Every now and then I notice myself behaving in a certain way, or carefully considering why I act the way I do sometimes, and realise it’s a result of bullying.
I don’t like to admit that bullying shaped some of the person I am today; in fact I don’t really like to reflect on that time in my life at all. It wasn’t until I had left high school and was starting out at university that I noticed it had left a permanent imprint on my personality; who I am today is partially because of the way I was treated when I was most vulnerable. And although I don’t like it, I’ve decided it’s not a bad thing. Not the best, no; but definitely not the worst.
I’ve briefly touched on being bullied before, but thought I’d use today – National Action Day Against Bullying and Violence – as an opportunity to speak a little more about it. Fortunately, my own story isn’t that bad. I hear so many distressing accounts of children and adults (we mustn’t forget – adults can be bullied too) being pushed around, blackmailed, intimidated, taunted and teased, so much so it often brings me to tears. I shared this post on my Facebook recently; the story of a man who was made fun of whilst dancing, and the photo of him looking so defeated is really so heartbreaking. I’m so empathetic to their stories – perhaps as a direct result of my experiences. So I guess it’s time I shared mine.
I was a really happy kid in Grade 6 – my final year of primary school. Sure, I got into arguments in the playground, but nothing that ever lasted more than a couple of days. All it took was an ice cream after school and we’d all be besties again. But come high school, everything changed.
We got to pick two friends we’d like to be in a class with before we started high school. I was unlucky; one friend moved away before starting Year 7 and the other ended up going to a different school, so there I was – most of my good mates in one class while I was stuck in the other. It was alright though; I soon became close with a couple of girls I’d gone to primary school with and everything was ok…for a moment. You see, as we hit puberty, boys became more interesting. Sneaking out, going to parties and drinking alcohol was suddenly the thing to do. But poor little Simone – the goody-two-shoes who panicked at the mere thought of getting into trouble – couldn’t quite keep up.
I was never included in these rebellious weekend activities. Sure, I was probably invited at times, but it just wasn’t my thing. I got away with avoiding it for a little while too, but eventually my new ‘friends’ must have come to the realisation that I just wasn’t ‘cool’ enough for them. And so the real story begins.
I actually remember the day it all began to unravel quite clearly, considering it was well over ten years ago. We were in maths class and had these weekly homework sheets we had to complete. Well when I say complete, I mean a few of the nerdy kids finished them and the rest copied right before the period began and it’s safe to say – I was usually included in the former. The rule was we had to swap our maths sheets with the people beside us and correct them as the answers were read out. We were not, I repeat, were not allowed to correct out own, because there’s no way you can trust a 13 year old not to cheat. Not in our class anyway – the one with the majority of kids in detention on a daily basis.
I was sitting with my two best friends. The Three Musketeers, or so I thought. They flat out refused to swap with me – instead, swapping with one another and making fun of me as I began to get in a frenzy about it. I begged and bargained, but no – they would not swap with me and that was that. Looking back now, it seems so innocent. A stupid maths sheet – who cares? But at the time, it seemed like such a big deal, and if you look at what happened afterwards, I guess it was.
From that day on, things changed. My ‘friends’ no longer wanted to sit with me. I’m not sure why, because there were other nice kids in my class, but they didn’t sit with me either. I was a loner, sitting in the front row with no one around me. Boys threw things at my back; pieces of paper, bits of erasers and broken pencils. I spent the majority of my lunchtimes wandering around the playground on my own or hiding in the library. Sometimes I hung out with my friends from the other class – why it wasn’t everyday, I couldn’t tell you.
When we had been on school camp at the beginning of Year 7, before the bullying begun, we were (as pre-teens do) discussing which boys we had crushes on. I mentioned a boy’s name and said I thought he was the only cute guy in our year. His cousin quickly passed on that message, to which he replied “Simone? She’s a fat chick“.
