So here we are; the first of the ‘FutureSelf’ posts – short testimonials written by YOU – you who are brave enough to open up and share your personal stories regarding bullying in all forms. Thank you. So much. It takes guts, and I think you’re bloody amazing to do it – to want to help others in this way. I hope that for some if not all it will prove to be a cathartic experience also.
“Stand up for someone who is in need
so that it will build confidence in you
to stand up for yourself at times when required…”
A A Memon
We’re doing it. We’re talking. We’re reaching out and standing up for each other. Simple really, but then the best and most important things often are.
The fact that so many people have eagerly and willingly jumped on board with this simple idea demonstrates first hand the overwhelming, utterly selfless desire to reach out. Your messages and stories of survival, support, empathy and hope will connect with those who need them most. All we have to do is keep spreading the word and letting people know it’s here.
Your emails are coming in thick and fast. Do keep them coming. I’m going to post 5-6 at a time so that we can read and appreciate them in bite-sized chunks.
To those who have always held on to the belief that there is a way through and that the bullies don’t and won’t always win – you’re proving it with these stories.
Since my original post about Izzy Dix last weekend, I am simply overwhelmed with the response and the generosity of all. In our own small way, let’s hope we are creating a little light from the darkness.
Let’s always remember Izzy, and those like her who didn’t find a way out. Let’s remember them and honour them with stories of hope, so that others might.
Here are just some:
From S, who found the strength to talk to a parent:
Although I spent many years of my school and college being teased or picked on constantly for my love of knowledge, I found it easy to push through the hatred by accepting that I’m not the same as everyone else however no matter how hard you try there will always be someone who gets under your skin.
I found this person in the later years at secondary school when a rumour they had started began flying around, no matter how much I tried to defend myself the rumour never ceased and sometimes I would walk through my front door and collapse in tears.
Sadly, it only got worse with songs and chants being made and sometimes even violent encounters occurred, with a student purposefully nudging me while we were using acid for an experiment. (Thankfully, it was a very mild acid so simply washed off).
Eventually, I had suffered enough and couldn’t take it any more and decided to tell my dad what had been happening and how powerless I felt. This warranted an urgent call the the school and a meeting was quickly arranged to solve the issue.
When I walked into the meeting with my dad, I found that finally being able to help myself was a lift and helped ease the pain.
Although the problem wasn’t entirely solved and I still spent the last years being tormented, the problem had eased and I felt better in myself – not because of any changes to the school policy, not because I had “beaten the system”, but purely because of one thing the support worker said to me.
“Keep looking up, because one day you will see the sun again”.
If I could give anybody a piece of advice for the future, it would be that.
From H, who writes this letter to her future self:
I wish I could tell you that you’ll ever stop being scared of groups of children in school uniform. I wish I could tell you that fear that you feel creeping up the back of your neck as they approach you, laughing, will ever leave. The bite of your back teeth as they mash together ready for whatever is coming your way will ever loosen. It won’t. You’ll still avoid certain shops at certain times. You’ll tell yourself it’s to avoid the queues. It won’t be.
I also wish I could tell you that all of this didn’t affect your education and your career, but it does. The confidence you weren’t allowed to have in yourself when you were 17 meant that you didn’t even think that it would be worth trying to work in television, journalism or the music industry like you so absolutely wanted to do. It was best to know your place so you stayed there.
Another wish I have for you is that I could tell you that your lack of confidence wouldn’t send you into the arms of someone who saw it as an opportunity to control you rather than love you. You would give your heart fully and totally to the first man that had ever called you beautiful because you needed to hear it so much. He would take it and squeeze every last drop out of it until there was nothing left.
But there’s one thing I can promise you. One day you’ll join a website where all the other broken down, outcast and frightened people feel that they can talk about what happened. You’ll be good at it. You’ll make good friends that make you realise that what you think means something. Old heroes will become friends, people will encourage you to do new things and encourage you to write. You know you’re good at it but other people will think the same.
So hang in there, you may never feel like a whole person. You may never be able to quite shake the feeling that people are laughing at you but you will know that there are several laughing with you.
Love yourself, please
From A, who’s surviving through sharing and laughter:
I’m not really sure how to properly start this but here goes. I started self-harming due to depression, there was no bullying involved at this point, and I also had suicidal thoughts. I had people round me but no one really realised what was going on, in fact the majority still know nothing.
People who I never really talked to began noticing that something wasn’t right with me and they took advantage of this. They would call me every name under the sun and would follow me home when we finished school, my God some of the stuff they said I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, bear in mind we were about 11 or 12 at the time. It made my depression, self-harming and suicidal thoughts a whole lot worse. I have tried to kill myself more than once, but every time I thought to myself ‘how will this benefit the people I know?’ ‘Surely there’s something better than this.’ This was about six years ago and I am telling you that it does get better.
