When I was nine years old, I was bullied at school. I never really fitted in, and that meant name-calling and physical violence became a part of my daily agenda. It was only a matter of time before I would snap. I was a child, and it was far too much for any child to handle.
Fat. Nerd. Weird. Loser. Loner. Pathetic. These were all words that I became extremely familiar with during my time at primary school. I couldn’t walk home from school without being heckled with hideous names, and I certainly couldn’t spend my lunch breaks in the communal areas without being tripped over or having something thrown at me.
“It will all blow over”, the teachers would tell me if I ever made an attempt at reporting it. “Just ignore it”.
“Ignore it?” I would think. What exactly am I supposed to ignore? If it was the nasty names, I suppose that was a fair piece of advice. But how much can a child of that age, or anyone for that matter, reasonably be expected to ignore?
How could I ignore the fact that I was hit hard over the head with a water bottle in the middle of the playground? Or the fact that I was forcefully pushed down a hill and bled from both knees as a result? Could I really be expected to forget about my dinner money being stolen from my bag, or being kicked and punched until I burst into tears?
More importantly, how about my mental wellbeing? If words could be forgotten, and bruises would soon heal, what the hell was I supposed to do with the memories? The thoughts? The fear? The trauma?
I didn’t eat for days because I thought I was too fat. I didn’t speak to anyone because I didn’t think what I had to say was worth anything. I kept a diary at the time, secured tightly with a small, silver padlock. Inside it, still to this day, are the most chilling words, inked in purple gel pen: “I hate myself”.
Looking back now, I see the real problem – I had everything they wanted. I had a family who loved and supported me unconditionally, which meant I wasn’t allowed to stay out late or go to parties like they were. I took dancing, acting and guitar lessons, which meant I wasn’t free after school to spend time with my so-called ‘friends’. I was smart and liked by my teachers, which meant putting up my hand in class was the equivalent of surrendering my life for torture.
At the time, I thought all of those things made me an outcast, and that somehow it was my own fault that I was being treated how I was. How very, very disturbing.
When I hear about young people skipping school, moving away or, worse, taking their own life as a result of bullying, I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised because I know that if they’re going through anything like what I did, that pain can very easily transform into thoughts of how to end it.
Bullying shouldn’t be treated as something that simply ‘happens everywhere’, just like bullies shouldn’t be feared by teachers and given chance after retched chance because they’re ‘having a tough time’. You know who’s really having a tough time? The 3.2 million students who are victims of bullying each year.
I wish I could look my bullies straight in the eyes today and tell them how they lost, and I won. I wish they could see how happy I am, and how well I’m doing and how proud of myself I am for that. But, more than that, I wish that more young people will find the strength and the courage to stand up, be proud, and say the words that I can say today: “I beat bullying”.
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