Some call it ‘triggered’ but I’m going to call it ‘compelled’. In light of the tragic event involving the loss of yet another beautiful soul, with so much potential, to suicide as a result of cyberbullying, I feel as a survivor of relentless bullying over the course of my teen years, that it’s my duty to revisit events in my life that I had put to bed long ago, and share my story.
Bullying was so much a part of my life, growing up that I find it easier to pinpoint the moments when times were good, in a sea of moments I wish no one had to experience. I was teased for everything I did well and everything I did not so well, right from year one. I was teased for the odd occasions I wearing the right uniform, and then teased for having the best shoes. I was teased for whoever I managed to to befriend because they were also targets for the bullies. It seemed whatever I did or wore, made me a target for bullies. I wish I could say that was the extent of the bullying I endured, but sadly it wasn’t. Exclusion was an everyday occurrence and it was in the form of being told to go away, or sit somewhere else if I tried to eat with a group of kids, never being invited to birthday parties, being made to sit out the game in most sports I tried to involve myself in, having the few friends I made be asked to join in whatever game was going on and then being told that only that friend could join in, not me. I gravitated from group to group of people to sit with in highschool and always I was asked to go find some ‘other friends’ to sit with. As a result I never knew who was my friend, who was pretending to be a friend or if I even had friends.
Then there was the hair pulling in primary school and regular occurrences of having to comb juice out of it after it was tipped over me, then the hair singeing on the bus in high school and food thrown at me nearly every lunchtime. This all made the name calling seem like nothing in comparison, yet still so relentless that I often resorted to excluding myself from the classroom rather than wait until the teacher sent me out for retaliation and the inevitable detention while the bullies got away with their actions with nothing more than a warning. I would either ask to be sat outside before the lesson even started, or ask to be sent to sickbay or the guidance officer to avoid these scenes. As a result, I missed a lot of class and at best barely passed the classes that I already didn’t have a natural aptitude for.
Many times I had my belongings stolen or destroyed. My Ventolin inhalers cost my mum a fortune during the early years of highschool, from always having to replace them after they were stolen.
In the afternoons, after being fed up with the hair singeing I caught a different bus, which meant I had to wait longer at school, walk a longer distance home and subsequently get home later in the afternoon. On my.walks home from the bus stop I was harassed on a regular basis by a couple of boys who caught the same bus. This included being swung around by my bag and thrown in the dirt, being hit and threatened with sticks and being chased by them on their bikes after they had been kicked off the bus. Those boys would ride to the golf course where all this took place and be there to meet me as I got off the bus. And they would chase me all the way to my street. I would often get home with tyre marks on the backs of my legs from when their threats to run me down came close to action. I decided this was the lesser of two evils as this was the better alternative to being set on fire by kids on the other bus.
I was kicked off that bus for two weeks at a time for behaviour that included retaliation, and my only option then was to walk home from school. This meant walking across town.
Needless to say the only break I had from the bullies was when I was at home.
As I reached the final years of highschool, the physical bullying and teasing died down a little but didn’t cease altogether, however I felt that it was at a level that finally I could cope with.
What didn’t die down and was the worst of the bullying by this stage was the exclusion, but by this time it was more subtle. It.consisted of me sitting with a group of people, in my final year of year 12, the year i reluctantly repeated, who I thought finally accepted me and some of whom even talked to me. Yet in the final weeks of highschool, I was set up for the most heartbreaking form of exclusion ever when plans were made regarding the school formal. It was only when I showed up to school with the agreed upon monetary contribution that I realised they were plans that were never intended to include me. They were disguised as plans that changed that didn’t have room for me. At least they didn’t take my money, but I showed up to the formal alone that year and sat the table with all the other students that were excluded from other friends tables. It was a night that should have been one to look forward to and that I should’ve been able to look back on with fond memories. Instead it was a night I’d rather forget. The bright-side of all of this was that it signified the hell that was my school years, made that way because of the bullying that filled nearly every day of those years.