I watched brand new TV shows and it sounds stupid but they helped me a lot, they made me smile when I watched them and to this day they still do. Through these shows I made so many friends online, and well they know a hell of a lot about my story. They make me happy every day and there’s one person who I just adore. We talk so much and to be honest I would say I’m closer to my online friends than my real friends because more than a few of us have self-harmed, been depressed or suicidal. We’ve all helped each other immensely.
I do still have some down days but that’s to be expected, we’re only human after all.
I just want people to know that there are so many ways in which you can and will get better. Talk to people, whether it be in reality or online. I know that this can be difficult for many of you, but I think not telling people, especially my family, was my biggest mistake, but if you know them as well as you think you know them, they will try and help. Watch something you’ve never watched before that looks interesting, or watch something you know will make you feel happy for the time that it is on. If you can feel happy for half an hour or an hour a day you will feel happier more often, it will take time but it’s what I did, and hey, I’m still here 🙂
From P, who hit bottom but ultimately recognised the power of getting help:
Hello, my name is Paul (not really), I’m 31, gay, employed, single & one of 5 children. I love music, reading, movies, old tv shows and the finer things in life. And on August 6 2011 I tried to kill myself.
I did so because of a long enduring loathing of myself, and my situation in life which I hid from the outside world. It wasn’t the first time I tried to harm myself, but it would be the last. I hope if you’re reading this and thoughts of self harm have gone through your head, think of me as someone who has gone through what your thinking and come out much better on the other side. I know the art of smiling to hide pain, the tricks to use to change the subject whenever a friend tries to ask about your wellbeing, the endless nights of insomnia and even paranoia. I’ve had those days when terror goes through me at the thought of getting out of bed, and wishing I could sleep forever. And sadly I know how depression feels and how it takes over you, and will continue to take over you. But happily, I know now how to overcome it, and I wish I had something like this whenever I was going through one of my dark days.
I’ll try to keep my story brief, but if you have any other questions, please write back.
I’ll start by saying that as a child, I don’t think I had a lot of confidence. I think people saw wonderful things about me and would compliment me, however modesty would embarrass me. My lack of confidence in myself made me a target for bullying, and when I didn’t or only half-heartedly fight back, it made me even more of a target. I thought as I was playing by the rules, I was the better person. And the truth was, I was right. However the seeds of doubt and low self worth were already planted.
By the time I started my high school years, I had figured out I was not like the other boys, in fact I was probably the last to hear the penny dropping. I was a walking stereotype. Complete with the swish wisp, and high voice. To make matters worse, I was going through the abomination that is puberty. Suffice to say the baby fat never went away, the nose got wider, the skin erupted, and there was so much oil on my face, the Saudi’s were drilling on it. Even an exorcism couldn’t cure me. It goes without saying this made me a target of bullying.
And when it happened I blamed myself for it. I look back now and I think – Why the fuck did I think that!? Why did I let it get into my head, that I was somehow responsible? That it was inevitable? That if only I got out of their way, I’d be safe? That’s the sort of bullshit I’m sure everyone thinks, but I took it hard. But this wasn’t the worst of it. No, the worst came from my close friends, who I believed I could tell anything and they could be trusted. And one day, I admitted (the first people on Earth to hear it from me) that I was not like other boys. I was A Shirtlifter, A Sausage Stoker, A One-Eyed Pirate, A Bum Inspector, A Poofter, Dorothy’s even Camper friend, A Sinner, A Faggot, The Worst Punishment A Boy Could Ever Have – Lifelong, fully paid up member of Homosexual Anonymous. And when I told them it was all true, they abandoned me. They didn’t want to be seen with me (y’know just in case they caught what I got) they didn’t even want to acknowledge my presence. And of course, you know who was to blame for this don’t you? – Me. I had brought it on myself.
What followed were years of a kind of coping mechanism that tried to save me from getting hurt. Which included; not talking to anyone, keeping my feelings hidden, never mentioning my interests to anyone, and if anyone got close, trust no them. And the bad news was, it didn’t always work. I can still remember being pushed, spat on, having rocks thrown at me, having my stuff stolen, graffiti written about me and the endless name calling. How I got through High School, I’ll never know. But they were not the best years in my life. Suffice to say, the last day of school, I left that building, never looked back and never said goodbye to anyone. But I got through it, because I created a coping mechanism that made me miserable. And for the next decade I followed some, but not all of the rules I imposed on myself. That isn’t to say I couldn’t be happy, I could. In fact, the relief I felt was amazing.
But years of bullying had taken its toll. I chose not to confront my own depression, I self-medicated and got on with what you could say, life. Then one day it all came crashing down.
