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Anti-bullying week: Reflections

This post has been a long time coming. I've had it typed out for the best part of 18 months and never felt happy enough to post it online. I suppose because it talks about something I have never really spoken about to anyone except in snippets here and there. Largely because I've never wanted to come across as a victim to anyone and also because I think I spent a great deal of time over the last 15 years blocking the experiences out. However because it has been Anti-Bullying week I have decided to finally put it out there possibly in part to let it go at long last. It has certainly been a long time coming.

Like thousands of teenagers before and after me I had a miserable time at High School. I was reasonably clever, loved my lessons and learning. As a result I came out of school achieving decent grades enough to allow me to go on to university. Yet whenever I think about school the experience of being bullied is all that I think about.

I never suffered bullying before High School but something changed the moment I started. I was placed in mixed ability groups for several subjects with members of my form. There were some nasty characters in that group mostly made up of new faces who I hadn't been at school with before. I actually vividly remember the day the bullying started. Our class had been left alone to get on with a task while the teacher left the room. Some of students were messing around and being the geeky good girl I was I told them to shut up and get on. From that point on those students, who were part of the popular group, called me names and encouraged others to join in. It is all very well to say sticks and stones etc but when you are ridiculed every day from the moment you walk into the school building until the moment you leave it gets hard to ignore. Even then it was just something I dealt with whilst at school and at the end of the day I could go home and go back to being my usual geeky self.

Things got worse for me once I joined the upper school. At this point I had a toxic best friend and it's only now that with hindsight I realise how much of a bully she was and how bad she was for me. We spent every waking hour together, or so it seemed, but almost overnight two things changed for our friendship. Firstly she got a boyfriend. I became the third wheel and the only way I got to see her was if I spent time with him too. I hated him mostly because he wasn't very pleasant to me but I put up with him because I wanted to spend time with my friend. Suddenly the teasing and name calling I experienced at school entered my free time as well. The next thing to happen was she decided I wasn't cool enough for her. She started telling me that she was hanging out with the popular crowd at weekends to make me jealous and feel excluded. Whether what she was saying was true I now doubt but at the time it really hurt.

This led to her breaking up with me. One day she cornered me in the corridor and broke up with me. I got the whole it's not you it's me speech, complete with the we can still be friends speech just not best friends. At the time it actually killed me a little bit inside to be so easily tossed aside by someone I loved completely as my best friend. I remember sitting in the following lesson sobbing alone as she picked up her stuff and moved across the room away from me and I couldn't work out what I had done wrong or what had changed. As a result of the break up I initially did everything I could to get back into her good books to make her like me again. Hindsight being a beautiful thing, I wonder now why on earth I cared about someone who had utterly rejected me. Despite what she had done she still held this influence over me. She started demanding that I wasn't allowed to be friends with people she didn't like. I basically agreed to it, cutting off one girl who I spent a lot of time with outside of school and going as far as teasing another one. I feel utterly ashamed now looking back because I was doing the very things I detested when they were done to me. However things were still to get worse.

There was one particular girl who had joined our friendship group that my ex best friend told me she didn't want to hang about with us anymore and that she had decided I was to be the one to get rid of her. In my best attempts to get my friend to like me again I stepped up and foolishly did as she asked telling this girl we didn't want to be friends with her. What my ex best friend neglected to tell me was that she then changed her mind and made the whole thing look like I had started a rift off my own back. My ex best friend then proceeded to tell this girl lies making up things I had said about her which resulted in her starting to bully me too. The girl in question had a nasty temper. I witnessed her punch in the face a boy who stood up her to defend me whilst I was being verbally abused and inevitably the teasing I dealt with lower down in the school escalated further with what felt like more and more people joining in, I suspect being egged on by my ex best friend.

Things all came to a head when the girl had her father regularly shout at me from a car parked outside the school as I was walking home. This terrified the life out of me and I ended up several nights in a row crying at home long after returning from school. It was never properly resolved as the school didn't seem to really care about dealing with the issues I was facing. I left school a month later after finishing my GCSEs feeling utterly alone. I spent my 16th birthday with my family as I had no friends I who I felt would want to to spend time with me. I can't believe now how clear it is that my ex best friend treated me like rubbish, almost made me into a bully agitating situations which resulted in me suffering bullying so bad I felt utterly miserable, alone and completely worthless as a human being. I've only in the last few months felt able to delete her from Facebook and out of my life for good because for so long part of me still wanted approval from her.

