually if someone told me to do something, then I'd do it as I didn't want to argue or anger them. I was in the infants at that time, so it was all very childish & none of it physically violent thankfully. I had a best friend at the time, who was quite quiet but lovely. The bullies would tell me that I had to hang around with them, and not her. They were very pushy. I don't remember ever knowing what they'd do if I stood up for myself, but I must've found them pretty intimidating. I don't think this lasted the entire year, but I remember a couple of girls from a few years above me. They also bossed me around, cornered me in the playground etc. I remember a time I was late for my afternoon class, as one of the girls had locked me in the mobile toilets outside (the building was very old, so some of the classes and the toilets were in mobile blocks). They'd done this because I'd refused to deliberately hit a girl from my class, with a conker. They didn't say why, but I knew they didn't like her and obviously wanted me to be the one to get into trouble.

I'd not long started in the juniors (Year 3) when my parents and I moved house. Dad started work early and Mum couldn't drive, so she and I used to take two buses to my school. It got very difficult to get there in time, and she wasn't happy at my headteacher's failure to deal with the bullies (it basically involved a sit down meeting with me and the bullies, where they denied everything that had been reported, and I was too scared to speak up) so I moved schools to one just a couple of streets away.

Being the "new girl" was a bit of a novelty, and I did get a fair amount of attention, mainly from people in the year above me. There were a few people who made it very clear they didn't want to talk to me. I didn't know what I'd done, but then again you can't please everyone! I also joined choir, gymnastics and the local Brownies group, in order to socialise. I did make a few friends and really thought that my time at this new school would be much happier than at the old one. One person I thought I was close friends with started to boss me around and tease me. Anything I thought I was good at (singing etc) she judged me for. I had a fairly small, flat nose at that age. I wasn't aware that people saw this as a bad thing, until she tried to imitate it. She would pretty much humiliate me in front of most of my class. I still wasn't very good at sticking up for myself, so I guess she saw me as an easy target. The odd times where I lost my temper at her & we'd fall out, she'd make sure that she kept very close to my friends, so I'd end up on my own at break-times. I felt like it was better to keep quiet & put up with the bullying, than to alienate everybody. I won't go into detail, but there were times when she would try to make me believe certain upsetting things about my family. I didn't believe her at all, but it did mess with my head quite a lot. She lived very near me, so it's not as if I could escape the bullying away from school. It got to a point where I didn't feel safe on my own street (and sometimes my own home). I never used to get physically ill, but I would wish for this so I could at least stay at home and have a day or two away from the bullying. When I felt really upset/stressed out at home, I would bite, scratch or pinch my hands. It was never to a point where it was very noticeable the next day (only my parents noticed a few times) but it was enough to cause enough pain to distract me. It's not something I've spoken in depth to therapists about, but I guess this was a form of self harm.

I looked forward to secondary school. Only a couple of classmates went to the same one as me, and they were both friends. I started to be a little more chatty again, although I did get some teasing. I'd not tried to fit in when it came to fashion or music taste. I was ridiculously polite as well, and honestly I think a lot of people just thought I was weird. Year 7 wasn't too bad. A girl in our year was seen as a bit of an outcast. She was picked on quite badly. I wish I'd stuck up for her instead of being so selfish, but I felt as if I had to do what I could to fit in; especially when I started being teased. Year 8 was my absolute worst year for bullying. The girl from the previous year had left (due to the bullying she'd received. I wish so much that I'd been a better friend to her). Everything I said, or did, or wore was judged. I felt as if I couldn't do anything right, so decided it would be better if I stayed quiet. Of course then, I was targeted for being the "shy, quiet one". The friends I'd made in the same year as me, weren't in the same classes (we had to stay in our forms) and, due to staggered lunchtimes (big school with a small canteen), I didn't see them very often.

Around this time, I used to have extremely violent dreams about the classmates who had bullied me. I think this happened because I was so frustrated with myself for not standing up to them. I thought that it was my fault that I'd "let" myself be bullied again. In the dreams, I'd be kicking and punching them until they fell unconscious. I don't know if I could call these intrusive thoughts, but these dreams would be on my mind most days, and I'd worry so much that I'd act on them.

