Unfortunately, we have seen this before, and talking seems to be where it ends. This will be a series of posts over time – stories about bullying, ideas for dealing with it, and analysis of how it really affects society. I want to kick it off with my tale.
I started school in Hamilton. For some very strange reason, I was the popular kid. First year in primary school, I had a really pretty girlfriend, did well in everything, and life was wonderful. Then my family moved to Wellington. As 5 (or was I 6?) year old kids do, I really, really did not want to leave. Who the hell would?
It probably didn’t help things that around this time, when I started feeling really isolated, that I recall (maybe at age 7) that if I wasn’t going to be included by others, I would put myself on the sidelines and watch how people behave to try and figure it out.
My Hamilton teachers told my parents that my new school might be tempted to put me up a year, but they shouldn’t because it was felt I wouldn’t be able to cope socially. They put me up a year anyway. While I enjoyed this academically (I would have preferred going up two years because I still found the work easy), I think it did put me at a great disadvantage being younger and smaller than everyone else.
It took a little while, but this is where things changed. Most of my memories of my subsequent school years are full of hate, fear and utter desolation. I had a few friends, not a lot, but a few. I’ll be the first to admit that the sort of bullying I was subjected to is nothing compared to what many kids experience today. The suicide rates among bullied children is only surprising to me in that I am surprised it is so low.
Events that really stand out for me are:
- Punched in the mouth so hard I had to go to the nurse to try and stop the bleeding. Standard 1. For not being fast enough to let the bully push in front of me.
- Having shoes regularly tied to the top of the climbing frame because the kids knew I was terrified of heights. Form 1 and 2.
- Being drop-kicked in the head because I asked to join in a game of football. Form 2.
- Pinned to the ground and having my head hit against the concrete (this one lead to me being sent to the deputy headmaster’s office – getting in trouble for being picked on so much). Form 2.
However, despite these physical assaults, most of the bullying was psychological. Funny – there is one event that sticks out for me here.
It was form 1. One of the main bullies and his girlfriend were going to have a pash. I really fancied her even though I knew it was pointless. She was stunning – I felt she lit up the entire world when she walked by. Me? Well I was me. At the time that was all that needed be said.
All the other kids formed a circle around them so they wouldn’t be seen (except by the circle). I tried to watch and was rather brutally shoved out and fell to the ground. I went around the corner and cried. Even then, I knew I wasn’t physically hurt so shouldn’t really be crying. I just knew that the emotional pain was tearing my soul apart. The feeling of exclusion was just so intense.
Although much of this time was spent wishing I was dead, I think I was saved by my academic excellence. I was liked by my teachers, and I felt they were some of my best friends. Of course, my studies started failing me after the fifth form. Possibly tied in with my parents’ separation (late in the 4th form) or because of the usual crap kids go through at puberty.
I have reported elsewhere (including at The Hand Mirror) one of the events that I think was a turning point for me. It was form 6. I was playing with a lot of the other kids who, by then, started to include me a bit more – as we all matured. The chief bully of the time started hassling me to I yelled out “Fuck off [name withheld]” and turned to storm off. He called out after me: “Come here and say that” (I guess he thought I wouldn’t). Something clicked. I turned, walked up to his face, and said it again, just as loud: “Fuck off [name still withheld]”, and again turned to walk away – not quite storming this time because I wasn’t so angry.
“I said come here and say that” came the call. I stopped, turned around, walked up to his face and said it a third time. As I turned to walk away again, he struck out. He caught my forehead and I barely felt it. I turned back, stared him in the face, then turned away and slowly walked off.
This is one of my proudest moments in my life. Of course, when I was out of sight I bawled my eyes out. I still didn’t understand why people hated me so much. I wondered for some time whether I should’ve hit back. But by that stage, although I started to feel as though I could fight back, I never wanted to. I didn’t want to become them.
At the end of 7th form, I told one of my teachers about this, and how I kinda wished I had hit back. He told me that what I did was the best thing anyone could have done. Made me feel very proud.
It took me many years to get over all of this. It took finding my place. The place where I naturally excelled. It took clicking with the right people, and finally finding inclusion.
Anyway, that is my story. Hopefully it places my future posts on the subject into perspective. Maybe, just maybe, it gives young people who are being bullied some degree of hope. That there is a way through. That what they do to you is not as important as what you do to yourself. As schmaltzy as it might be, Whitney Houston is right. Learning to love yourself – it is the greatest love of all. Because once you have that, nobody can harm you. Ever. Sure they might beat on you and damage your body, but they will never harm you.
Thanks folks for allowing me to tell my story. In posts that will follow on this subject, I really hope to be another voice in getting the message that bullying has to stop. And it has to start with talking. If you are bullied, find someone you can trust and tell them. Find someone who will give you unconditional support and love.