I was one of the lucky ones. Whilst the emotional damage cut me deep I never was physically harmed by bullying. You see in the news horrible stories of teens committing suicide because of the torment they face 24/7 because in today's age of social media and mobile phones they never get respite from those bullying them. Looking back I am so so glad that such technology didn't exist when I was a teen because at least I knew from the moment I got home I could curl up in my room and not have to face the grief anymore. 

Leaving school was an utter godsend for me. My ex best friend moved away and was only in contact via the odd email. I went to a sixth form college with very few of my former classmates which enabled me to make new friendships with people like me who made me feel worthwhile again and allowed me to come out of myself to become to the person I am today.

Being bullied has had a huge impact on my life since. I'm now into my 30s and still only just coming to terms with the torture I went through on a daily basis. My confidence still suffers from time to time. When I was an older teen I ended nights out in tears after I returning home after seeing my former bullies out in local pubs. I'd also say had I not experienced bullying I'd probably be more outgoing now as an adult because I certainly was outgoing as a child. Bullying still makes me distrustful of people, girls in particular. I think it is quite telling that even now my social circle is mostly male and made up of people older than me. I have a real issue making close female friendships that I completely trust. It took me 15 years to find a female friend I could refer to as my best friend and feel bad that it took me so long to be able to refer to her as my best friend because I was too scared that things would go wrong from the moment I said it.

Those people who claim bullying is character building and a part of growing up are wrong and wouldn't say that had they lived through the torment on a daily basis. I now teach. The thing I love about the school I teach at is that on the whole bullying isn't an issue for the majority of our kids. Don't get me wrong things aren't perfect and I don't think in a school of 1000 teenagers it ever will be but I hope to think the work I do helps to give every child a way of proactively dealing with their issues. I don't talk about what I went through as a teenager to staff or students at my school but I try to put my experience to good use to help others in similar situations. I do this by leading a peer support network run by students to offer friendly advice and, if need be, an older student to intervene and resolve an issue. I like to think it is effective as we have been recognised nationally for the work we do. I just wished that every school in the UK did similar to ensure that no child ever has to go through the things I dealt with and I take comfort in the fact that the work I lead within school is shared nationally via an anti bullying charity who produced a showcase video of the work of my team and regularly invite my students and I to talk at their events. More than anything I hope my experiences can be used to help and support others in a similar position to my teenage self. 

Now in true Kirsty style if in doubt recommend a book. The books below are two books that I think look at the subject of bullying really well, in particular being bullied by someone who should be a friend. I am really sorry I didn't have these titles to take comfort in as a teenager and I think had I had they might have given me a bit more hope for better at a time when I was feeling really alone and struggling.

Hollow Pike by James Dawson

Trouble by Non Pratt

I'm also going to recommend Wonder by RJ Palacio because it is beautiful an makes you want to be kind to everyone which is never a bad thing

If you want to help people who are bullied a brilliant charity who trains young people to help themselves and others is the Diana Award and their Anti-Bullying Ambassadors Programme. They are a really young and dynamic organisation that makes anti-bullying work cool and as a result make a huge impact in helping to reduce bullying in schools. You can donate to their work here


Anne Booth said…
This is an amazing post. I am so sorry you went through all that. I am so glad you are out of it now, and also that you have taken that and somehow brought something good out of it in your work for teenagers. How fantastic that your school has been nationally recognised for its anti-bullying work - what an amazing thing you have done - and also it should help you forgive yourself for the things you say you feel ashamed about, and see yourself as a lovely, thoughtful, sensitive and caring person who deserves LOTS of wonderful women friends in your life. Thank you for sharing this - how great that you are a teacher!
Anne Booth said…
Sorry - didn't mean to post my comment 4 times. perhaps it just symbolises how much I liked the post!