I had the odd outburst where I just couldn't put up with things that had been said/done that day. It usually involved me yelling a bunch of obscenities at the person though. I only ever once did anything physical, and it was in response to seeing a friend being teased/pushed around by one of the bullies. She had started tugging my friend's hair, and then went on to tug mine when I spoke up. I remember grabbing her fingers and bending them right back. I really did want to hurt her, but stopped when a teacher walked past. As far as I remember, she didn't give me any trouble after that. I'm not sure what the right thing to do would've been, but I definitely wouldn't advise doing that!

I used to be so worried that I was allowing the bullying to happen, that it was my fault, and that I'd humiliate myself in some way, that I'd start rituals of checking, and repeating (something I only realised recently). In year 9, myself and a few of my close friends began reading up on Paganism and Wicca. We didn't go into any real depth, & I don't know enough about it to consider myself pagan right now, but we learnt about blessings. I can't remember which ones exactly, but I used to recite a couple of blessings each night, and I became obsessed with repeating them three times at exactly midnight. I started to believe that if I did this every night, three times, and in the "right" order, that my next day at school wouldn't go too badly. I also started becoming interested in divination, and would keep certain "lucky charms" in each pocket of my blazer. If I didn't have them all on me, in the "right" pockets, then I believed I would have a very bad day. This carried on right through to 6th form. I started to get more confident in 6th form. I still had the odd bit of trouble, which I'm not sure even qualifies as bullying (just people being assholes!), but I found it a bit easier to brush off.

This is the first time I've described my experiences in such detail. I bottled a lot of it up. The only advice I ever received about bullying was to "tell the teacher/your parents". I did that a couple of times, but only ever found it made matters worse. I remember confiding in a friend as well, but they decided that telling my bullies would be the best course of action. They meant well, but this really wasn't helpful & I didn't feel as if I could speak to any other friends about this, in case they did the same.

Schools I've attended have claimed to have a "zero tolerance policy" on bullying, but no other details other than that. I'd be really interested to know the types of things that teachers & parents are told to look out for, as well as protocol when they find out that someone is being bullied. I don't think a "one size fits all" approach would be the best course of action, as bullying is a lot more complicated than we are led to believe. It isn't just about physical violence or name-calling. It can include teasing/putting someone down & making them feel bad about themself, exclusion/isolation from friendship groups, and other subtle but still very damaging methods.

Throughout school, I desperately needed to have someone to talk to about these things. Even though my friends were amazing, I worried so much about word getting to the bullies that I simply didn't talk to them about it, and preferred to distract myself. The school nurse was lovely, but only dealt with physical problems (as far as I was aware anyway). You had to approach a teacher before being allowed to see the nurse, so of course I didn't even try to see her about this. I wish that there had been a school counsellor that I could see in confidence.

I also wish that we'd learnt about mental health in school. I'm pretty sure that I experienced anxiety and depression even as a young child/young teenager. At the time, however, I saw the symptoms I had as my own personality flaws, rather than things that I experienced, that were triggered/exacerbated by the bullying. Maybe I could've at least learnt some healthier coping mechanisms, if I'd had that support available.


  1. I just wanted to say I'm sorry you had such a crappy time at school. Bullying is really horrible and I don't think its often taken as seriously as it should. Anything bad that happens during childhood, when we are developing as people, has a huge impact on our entire lives. I was bullied terribly as a child, because I was really withdrawn due to my homelife. I sometimes think that if there had been someone to talk to or if it had been noticed by someone then my adulthood would have been very different.
    It seems like at least in some schools these days, kids' emotional welfare is starting to be looked after a bit more, but the more people, like you, who write about it, the better.

  2. I'm sorry that I didn't reply sooner! Thank you lovely. I've always wondered what protocol teachers have when it comes to spotting and dealing with bullying. It seems every school says they have a "zero tolerance policy", but I'd like to see that in action. It really isn't taken that seriously :/ It can have such a massive effect on someone, & I think it contributes to some of the kind of mental health problems I have today. I'm sorry you experienced bullying too :( I think the same thing. There needs to be a lot more support available, right from our early years at school. My DM inbox is always open, if you need a friend to confide in :) Thank you for this comment hun, I'm sure I'll carry on writing about this topic xxx