A series of events, which I hope you don’t mind, but I won’t go into, led me to think, “Why the fuck should I keep going? I just want the pain to stop” I described it later to being on a roller coaster which kept getting faster and faster and I couldn’t hold on any longer. I had pushed all my friends & family away (who accepted and loved me for who I was) and now I didn’t even like my own company. When I eventually woke up in the hospital after downing a lot of pills and alcohol, I finally let myself cry. And through those tears came a baptism of acceptance and acknowledgment that I needed help. My sister came to the hospital and she told me that I needed mental health help, and there was no shame in that. A diabetic wouldn’t feel shame if they had to have insulin injections, so why should I feel shame about talking to someone, or even taking anti-depressants?
So here I am 2 years later and I’m much better and happier.
Holden Caulfield said he wanted to be the Catcher in the Rye who would catch people before they ran of the unseen cliff. I don’t see myself as that kind of person, but you can stop yourself from falling by going to someone you trust (I’m sure you have someone) and saying “I Need Help” (say it with me)
There are ways to stop the bullying and the self-loathing and there is always a way out. And if I was talking to my 13 year old self that’s what I say to him. That, and don’t spend all your money on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle crap, it’ll go out of fashion.
Oh, and in case you were wondering. Thanks to the wonders of social media, I know what has happened to those people who bullied and abandoned me. Let’s just say, the years and the lack of contraception have not been kind to them. That the other thing about staying strong; success is the best revenge.
From J, who went on to be a model and TV presenter:
At about 7 or 8 years old I must have been already known for my weakness for creatures because a boy who lived round the corner (who regularly put mud in my hair and called me skinny malink and ginger nut) threatened to dissolve slugs with salt if I did not steal a packet of biscuits out my house. In my abject terror of anything happening to these poor limbless little souls I duly fetched the only packet of custard creams we had in the house (there was not the vast array of choice we have now in 1985) I told my parents I had eaten them all and sat in my bedroom staring at my poster of my hero B.A Barracus hoping he would have approved of what I did, but then I felt useless for not beating the boy up and calling him a fool.
At 12 my parents split, home was sadly very unhappy. An older girl who lived nearby actually befriended me to get access to my house, she left a door open when helping us close up the house for a break before Christmas. When we returned all the Christmas presents my mother had been building up for us (for a stark xmas as it was) were stolen. My mother, already upset was absolutely devastated. Distinct shoe prints left on carpet led to the culprit being caught. There were a few of them, including boys much older than me (18/19) who cornered me at school for telling Police I knew who that shoe print belonged to, I can’t remember what they said but I responded by going into the school with some broken glass and trying to cut open my wrists, a friend had seen it and came to stop me, taking me to the teachers who were very supportive and helpful, they knew I was a pretty quiet and studious kid and were firmly on my side from the start.
On another occasion after school I was made to go on my knees to bow to some boy who actually had a machete. I did not want to add to my mothers upset.. and walked home in a state of shock berating myself viciously for not standing up to him, for allowing myself to be made powerless and vulnerable again.
I changed schools not long after. It stopped. My Dad told me years later he had gone to see the people involved and had a word with them, but I never knew.
At 14 in youth theatre, already very lanky and still a ‘ginger nut’ I was locked in a cupboard by a boy who I refused to snog who then shouted -‘gingerfringercringerminger’ at me every chance he got, much to the amusement of many people.
Then 16 and River Phoenix died, I was fairly open in my admiration of him and came into school to a magazine of him in his coffin open on my desk and some sniggering boys as I started sobbing in horror and grief.
This sounds comedic but it actually installed a fairly complex insecurity about my height, hair and boys. I modeled and presented TV but always felt it was because they felt sorry for me in some way or I just happened to fit the clothes, I never allowed myself to enjoy any of it or give myself the credit for being an actually very competent presenter. I did not date at University like most people and pretty much ran away from every offer until aged 23 when some poor fellow took a great deal of time convincing me he was serious. I did not attend most of the auditions I was offered by a very keen and lovely agent who spotted me in a play because I felt too awkward and ugly. I really wanted in my heart to act and be able to take on persona’s of other people, which I enjoyed so much because when on stage I had this glorious freedom, people were very complimentary but the nerves and utter lack of self belief and confidence were making me unwell.
Interestingly very recently I bumped into someone who i went to school with, I didn’t recognise him but he did me, and introduced himself. After befriending on Facebook he confided to me I once had stood next to him, looked down at him and said ‘you really are very small’ in a bit of a cold manner and that it had scared him quite badly, he never really spoke to me after that. I was startled to think I had made someone feel bad when I was walking about feeling pretty bad most of the time myself.
I have still not shaken the fundamental self image of me being gawky to be honest (even now at 35) BUT I did learn to be compassionate to myself over time, to watch how I speak and behave myself. In working life I learned to take on a thicker skin persona best I could and I found a place behind the camera (allowing the actor in me to mutter unhappily to herself ever more) but inherently I also had to accept by nature I am just a sensitive person, and this is ok.
