I am going to tell you something that only a handful of people know about me. I was bullied as a child, from around the age of 9, right up until the time I left sixth form, aged 18. The reason I am sharing this is because it has had a huge effect on me and my mental wellbeing, something I am only coming to terms with now, 20 years later, and as a mum myself, I have realised just how important it is to speak out about what is going on at school, otherwise nobody is going to be able to help.
The thing is, I don’t even remember the details myself. I assume I have buried them deep inside my psyche, to fester and help build the anxiety inside my mind, that is now a concrete part of my personality as an adult. There are things, of course, that I do remember, that allow me to realise it isn’t just in my mind, that I was bullied and that it wasn’t ok, that I should have asked for help, should have spoken out about what was happening.
I think what makes it hard to take is that the girls who bullied me were meant to be my friends. A couple of them are still aquaintences on Facebook. They aren’t the people you would assume would bully somebody, just girls, similar to myself. They might not even realise what they did would be considered bullying, as it was never discussed as such, it never got to a stage where they would have been sat in the school office justifying their actions.
I should probably clarify at this point that the bullying I experienced was from two entirely different groups of girls, not the same one across all that time. The first, who were my friendship group at middle school, when I moved from Kent to Poole, would exclude me from certain conversations, making me feel part of the group one minute, and totally isolated the next.
The worse thing I remember was being thrown, physically, into the bushes at the side of the school field, on more than one occasion. I would laugh it off, and pretend it was a game that I was a part of, but none of the others were ever the ones to get thrown, only me, and it didn’t feel like fun to me.
Every time it happened, a little part of my brain would scream out that this was wrong, that they shouldn’t be doing it, and that I should tell somebody, but I never did. In fact, a playground assistant asked me at one point if I was ok, and I laughed and said I was fine, that it was a game we were playing. I don’t know why I covered for them, but I can guess. It was because I would rather be a part of their group, even if I was ridiculed, than to be alone without any friends at all.
When I moved school at the end of year six, to go into secondary education, I was relieved that the group would be split. Myself and my best friend from the group were going to the local grammar school, whilst the others weren’t. I figured it would be a fresh start, and that I would leave the bullying behind. I didn’t really consider the fact I was going into a same sex school an issue, if anything I welcomed it as I didn’t feel overly ready for boyfriends.
Although my best friend had been a part of the bullying in the previous school, without the others from our group, we went back to how we were when apart from the others, and all was ok for a while. We made new friends, and formed a new, larger friendship group in our new class, that would stick for the next few years.
It probably won’t be a surprise to those reading this that the first instance of bullying I experienced in that school was due to my best friend, after all, she had been a part of the bullying behaviour in the last school. For me, it was a shock, and something I am only really coming to terms with now, having placed her on a pedestal for so long. I always made excuses, not wanting to believe that this girl felt any less than I did about her when we were growing up, but my own memories of her actions stack up against this image I have created of her.
We fell out, over something trivial, and before I knew it, she had managed to turn the majority of our friendship group, and in fact the class itself, against me. I was excluded from conversations and from events, and I would feel constantly on edge walking into a room as people would be talking behind my back about me, giving me the cold shoulder, and generally acting as young girls do when it comes to making somebody feel they are not welcome. It was horrible, a truly awful time in my life.
I was, unbeknownst to them, being abused by a family member, something I won’t touch on any further in this post, but these things combined really knocked my self esteem, and made me feel incredibly lonely and lost at a time in my life when all I wanted was to feel a part of something. It was hugely damaging and, even though we eventually made up, and things went back to how they were before, I never really got over how it felt to be demonised like that by somebody I cared about.
It left me feeling paranoid and unsure of my friendships. I was cautious about what I said and did, worried I would cause another fallout if I wasn’t careful. I never fully trusted the friendships I had during secondary school, and it isn’t really surprising to me that I am no longer close to anybody from that time in my life.
My best friend left the school at sixteen, whilst I stayed on for sixth form. I naively missed her, feeling lost without her there by my side, but actually it was ok. I realised that I was often in her shadow, not really letting myself be me in her presence. For a time everything was ok, until it wasn’t. I believe the lighter fuel this time round was something to do with my boyfriend at the time sleeping with one of my ‘friends’ behind my back, and everybody else knowing about it apart from me. Don’t ask me why this made it ok for them to gang up on me, I have no idea even to this day. Perhaps it was just an excuse for them to show me they didn’t really like me after all.
Again, I would be left out of conversations, not invited out with them and, as we were now older, they had new ways to torment me. I remember them blocking my car in outside the school, so that I couldn’t leave the space. In the end I got a couple of the guys from my psychology class to help get me out, not without a few scratches to their cars, but I can’t say I cared. I was made to feel like utter crap, and it just made it feel even worse when I finally found out what had been going on months later from my ex boyfriend.
I don’t know how to end this post. To be honest, it’s something I just needed to get out there, to mind dump it all to give myself some closure on a time in my life I’d rather not remember. I have seen that both schools have organised reunions, but I can’t think of anything worse than being back in the company of the girls who made me doubt everything about myself, and caused knock on issues with friendships years down the line.
To this day I still struggle with feeling worthless, and being paranoid that the friends I have don’t like me, but tolerate me instead. But if there is one silver lining, it is that I am aware of the signs when it comes to the children being bullied. I want them to know that it solves nothing by keeping it inside, by covering things up, and although it might feel better to be a part of something, it is never ok to be bullied by anyone, and it is always, always worth speaking up and seeking help.