Many times over those years I had contemplated suicide, not for a desire to die, but to escape and end the suffering. It was also a time where I felt the most alone and abandoned, through lack of action from some of my teachers to discourage the bullying towards me. I developed a lack of confidence I my teachers to care enough to act and as a result, I shut down and continued to suffer in silence. It’s only now that I’m thankful that thought rarely became intent or action, that my ‘notes’ were seen soon enough as cries for help that were taken seriously enough that through counselling I got the help I needed to developed ways to cope with the bullying and the subsequent depression, and outward behaviour.
There were a few other bright sides to this story. Avoiding the bullies at lunchtime lead me to pursue singing, school concerts, musicals and the school choir. It was there I found my belonging, talent, passion and confidence to pursue that talent once school ended.
I also developed a sharp wit (which has made me the witty person I am today with a quip or an answer for everything) and slowly the confidence to stand up to the bullies, though unfortunately sometimes in ways I could be not be proud of, disclose nor encourage, and the strength to ignore that which was not important in the way I live my life, including online bullies.
These days I’ve made it my mission to raise awareness of the severity of bullying behaviour, including the effect it has on people who are targeted, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and in many tragic cases suicide. Because of this I have no problems calling keyboard warriors on their actions even at the risk of their malice being directed at me, and the thick skin and willpower needed to simply put the screen down on my laptop, shut off Facebook or whatever social media it occurs on and switch my focus to something else awhile.
The biggest brideside of all my experiences with bullying over the years is that we mostly grew up before computers and the internet were so readily available. Not contending with the heavy infusion in everyday life as a teen meant I could catch a break from bullying, in the safety of home. It’s this that I am most thankful for, but at the same time am most concerned about for this generation of teens especially. Being connected 24/7 in this way means these days there is no break from the bullies and no time to regroup before dealing with another day of it at school.
At the beginning of writing this, I mentioned that I had long since put to rest a lot of the pain and the memories associated with my school years. I’m in a good place now and have let go of a lot of insecurities that years of conditioning through bullying had resulted in. I finally like myself, something for many years I wasn’t able to honestly say. I finally allow myself to shine without the fear of being exposed and targeted for standing out. I know so many people who are still carrying their pain around them from years of torment, who allow themselves still to let others torment them over the internet. One thing I remind them is there’s a reason we survived. People like us who have lived through it, I believe have a responsibility to stand up, to be a pillar of strength to others, to give advice, to tell our stories no matter how painful, to be a voice for those who aren’t with us and able to share our own, and to raise awareness of bullying. It is the responsibility of others in a position to make a change to do so, to make it a priority to end bullying once and for all. This is by changing legislation to protect people especially those vulnerable and susceptible to bullying. This is also by setting the example for the younger generation by rethinking how we treat others, so that they have better role models to follow and learn how to treat others. This is also by not celebrating those who put others down, who succeed only by pulling others down to get ahead, who spread hateful messages about other humans or subgroups of human beings, or giving those people notoriety and publicity in the media because of the ways they bully others. While we sensationalize those people, we set the example that this behaviour will result in fame, and encourage more people to use this way to seek fame and or success, because they get the message that it’s okay to hurt and put others down.
It is through telling my story that I hope to inspire those going through it now, that there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, that they too can get through it and that it’s worth trying to, because life does get better. It is a hope also that telling my story raises awareness of the bullying that has occurred in the past and how it has evolved in the present, to a detriment of humanity. It’s now more than ever that we through our stories, experiences, positions of authority and power and awareness of the suffering and loss of those enduring it that we can create the wave of change needed that will stamp out the bullying behaviour. Zero tolerance needs to be something that we don’t just pay lip service to, that we put strategies in action that ensure that this is more than a buzzword thrown around when stories like Dolly’s reach the attention of mass media, then forgotten when the “hype” dies down, while the families continue to grieve in silence, as the world moves on. More needs to be done to end the cycle of bullying altogether. Awareness is just the start.