I wasn’t fat. Perhaps a little more solid than the girls with the teeny waists in itsy bitsy biknis, yes. But in no way was I overweight and really – so what if I had have been? But once I was no longer hanging out with the ‘popular’ kids, that comment haunted me for the rest of the semester. The boys would follow me down the hallway chanting “Fat chick, fat chick“. They’d make comments about my appearance every chance they could get, whether it be when I passed them in art classes or as I was getting things out of my locker. If I had have been older, I know I would have brushed them off, but those taunts had such a significant impact on me at the time.
Our high school was next door to our primary school – just a sports oval in between – and I used to sit on a grassy slope staring at the school I’d just graduated from and had so many fond memories of, and wish with all my might that I’d wake up the next day and be right back in Grade 6. Perhaps I’d read too much Harry Potter, but I genuinely thought if I wished hard enough, it would come true.
My parents eventually found and read my diary at some stage, causing them to go down to school and demand I be transferred to the other class. What was written in that diary, I don’t remember. After my parents found it, I think the pages were ripped out, or perhaps the whole book was disposed of. All that stands out in my memory is the sentence “I wish I’d never been born“, which makes me think things were a little worse than I can recall.
As I seem to have disregarded of most of my memories from during this time, I asked my mum what she remembered. The pain in her voice was suggestion enough that it was a tough time – for both me and my parents.
“You were so lonely,” she said.
“For a kid that loved school, you came home every day so unhappy.”
Mum said I was a smart student who always wanted to do my best, but often was penalised as a result of being on my own.
“When the boys in the class played up, they were moved next to you,” she said, and I can only imagine how that experience was – sitting the bully beside the bullied.
“Don’t ever think that you were overreacting,” Mum continued, “it was a really bad time.”
For the record, the rest of my high school years were pretty great, and my final year was one of the best yet. So I guess you could say I had it pretty easy in the end.
But how as being bullied affected the person I am today?
When I meet new people, I desperately want them to like me. I actively censor what I say and how I act in case I slip up and reveal the ‘real’ me, causing them to turn away in disgust. I feel like I have to prove myself to people, and if they seem to like me right away? How lucky am I?! I trust people too easily, going on the basis that if I’m nice to them, there’s more of a chance they’ll be nice to me too.
But it’s not all bad. I mean, I think I’m a genuinely kind hearted person. Sure, sometimes I snap, get grumpy and say things I regret, but just ask my mum – I realise I’ve been unfair or impatient and usually apologise for the way I’ve acted straight away. The thought that I’ve upset someone is one of the worst feelings; I don’t like confrontation. If I’m at a restaurant and I don’t like the food, I will not say anything for the fear of making someone feel bad. Maybe that’s not a good thing, but I’m just not comfortable with it. You’ll often hear me pleading to the people I’m with “Don’t make a big deal of out it!” when something isn’t right.
I have experienced the odd bit of bullying as an adult, and I think it’s so important to acknowledge that adults can be bullied too and need to be taken seriously – often it’s something associated with children and teenagers, but that’s just not the case. As an adult, it’s not something you can always ‘brush off’ or ‘work out between yourselves’. It can be a very damaging thing to anyone, no matter their age.
Have a conversation about bullying with your own friends and family. Maybe share experiences you weren’t so comfortable with. Or if you see bullying happening right in front of you, do something about it. I don’t necessarily agree that bystanders are just as bad as bullies, but I know there’s times I could have done more and didn’t, for the fear of being picked on myself.
If you feel comfortable, please feel free to share your own bullying story in the comments, feel free to email me, or message me privately on Facebook or Twitter, or perhaps if you’re a blogger, dedicate your own post to saying ‘Bullying – No Way!’
And if you’ve experienced bullying or are being bullied, I know exactly how hard it is, but try and have the confidence to speak up (trust me, discovering your parents have read your diary is mortifying!). Everything will be ok; just know that you are wonderful and beautiful, and that there are people that love you, support you and have your back – me included.