Perhaps if Facebook and social media had been about I would have, like now used them as a veil to hide my inherent shyness and say what I am really thinking.. who knows what would have happened.
To anyone going though bullying, it’s easy for me to say it will pass and in a few years you will not think about it. It is true BUT please tell someone, please do not ever think no one cares or understands because under the surface of most people you meet or know, they will have some understanding of this. Find a person, find a website but find some one, If you are struggling with your sexuality or for something embarrassing you may have done that way please do not feel you are alone, there are others, if you struggle, like I did to speak up for yourself, I promise you there are others and the courage it takes to do that will be the first step to getting this seemingly massive mountain out of your way.
From G, who’s now a proud mum:
I’ve been bullied. The chronology of it starts from the day my mum brought me home from hospital and my older sister decided there and then she didn’t like having a younger sibling. The verbal put downs started early.
I started school at 4 and was moved into a new school at 6 as my parents felt I wasn’t being stretched academically. From day one I knew my place, I was called all sorts of names like ‘Somalian refugee’ and ‘anorexic’ on account of being stick thin and having skinny legs. I’d go home from a day of verbal bullying to my sister who would continue with the sniping, quiet snipes, out of our parents earshot. Like the kids at school. Picking at me quietly. Looking to trigger me off and then one day I snapped and decided I wouldn’t stand for this any more so I would lash out, hit these kids. But my young mind couldn’t work out why I would be the one sent to my room, removed from lunch time play, they started it after all. Why am I in the wrong? I’m just standing up for myself aren’t I? Last term of primary school and one of the boys hits me, so I kick him back. A dinner lady sees this so hits me round the head with an umbrella. I kick her shins and walk home in a strop. I get sent to my room when my parents find me on the doorstep and the headmaster turns up. No one wants to know my side. Everyone laughs at me the next day when I return to school. Luckily I have an escape, I passed my 11+, I won’t be going to the same secondary school as these people, or my sister, I’ve escaped, a new start!!
Term 1 of secondary school. I’m the only person from my school to go there. Everyone else knows people, I’m terrified and they know this. A girl comes up to me and asks me my name and what football team I support, I tell her I don’t like football I prefer rugby. She slaps me in the face and punches me in the stomach because ‘you’re a liar! You must like football! Cantona is the best!’ Welcome to secondary school!
Within the first two weeks I’ve been hurt again. This time by a girl who dropped her purse, I stop to pick it up for her she stamps on my hand tearing the skin off it and pushes me over shouting that I’m stealing it. Try to assure her I’m not and that I was just helping but my card was marked. As always the teachers didn’t believe me despite the injuries. I’m given detention for lying and my parents tell me to let it go. My sister finds my inability to use my hand for a while hilarious.
Over the course of my time at school I was never invited to parties, I was always the kid no one sat next to, I was ‘signed up’ for cross country by people who thought it funny to do so I was entered into the school swimming gala despite not being able to swim, I was told I was thick, told I was worthless, I was bullied verbally, bullied physically and bullied by exclusion.
I remember one winter, when it snowed and we had to stay in, a girl sat on her desk and started taunting me, goading me into slapping her, calling me every name under the sun. I refused to hit her so she had her friend do it. The whole class told the teacher I hit her unprovoked.
It was then I started to seriously look into killing myself.
I lost interest in everything. In the sports I enjoyed in the music I was good at. My grades slipped. I stopped eating. No one noticed. Not once did anyone ask me how I was.
I eventually got expelled from school. The dubious honour of being the first in the schools long and illustrious history.
The continual bullying stayed with me. I’ve lurched from abusive relationship to abusive relationship because I’ve felt that’s all I’ve been worth. The knocks to my self esteem have not left me. I still feel worthless. Still feel like people will let me down. I have no trust in anyone. I feel ugly even when I have my gorgeous husband telling me I’m not. I feel stupid, even when I’m able to answer all the questions on TV quizzes. I feel like people won’t turn up when they invite me out, that people invite me out as a joke so they can stand at a distance and laugh at the fact I turned up and am standing on my own.
I lost faith in people.
The legacy of bullying doesn’t end when you leave school. It ingrains itself in your personality. Those comments become you. They can’t be erased no matter how much you try. If you’re told you’re not worth it for 14 years, you try and disbelieve it.
But do you know what? You can turn things around. I have an amazing, positive, caring husband and I refuse to let my beautiful daughter, who is being bullied, believe she is anything other than a strong, wonderful little girl. I’m giving her the tools to win, the tools to be strong the tools to be herself.
Maybe my positive story ends in her. In her beating the bullies and being this amazing self confident, self assured young woman that she’s turning out to be at the grand old age of 8. Maybe me being bullied was for that purpose. To create this amazing human being that those bullies stopped me becoming.
Don’t let the bastards win. Bullying takes a lot from people. But not everything.